Unusual gramophones

Gallery opened: 29 June 2019

Updated: 20 Sept 2023

The Gypsy Portable Gramophone added

Index added

Not in chronological order

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There are some highly unusual gramophones that have pages of their own:

There is the The Fluidic Gramophone, with a fluidic amplifier.

There is the The Flamephone, a unique combination of flame loudspeaker and gramophone.

There is the Hot-Air Engined Gramophone.

There is the Dual Horn Compressed-Air Auxetophone.

You will find other strange gramophones below.


The most obvious feature of a gramophone is its horn, though I will qualify that at once by saying there are gramophones with the horn contained in the cabinet and invisble. An acoustic horn acts like a transformer, matching the impedance at the soundbox with the impedance of the air. Horns have a definite cut-off frequency below which the output falls at 6 deciBels per octave. This is usually taken as the frequency at which a wavelength of sound equals the horn circumference, though the physics is complicated. Acoustic horns are very much alive in PA systems as they are more efficent (by up to 10dB) than normal cone loudspeakers. The bass end is however handled by cone loudspeakers because of the limited LF response of horns.

The way in which the cone expands (eg conical, exponential) has an important effect on the performance. There are many variations; see Wikipedia.


Left: Gramophone with rotating lamp: 1910??

This remarkable gramophone is in the Phonograph Museum in Paris. It has an oil lamp with coloured lenses in its shade that rotates in front of the horn, which is covered with mirror segments to enhance the effect- something like a mirror ball. The lamp is rotated by a belt from the main clockwork motor; the pulley can be seen under the lamp.

You can just see a brass plate to the rear of the gramophone. It reads D.R.G.M. 334473. D.R.G.M. = Deutsches Reichsgebrauchsmuster, a German copyright designation, and 334473 is presumably the number of the copyright. Not much help in finding the manufacturer, but research continues...

There is another brass plate towards the front; this has a slot and is marked 10 PF which presumably mearns '10 Pfennigs' confirming it is a German coin-operated machine for public use.

The PHONO Museum Paris is not large, but it is packed with fascinating items, and is run by a charming couple. It is at 53 Boulevard de Rochechouart – 75009 Paris

Author's photograph. I would appreciate it if anyone can identify the manufacturer.


Left: Pathe Pathephone Reflex gramophone: 1906

This design made the horn more compact by 'folding' it; the small silver horn fires the sound at the curved reflector at the rear, and it bounces back into the room. This is also called a 'reflex' system. I assume compactness was the aim, because it certainly doesn't sound any better than a conventional gramophone. The horizontal lever at the front is the stop/start for the turntable.

You can see and hear one on YouTube.


Left: Apollo No 2 Reflex gramophone: circa 1914

This is an Apollo No 2 portable gramophone, with a folded (reflex) horn, utilising US patent 175,453. Apollo gramophones were made by Paillard, a well-known Swiss Company.

The horn has hinged covers, The overall finish is black leatherette; a carrying handle was included. Size 10" x 8".

What is not clear is how you gain access to the record to play it. The horizontal tube below the horn is presumably the tone arm, but no turntable is visible.

You can hear an Apollo reflex gramophone (not the same model) on YouTube.

Left: Apollo No 11 Reflex gramophone: circa 1914

This is an Apollo No 11 portable gramophone. For some reason, here only part of the lid is being used as a sound reflector.

Left: Apollo No 11 Reflex gramophone: circa 1914

Assorted Apollo portable gramophones.


Left: Fontaphone dual-horn gramophone: 1909

This system was supposed to be capable of replacing an orchestra. It was invented by Auguste Fontanon, an Auvergne born in Vergongheon in Haute Loire. It has two separate horns and two separate sound boxes, which sit either side of the centre of the record. Therefore the needles were angled in opposite directions. The result is you get the music, overlaid by a delayed version of the music. This was supposed to create a reverberation effect, but it did not.

The Fontaphone played 120 rpm discs weighing about 1 kilogram. It was sold mainly for professional use: showmen, dance-hall operators and organizers of balls. The discs used hill-and-dale recording. (vertical recording)

The good people at the PHONO Museum demonstrated it to me. What does it sound like? Dreadful. Really bad.

Notice also the machine with the huge horn at rear left. You might think that would give good bass; it did not, when demonstrated. Its largest diameter is about a metre, so the circumference is 3.14 metres; the cut-off frequency is therefore calculated as 109.2 Hz. This will not give good bass.

Author's photograph. Location: the PHONO Museum Paris

Left: Fontaphone dual-horn gramophone: 1909

This is the description that can be seen in front of the machine in the picture above. We learn that the motor was by spring, (ie clockwork) with pinion drive, and that the speed could be set from 90 to 120 rpm, and that recording duration was from 2 to 3.5 minutes.

The label says that the idea was to "create reverberation proper to the ambiance". What you actually got was a jumble of confused sound, and not at twice the volume- the two acoustic outputs were not in phase and so the increase in volume would only be root-two times, equal to only 3 dB more.

I am baffled that anyone thought the sound acceptable.

Author's photograph. Location: the PHONO Museum Paris


Left: Pathephone Duplex dual-horn gramophone: 1913

This machine is rather mysterious; the two beautifully-coloured horns are stuck on stalks rather than being connected to the tone arms. The horns are here stored rather than in use, and the tone-arms are plugged into alternative horns inside the case, the sound exiting through the vertical slots on each side. There is a knob above each set of slots- volume controls that also allowed you to correct L/R balance?

Perhaps this was another mis-guided attempt at creating reverb? The Museum Staff have so far been unable to find any information on this point. I have heard this machine called the Pathe Duplex Jour-et-Nuit, (Night and Day) the idea being to use the external horns during the day, and the internal horns at night, when less volume was required. I have my doubts; this suggests a domestic machine, but why would you need two horns for domestic use?

Left: Pathephone Duplex dual-horn gramophone: 1913?

This machine looks very similiar to the one above, except there are no external horns.

You can hear on of these machines on YouTube. Does not sound good.

Left: Pathephone Duplex dual-horn gramophone: 1913?

This image was 'found on the web' and I have no direct information about it, but it is pretty obviously another Pathephone Duplex dual-horn gramophone, but this time the horns are attached to the tone-arms. However there are also vertical slots on each side of the case.

I conclude that you could plug the external horns into the tone arms, or, if you wanted a more compact system, you could turn the tone-arms over and plug them into the horn inside the case. Presumably the reproducer (the round thing with the diaphragm and the needle, sometimes called the soundbox) could swivel on the tone-arm.

There are no holes visisble for the tone-arm to plug into, so I suggest that when you remove the horns, you also remove the horn supports, and these are plugged into the holes accessing the internal horns.

The internal horns are visible behind the grilles; they are approx 6 inches in diameter, much smaller than the external horns.


Left: Pathe Olophone dual-horn gramophone: 1918

This looks very much like the Duplex machine above. The horn supports are again plugged into the holes that access the internal horns.

Note the little cabinet with opening lid just under the winding handle.


Left: Pathe Duplex Reflex gramophone: 190?

Here the two horns are presumably internal to the cabinet. The word 'reflex' may imply that the horns are in some way folded.

This looks rather like a modern disco setup with two record decks, but no means of crossfading is visible. Se remonte en marche means 'Get back on the move' according to Google Translate, but a better rendering is 'it rewinds itself as it goes'. Clearly it didn't, as that would be perpetual motion. You will note the two turntables have separate motors, and I suggest the idea of this machine is that you wind up one side while the other is playing, so you could have near-continuous music.

Fonctionne sans aiguille means 'Works without a needle' and I have no idea what that means. How?


Left: HMV dual-horn gramophone: 190?

This dual-horn gramophone has only one reproducer, so it's not an attempt at reverberation. The tone-arm disappears into the box, where the acoustic path presumably splits to drive the two horns.

It is not currently clear what the point was; perhaps the idea was that you pointed the horns on different directions to better cover a large listening space.


Left: Dual-horn gramophone: 190?

This dual-horn gramophone has only one sound-box, so again this is not an attempt at reverberation. Acoustical output appears to be taken from both sides of the sound-box, implying that the two horns would be out of phase, which if nothing else would much reduce the level of bass frequencies by partial cancellation.

Manufacturer unknown.


Left: Three-horn gramophone: 190?

This three-horn gramophone apparently has the ability to play three different records at once. It is far from clear what the purpose of this was, but it is certainly a most impressive machine.

Note the central horn is smaller than the outer ones.

No information at all has been found so far. Can anyone help?


Left: Three-horn gramophone: 190?

This three-horn gramophone has only one reproducer, so it's not another attempt at reverberation. The tone-arm splits into three to drive the three horns; there is one large central horn and two smaller ones each side.

It is not currently clear what the point was; perhaps the idea was that you pointed the horns on different directions to better cover a large listening space.

No information at all has been found so far, except it is believed to be a German machine. Can anyone help?


Left: Pugh gramophone: 1918

The defining feature of the Pugh gramophone was its extraordinary tone-arm which consisted of three spiral turns of a wooden tone-arm, and looked something like a resting python.

The inertia of the 'tone-arm' must have been massive. What about the tracking weight?

The motivation here was to make a gramophone without any metal being used in the reproduction process, in the hope this would give a better sound. Apart from the mahogany spiral tone arm, the sound box (reproducer) was constructed wholly of wood including the diaphragm; fibre or thorn needles were used. The hand-built horn was of mahogany. The motor was a large double spring early Garrard.

Patents for which were applied for by George Frederick Pugh in 1918.

Left: Pugh gramophone: 1918

The rather frightening sight that was revealed when you opened the front doors.

I'm glad it doesn't have teeth.


Left: Unknown two-arm gramophone: 19??

This image was found on the net, with no accompanying information at all. The purpose of having two arms is obscure, as is the function of the two levers attached to the tone-arms. At bottom right is the speed control, and just above it is a masked lamp to aid cueing.

An image search has yielded nothing.


Left: Violin-horn gramophone: 19??

Another image found on the net, with no accompanying information at all. Now, just what is going on here? It appears that the gramophone horn has been removed and replaced by a violin (or is it a viola?) for some reason. Now this might be appropriate for recordings that consist only of violins, but even then there is the objection that since the sound of the strings has already been modified by the body of the violin, at the time of playing, doing it again is not going to be an improvement.

An image search has yielded nothing whatsoever.


Left: Combined gramophone and mandolin: 19??

This is an exhibit in the Saint Petersburg Museum-Of-Gramophones-And-Phonographs. It appears to be advertising a combination of a mandolin (note the neck at the rear) and a gramophone.

An image search has yielded nothing. Googling "mandoline gramophone" also gave no results. Does anyone know any more?


Left: Sporrophon combined gramophone and clock: 1925

Some people just seem to like combining functions that are not obviously connected. Just above there is a combined gramophone and mandolin. This is a combined gramophone and clock, made by the Sporrophon company.

The horn is internal to the cabinet, and the sound comes out through the grille at the front.


Left: Sporrophon combined gramophone and clock: 1925

Sporrophon also made a gramophone powered by a falling 10 kg weight, using as a slogan "No spring breakage because there is no spring". There is some info on it here. This seems like a relatively sensible idea, guaranteeing a steady driving force, but it is not known how long the drive would run for. Note conventional winding handle to the right.

The horn is internal to the cabinet.

Left: Sporrophon combined gramophone and clock: 1925

This shows the two falling weights that drove the gramophone. They appear to be made of concrete.


Left: Pixie Grippa gramophone: 1909

The Pixie Grippa was a compact portable gramophone with the unusual arrangement of a small extra horn on the back of the soundbox. According to an owner "it actually sounds very good." It is about 10" wide.

Although not in use today, the term "grip" referred to a small hand-held suitcase or bag.

It is not known what purpose the extra horn was intended to serve; was it supposed to be something like a crossover, giving superior reproduction of high frequencies?

Left: Pixie Grippa gramophone: 1909

The advert states: "This wonderful improvement effects a 20% increase in tone [What on earth is that supposed to mean?] and picks out with perfect detail all the fine solo work in the record." Sounds like a modern hifi magazine woffling on, and that is not a complement.

The Pixie Grippa sounds like it might be useful for dealing with aggressive fairyfolk.


Left: Guiniphone gramophone: 1930

The "Guiniphone" portable gramophone was manufactured by the Guinea Portable Gramophone Co Ltd, of 69 Farringdon Road, London EC1. It had a 9-inch turntable, a cast-metal tone arm. Instead of a horn there was a polychrome-printed folding paper cone, driven at its apex by the needle. The case was leatherette-covered.


Left: Cliftophone gramophone: 1922

The unusual feature of the Cliftophone was its horizontal reproducer. The needle bar has a right angle at its pivot (conventional ones are straight) so that the lateral movement of the needle is converted to vertical movement at the diaphragm. There are opinions about that sound quality was not as good as for a standard gramophone, but when Gramophone magazine did some comparative tests the Cliftophone was much liked.

There is more information here.

Left: Cliftophone gramophone: 1922

A Cliftophone was used to play records for the early wireless broadcasting experiments at 2MT in 1922. This extract shows that it was considered of high quality.

Source: The Emergence of Broadcasting in Britain, by Brian Hennessy.


Left: Mikiphone portable gramophone: 1924

This very portable gramophone was manufactured by E. Paillard Cie, a well-known Swiss Company we have met before in this gallery, from 1924 to 1927. The design was by the Hungarian brothers Nicolás and Etienne Vadás. The writing on the reproducer says 'System Vagasz'; Googling that yields nothing.

The diameter of the closed gramophone is approx 11.5 cm, and the weight slightly less than a kilo; quite a hefty object. It could play 25 cm records.

There is more information here; the site includes a video of a Mikiphone being prepared and played. It sounds better than you might expect.

Note the record clamp in the centre of the record label; this was presumably to prevent slipping. Vinyl enthusiasts today still use them; how little progress they have made.


Left: The Gypsy portable Gramophone: 1930

The Gypsy portable was a rather rough-looking design from the Phonos copmpany of Paris, France. The rectangular-section horn looks very crude; it was designed to fold up for transport. It was connected to the reproducer by a rubber tube.

There is more information here.

You can see and hear one working on YouTube.


Left: Hudspith steam-powered gramophone: 20??

This system was built by Geoff Hudspith. He exhibited it at Sammy Miller's Motorcycle Museum on 24 June 2018.

Mr Hudspith has Previous. He was the builder of a notable steam bicycle.

You can see the steam gramophone working on YouTube.


Left: The Burgot Burglar-Alarm Gramophone: 1939

This is one of the first automatic burglar alarms, When activated by an electrical circuit, it dialled a preset telephone number and played the specially-recorded message to the police station at the other end of the line. It could be used to protect private premises, or as a silent bank alarm, activated by a floor-mounted switch. It was a considerable success because it used ordinary telephone speech lines rather than expensive hired special lines.

Note it had naturally had an electrical pickup. The records turned at 78 rpm.

I once worked in a factory in Shoreditch, London, (1980-82) which had a direct descendent of this technology, playing a record to the police when triggered. I think it was still working, but it was never used.

This example belongs to the Science Museum in London.

Left: The Burgot Burglar-Alarm Gramophone: 1939

The gramophone was normally covered with a wooden case.

There is a video of the alarm gramophone working on YouTube; go to 7:20. I was at Cambridge with Tim Hunkin.

There is more information here. The video shows that the gramophone incorporated a standard GPO dial; since dialling pulses have to be of standard speed and length this was probably a sound plan. The recorded announcement sounds very posh.


One of the many disadvantages of gramophone discs is that the linear velocity of the groove moving under the stylus is not constant. As the arm moves toward the centre of the disc the diameter is less so the groove velocity is also less. This means the signals cut into the groove walls are more cramped and distortion increases; it is usually called 'end-of-side distortion' and it is nasty. This problem remains today with microgroove vinyl discs.

Left: World Record Controller fitted to gramophone: 1922-26

An answer to this issue was invented by Noel Pemberton-Billing, when he was not making a nuisance of himself in other ways. He called it the World Record Controller. This sounds like it is some sort of Olympic committee but it is not.

The system comprised an auxiliary governor that could be retro-fitted to existing gramophones, and specially-cut discs. These were turned at 33 rpm rather than the standard 78 rpm, to give over ten minutes of playing time, much longer than the standard discs. This presumably gave Billing problems with 'end-of-side distortion' and so the auxiliary governor was designed to initially slow down the turntable and then gradually speed up the rotation as a disc was played.

The picture shows a rubber-tyred wheel resting on the record surface. It was coupled to a small fly-ball friction governor which can be seen just to the right of the wheel, which kept the linear speed under the wheel constant by braking effect as the wheel moved toward the centre of the disc, moved by a feedscrew. This feedscrew was turned by a worm and pinion, which was itself driven from a friction wheel coupled to the rim of the turntable. This is the small white wheel at bottom right of the picture.

Since the speed was much reduced from 78 rpm to 33, the existing governor in the gramophone did not act; it was not necessary to dismantle the gramophone to disable it.

The system only worked with the specially-cut World Records, which were expensive, and only a poor repertoire was available. For these reasons it did not thrive, even though it appears you could switch immediately back to standard 78 rpm discs simply by lifting the braking wheel from the disc.

Here is a demonstration of a World Record Controller on YouTube. The wow is horrible, and it is clear there are real problems with speed control, probably due to the braking wheel slipping on the disc surface.

Left: The World Record Controller: 1922-26

To the left is the worm drive for the feedscrew. The horizontal rubber wheel to drive it is missing; normally it would be between the two metal discs. The vertical lever engages with the screw like a half-nut, and can be disengaged by moving the upper half of the lever to the left, to prevent the arm moving when conventional records were being played and the Controller was not required.

The fly-ball governor presumably operated in the usual way by introducing more friction as the balls moved outward. Its shaft vanishes to the right into the brake-wheel housing, and the exact method by which it is driven is not visible; probably small helical gears.

The function of the small knob on top of the arm is unknown- perhaps it was just for lifting the arm.

Left: The World Record Controller: 1922-26

This is a close-up of the top picture, showing the Controller mounted on a gramophone.

Left: The World Record Controller: 1922-26


Left: The gramophone training of parrots: 1935?

So far as I know there is nothing unusual about the gramophone here, but it is certainly being used for the unusual purpose of training parrots to talk, and anyway I like the picture.

It was 'found on the net' and the only accompanying info was that it was taken in Germany in 1935. I don't buy that- the little notice says Defense toucher perroquets which is clearly a warning in french not to touch the livestock. (because you'll probably get bitten)

Also, the collar and tie look more like 1895 than 1935. There seems to me to be a mooring ring at lower left, and from the general look of the scene it seems very possible this was taken on the banks of the Seine in Paris.

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