The Tefifon is a German-developed and manufactured audio playback format that utilizes cartridges loaded with an endlessly looped reel of plastic tape (much like the later 4-track and 8-track magnetic audio tape cartridges) with grooves embossed on it, similar to the ones on a phonograph record. The grooves were embossed in a helical fashion across the width of the tape, much similar to Dictaphone's Dictabelt format, and are read with a stylus and amplified pickup in the player's transport. A Tefifon cartridge can hold up to four hours of music; therefore, most releases for the format are usually compilations of popular hits or dance music, operas and operettas. Tefifon players were not sold by television and radio dealers in Germany, but rather sold directly by special sales outlets affiliated with Tefi (the manufacturer of the format).
The Tefifon format was developed by the German entrepreneur Dr. Karl Daniel and his "Tefi" company in 1936. Although a few years earlier, devices using phonographic grooved tape like the Tefifon were produced by Tefi for special purposes, mainly for the military, and were designed for voice recording. Prior to the Tefifon's introduction, Tefi introduced a device capable of recording and playback under the name "Tefiphon" (note the alternate spelling) and another device only capable of playback under the name "Teficord". Both use loose tape, unlike the cartridge-loaded tape of the Tefifon.
The first Tefifon players and cartridges for home use came available in the German market towards the end of the 1940s, but couldn't compete with the incumbent and much more popular phonographic disc and magnetic tape formats already available at the time. One reason was that well-known artists were committed exclusively by contract to major record companies, most of which had no interest in offering their artists' albums on Tefifon tapes. As a result, most Tefifon releases were of relatively unknown bands and artists. In addition, the Tefifon saw competition from phonographs equipped with record changers, some of which could allow for up to three hours of music almost without interruption (depending on how many records the changer could hold).
The Tefifon was offered in the 1950s as a standalone device, but also in combination with various types of radios, including portable and home models. The chassis of the radio sets were often purchased ready-made from third parties, with a Tefifon playback transport being added to it as a finished product. The sound quality of Tefifon tapes is much superior to 78 rpm records made of shellac, but is still less than that of 33 rpm LP records made of vinyl. In addition, the mechanical stress on the stylus and supporting cantilever is quite strong, so this wears out relatively quickly.
The last innovation of the Tefifon format was in 1961, with the introduction of stereo sound, but this was not commercially successful. Tefifon production at its main plant in Porz am Rhein was halted in 1965. Afterward, the rights to the name were acquired by the Neckermann mail-order company, which also took over the sale of existing Tefifon products. Even though the Tefifon was little-known outside of Germany, it was imported and sold in the United States for a very short time by Western Electric's Westrex division from 1963-1964 under the "Westrex" name.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tefifon.|
- The Museum of Obsolete Media's entry for Tefifon
- Video of a Tefi KC-1 player in operation on YouTube
- Video demonstrating the Tefifone system on YouTube
- Follow-up video demonstrating the Tefifone system on YouTube