The Ultimate Audio Format War: Records vs. Wax Cylinders

Mac vs PC, VHS vs. Betamax, and Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD are famous format wars, but they've got nothing against those fought by Thomas Edison. Here's one that lasted 20 years:

The most famous audio format war was between Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner, both of whom invented competing types of records for the phonograph. Edison first pioneered the wax cylinder in the 1880s. He originally intended it as a means of recording telephone conversations, but the cylinders soon became a popular format for musical recordings. Berliner, meanwhile, released the disk record as a competing format in 1894. Disks had originally been used solely in children’s toys, and in the beginning their sound quality was poor. But after several technical modifications, they were able to rival Edison’s cylinders in sound quality, sparking a format war that would last nearly 20 years.

Who Won?

There’s a reason they call them record stores and not cylinder stores. Despite the cylinder’s initial dominance, disk records won out in the end, and by the late 1920s, even Edison had started marketing his own version of Berliner’s product. This is not to say that there weren’t drawbacks to the disk format. The sound quality tended to be a bit tinnier than a cylinder, and disk records could easily get damaged after being played enough times. Unfortunately for Edison, the battle ultimately came down to ease of production. Disk records were much cheaper and easier to make, since they could simply be stamped out on a press. This helped make the disks a cheaper alternative, and once they started being recorded on both sides, people were able to get twice the music for the same price. Not only that, but disk records were easier to ship, and consumers liked the fact that they could easily be stacked and stored on a shelf like books.

Read about more format wars at Top Tenz: Link


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