Personally, I love little history stories like this one. US audio historians have found a French sound recording called a phonautograph dating back to 1860 - seventeen years before Thomas Edison made his first phonograph record. Phonautographs used a needle to etch a visual record of sound waves onto wax paper. Never intended to be played back like a record; instead they were meant to be a way to study sound waves visually. But when audio historians looked at the phonautograph, they realized it looked similar to the visual image of a sound file (like an mp3) that you would find in a modern sound-editing program.
They wrote a computer program to translate the phonautograph back into sound and produced a 10-second clip of "Au clair de la lune, Pierrot repondit" ("By the light of the moon, Pierrot replied"). The quality of the recording is poor, but it is recognizable as a woman singing, making it the earliest known recording of a human voice.
An mp3 of the recording is available at http://www.firstsounds.org/sounds/
3 days ago