The Evolution of Home Audio Systems

We’ve witnessed the home audio space undergo numerous technological advancements over the past century. The first real breakthrough came in 1877, when Thomas Edison created the mechanical recording machine known as the phonograph (a.k.a. the record player). Fast-forward to the modern era and the turntable is still treasured as a cult instrument utilized to entertain crowds in intimate settings.

But as consumers continue to embrace the latest trends from hi-resolution sound to wireless streaming, it’s only right to look back at the audio formats that helped forge the marriage between music and technology—paving the way for the quintessential listening experience in the home sound system. From the classic radio to the smart speaker, here is a breakdown on history’s most iconic audio setups, past and present.

Record Player

Image via assillo on Flickr

Circa: 1920

Granted the turntable can be traced back to the late 1800s, it wasn’t till the early 20th century when the audio component became an essential household fixture. The record player not only made it possible to preserve music, but also revisit it at any given moment, even if limited to playing 78 and 45 rpm records. LPs then came into existence and extended playback by up to 20 minutes on each side.


Image via Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Circa: 1930 

Millennials might look at the home radio as the Internet of the ’30s, because of how it revolutionized the way society consumed music and all other forms of entertainment. It was the centerpiece to the living room and kept families entertained for nights on end until the television came into existence. The radio became the nation’s first mass medium and broadcasted 599 stations in the U.S. alone.

Hi-Fidelity Receivers

Image via Jussi on Flickr

Circa: 1958

Bell Laboratories, RCA Records, and amateur violinist Avery Fisher all played pivotal roles in developing high fidelity. The purpose of the technology was to improve home-audio quality and provide a listening experience that duplicated the resonances of a live orchestra. Harman Kardon stepped up the challenge by developing the first-ever stereo receiver that stuffed a radio tuner with wider FM bandwidth, plus an amplifier and pre-amplifier, into a complete chassis.​ Thus ushering in what is known as the Golden Age of Hi-Fi. 

8-Track Home Deck

Image via SenseiAlan on Flickr

Circa: 1966

The 8-track will forever be dismissed as a failure. But truth be told, these analog magnetic tapes were considered a great commercial success at the time and laid the groundwork for every audio format that came after it. What was originally designed for DJs at radio stations to play commercials, jingles, and record singles later became soundtrack cartridges that stored eight parallel songs. The technology later made the transition from car radios to home decks. 

Component Stereo

Image via Will Keightley on Flickr

Circa: 1960s–1980s

Keeping up with every major audio format proved to be both frustrating and expensive. The reality was you needed a separate machine to enjoy each one. Then came the component stereo system, which combined a receiver, turntable, speakers, and some kind of cassette player into one package. So as stereo component equipment became more affordable to the public, it was easier for all families to enjoy their favorite entertainment medium without switching systems. 

Cassette Deck

Image via Pete on Flickr

Circa: 1970s–1990s

Philips takes credit for the creation of the cassette tape and blessing the analog platform with a more suitable audio solution. This contribution opened the lane for a vital component of the stereo system, the cassette deck. The machine made 8-track obsolete by offering hi-fi sound and fast-forward/backward capability. Once features like auto-reversing and multiple tape heads became available, tape decks emerged as the preferred household audio player.

The Boombox

Image via Sean Davis on Flickr

Circa: 1980 

During the late ’70s, the demand for louder and more dynamic radios became huge, which led to the inception of the boombox. The portable radio-cassette player with loudspeakers grew to become a pop culture staple that resonated with outdoor listeners and the urban community for its immense sound features. And while serving as the audio centerpiece for every block party or summertime cookout, these ghetto blasters also doubled as a home stereo system that left your four walls trembling with bass.

CD Stereo Player

Image via Wikipedia

Circa: 1982 

A handful of audio companies contributed to the digital audio revolution that transpired during the early ’80s. Leading the forefront was Sony, releasing the world’s first commercial compact disc player in the CDP-101. Many considered the CD format groundbreaking for a number of reasons. Aside from delivering better sound quality than cassettes, it combined digital computer and laser technology to store content. It wasn’t until the Sony Walkman CD player made its mark on the scene that we considered adorning our entertainment center with a stereo player variant.

Super Audio CD Player

Image via Sony

Circa: 1999

The SACD format was historically positioned to replace the compact disc heading into the Millennium. Sony came out the gate first with a machine that experts still view as one of the greatest achievements in audio engineering: the SCD-1 SACD player. It was hailed for delivering phenomenal sound that was likened to master recordings. Yet despite the fact it offered a longer playing time than standard CDs and more channels including surround sound, these optical disc players never caught on with the mainstream market due to their high price point and limited music library. Still, SACD showcased the next generation of CD audio, even if for a brief moment in time.

Wireless Speakers

Image via 246-You on Flickr

Circa: Mid-2000s

It took a decade for engineers to crack the wireless audio code. But developers soon figured the solution lay in Bluetooth technology and digital signaling. Once discovering the benefits of using Bluetooth as a main source for connectivity, it was just a matter of time before every major manufacturer produced home theater and portable speaker systems capable of streaming our iTunes and Spotify playlists. 

Whole Home Audio and Smart Speakers

Image via Amazon

Circa: Today

So where does home audio go from here? New wireless technologies have hit the market from Apple, Sonos, and DTS, the latter making serious noise right now with its own wireless solution called Play-Fi that works with several other speaker brands for multi-room streaming.In addition, Amazon is paving the way with the introduction of a new product category in smart speakers.​ Its latest voice-controlled Bluetooth receiver dubbed the Echo is changing the way we interact with our home and media devices through the use of its own dynamic AI platform that responds to our verbal commands. In other words, the hands-free speaker serves as a digital assistant that can answer questions, play music, and control other smart gadgets without the need of a mobile app or remote. The future of audio is upon us! 

source: BY

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