One of the most persistent quests in early phonograph technology was to increase
volume, but despite constantly improving recording techniques and larger horns, most
early phonographs could not play very loud. Gimmicks like the Polyphone
and the Double-Bell Wonder promised
twice the volume but couldn't deliver it. Prior to electrical amplification in the
1920s, there simply weren't many options available.
In fact, there were only two successful forms of mechanically-augmented amplification in the early 1900s, both nearly concurrent. One was the disc Auxetophone, which used high pressure air flow through a valve reproducer to generate enormous volume. In the cylinder camp, there was a friction reproducer invented by Daniel Higham (pronounced "hi-am") which increased the vibration of a conventional mica diaphragm by the mechanical action of an ebonite friction 'shoe' engaging a rotating amber wheel. The technology was licensed by Columbia and used in the huge and powerful Type BC Graphophone in 1905. It promised 16 times the volume of a conventional reproducer. Although this was a typical exaggeration of the era, the fact remains that it does play very loudly and with superb clarity.
The following year Columbia introduced a slightly smaller version in an elegant mahogany case: this Type BM, also called the "Home Premier." The motor has four springs rather than six and the reproducer was reduced from 4" in diameter to 3", but the sound volume (and quality) still rivals the larger Type BC. Priced at a very expensive $75 -- nearly two months income for a salaried worker -- it was not very successful in the market despite its high quality, elegant design, and exceptional performance. Like the Auxetophone, it was perhaps just a bit too loud for home use.
The BM was designed with a 6" long mandrel capable of playing Columbia's latest innovation, the new "Twentieth Century" cylinders offering three minutes playing time. These unwieldy records, aptly advertised as "half-foot", never caught on with the public and were soon rendered obsolete by Edison's conventional 4" length Amberol recordings with grooves twice as fine, playing four minutes.
The Type BM, with its clever but difficult to adjust Higham reproducer, is one of the most mechanically fascinating of early phonographs and serves as an intriguing cylinder counterpoint to the disc Auxetophone.
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