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Stacked Tunes - What Is An Automatic Record Changer?

An old automatic record changer advert

Tom |

An automatic record changer really does do what it says on the tin; it is a fully autonomous device that is used to load records onto a player with no personal input needed. But were they really all they were cracked up to be? 

These machines were introduced to the masses as an extension of the turntable somewhere around the late 1920s and continued to be a mainstay in record technology right through to the 1980s.  

As time went on, however (and technology kept improving), more people became aware of the apparent cons of using automatic record changers. Many claimed that using these devices would result in cracked and warped records. 

It was this speculation within the industry that led to fewer and fewer automatic record changers being produced – resulting in them becoming something of a rarity by the turn of the century.  

Automatic Record Changer Advert
Radio Museum​​
Automatic Record Changer Advert
Retro Thing​​

The problems that people would put forward regarding the changers more often than not related to how the records would be loaded onto the player. Automatic record changers work by having each record loaded onto an extended spindle and held in place by a metallic rod. 

 When the first record on the player had finished playing, the metallic rod holding the loaded records in place would move away, and drop the next record onto the player. It was primarily because of this dropping mechanic that users started noticing degradation to their records.  

Vinyl is a delicate material (as we are sure many collectors will know all too well), and records can have their playing surfaces damaged extensively if handled incorrectly. So, dropping a record onto a player each time you want to listen to it isn’t exactly the ideal way to go about things.  

The other issue involves how the records are initially stored on the automatic changer before they are loaded onto the player. Many of the mechanisms in these changers require each record to be stacked on top of each other and suspended above the player.  

Leaving multiple records in this state can easily lead to excessive scratching and warping - due to them not having a solid surface to rest on, as well as having their playing surfaces constantly in direct contact with each other.  

A very warped record
Vinyl Record Life​​

Automatic changers gradually phased out throughout the ’60s and ‘70s, and were eventually seen as a less desirable, more complex way of playing records. With the gradual rise of other music mediums throughout this period as well, the automatic record changer faded into obscurity.  

If automatic record changers were created to solve one issue within the record industry, however, it would be to eradicate the manual labour that comes with playing records; and it is hard to argue that they didn’t accomplish exactly that.  

Did you know?

Nowadays, coming across a fully functioning automatic record changer is something of a rarity.

Being able to load up to a dozen records (on average) made listening to your favourite music much less of a chore, as all of the disc-loading could be done ahead of time meaning you could sit back, relax, and not have to worry about specifically listening out for the end of a record, moving the tone arm out the way, getting a new record out, then loading it onto the player and moving the needle back into place.


All of this before you would even hear the start of the next record...

stack of 45rpm records on an automatic changer
Daniel Cua | ​​YouTube

We all know that technology has its upsides and its downsides. It just turns out that (unfortunately) for the automatic record changer, there were just more cons than pros for many of those using them; meaning they quickly became notable for causing more harm than good to the very thing they were designed to enhance the experience of. 

This didn’t stop some artists throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s from really zeroing in on the use of automatic changers, however. Stevie Wonder, for example, famously numbered the discs of many of his double-record albums in an order that would suit automatic changers. 

This means that record one of the set would often show sides 1 and 4, while the second record would show sides 2 and 3. This particular arrangement can be seen on Stevie’s ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ album, take a look in our pictures below! 

Stevie Wonder Auto record changer sides
Stevie Wonder Auto record changer sides

So, if you have ever owned or seen a double (or even triple) record set that follows this numbering style, the reasoning is actually based on convenience - no matter how many times you had to check you had the right side if you never knew these automatic changers existed in the first place.  

These automatic record changers were built on the idea of convenience, but unfortunately, it was that very same foundation that ultimately led to it fading into obscurity as a practical method of playing music. By the end of the 1980s, records (and of course their players) were on the way out, and portable music solutions such as cassettes were on the way in.  

Nowadays, coming across a good condition, fully functioning automatic record changer can be considered something of a rarity. Many audiophiles are now flocking to buy them again if they don’t own one already, as they are considered to be such a quirky, ‘marmite’ product – in that people either love them or hate them.


Check out the video below to learn even more and to see one in action.

Vintage record changers have been appearing on online auction sites a lot recently, this demand has of course been aided by the recent resurgence in record sales. Some automatic changers from the ‘50s and ‘60s are currently fetching hundreds (and sometimes even) thousands of pounds.  

During our research for this article, we even observed some older, non-functioning models selling for more than other working ones. This of course will all depend on the brand and overall quality that you are looking at, but it still shows that even record technology that is over half a century old is still getting at least some love and attention.  

Do you own or did you previously own an automatic record changer? What were your experiences like with them? Send us your thoughts, we would love to hear from you! 

Did you know?

The very first commercially successful automatic record changer, called the Victrola Orthophonic was made by the 'Victor Talking Machine Company' and launched in the US in 1927. It played 78rpm records and you can see it in action in the video below.

Want to know more?

3 comments

My comment is regarding automatic record changers. Many times we are doing other tasks while listening to music and need a long continuous flow with few interruptions Sometimes we just want to relax. That option should be available.

Valerie A Williams,

Starting in 60’s buying albums( before 45’s record player) , only way we used to listen to our music. NEVER had a warped record- EVER.
So don’t understand the reason they became less popular. Wish I had mine again because I never got rid of my records. NOW I have a unit that I can copy a song or albums to a CD. I think cassette and then CD progress killed the record changer. I’m 72 yrs old..so lived this era.

Sally ,

Excellent Video, brings back memories, Garrard SP25 MKIII

Bill Arnold,

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