Version: May 29, 2023

Charles Adams-Randall

Switched-on sound



In 1888 Charles Adams-Randall, an English electric engineer, filed patents for electric recording and playback of phonograph cylinders. The playback machine (in the drawing above), called the Automatic Pariophone, was coin-operated and intended for use with prerecorded cylinders.

The sound from the cylinder would activate a membrane at the bottom of the horn placed on top of the machine. Adams-Randall sketches two methods for transferring sound from the cylinder to the membrane:

  • Mechanical transfer, where a "roller" or small wheel would trace the groove in the cylinder and pass the sound on to a wooden membrane. Adams-Randall imagined the roller would follow "the path of the phonautographic record, said roller being preferably nonmetallic and slightly yielding, the object of using a roller being to prevent or reduce the friction of the tracer or traveller upon the record-carrier, and to prevent any harsh, rubbing, scratching contact sounds at the reproducing diaphragrn, such as are caused by the rubbing of a fixed style or pointer over or upon the record-plate as heretofore practiced in transmitting 'Phonograms.'"
  • For the electric reproduction, Adams-Randall envisaged "a traveller or travelling arm, bearing properly upon such record-carrier & record, and following in and upon the path, elevations and depressions of the record in such manner that as the record-carrier is moved it causes a movement-vibration, pulsation or undulation of the traveller, corresponding to the record, which movement I utilize to vibrate a tympanum directly, or for making and breaking or varying a current passing over or caused to pass over an Electro Magnet, arranged to actuate a tympanum, or diaphragm or other vibrator whereby the recorded sound vibrations are reproduced."

I find it somewhat difficult to understand just how the undulations of the groove would be translated to an electric current. The phrase "making and breaking or varying a current" seems to me to offer a choice between either a binary on-or-off current (which would give a horrendous sound) and one that reproduces the shape of the groove. Of the two methods, Adams-Randall preferred the electric for its "louder and more natural tone".

It is not known to me if the player was ever built or marketed.

Christer Hamp, 2023

The patents referred to are filed on 5 and 10 July 1888 (No. 9762 and 9996). My thanks to Gert Almind for providing me with the patent No. 9762, from which the drawing above is reproduced.

The patent for a player: