Audio speakers have come a long way since Ernst Siemens slapped a patent on the first loudspeaker back in 1877; US researchers have even used nanotechnology to turn cow bone and a stethoscope into a speaker system. Agricultural-medical mash-ups aside, let’s see what else has hit the shelves over the years.
1800s – “The Wee Small Voice”
Siemens (yeah, one of those Siemens) wasn’t the only audio buff polishing his patents in the early days of audio-tech; in the 1890s, Thomas Edison developed a diaphragm-and-stylus contraption that was used in the very first talking pictures, though not to any great success: it became known as the machine with the ‘Wee Small Voice.’ Hmm.
Early 1900s -Eglephone speakers
The amplification revolution kicked off with French cinema owners placing engineer Leon Gaumont‘s speakers behind the screen and carrying them back and forth as the action required. Dynamic! By 1919, Gaumont’s Eglephone speakers could amplify sound to a crowd of four thousand, equivalent to the capacity of London’s Brixton Academy. In the USA, a moving-coil loudspeaker known as the Magnavox was used by Woodrow Wilson in 1919 presidential address; rather than speak into a microphone, Wilson’s voice was picked up by two huge horns suspended over his head that routed his voice to the loudspeakers. The audience were able to hear him up to a mile away.
1920s to 1950s – From Fantasound to tweeters
Between the World Wars, developments in audio speakers boomed, if you’ll excuse the pun: researchers like General Electric’s Rice and Kellog (sadly unaffiliated to the cereal empire) and Bell Laboratories Wente and Thuras hammered away at direct radiator and electrostatic speakers. All very technical, but by the mid-1930s, they’d come up with stereo sound. No point stopping there: in 1940, Walt Disney premiered Fantasound, a system that used three audio channels and 54 speakers, and by 1958, composer Edgar Varese was using 452 speakers in his Poeme Electronique. In the meantime, bookshelf speakers were being produced for the home market, and Victrola-style acoustic gramophones began to be replaced by tweeters and woofers.
1960s and beyond – Dolby to NFC
From basic pocket radios to entire portable turntables with built-in speakers, the domestic market went mobile. In 1965, Philips released the first compact cassette tape, which used a low-fidelity monophonic speaker and retailed at about $325 in today’s money. The 1970s brought Dolby’s noise reduction technology and a new International Standard in noise reproduction. And today of course, we’ve got NFC and Bluetooth speakers, which can play music wirelessly from your smartphones, while charging it.
We’ve sure come a long way since the days of the Wee Small Voice. But what does the future hold? Let us know your predictions in the comments below.