John Bolig's book Caruso Records is a good general guide to the speeds of Victor acoustic records, whether you're interested in Caruso or not. His 1904-05 Victors are at 78, 1906 things settle in to 76.6, then in the teens speeds drop, mostly to 75. But, there are exceptions and, as Dennis notes, you really have to listen and check pitch.
Also, common musical sense is necessary. On old band records, note the keys that transposing instruments are playing in. If the speed you're using has B-flat trumpets, cornets, and clarinets playing in keys like C#, F#, forget about it. Drop it a half step and you'll probably have it right. I have no idea what your musical background is, so forgive me if I'm telling you something that you already know. Transposing instruments do not sound the pitches written on the page. B-flat instruments sound a half step lower than written. So, if a B-flat cornet is playing a written C, it's actually sounding a concert B-flat. Putting transposing instruments in plausible keys can be big help in determining playback speeds, especially for more popular forms of music.
Classical works are easier because scores are readily available and orchestral players are trained to transpose, if necessary. One orchestral trumpet player may choose to play a given part on a B-flat trumpet, while another will choose a C trumpet, or the conductor may ask them to play a certain instrument based on the sound they're looking for. The player will transpose their written part at sight, if necessary.
So, for a lot of classical music, the "plausible keys" method won't help. But, for old band records and other popular music, it can often help. Also, make sure that the pitch is on an actual note relative to A=440 Hz, and not somewhere in the crack in between. Aida Favia Artsay made a strong case for A=440 from the turn of the century onward, especially in the US. But, some orchestras do play a bit higher as time progresses. Once you get into electrical recording, you can check the frequency of the power line hum. This is easy to do with iZotope Rx software.
I hope this long diatribe helps, and doesn't open as many cans of worms as it closes!
All the best,
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From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Dennis Rooney <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, February 9, 2021 10:49:37 AM
To: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: [EXTERNAL] Re: [ARSCLIST] Speeds
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Many ideas about speed have been offered, but the fact is that there is no
absolute speed for either acoustic or electrical recordings made before
1932. Turntable speed and pitch were adjusted in mastering for various
reasons. The only reliable guide is the pitch of the recording. Vocalists
often used transpositions that favored them. This introduces a guessing
game that is resolved only with some expertise. Practically no instrumental
recordings are played in other than score pitch, the principal exception
being dance band arrangements. Unless your investigations produce an
extremely high or low speed, if it sounds right then that's the correct
On Tue, Feb 9, 2021 at 1:30 AM Paul Stamler <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Hi folks:
> May I tap the collective wisdom once more?
> It's pretty well-known among the restoration community that Victor made
> their acoustical recordings at 76.6 rpm (or close). But I've also been
> told, by people who seem to know what they're talking about, that the
> earliest Victors were cut at a slower speed, approximately 72 rpm. I had
> the occasion to work on a 1901 recording, and I did it first st 76.6,
> then again at 72, and I must say that the slower ob\ne sounded more
> natural; the voice has less of a Donald Duck effect.
> So my questions are two:
> 1. Is this at all accurate? Were those early Victors truly cut at about
> 72 rpm?
> 2. If so, then can anyone suggest an approximate date for the changeover
> to 76.6 rpm? In other words, up to what recording date should I assume,
> for my first efforts, a speed of about 72 rpm?
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