phonograph vs gramophone vs record player featured

The phonograph, gramophone, and modern record player are all devices that play analog sound recordings. The phonograph plays from tinfoil wrapped around a metal roll. The gramophone plays metal or shellac disc-shaped records. Finally, the modern record player plays vinyl “long-play” records.

In this article, I’m explaining the differences between the phonograph, gramophone, and modern record player.


What Is A Phonograph

The phonograph was the first voice recorder. The first one was created on November 21st, 1877. It consisted of tinfoil wrapped around a metal roll. This roll could be turned with a hand-crank.

Edison's Cylinder Phonograph
Edison’s Cylinder Phonograph

Using an acoustic horn, sound vibrations would be pressed against a membrane which caused it to vibrate. This membrane was fitted to a needle that then carved the sound vibrations into the rotation tinfoil.

Even though the phonograph didn’t even use the disc-shaped records we are familiar with. A phonograph record actually does refer to these disc-shaped records.


What Is A Gramophone

The gramophone was a is that can play sounds from discs or records. The patent was created on September 26th, 1887. Using the acoustic horn and needle-fitted membrane, the sound was recorded from left to right.

gramophone layout
Gramophone, from britannica.com

This created a better audio quality than the phonograph recording because it avoided vertical movements which would have caused tracking issues. Later on, the metal discs were replaced by shellac discs.

A gramophone record likely refers to either a metal or shellac disc-shaped record.


What Is A Record Player

Officially, a record player is a synonym for the gramophone, but it’s mainly used to refer to modern record players that play vinyl records.

modern record player example

Vinyl, or “long-playing” records, are disc-shaped records made of plastic vinyl (or polyvinyl chloride) that can hold recordings on both sides. These were patented on June 21st, 1948.

A modern record player can only play shellac gramophone records if a special cartridge is used. Even though shellac and vinyl records use the same technique to record and play sound, there are significant differences in groove width and depth that make them incompatible.

Check out this article to find out more about how universal record player needles are. (opens in a new tab)


What Records Can They Play

Device TypeRecording Types
PhonographTinfoil wrapped metal rolls
GramophoneMetal/Shellac records, 10 inches, 78RPM
Modern Record PlayerVinyl records, 7/10/12 inches, 33/45RPM

A gramophone won’t be able to play vinyl LP records. This is because of the difference in groove width and depth.


Thanks for reading, I hope that answered your questions. Consider checking out my other vinyl related articles or consider subscribing to my newsletter below.

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Sources

  1. Adel Youkhanna, from It’s History
  2. https://www.britannica.com/

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