Talk:Phonograph cylinder

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Former featured article Phonograph cylinder is a former featured article. Please see the links under Article milestones below for its original nomination page (for older articles, check the nomination archive) and why it was removed.
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Thoughts on expansions[edit]

Need to add: mass production of cylinders; early dubbing methods; "Gold molded" cylinders

-Recordings went from tinfoil to wax in 1888, older recordings are unplayable.

-Oldest preserved recordings and where to hear them. (A 1888-89 CD from TINFOIL, the Brahms cylinder on "About a hundred years", Nina Grieg from 1889 spread across two CD's from SIMAX, more?)

-A more realistic assessment of the sound quality of these things; the CD compilation "About a hundred years" features both wax and disc recordings, and I agree with their assessment that it was the invention of the shellac disc in 1899 that turned records into anything more than "a noisy toy". The wax rolls have virtually no bass; how would a phonograph needle record bass? Much easier on a disc, where the needle can move sideways. Juryen 23:12, 31 August 2006 (UTC)

To make a comparison of the media, you need to compare examples from the same year. To understand how comparisons sounded at the time, it should be on original or comparable playback equipment. The earliest discs were of lower fidelity than contemporary cylinders. (Some comparisons not taking those factors into account can be inaccurate as disc records and players continued to develop for a much longer time.) Discs didn't get sound comparable to cylinders until after the turn of the century. Bass response is pretty minimal in all recordings before the 1920s. Edison labs did do experiments with a block long recording horn (!) and was able to record and reproduce the lowest bass notes of orchestral instruments in experimental recording that were indeed vertically cut. However they could only reproduce that bass by the recording playing back with the giant horn! Thus serious attempts to commerically issue recordings with what we'd consider recognizable bass response only happened after the introduction of electric microphones in the mid 1920s. -- Infrogmation 00:13, 1 September 2006 (UTC)
So that when we play the recordings back with modern equipment, a disc from 1899 is going to sound okay, like a transistor radio or a portable cassette recorder, while a wax roll is going to sound like a car wreck, but the difference wasn't obvious on the playback equipment available in 1899. This should be in the article; I'm not the only one to have heard a record like "About a hundred years" and wound up believing that the introduction of discs was a quantum leap in sound quality. Juryen 00:58, 1 September 2006 (UTC)
I'm not familiar with the cd you mention (sounds interesting though!). The observation on early cylinder v/s disc fidelity is not original to me; I've heard the same from collectors of previous generations and IIRC it is discussed in such books as "From Tinfoil to Stereo". As discs continued to be made into the electronic playback era, many reissues have found it easier to get a good amount of the original sound out of them than they could for cylinders. As I havn't heard the reissue you mentioned I have no idea if its and example of such, but "okay" verses "car wreck" make me suspect it might be. (Alternatively, the cylinders might have been in more badly worn out condition.) I can say that much acoustic era equipment often reproduces the limited frequencies of the early recordings that sound most lifelike while reproducing much less of the problem rumble and hiss in old recordings that are often very evident with modern equipment or remastering. Good acoustic recordings played on original equipment in good shape or properly restored still won't be high-fidelity, but it has a certain strong presence, perhaps due to a great sensitivity to dynamics, that seldom comes across on reissues in other media. Hm, perhaps we could use an article on acoustical/mechanical recording technology some time. Pondering, -- Infrogmation
This is very, very interesting and should be in the article. But at least as far as wear and tear is concerned, shellac was much better than wax. (Earlier rubber discs were pretty much unlistenable, judging from modern reproductions.) And in mass production, the amounts of wow and flutter in a pantographed cylinder renders the record pretty much useless as a music recording. So discs should have two advantages over cylinders, even if - as you say - the astounding differences in audio quality that we hear in modern reproductions simply were not there when you played comparable recordings on comparable equipment in 1899. The discs I mentioned might be worth their own articles, perhaps. 12:01, 1 September 2006 (UTC)
I thought our discussion was so interesting, I added a bit under "preservation". Juryen 12:11, 2 September 2006 (UTC)

I thought I would add my $.02: I am a collector of both disc and cylinder records, and have the old machines to play them on. This has been my observation: just about any commercially produced cylinder from 1902 to 1914 sounds quite a bit better than disc records made until about 1924, that being the year when they started being recorded electrically. I haven't ever heard any of the soft wax cylinders made prior to the gold molded ones, so i can't vouch for them, but I have heard the first generation Amberol cylinders (these are hard wax, 4 minute, played with a saphire and made from 1908-1912) and the celulloid Blue Ambrol cylinders (these are 4 minute also, blue and color, and should only be played with the correct diamond reproducers; made from 1913-1929, though, after about 1915 the masters were dubbed from diamond disc masters), and these, when compared to any disc record made before 1924, are really quite astounding. Although Edison did expiriment with electrically recorded cylinder records in the late 1920's, it was'n until commercially issued disc records were made that the tone and range of disc records really surpassed that of the mature cylinder format.-WK--- 21:27, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

Thanks for your comments, WK. Wikipedia can use more contributors with knowledge of early recording technology. If you'd like to stick around, I encourage you to choose a user name and log in. Cheers, -- Infrogmation 23:48, 28 October 2007 (UTC)
Point of order: the blue Amberols (which are celluloid and not phenolic resin as claimed in the article) can be played with a standard 4 minute saphire stylus as well as the moe recent diamond styli. The older wax Amberols must not be played with a diamond stylus. Playing with any stylus should be kept to an absolute minimum as they wear out very quickly. (talk) 15:25, 5 June 2010 (UTC)

Request for references[edit]

Hi, I am working to encourage implementation of the goals of the Wikipedia:Verifiability policy. Part of that is to make sure articles cite their sources. This is particularly important for featured articles, since they are a prominent part of Wikipedia. The Fact and Reference Check Project has more information. If some of the external links are reliable sources and were used as references, they can be placed in a References section too. See the cite sources link for how to format them. Thank you, and please leave me a message when a few references have been added to the article. - Taxman 19:39, Apr 22, 2005 (UTC)


The following objections to this article should be adressed: No lead. No references. Not a FA standard, certainly. Some sections are just a single sentence. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus Talk 09:33, 8 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Tnx, this is now up to standards. It can use more expantion - some sections are stub sections - but it is in little danger from FARC now. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus Talk 18:43, 16 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Queries on my talk page[edit]

An editor named Jeremy left these on my talk page, but I really don't know enough about the subject to help so I thought I'd move this here. My only connection with this page was asking for references. - Taxman Talk 12:16, 5 April 2006 (UTC)

Verify the phonography cylinder 'plug in' models.[edit]

Would suggest that the specific names of each of the three commercially designed plug-in models be reinstated. Someone has edited these out. However, I have noted that information on each may be sourced in the external link to Christer Hemp's Phonograph Makers Pages. Many readers would be interested in these. Jeremy Sefton-Parke. kinopanorama AT

I think you've lost your way somehow. I don't really know what you're referring to. If you give me some links to the Wikipedia pages, I might be able to help you. - Taxman Talk 23:23, 4 April 2006 (UTC)

Phonograph Cylinders[edit]

Refer to chapter on preservation of cylinders. See paragraph two. Also, link to Phonograph Maker's pages. Believe that paragraph two could be expanded by someone, such as myself, without being seen to promote any such product as a vanity entry. Please advise.--Kinopanorama widescreen 01:31, 5 April 2006 (UTC)

Earliest known recording[edit]

I've added the earliest known recording on Wikimedia Commons for use primarly in the Israel in Egypt (oratorio) article. However, it may perhaps find use here too (it was after all made on a yellow paraffine phonograph cylinder), in that case feel free to add it. I have no more time for editing stuff right now myself. :-) The Commons resource name is IsraelInEgypt18880629.ogg, and can be linked to via a template like this, for example:

This version is the earliest known music recording. Recorded on a paraffin cylinder in June 29, 1888. — 2274 KB

Problems playing this file? See media help.

There are alternative templates too; for more information, see this: Template:Audio. -- Northgrove 00:42, 21 September 2006 (UTC)

Great we have that on Commons! However, as the link to mentions, they have an 1878 cylinder recording (from an experimental phonograph clock), which I believe is the earliest known recording successfully played back any time in the past 100 years. BTW, some earlier tinfoil recordings still exist in flattened-out condition-- I have heard no arguement that at least hypothetically could have sound re-extracted from them should serious effort be put into it. -- Infrogmation 01:05, 22 September 2006 (UTC)

Hi, possibly an even earlier recording (1885) link to CNN article, I don't know how to get the sound from the slideshow video! -- (talk) 18:07, 15 November 2010 (UTC)

Need references for reuse of wax cylinders[edit]

Hi, I'm working on a dissertation that, among other things, examines the use of phonographs. I have been trying to determine if wax cylinders were ever reused for different recording purposes, and this article is the first instance that I have found that indicates that they were. Can anyone point me toward a published book or article in which I could verify this information? My committee is leery of Wikipedia, unfortunately. Please leave me a message if you have such a reference. Bc.rox.all 21:03, 25 October 2006 (UTC)

Yes, the old style soft wax cylinders were commonly reused and recorded over (and dicataphone cylinders using essentially the same technology were still common until after WWII). A good reference mentioning this that should be pretty easy to find in most libraries is the book "From Tinfoil to Stereo" listed in the references section. -- Infrogmation 17:36, 12 November 2006 (UTC)
"From Tinfoil to Stereo" doesn't really have the information that I needed. However, I was able to find something about the reuse of wax cylinders for recording in David L. Morton Jr.'s "Sound Recording: The Life Story of a Technology" (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004; ISBN: 0-313-33090-5). I have not yet found anything that positively corroborates that people could bring old wax cylinders back to dealers to have them shaved and re-recorded. But shavers were standard parts on most of the early phonographs, so persons could obviously do this at home (see George L. Frow and Albert F. Sefl, "The Edison Cylinder Phonographs: A Detailed Account of the Entertainment Models until 1929," [Seven Oaks, Kent: George L. Frow, 1978]). -- Bc.rox.all 16:01, 28 November 2006 (UTC)
After continuing to look for something that verifies that wax cylinders were brought back to stores and rerecorded, I have been unable to find anything. As such, I have added a "citation needed" tag to this sentence. Bc.rox.all (talk) 18:00, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
I note that the user who raised this no longer has an active account. However, I have removed the citation request as it was placed in an inappropriate place in the article. That wax type cylinders were shaved so that they could accept new recordings is not in doubt. Practically all phonographs sold prior to 1903 were equipped with such a shaving device.
As whether worn out cylinders were accepted back for shaving and re-recording: it is probably unlikely that a firm citation will come to light (which is often the case with such historical articles). It is something that I had heard of from elswhere, but consider the following.
1. A cylinder would cost around 35 cents at the turn of the 20th century. (To provide context in real terms, 35 cents would have bought you two dinners at reasonable diner.)
2. The early cylinders had a very short life of between a dozen to two dozen playings.
3. For all his faults, Edison was a very astute businessman.
If Edison figured out that he could sell more cylinders by taking back the worn out ones and making an allowance toward the purchase of a new one, there can be little doubt that that is exactly what he would have done. I B Wright (talk) 15:35, 1 December 2008 (UTC)

<undent> There may be little doubt that Edison would have done something like that, but without verification from a published source that's exactly what we call "original research" which can't be accepted in articles. I've commented out the more speculative part of the sentence, rephrasing it to refer to the shaving mechanism described above: could someone with the source to hand please add a citation to make it clear where this information has been published. . dave souza, talk 19:48, 1 December 2008 (UTC)

Link to TechTv[edit]

I removed this link as it seemed to be in poor taste. A man who has gone to great lengths to protect this historical record is misrepresented and ill served by being recognized for one accident rather than years of preservation work. 27 February 2007 15:57, 27 February 2007 (UTC)JRecord

I think it is a good example that demonstrates the fragility of wax records. (talk) 09:48, 1 September 2008 (UTC)

Curious sound quality of live playback[edit]

I've never seen this discussed anywhere, but cylinder recordings, listened to "live" on a cylinder phonograph, have a distinctive quality to the sound that is not captured in transfer to modern media.

There are two characteristics in particular: there is an odd spatial quality to it, almost as if the sound were coming from inside one's head; and there is a bright, rather satisfying percussive quality in recordings of instruments such as banjos and xylophones. I assume that's exactly why these instruments are so common in the arrangements recorded on cylinders.

This quality is not replicated when the sound issuing from a cylinder phonographs are recorded with microphones and played back with modern equipment, nor when cylinders are played with modern cartridges and then reproduced electronically.

My theory is that the spatial quality has something to do with the way in which the wavefront from the horn is shaped and reaches the ears. I can't even guess at an explanation for the percussive quality; something about the way hill-and-dale recording captures loud transients, I expect, but I don't know why it doesn't reproduce well.

Cylinder recordings, played live, have a certain lively, danceable quality that's not well captured in rerecordings.

No, I am not suggesting that cylinder recordings are better than newer technologies--only that they have pleasant qualities that for some reason are lost when recorded and reproduced on modern equipment.

This is true of every recording of cylinders I've heard, including the excellent and admirable UCSD cylinder collection. Dpbsmith (talk) 02:16, 25 May 2008 (UTC)

Some of this, or an aspect of this I think, is also experienced with acoustically recorded discs. I believe the acoustic recordings have a very subtle response to changes of dynamics that even now is seldom heard in electric recordings. You may be correct that there is something "spatial" as well; it sometimes seems a bit less strictly mono than it is supposed to be. Hm. -- Infrogmation (talk) 02:32, 25 May 2008 (UTC)
Isn't it often the case that media recorded by a particular technique sound and/or look better when played back under that same technique? A gross example would be old videotapes from 1960s TV, which look weird when converted to film, but look pretty good when played on a TV. And Billy Murray's records always sounded better on my Grandpa's Victrola than on modern equipment. Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? 05:41, 25 May 2008 (UTC)
It is always true of any analogue based technology that something is always lost when a transfer takes place from one medium to another. This was even noticeable on later Edison blue amberol cylinders where the master cylinder was mechanically derived from the equivalent Edison diamond (disc) record version. The cylinder lost some of the vibrance of the original. It is also known that the hill and dale method of recording on both cylinders and discs (where it was used) did not respond to sibilance as well as the lateral cut system. (Sibilance is the "sss" sound when you clearly enunciate words such as, well, sssibilansss.) Why this was was never clear.
I have transfered a few 78 disc recordings to the CD medium using a proper 78 stylus mounted in a Grado Laboratories magnetic pickup but the result never quite matches that of the original record played on even a portable gramophone. The University of California have transcribed a large number of cylinders but by reading them optically rather than mechanically. Although one might expect the result to be better than mechanical transcription, they still don't quite match the original cylinder played on a decent external horned phonograph. (talk) 17:58, 29 November 2008 (UTC)
Rather late in the day, but 1960's TV programmes were never recorded on video tape until fairly late in the decade. This was mainly because video recording had yet to be perfected. It may be that the film that you are refering to is what is known (at least in the UK) as a telerecording. It's a technique where the recording is made by directly shooting the picture from a video monitor with a (usually) 16mm film camera. It does look strange because it is almost impossible to align the original scanning lines with the scanning lines used to reproduce the recording. The usual kludge is to enlarge the image to minimise the moire patterns that result. Towards the end of the decade, TV companies experimented with the then new video recording technology, but made a telerecording as a back up. It is therefore quite possible that any film version was not actually made from the video recording. Even if it was, it would still have been made by the telerecording technique. DieSwartzPunkt (talk) 15:40, 23 May 2012 (UTC)

New recordings[edit]

I've added a couple new recordings from the very early days of the phonographic cylinder, about 16 years before the other example on this page. I hope noone minds. Shoemaker's Holiday (talk) 03:22, 30 June 2008 (UTC)

Disc records[edit]

..."not resolved until the advent of RIAA standards in the early 1940s..."

This seems unlikely as the RIAA wasn't founded until 1952 unless there is another RIAA

Cannonmc (talk) 06:53, 18 September 2010 (UTC)

One more 2010 one.[edit]

Andrew Liles' "Importunate Suggestions of Impropriety", Pipkin #15 came on wax cylinder, very rare and very limited (35 produced, 31 for sale). Won't mess with the article now, no time :) -andy (talk) 15:58, 4 February 2011 (UTC)

article improvements?[edit]

Under the "Hard plastic cylinders" section, mention really needs to be made to the Lambert company, which was producing celluloid cylinders by 1902. They certainly pre-date the Indestructible company. Should mention be made of the U.S. Phonograph company which had a unique process of wrapping pressed celluloid sheets around a core?

Also, shouldn't the 1902 molding (mass production) process be mentioned? This made a huge difference in the production capabilities of the cylinderrecord. There's a mention of "1902 Edison Records launched a line of improved hard wax cylinders marketed as "Edison Gold Moulded Records"." but no explanation of what this significant difference was. 78.26 (talk) 21:47, 31 March 2011 (UTC)

Added (even with a citation or two!). Also some reworking. I note that the difference of gold records has been added along the line somewhere. (talk) 17:51, 13 March 2012 (UTC)
Apologies, the reference to gold was elsewhere. I've added it to the article. (talk) 18:04, 13 March 2012 (UTC)

Cylinder formulations[edit]

. . Previous to December 1888, cylinders were made of a variety of natural waxes, even the base of the famous June 16th cylinders was octadecanoic acid, Ceresin, and Carnauba wax, and a few also had bees wax added .. I actually have duplicated for display at the Thomas Edison Historical Park in west Orange New Jersey 6 natural wax phonogram blanks, and they are on the oldest Edison wax cylinder phonographs at the museum, the Ezra T. Gilliland mode of 1887, and the precursor to the perfected machine made sometime in the spring of 1888. Starting in the fall of 1888 Jonas Aylsworth, Chemist started to work on metallic soaps #957 made in December of 1888 used an aluminum soap containing aluminum sodium hydroxide to harden and saponify the wax, the main ingredient is octadecanoic acid, an ingredient that is in pretty much all cylinder records that are considered “wax”. The first attempt to aid in the cutting action, as stearate of alumina is very hard. The compound did not cut very well and it needed to be softened, and this metallic soap was not successful. Oleic acid, red fatty oil, was added to the formulation to soften the wax, by May of 1888 the 957 records began to decompose, an oily film came to the surface of the record making them unusable. Jonas Aylsworth had visions of loosing his job. By 1889, ceresin was used to aid in cutting and moisture proofing the wax, and this laid the foundation of cylinder phonograph records until the advent of Amberol records. Collectors know this base wax, as brown wax. The brown wax base was used for most wax cylinders manufactured by Edison and Columbia. Molded records by Columbia contained the exact same ingredients as brown wax, except a colorant, and the percentages were changed to make the wax harder. Edison molded wax added other metallic salts of copper and zinc. Pine tar, carnauba and lampblack made the wax much harder. I had manufactured several thousand cylinders with similar materials by my own hand. [1][2] --Sborri (talk) 06:27, 10 August 2012 (UTC)


  1. ^ United, States (1901,). National Phonograph Company Vs Columbia Graphophone Company. West Orange N.j.: Circuit Court of the United States District of Connecticut case 1076. pp. various.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ Borri, Shawn.  Missing or empty |title= (help)

New companies?[edit]

With this edit, IP .185 added claims that cylinder records "are again being manufactured. First, such claims would be ok in a news article, but are not appropriate for WP unless the article (or at least the section) is clearly marked as "current events" or similar, and dated.

Second, although references were given, there are problems with this material:

  • The Vulcan Cylinder Records web site,, has a copyright date of 2002. I find no evidence on the site of when it was last updated, and I find little evidence on the web that the company is still a going concern twelve years later. Besides, a company's own web site is a self-published, primary source and therefore per WP:RS cannot be used as a reliable source by WP's rules. Anyone can create a web site that includes claims of the existence and current operations of a company of any name whatsoever.
  • The link to is to an article from late 2008 that describes a different company in a different country, "The Wizard Cylinder Record Company". But it is positioned as if to support the claims about Vulcan Cylinder Records. I can't find any evidence of Wizard's current existence either.
  • WP does not exist to give free advertising to tiny niche companies.

Accordingly I am abbreviating the claims to remove the implication of current production (while leaving the possibility open). I am also cutting back the scope of the claims to match the apparent significance of these companies, which is quite small. Jeh (talk) 07:00, 20 October 2014 (UTC)

Thanks for your edits, I think the way you've amended it to its current state is appropriate and a vast improvement to how it was. FWIW Peter Dilg, who wrote the CAPS article, but about his own company Wizard, is a recognized expert on antique phonographs and records, giving that article more credence in my estimation than it would otherwise. The Vulcan product most certainly exists, and I'll keep my eyes out for an independent mention for a better source. My best guess would be in an ARSC journal somewhere. I don't think they need to have any more space devoted than what they already have, indeed they are very small (and hobbyist) operations, but I think it is an interesting and relevant footnote to the format. 78.26 (spin me / revolutions) 12:22, 20 October 2014 (UTC)
Recognized expert or no, the fact that he is writing about his own company (which I do not recall being mentioned in the article) makes the article a primary source, not secondary. WP prefers secondary sources, but primary are acceptable where facts are not in dispute and no interpretation is required. Agree with you regarding the amount of article text, but additional references in independent, well-recognized, secondary sources would certainly be welcome. It may be that this is such a narrow area that no "well-recognized" sources will cover it, in which case "independent, secondary" will have to do! Jeh (talk) 21:22, 20 October 2014 (UTC)

Desert Sleep cylinder[edit]

@Jeh: The addition of info on Christopher David Heinmiller and his band Desert Sleep is totally unsourced, and neither the band, nor the individual, is noteworthy, much less this gimmicky recording. The info was originally added as User:HEINMILLER's sole edit. This is obviously the same person (which I had forgotten about when reverting the now-blocked IP). "The album combines modern and antique recording methods to create the sensation of authentic time travel in sound" is clearly not neutral language. This is not promoting the specific ebay sale, but it is still effectively promoting the band. There's no sources at all, much less WP:SECONDARY ones which would be needed for content like this. Recording new music on old equipment like this is not exactly common, but it's not so rare that it warrants a mention without even a single source. All things considered, although WP:BRD is a good essay, it's not a policy, and this seemed uncontroversial enough that I didn't feel it was needed to take this to talk. At the very least, a reliable source needs to be included, and the promotional language needs to be dealt with before this can be restored. Grayfell (talk) 09:16, 21 March 2015 (UTC)

@Grayfell: Please. The other mentions of recent cylinder recordings are equally "promoting" their respective makers. One of them is even "sourced" to the named company's web site, and the entry for Aug 2010 is completely unsourced. Why is this different? A simple Google search for the album name brings up hundreds of hits, so the recording unquestionably exists. The use of a hundred-year-old cylinder machine to record it, and combining that sound with digitally recorded sound, makes it worthy of mention in my opinion. To you it is merely "gimmicky"? That sounds like a value judgment; is it now part of policy that your value judgments win? Yes, the language should be improved, but why not do that and leave a CN tag instead of delete it? It doesn't have to be perfect (or even perfectly acceptable to you) to be left in the article (where other people might see it and improve it). Re requiring a secondary source to establish notability - that rule applies to article topics, not content within an article, see WP:NNC. Re BRD, no, it is not policy. But I've seen a significant number of threads at ANI lately in which admins' attitude is that once you have been reverted you are not supposed to touch that content again. Not even after someone else's second R. Of course, per BRD, I suppose that now I'm going to have to build a test version and get your approval before I can put it back in the article in improved form. Jeh (talk) 09:46, 21 March 2015 (UTC)
If you want to improve it, do so. If you want to add additional sources or tags, do so. The existence of other unsourced or inappropriate content doesn't mean we should be adding more. If you think my behavior calls for admin involvement, go ahead and file an ANI. Grayfell (talk) 18:56, 21 March 2015 (UTC)