Peter Donhauser
Stereo from the Mono Groove

Ultraphon: drawing of the made of operation from the patent. 1926.Küchenmeister claimed that his idea was based on the observation that in “rooms with excellent resonance” the “fullness” of the sound (as he put it) was due to the delayed perception of the sound reflected from the walls. Küchenmeister then tried to obtain two phased-shifted signals from one and the same groove in order to generate this “fullness.” However, he was unable to cite a coherent theoretical basis. The arrangement and shape of the tonearms were designed such that they were around 9 cm apart at the edge of the record and around 4.5 cm at the middle (corresponding to the reduction of the orbital speed of the groove). This distance was based on a record speed of 78 rpm and the desired delay of between 1/10 and 1/20 seconds to achieve the best effect.1

In any event, the first presentation in the Berlin Hotel Esplanade was highly successful. However, the circular given to the press left much to be desired in terms of clarity: “Küchenmeister’s theory consists of determining in greatest detail the subjective perceptive capacity of the listener and, on the passage from the source of the sound to the human ear, to trigger those stimuli that give the subject the possibility of an impression of multidimensional sound. Küchenmeister has designed an apparatus that through a multiple use of the same sound oscillations enables the individual to want to hear sound structures in the multiple dimension necessary in nature.”2

Ultraphon: advertismentThe only authentic source that might permit an evaluation of the invention is to be found in two articles in the magazine Der Radio-Amateur from 1925, 3 but they also contain considerable inconsistencies, confusions and even mistakes. Thus for instance they state that the time difference between the signals was 1/100 sec., which cannot be the case, since this would mean that the groove was travelling at 840 cm per sec. (almost seven times the actual speed). The magazine editor, finally, made a rather non-committal comment, describing it as a pseudo-effect that could not reproduce natural spatial hearing. In any event, this new type of gramophone was one of a series of attempts to reproduce music “three dimensionally.” Previous trials had mostly involved transmission using a number of microphones distributed over a surface, and loudspeakers similarly arranged – a technology later referred to as “stereo.” Despite a burst of popularity, the device soon disappeared into obscurity. 4 In any event, it was successfully presented in 1927 during the “Music in the lives of the peoples” festival in Frankfurt. Like Jörg Mager’s sphärophon, a whole room was dedicated to the ultraphon: “This section […] contains a new invention in the field of acoustics, a speaking machine designed on the basis of a new kind of technology that reproduces sound in a manner that is faithful to the original and is three dimensional. The public can attend regular demonstrations of the ultraphon and its excellent communication of sound.”5

The ultraphon was not Küchenmeister’s main field of business. His company was founded in 1922 in order to exploit speaking machine patents. It then moved into the record business, but was insolvent by 1931 and was bought up by Telefunken-Platten GmbH. 6

However, there is one curious story worth retelling. “A wedding in the air with ultraphon. […] Recently, a double wedding took place in an airplane in Berlin: two couples, the corresponding witnesses and a pastor boarded the plane in which the wedding ceremony took place high above the city to music played by an ultraphon speaking machine. The latter’s function was to replace the organ, which it did excellently using the recording of an organ, producing the volume of sound made necessary by the noise of the propellers.” Welcome publicity for the ultraphon, but the pastor was removed from office as a result of this “irregularity.”7


1 See the description in patent AT 103588 dated 25. 6. 1926.

2 Otto Kappelmayer, Das Ultraphon, in: Der Radio-Amateur, Jg. 1925, p. 1104ff.

3 3rd volume, 1925, issue 47, p. 1104; Issue 50, p. 1163ff.

4 See Ferdinand Scheminzky, Die Welt des Schalles, Salzburg 1935, p. 638.

5 Führer Musik im Leben der Völker, Frankfurt/M. 1927, p. 42.

6 Peter Tschmuck, Creativity and Innovation in the Music Industry, Dordrecht 2006, p. 63ff.

7 Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau, 47th Vol., No. 21, p. 967.