A record changer or autochanger is a device that plays multiple phonograph records in sequence without user intervention. Record changers first appeared in the late 1920s, and were common until the 1980s.
The record changer with a stepped center spindle design was invented by Eric Waterworth of Hobart, Australia, in 1925. He and his father took it to Sydney, and arranged with a company called Home Recreations to fit it into its forthcoming phonograph, the Salonola. Although this novelty was demonstrated at the 1927 Sydney Royal Easter Show, Home Recreations went into liquidation and the Salonola was never marketed. In 1928, the Waterworths traveled to London, where they sold their patent to the new Symphony Gramophone and Radio Co. Ltd. Eric Waterworth built three prototypes of his invention, one of which was sold to Home Recreations as a model for its proposed Salonola record player as cited above, which is now reportedly in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. The second prototype went to England with Eric and his father, and was sold as part of the above-cited deal with the Symphony Gramophone and Radio Company. The fate of this machine is unknown. The third prototype was never fully assembled, and lay in pieces under the Waterworths' house for something like sixty years. After Eric's death, the family found the dissembled parts of the machine and offered them to the Sound Preservation Association of Tasmania. The offer was accepted, and an enthusiastic member began the task of reassembling the prototype. Only a few small parts were found to be missing, and enough remained to finish assembling it and restoring it to a crude working condition. This prototype record changer is now on display at the Sound Preservation Association of Tasmania resource centre in the Hobart suburb of Bellerive.
The first commercially successful record changer was the "Automatic Orthophonic" model by the Victor Talking Machine Company, which was launched in the United States in 1927. On a conventional gramophone or phonograph, the limited playing time of 78 rpm gramophone records (averaging a little over four minutes per 12-inch side, and a little over three per 10-inch side) meant that listeners had to get up to change records at regular intervals. The Automatic Orthophonic allowed the listener to load a stack of several records into the machine, which would then be automatically played in sequence for a much longer uninterrupted listening time.
By the late 1950s, Garrard and Dual dominated the high-end record changer market in the US. From the late 1950s through the late 1960s, VM Corporation (Voice of Music) of Benton Harbor, Michigan, US, dominated the lower-priced original equipment manufacturer (OEM) American record changer market. Most VM (Voice of Music) record changers were sold to OEM audio manufacturers such as Zenith and installed in console-sized, portable or compact low- to mid-priced stereo or mono systems. VM record changers sold to OEMs were not labeled with the Voice of Music trademark on the unit itself, but only those retailed by VM Corporation, either as separate components or integral parts of VM phonographs, were labeled with the VM (Voice of Music) trademark on the changer. Outside the US, VM record-changer technology was licensed to several manufacturers. Telefunken, of then West Germany, was one such company to sign a licensing agreement with VM Corporation. By the late 1960s (1968), when BSR – MacDonald displaced VM as the world largest record-changer manufacturer and dominated the OEM changer market in the US as well.
Garrard, in 1960, introduced a high fidelity record changer with a professional grade balanced tonearm and heavy cast nonmagnetic platter, both features previously found only on manual turntables. To identify it by its superior performance, it was called an "Automatic Turntable." The name, and the improved performance, caught on and other manufacturers began producing automatic turntables with professional-grade features and performance.
Most mid-priced consumer record players of the 1950s through 1970s were equipped with changers. But record-stacking changers eventually became rarer due to the gradually growing belief that they contributed greatly to record wear and "warping," and were eventually superseded by manual turntables which served as separate parts of component systems, which played only one record at a time and were felt by some to save record wear by gentler treatment during play.
Record-changer mechanisms were often very complicated. Changers typically held a stack of records on an extended central spindle supported by a special arm (as opposed to the tonearm housing the cartridge and stylus which actually played the records) designed to hold the stack steady. Some units had feelers that could detect the size of each record (the three standard sizes being 7-, 10- or 12-inch) and position the tone arm accordingly. Some, including the changer pictured, used a variable-sized sensor which allowed sizes other than the three standard sizes to be played. (Note that the pictured Dual 1003 is stacked with a load of records of four different sizes, which could be mixed in any order.) The more basic models required the record diameter to be set manually, and hence did not allow records of different sizes to be stacked together. The following devices were the most popular (with examples):
Audiophiles eventually disdained record changers because of the perceived compromise in fidelity resulting from changes in tone arm angle with the height of the stack, and concerns about changers' seemingly rough treatment of discs, particularly due to slight but cumulative damage to the spindle holes as the records were dropped from a height of a few inches onto the record or stack below or the turntable platter, as well as some sliding and rubbing of the discs together, scratching the record labels in the process, because the dropped disc didn't immediately accelerate to the rotational speed of the spindle or discs below it. Most of these fears were unfounded in changers made after 1953. More advanced changers, such as the TD-224 model from Thorens and the ADC Accutrac+6, partially addressed these problems.
Numbering of the sides of the discs in many double and triple albums (and boxed sets of records (both 78s and LPs) in a certain sequence enabled them to be stacked and played on record changers. After the discs were stacked and one side of each disc had played, the entire stack would be turned over and replaced on the changer shelf. Thus, to be heard in the proper sequence, each disc of a four-disc set would contain, respectively, "sides" 1&8, 2&7, 3&6 and 4&5 – a practice known as "automatic sequencing", "changer sequencing" or "auto-coupling". In pre-LP days, classical symphonies and concertos, and later, original cast albums, would be recorded using this format.
This "drop-automatic sequence" was designed for record changers which simply dropped records rather than reversing the stack as it was played in sequence. Other record changers, including some made as far back as the 1930s by RCA and GE in addition to the much later Thorens TD-224, were capable of reversing the stack automatically. The RCA and GE units kept the records stacked on the turntable and slid the top record to the side after playing it. A separate sequence, the "slide-automatic sequence," was made for these changers, with sides coupled 1&5, 2&6, 3&7 and 4&8.
Some record changers could play both sides of each record. Manual sequence (sides coupled 1&2, 3&4, 5&6 and 7&8) worked with these. Examples were the Markel 75, Capehart turnover, Fisher/Lincoln, Garrard RC-100, and Thorens Symphony CD50/CD53 changers.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Victor released 78 rpm record sets in all three sequences (with set numbers preceded by M for manual, DM for drop-automatic or AM for alide-automatic sequencing), for players of each of the three kinds it manufactured. Columbia used MM for drop-automatic sets of three or more records, X for manual and MX for two-record drop-automatic sets.
In the drop-automatic format, side A of each record in a set in DM sequence had to be played in sequence, then the stack was turned over to play side B of each. Some radio station copies were produced in "relay sequence" to be played by a DJ on two turntables with no break between sides, which were coupled as 1&3, 2&4, 5&7 and 6&8. The slide-automatic sequence also allowed uninterrupted play with two turntables.