Thomas Edison with his second phonograph, photographed by Levin Corbin Handy in Washington, April 1878
Edison wax cylinder phonograph, circa 1899
Close up of the mechanism of an Edison Amberola, circa 1915
A late 20th-century turntable and record

The phonograph is a device for the mechanical recording and reproduction of sound. In its later forms, it is also called a gramophone (as a trademark since 1887, as a generic name in the UK since 1910) or, since the 1940s, a record player. The sound vibration waveforms are recorded as corresponding physical deviations of a spiral groove engraved, etched, incised, or impressed into the surface of a rotating cylinder or disc, called a "record". To recreate the sound, the surface is similarly rotated while a playback stylus traces the groove and is therefore vibrated by it, very faintly reproducing the recorded sound. In early acoustic phonographs, the stylus vibrated a diaphragm which produced sound waves which were coupled to the open air through a flaring horn, or directly to the listener's ears through stethoscope-type earphones.

The phonograph was invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison.[1][2][3][4] While other inventors had produced devices that could record sounds, Edison's phonograph was the first to be able to reproduce the recorded sound. His phonograph originally recorded sound onto a tinfoil sheet wrapped around a rotating cylinder. A stylus responding to sound vibrations produced an up and down or hill-and-dale groove in the foil. Alexander Graham Bell's Volta Laboratory made several improvements in the 1880s and introduced the graphophone, including the use of wax-coated cardboard cylinders and a cutting stylus that moved from side to side in a zigzag groove around the record. In the 1890s, Emile Berliner initiated the transition from phonograph cylinders to flat discs with a spiral groove running from the periphery to near the center, coining the term gramophone for disc record players, which is predominantly used in many languages. Later improvements through the years included modifications to the turntable and its drive system, the stylus or needle, and the sound and equalization systems.

The disc phonograph record was the dominant audio recording format throughout most of the 20th century. From the mid-1980s on, phonograph use on a standard record player declined sharply because of the rise of the cassette tape, compact disc and other digital recording formats. Records are still a favorite format for some audiophiles, DJs and turntablists (particularly in hip hop and electronic dance music), and have undergone a revival in the 2010s. The original recordings of musicians, which may have been recorded on tape or digital methods, are sometimes re-issued on vinyl.


Usage of terminology is not uniform across the English-speaking world (see below). In more modern usage, the playback device is often called a "turntable", "record player", or "record changer". When used in conjunction with a mixer as part of a DJ setup, turntables are often colloquially called "decks". In later electric phonographs (more often known since the 1940s as record players or, most recently, turntables[5]), the motions of the stylus are converted into an analogous electrical signal by a transducer, then converted back into sound by a loudspeaker.

The term phonograph ("sound writing") was derived from the Greek words φωνή (phonē, "sound" or "voice") and γραφή (graphē, "writing"). The similar related terms gramophone (from the Greek γράμμα gramma "letter" and φωνή phōnē "voice") and graphophone have similar root meanings. The roots were already familiar from existing 19th-century words such as photograph ("light writing"), telegraph ("distant writing"), and telephone ("distant sound"). The new term may have been influenced by the existing words phonographic and phonography, which referred to a system of phonetic shorthand; in 1852 The New York Times carried an advertisement for "Professor Webster's phonographic class", and in 1859 the New York State Teachers Association tabled a motion to "employ a phonographic recorder" to record its meetings.

Arguably, any device used to record sound or reproduce recorded sound could be called a type of "phonograph", but in common practice the word has come to mean historic technologies of sound recording, involving audio-frequency modulations of a physical trace or groove. In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, "Phonograph", "Gramophone", "Graphophone", "Zonophone", and the like were still brand names specific to various makers of sometimes very different (i.e. cylinder and disc) machines; so considerable use was made of the generic term "talking machine", especially in print. "Talking machine" had earlier been used to refer to complicated devices which produced a crude imitation of speech, by simulating the workings of the vocal cords, tongue, and lips – a potential source of confusion both then and now.

United Kingdom

In British English, "gramophone" may refer to any sound-reproducing machine using disc records, which were introduced and popularized in the UK by the Gramophone Company. Originally, "gramophone" was a proprietary trademark of that company and any use of the name by competing makers of disc records was vigorously prosecuted in the courts, but in 1910 an English court decision[6] decreed that it had become a generic term; it has been so used in the UK and most Commonwealth countries ever since. The term "phonograph" was usually restricted to machines that used cylinder records.

"Gramophone" generally referred to a wind-up machine. After the introduction of the softer vinyl records, ​33 13-rpm LPs (long-playing records) and 45-rpm "single" or two-song records, and EPs (extended-play recordings), the common name became "record player" or "turntable". Often the home record player was part of a system that included a radio (radiogram) and, later, might also play audiotape cassettes. From about 1960, such a system began to be described as a "hi-fi" (high-fidelity, monophonic) or a "stereo" (most systems being stereophonic by the mid-1960s).

United States

In American English, "phonograph", properly specific to machines made by Edison, was sometimes used in a generic sense as early as the 1890s to include cylinder-playing machines made by others. But it was then considered strictly incorrect to apply it to Emile Berliner's upstart Gramophone, a very different machine which played discs. "Talking machine" was the comprehensive generic term, but from about 1902 on, the general public was increasingly applying the word "phonograph" indiscriminately to both cylinder and disc machines and to the records they played. By the time of the First World War, the mass advertising and popularity of the Victrola (a line of disc-playing machines characterized by their concealed horns) sold by the Victor Talking Machine Company was leading to widespread generic use of the word "victrola" for any machine that played discs, which were generally called "phonograph records" or simply "records", but almost never "Victrola records".

After electrical disc-playing machines started appearing on the market during the late 1920s, usually combined with a radio receiver, the term "record player" was increasingly favored by users when referring to the device. Manufacturers, however, typically advertised such combinations as "radio-phonographs". Portable record players (no radio included), with a latched cover and an integrated power amplifier and loudspeaker, were fairly common as well, especially in schools and for use by children and teenagers.

In the years following the Second World War, as "hi-fi" (high-fidelity, monophonic) and, later, "stereo" (stereophonic) component sound systems slowly evolved from an exotic specialty item into a common feature of American homes, the description of the record-spinning component as a "record changer" (which could automatically play through a stacked series of discs) or a "turntable" (which could hold only one disc at a time) entered common usage. By the 1970s, the use of a "record changer", which might damage the stacked discs, was widely disparaged. So, the "turntable" emerged triumphant and retained its position to the end of the 20th century and beyond. Through all these changes, however, the discs have continued to be known as "phonograph records" or, much more commonly, simply as "records".

Gramophone, as a brand name, was not used in the United States after 1902, and the word quickly fell out of use there, although it has survived in its nickname form, Grammy, as the name of the Grammy Awards. The Grammy trophy itself is a small rendering of a gramophone, resembling a Victor disc machine with a taper arm.

Modern amplifier-component manufacturers continue to label the input jack which accepts the output from a modern magnetic pickup cartridge as the "phono" input, abbreviated from "phonograph".

Boy and toy record player, 1920s


In Australian English, "record player" was the term; "turntable" was a more technical term; "gramophone" was restricted to the old mechanical (i.e., wind-up) players; and "phonograph" was used as in British English.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Fonograaf
አማርኛ: ፎኖግራፍ
العربية: فونوغراف
asturianu: Fonógrafu
azərbaycanca: Fonoqraf
български: Фонограф
català: Fonògraf
čeština: Fonograf
Cymraeg: Ffonograff
dansk: Fonograf
Deutsch: Phonograph
eesti: Fonograaf
Ελληνικά: Φωνογράφος
español: Fonógrafo
Esperanto: Fonografo
euskara: Fonografo
فارسی: گرامافون
føroyskt: Fonografur
français: Phonographe
Frysk: Fonograaf
Gaeilge: Fónagraf
galego: Fonógrafo
한국어: 축음기
हिन्दी: फोनोग्राफ
Bahasa Indonesia: Fonograf
íslenska: Fonograf
italiano: Fonografo
עברית: פונוגרף
къарачай-малкъар: Фонограф
ქართული: ფონოგრაფი
қазақша: Фонограф
Latina: Phonographum
latviešu: Fonogrāfs
lietuvių: Fonografas
magyar: Fonográf
മലയാളം: ഗ്രാമഫോൺ
Bahasa Melayu: Peti nyanyi
Nederlands: Fonograaf
日本語: 蓄音機
norsk: Fonograf
norsk nynorsk: Fonograf
polski: Fonograf
português: Fonógrafo
română: Fonograf
русский: Фонограф
Simple English: Phonograph
slovenčina: Fonograf
کوردی: فۆنۆگراف
српски / srpski: Фонограф
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Fonograf
suomi: Fonografi
svenska: Fonograf
Tagalog: Ponograpo
తెలుగు: ఫోనోగ్రాఫ్
Türkçe: Pikap
українська: Фонограф
Winaray: Ponograpiya
中文: 留聲機