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Shure Brothers microphone, model 55s, Multi-Impedance "Small Unidyne" Dynamic from 1951 Shure mikrofon 55S.jpg
Shure Brothers microphone, model 55s, Multi-Impedance "Small Unidyne" Dynamic from 1951
A Sennheiser dynamic microphone SennMicrophone.jpg
A Sennheiser dynamic microphone

A microphone, colloquially named mic or mike ( /mk/ ), [1] is a device – a transducer – that converts sound into an electrical signal. Microphones are used in many applications such as telephones, hearing aids, public address systems for concert halls and public events, motion picture production, live and recorded audio engineering, sound recording, two-way radios, megaphones, radio and television broadcasting, and in computers for recording voice, speech recognition, VoIP, and for non-acoustic purposes such as ultrasonic sensors or knock sensors.

A transducer is a device that converts energy from one form to another. Usually a transducer converts a signal in one form of energy to a signal in another.

Sound mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing; pressure wave, generated by vibrating structure

In physics, sound is a vibration that typically propagates as an audible wave of pressure, through a transmission medium such as a gas, liquid or solid.

Telephone Telecommunications device

A telephone, or phone, is a telecommunications device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are too far apart to be heard directly. A telephone converts sound, typically and most efficiently the human voice, into electronic signals that are transmitted via cables and other communication channels to another telephone which reproduces the sound to the receiving user.


Several types of microphone are in use, which employ different methods to convert the air pressure variations of a sound wave to an electrical signal. The most common are the dynamic microphone, which uses a coil of wire suspended in a magnetic field; the condenser microphone, which uses the vibrating diaphragm as a capacitor plate; and the piezoelectric microphone, which uses a crystal of piezoelectric material. Microphones typically need to be connected to a preamplifier before the signal can be recorded or reproduced.

In the field of acoustics, a diaphragm is a transducer intended to inter-convert mechanical vibrations to sounds, or vice versa. It is commonly constructed of a thin membrane or sheet of various materials, suspended at its edges. The varying air pressure of sound waves imparts mechanical vibrations to the diaphragm which can then be converted to some other type of signal; examples of this type of diaphragm are found in microphones and the human eardrum. Conversely a diaphragm vibrated by a source of energy beats against the air, creating sound waves. Examples of this type of diaphragm are loudspeaker cones and earphone diaphragms and are found in air horns.

Capacitor Passive two-terminal electronic component that stores electrical energy in an electric field

A capacitor is a device that stores electrical energy in an electric field. It is a passive electronic component with two terminals.

Preamplifier Circuit that prepares a signal for amplification

A preamplifier is an electronic amplifier that converts a weak electrical signal into an output signal strong enough to be noise-tolerant and strong enough for further processing, or for sending to a power amplifier and a loudspeaker. Without this, the final signal would be noisy or distorted. They are typically used to amplify signals from analog sensors such as microphones and pickups. Because of this, the preamplifier is often placed close to the sensor to reduce the effects of noise and interference.


In order to speak to larger groups of people, a need arose to increase the volume of the human voice. The earliest devices used to achieve this were acoustic megaphones. Some of the first examples, from fifth century BC Greece, were theater masks with horn-shaped mouth openings that acoustically amplified the voice of actors in amphitheatres. [2] In 1665, the English physicist Robert Hooke was the first to experiment with a medium other than air with the invention of the "lovers' telephone" made of stretched wire with a cup attached at each end. [3]


A megaphone, speaking-trumpet, bullhorn, blowhorn, or loudhailer is usually a portable or hand-held, cone-shaped acoustic horn used to amplify a person's voice or other sounds and direct it in a given direction. The sound is introduced into the narrow end of the megaphone, by holding it up to the face and speaking into it, and the sound waves radiate out the wide end. A megaphone increases the volume of sound by increasing the acoustic impedance seen by the vocal cords, matching the impedance of the vocal cords to the air, so that more sound power is radiated. It also serves to direct the sound waves in the direction the horn is pointing. It somewhat distorts the sound of the voice because the frequency response of the megaphone is greater at higher sound frequencies.

Amphitheatre open-air venue used for entertainment and performances

An amphitheatre or amphitheater is an open-air venue used for entertainment, performances, and sports. The term derives from the ancient Greek ἀμφιθέατρον (amphitheatron), from ἀμφί (amphi), meaning "on both sides" or "around" and θέατρον (théātron), meaning "place for viewing".

Robert Hooke English natural philosopher, architect and polymath

Robert Hooke FRS was an English natural philosopher, architect and polymath. As a young adult, he was a financially impoverished scientific inquirer, but came into wealth and good reputation following his actions as Surveyor to the City of London after the great fire of 1666 . At that time, he was also the curator of experiments of the Royal Society, and a member of its council, Gresham Professor of Geometry. He was also an important architect of his time—though few of his buildings now survive and some of those are generally misattributed—and was instrumental in devising a set of planning controls for London, the influence of which remains today. Allan Chapman has characterised him as "England's Leonardo".

In 1861, German inventor Johann Philipp Reis built an early sound transmitter (the "Reis telephone") that used a metallic strip attached to a vibrating membrane that would produce intermittent current. Better results were achieved in 1876 with the "liquid transmitter" design in early telephones from Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray – the diaphragm was attached to a conductive rod in an acid solution. [4] These systems, however, gave a very poor sound quality.

Johann Philipp Reis German scientist and inventor

Johann Philipp Reis was a self-taught German scientist and inventor. In 1861, he constructed the first make-and-break telephone, today called the Reis telephone.

Reis telephone 19th-century musical telephone

The Reis telephone was an invention named after Philipp Reis of a telephonelike device he constructed. Reis's first successful work is dated to October 1861.

Alexander Graham Bell scientist and inventor known for his work on the telephone

Alexander Graham Bell was a Scottish-born American inventor, scientist, and engineer who is credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone. He also co-founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1885.

David Edward Hughes invented a carbon microphone in the 1870s. David Edward Hughes.jpg
David Edward Hughes invented a carbon microphone in the 1870s.

The first microphone that enabled proper voice telephony was the (loose-contact) carbon microphone. This was independently developed by David Edward Hughes in England and Emile Berliner and Thomas Edison in the US. Although Edison was awarded the first patent (after a long legal dispute) in mid-1877, Hughes had demonstrated his working device in front of many witnesses some years earlier, and most historians credit him with its invention. [5] [6] [7] [8] The carbon microphone is the direct prototype of today's microphones and was critical in the development of telephony, broadcasting and the recording industries. [9] Thomas Edison refined the carbon microphone into his carbon-button transmitter of 1886. [7] [10] This microphone was employed at the first ever radio broadcast, a performance at the New York Metropolitan Opera House in 1910. [11] [12]

Carbon microphone

The carbon microphone, also known as carbon button microphone, button microphone, or carbon transmitter, is a type of microphone, a transducer that converts sound to an electrical audio signal. It consists of two metal plates separated by granules of carbon. One plate is very thin and faces toward the speaking person, acting as a diaphragm. Sound waves striking the diaphragm cause it to vibrate, exerting a varying pressure on the granules, which in turn changes the electrical resistance between the plates. Higher pressure lowers the resistance as the granules are pushed closer together. A steady direct current is passed between the plates through the granules. The varying resistance results in a modulation of the current, creating a varying electric current that reproduces the varying pressure of the sound wave. In telephony, this undulating current is directly passed through the telephone wires to the central office. In public address systems it is amplified by an audio amplifier. The frequency response of the carbon microphone, however, is limited to a narrow range, and the device produces significant electrical noise.

David Edward Hughes Welsh-American scientist and musician

David Edward Hughes, was a British-American inventor, practical experimenter, and professor of music known for his work on the printing telegraph and the microphone. He is generally considered to have been born in London but his family moved around that time so he may have been born in Corwen, Wales. His family moved to the U.S. while he was a child and he became a professor of music in Kentucky. In 1855 he patented a printing telegraph. He moved back to London in 1857 and further pursued experimentation and invention, coming up with an improved carbon microphone in 1878. In 1879 he identified what seemed to be a new phenomenon during his experiments: sparking in one device could be heard in a separate portable microphone apparatus he had set up. It was most probably radio transmissions but this was nine years before electromagnetic radiation was a proven concept and Hughes was convinced by others that his discovery was simply electromagnetic induction.

Emile Berliner German-born American inventor of the phonograph

Emile Berliner, originally Emil Berliner, was a German-born American inventor. He is best known for inventing the flat disc record and the Gramophone. He founded the United States Gramophone Company in 1894, The Gramophone Company in London, England, in 1897, Deutsche Grammophon in Hanover, Germany, in 1898, Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada in Montreal in 1899, and Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901 with Eldridge Johnson.

Jack Brown interviews Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall for broadcast to troops overseas during World War II. Bogart Bacall AFRS.jpg
Jack Brown interviews Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall for broadcast to troops overseas during World War II.

In 1916, E.C. Wente of Western Electric developed the next breakthrough with the first condenser microphone. [13] In 1923, the first practical moving coil microphone was built. The Marconi-Sykes magnetophone, developed by Captain H. J. Round, became the standard for BBC studios in London. [14] [15] This was improved in 1930 by Alan Blumlein and Herbert Holman who released the HB1A and was the best standard of the day. [16]

H. J. Round British inventor

Captain Henry Joseph Round was an English engineer and one of the early pioneers of radio. He was the first to report observation of electroluminescence from a solid state diode, leading to the discovery of the light-emitting diode. He was a personal assistant to Guglielmo Marconi.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

Alan Dower Blumlein was an English electronics engineer, notable for his many inventions in telecommunications, sound recording, stereophonic sound, television and radar. He received 128 patents and was considered as one of the most significant engineers and inventors of his time.

Also in 1923, the ribbon microphone was introduced, another electromagnetic type, believed to have been developed by Harry F. Olson, who essentially reverse-engineered a ribbon speaker. [17] Over the years these microphones were developed by several companies, most notably RCA that made large advancements in pattern control, to give the microphone directionality. With television and film technology booming there was demand for high fidelity microphones and greater directionality. Electro-Voice responded with their Academy Award-winning shotgun microphone in 1963.

During the second half of 20th century development advanced quickly with the Shure Brothers bringing out the SM58 and SM57. [18] The latest research developments include the use of fibre optics, lasers and interferometers.


Electronic symbol for a microphone MicrophoneSymbol.png
Electronic symbol for a microphone

The sensitive transducer element of a microphone is called its element or capsule. Sound is first converted to mechanical motion by means of a diaphragm, the motion of which is then converted to an electrical signal. A complete microphone also includes a housing, some means of bringing the signal from the element to other equipment, and often an electronic circuit to adapt the output of the capsule to the equipment being driven. A wireless microphone contains a radio transmitter.


Microphones are categorized by their transducer principle, such as condenser, dynamic, etc., and by their directional characteristics. Sometimes other characteristics such as diaphragm size, intended use or orientation of the principal sound input to the principal axis (end- or side-address) of the microphone are used to describe the microphone.


Inside the Oktava 319 condenser microphone Oktava319-internal.jpg
Inside the Oktava 319 condenser microphone

The condenser microphone, invented at Western Electric in 1916 by E. C. Wente, [19] is also called a capacitor microphone or electrostatic microphone—capacitors were historically called condensers. Here, the diaphragm acts as one plate of a capacitor, and the vibrations produce changes in the distance between the plates. There are two types, depending on the method of extracting the audio signal from the transducer: DC-biased microphones, and radio frequency (RF) or high frequency (HF) condenser microphones. With a DC-biased microphone, the plates are biased with a fixed charge (Q). The voltage maintained across the capacitor plates changes with the vibrations in the air, according to the capacitance equation (C = QV), where Q = charge in coulombs, C = capacitance in farads and V = potential difference in volts. The capacitance of the plates is inversely proportional to the distance between them for a parallel-plate capacitor. The assembly of fixed and movable plates is called an "element" or "capsule".

A nearly constant charge is maintained on the capacitor. As the capacitance changes, the charge across the capacitor does change very slightly, but at audible frequencies it is sensibly constant. The capacitance of the capsule (around 5 to 100  pF) and the value of the bias resistor (100  to tens of GΩ) form a filter that is high-pass for the audio signal, and low-pass for the bias voltage. Note that the time constant of an RC circuit equals the product of the resistance and capacitance.

Within the time-frame of the capacitance change (as much as 50 ms at 20 Hz audio signal), the charge is practically constant and the voltage across the capacitor changes instantaneously to reflect the change in capacitance. The voltage across the capacitor varies above and below the bias voltage. The voltage difference between the bias and the capacitor is seen across the series resistor. The voltage across the resistor is amplified for performance or recording. In most cases, the electronics in the microphone itself contribute no voltage gain as the voltage differential is quite significant, up to several volts for high sound levels. Since this is a very high impedance circuit, only current gain is usually needed, with the voltage remaining constant.

AKG C451B small-diaphragm condenser microphone AKG C451B.jpg
AKG C451B small-diaphragm condenser microphone

RF condenser microphones use a comparatively low RF voltage, generated by a low-noise oscillator. The signal from the oscillator may either be amplitude modulated by the capacitance changes produced by the sound waves moving the capsule diaphragm, or the capsule may be part of a resonant circuit that modulates the frequency of the oscillator signal. Demodulation yields a low-noise audio frequency signal with a very low source impedance. The absence of a high bias voltage permits the use of a diaphragm with looser tension, which may be used to achieve wider frequency response due to higher compliance. The RF biasing process results in a lower electrical impedance capsule, a useful by-product of which is that RF condenser microphones can be operated in damp weather conditions that could create problems in DC-biased microphones with contaminated insulating surfaces. The Sennheiser "MKH" series of microphones use the RF biasing technique. A covert, remotely energised application of the same physical principle was devised by Soviet Russian inventor Léon Theremin and used to bug the US Ambassador's Residence in Moscow between 1945 and 1952.

Condenser microphones span the range from telephone transmitters through inexpensive karaoke microphones to high-fidelity recording microphones. They generally produce a high-quality audio signal and are now the popular choice in laboratory and recording studio applications. The inherent suitability of this technology is due to the very small mass that must be moved by the incident sound wave, unlike other microphone types that require the sound wave to do more work. They require a power source, provided either via microphone inputs on equipment as phantom power or from a small battery. Power is necessary for establishing the capacitor plate voltage and is also needed to power the microphone electronics (impedance conversion in the case of electret and DC-polarized microphones, demodulation or detection in the case of RF/HF microphones). Condenser microphones are also available with two diaphragms that can be electrically connected to provide a range of polar patterns (see below), such as cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-eight. It is also possible to vary the pattern continuously with some microphones, for example, the Røde NT2000 or CAD M179.

A valve microphone is a condenser microphone that uses a vacuum tube (valve) amplifier. [20] They remain popular with enthusiasts of tube sound.

Electret condenser

First patent on foil electret microphone by G. M. Sessler et al. (pages 1 to 3) US Patent 3118022 - Gerhard M. Sessler James E. West - Bell labs - electroacustic transducer - foil electret condenser microphone 1962 1964 - pages 1-3.png
First patent on foil electret microphone by G. M. Sessler et al. (pages 1 to 3)

An electret microphone is a type of capacitor microphone invented by Gerhard Sessler and Jim West at Bell laboratories in 1962. [21] The externally applied charge described above under condenser microphones is replaced by a permanent charge in an electret material. An electret is a ferroelectric material that has been permanently electrically charged or polarized. The name comes from electrostatic and magnet; a static charge is embedded in an electret by alignment of the static charges in the material, much the way a magnet is made by aligning the magnetic domains in a piece of iron.

Due to their good performance and ease of manufacture, hence low cost, the vast majority of microphones made today are electret microphones; a semiconductor manufacturer [22] estimates annual production at over one billion units. Nearly all cell-phone, computer, PDA and headset microphones are electret types. They are used in many applications, from high-quality recording and lavalier use to built-in microphones in small sound recording devices and telephones. Though electret microphones were once considered low quality, the best ones can now rival traditional condenser microphones in every respect and can even offer the long-term stability and ultra-flat response needed for a measurement microphone. Unlike other capacitor microphones, they require no polarizing voltage, but often contain an integrated preamplifier that does require power (often incorrectly called polarizing power or bias). This preamplifier is frequently phantom powered in sound reinforcement and studio applications. Monophonic microphones designed for personal computer (PC) use, sometimes called multimedia microphones, use a 3.5 mm plug as usually used, without power, for stereo; the ring, instead of carrying the signal for a second channel, carries power via a resistor from (normally) a 5 V supply in the computer. Stereophonic microphones use the same connector; there is no obvious way to determine which standard is used by equipment and microphones.

Only the best electret microphones rival good DC-polarized units in terms of noise level and quality; electret microphones lend themselves to inexpensive mass-production, while inherently expensive non-electret condenser microphones are made to higher quality.


Patti Smith singing into a Shure SM58 (dynamic cardioid type) microphone Patti Smith performing in Finland, 2007.jpg
Patti Smith singing into a Shure SM58 (dynamic cardioid type) microphone

The dynamic microphone (also known as the moving-coil microphone) works via electromagnetic induction. They are robust, relatively inexpensive and resistant to moisture. This, coupled with their potentially high gain before feedback, makes them ideal for on-stage use.

Dynamic microphones use the same dynamic principle as in a loudspeaker, only reversed. A small movable induction coil, positioned in the magnetic field of a permanent magnet, is attached to the diaphragm. When sound enters through the windscreen of the microphone, the sound wave moves the diaphragm. When the diaphragm vibrates, the coil moves in the magnetic field, producing a varying current in the coil through electromagnetic induction. A single dynamic membrane does not respond linearly to all audio frequencies. For this reason, some microphones utilize multiple membranes for the different parts of the audio spectrum and then combine the resulting signals. Combining the multiple signals correctly is difficult; designs that do this are rare and tend to be expensive. On the other hand, there are several designs that are more specifically aimed towards isolated parts of the audio spectrum. The AKG D112, for example, is designed for bass response rather than treble. [23] In audio engineering several kinds of microphones are often used at the same time to get the best results.


Edmund Lowe using a ribbon microphone Edmund Lowe fsa 8b06653.jpg
Edmund Lowe using a ribbon microphone

Ribbon microphones use a thin, usually corrugated metal ribbon suspended in a magnetic field. The ribbon is electrically connected to the microphone's output, and its vibration within the magnetic field generates the electrical signal. Ribbon microphones are similar to moving coil microphones in the sense that both produce sound by means of magnetic induction. Basic ribbon microphones detect sound in a bi-directional (also called figure-eight, as in the diagram below) pattern because the ribbon is open on both sides. Also, because the ribbon has much less mass it responds to the air velocity rather than the sound pressure. Though the symmetrical front and rear pickup can be a nuisance in normal stereo recording, the high side rejection can be used to advantage by positioning a ribbon microphone horizontally, for example above cymbals, so that the rear lobe picks up sound only from the cymbals. Crossed figure 8, or Blumlein pair, stereo recording is gaining in popularity, and the figure-eight response of a ribbon microphone is ideal for that application.

Other directional patterns are produced by enclosing one side of the ribbon in an acoustic trap or baffle, allowing sound to reach only one side. The classic RCA Type 77-DX microphone has several externally adjustable positions of the internal baffle, allowing the selection of several response patterns ranging from "figure-eight" to "unidirectional". Such older ribbon microphones, some of which still provide high-quality sound reproduction, were once valued for this reason, but a good low-frequency response could be obtained only when the ribbon was suspended very loosely, which made them relatively fragile. Modern ribbon materials, including new nanomaterials, [24] have now been introduced that eliminate those concerns and even improve the effective dynamic range of ribbon microphones at low frequencies. Protective wind screens can reduce the danger of damaging a vintage ribbon, and also reduce plosive artifacts in the recording. Properly designed wind screens produce negligible treble attenuation. In common with other classes of dynamic microphone, ribbon microphones don't require phantom power; in fact, this voltage can damage some older ribbon microphones. Some new modern ribbon microphone designs incorporate a preamplifier and, therefore, do require phantom power, and circuits of modern passive ribbon microphones, i.e., those without the aforementioned preamplifier, are specifically designed to resist damage to the ribbon and transformer by phantom power. Also there are new ribbon materials available that are immune to wind blasts and phantom power.


The carbon microphone was the earliest type of microphone. The carbon button microphone (or sometimes just a button microphone), uses a capsule or button containing carbon granules pressed between two metal plates like the Berliner and Edison microphones. A voltage is applied across the metal plates, causing a small current to flow through the carbon. One of the plates, the diaphragm, vibrates in sympathy with incident sound waves, applying a varying pressure to the carbon. The changing pressure deforms the granules, causing the contact area between each pair of adjacent granules to change, and this causes the electrical resistance of the mass of granules to change. The changes in resistance cause a corresponding change in the current flowing through the microphone, producing the electrical signal. Carbon microphones were once commonly used in telephones; they have extremely low-quality sound reproduction and a very limited frequency response range, but are very robust devices. The Boudet microphone, which used relatively large carbon balls, was similar to the granule carbon button microphones. [25]

Unlike other microphone types, the carbon microphone can also be used as a type of amplifier, using a small amount of sound energy to control a larger amount of electrical energy. Carbon microphones found use as early telephone repeaters, making long distance phone calls possible in the era before vacuum tubes. These repeaters worked by mechanically coupling a magnetic telephone receiver to a carbon microphone: the faint signal from the receiver was transferred to the microphone, where it modulated a stronger electric current, producing a stronger electrical signal to send down the line. One illustration of this amplifier effect was the oscillation caused by feedback, resulting in an audible squeal from the old "candlestick" telephone if its earphone was placed near the carbon microphone.


A crystal microphone or piezo microphone [26] uses the phenomenon of piezoelectricity—the ability of some materials to produce a voltage when subjected to pressure—to convert vibrations into an electrical signal. An example of this is potassium sodium tartrate, which is a piezoelectric crystal that works as a transducer, both as a microphone and as a slimline loudspeaker component. Crystal microphones were once commonly supplied with vacuum tube (valve) equipment, such as domestic tape recorders. Their high output impedance matched the high input impedance (typically about 10  megohms) of the vacuum tube input stage well. They were difficult to match to early transistor equipment and were quickly supplanted by dynamic microphones for a time, and later small electret condenser devices. The high impedance of the crystal microphone made it very susceptible to handling noise, both from the microphone itself and from the connecting cable.

Piezoelectric transducers are often used as contact microphones to amplify sound from acoustic musical instruments, to sense drum hits, for triggering electronic samples, and to record sound in challenging environments, such as underwater under high pressure. Saddle-mounted pickups on acoustic guitars are generally piezoelectric devices that contact the strings passing over the saddle. This type of microphone is different from magnetic coil pickups commonly visible on typical electric guitars, which use magnetic induction, rather than mechanical coupling, to pick up vibration.


The Optoacoustics 1140 fiber-optic microphone Optimic1140 fiber optical microphone for wiki.jpg
The Optoacoustics 1140 fiber-optic microphone

A fiber-optic microphone converts acoustic waves into electrical signals by sensing changes in light intensity, instead of sensing changes in capacitance or magnetic fields as with conventional microphones. [27] [28]

During operation, light from a laser source travels through an optical fiber to illuminate the surface of a reflective diaphragm. Sound vibrations of the diaphragm modulate the intensity of light reflecting off the diaphragm in a specific direction. The modulated light is then transmitted over a second optical fiber to a photo detector, which transforms the intensity-modulated light into analog or digital audio for transmission or recording. Fiber-optic microphones possess high dynamic and frequency range, similar to the best high fidelity conventional microphones.

Fiber-optic microphones do not react to or influence any electrical, magnetic, electrostatic or radioactive fields (this is called EMI/RFI immunity). The fiber-optic microphone design is therefore ideal for use in areas where conventional microphones are ineffective or dangerous, such as inside industrial turbines or in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment environments.

Fiber-optic microphones are robust, resistant to environmental changes in heat and moisture, and can be produced for any directionality or impedance matching. The distance between the microphone's light source and its photodetector may be up to several kilometers without need for any preamplifier or another electrical device, making fiber-optic microphones suitable for industrial and surveillance acoustic monitoring.

Fiber-optic microphones are used in very specific application areas such as for infrasound monitoring and noise-canceling. They have proven especially useful in medical applications, such as allowing radiologists, staff and patients within the powerful and noisy magnetic field to converse normally, inside the MRI suites as well as in remote control rooms. [29] Other uses include industrial equipment monitoring and audio calibration and measurement, high-fidelity recording and law enforcement. [30]


Laser microphones are often portrayed in movies as spy gadgets, because they can be used to pick up sound at a distance from the microphone equipment. A laser beam is aimed at the surface of a window or other plane surface that is affected by sound. The vibrations of this surface change the angle at which the beam is reflected, and the motion of the laser spot from the returning beam is detected and converted to an audio signal.

In a more robust and expensive implementation, the returned light is split and fed to an interferometer, which detects movement of the surface by changes in the optical path length of the reflected beam. The former implementation is a tabletop experiment; the latter requires an extremely stable laser and precise optics.

A new type of laser microphone is a device that uses a laser beam and smoke or vapor to detect sound vibrations in free air. On 25 August 2009, U.S. patent 7,580,533 issued for a Particulate Flow Detection Microphone based on a laser-photocell pair with a moving stream of smoke or vapor in the laser beam's path. Sound pressure waves cause disturbances in the smoke that in turn cause variations in the amount of laser light reaching the photodetector. A prototype of the device was demonstrated at the 127th Audio Engineering Society convention in New York City from 9 through 12 October 2009.


Early microphones did not produce intelligible speech, until Alexander Graham Bell made improvements including a variable-resistance microphone/transmitter. Bell's liquid transmitter consisted of a metal cup filled with water with a small amount of sulfuric acid added. A sound wave caused the diaphragm to move, forcing a needle to move up and down in the water. The electrical resistance between the wire and the cup was then inversely proportional to the size of the water meniscus around the submerged needle. Elisha Gray filed a caveat for a version using a brass rod instead of the needle.[ when? ] Other minor variations and improvements were made to the liquid microphone by Majoranna, Chambers, Vanni, Sykes, and Elisha Gray, and one version was patented by Reginald Fessenden in 1903. These were the first working microphones, but they were not practical for commercial application. The famous first phone conversation between Bell and Watson took place using a liquid microphone.


The MEMS (MicroElectrical-Mechanical System) microphone is also called a microphone chip or silicon microphone. A pressure-sensitive diaphragm is etched directly into a silicon wafer by MEMS processing techniques, and is usually accompanied with integrated preamplifier. Most MEMS microphones are variants of the condenser microphone design. Digital MEMS microphones have built in analog-to-digital converter (ADC) circuits on the same CMOS chip making the chip a digital microphone and so more readily integrated with modern digital products. Major manufacturers producing MEMS silicon microphones are Wolfson Microelectronics (WM7xxx) now Cirrus Logic, [31] InvenSense (product line sold by Analog Devices [32] ), Akustica (AKU200x), Infineon (SMM310 product), Knowles Electronics, Memstech (MSMx), NXP Semiconductors (division bought by Knowles [33] ), Sonion MEMS, Vesper, AAC Acoustic Technologies, [34] and Omron. [35]

More recently, since the 2010s, there has been increased interest and research into making piezoelectric MEMS microphones which are a significant architectural and material change from existing condenser style MEMS designs. [36]

Speakers as microphones

A loudspeaker, a transducer that turns an electrical signal into sound waves, is the functional opposite of a microphone. Since a conventional speaker is constructed much like a dynamic microphone (with a diaphragm, coil and magnet), speakers can actually work "in reverse" as microphones. The resulting signal typically offers reduced quality including limited high-end frequency response and poor sensitivity. In practical use, speakers are sometimes used as microphones in applications where high quality and sensitivity are not needed such as intercoms, walkie-talkies or video game voice chat peripherals, or when conventional microphones are in short supply.

However, there is at least one practical application that exploits those weaknesses: the use of a medium-size woofer placed closely in front of a "kick drum" (bass drum) in a drum set to act as a microphone. A commercial product example is the Yamaha Subkick, a 6.5-inch (170 mm) woofer shock-mounted into a 10" drum shell used in front of kick drums. Since a relatively massive membrane is unable to transduce high frequencies while being capable of tolerating strong low-frequency transients, the speaker is often ideal for picking up the kick drum while reducing bleed from the nearby cymbals and snare drums.

Less commonly, microphones themselves can be used as speakers, but due to their low power handling and small transducer sizes, a tweeter is the most practical application. One instance of such an application was the STC microphone-derived 4001 super-tweeter, which was successfully used in a number of high quality loudspeaker systems from the late 1960s to the mid-70s.

Capsule design and directivity

The inner elements of a microphone are the primary source of differences in directivity. A pressure microphone uses a diaphragm between a fixed internal volume of air and the environment, and responds uniformly to pressure from all directions, so it is said to be omnidirectional. A pressure-gradient microphone uses a diaphragm that is at least partially open on both sides. The pressure difference between the two sides produces its directional characteristics. Other elements such as the external shape of the microphone and external devices such as interference tubes can also alter a microphone's directional response. A pure pressure-gradient microphone is equally sensitive to sounds arriving from front or back, but insensitive to sounds arriving from the side because sound arriving at the front and back at the same time creates no gradient between the two. The characteristic directional pattern of a pure pressure-gradient microphone is like a figure-8. Other polar patterns are derived by creating a capsule that combines these two effects in different ways. The cardioid, for instance, features a partially closed backside, so its response is a combination of pressure and pressure-gradient characteristics. [37]

Polar patterns

(Microphone facing top of page in diagram, parallel to page):

A microphone's directionality or polar pattern indicates how sensitive it is to sounds arriving at different angles about its central axis. The polar patterns illustrated above represent the locus of points that produce the same signal level output in the microphone if a given sound pressure level (SPL) is generated from that point. How the physical body of the microphone is oriented relative to the diagrams depends on the microphone design. For large-membrane microphones such as in the Oktava (pictured above), the upward direction in the polar diagram is usually perpendicular to the microphone body, commonly known as "side fire" or "side address". For small diaphragm microphones such as the Shure (also pictured above), it usually extends from the axis of the microphone commonly known as "end fire" or "top/end address".

Some microphone designs combine several principles in creating the desired polar pattern. This ranges from shielding (meaning diffraction/dissipation/absorption) by the housing itself to electronically combining dual membranes.


An omnidirectional (or nondirectional) microphone's response is generally considered to be a perfect sphere in three dimensions. In the real world, this is not the case. As with directional microphones, the polar pattern for an "omnidirectional" microphone is a function of frequency. The body of the microphone is not infinitely small and, as a consequence, it tends to get in its own way with respect to sounds arriving from the rear, causing a slight flattening of the polar response. This flattening increases as the diameter of the microphone (assuming it's cylindrical) reaches the wavelength of the frequency in question. Therefore, the smallest diameter microphone gives the best omnidirectional characteristics at high frequencies.

The wavelength of sound at 10 kHz is 1.4" (3.5 cm). The smallest measuring microphones are often 1/4" (6 mm) in diameter, which practically eliminates directionality even up to the highest frequencies. Omnidirectional microphones, unlike cardioids, do not employ resonant cavities as delays, and so can be considered the "purest" microphones in terms of low coloration; they add very little to the original sound. Being pressure-sensitive they can also have a very flat low-frequency response down to 20 Hz or below. Pressure-sensitive microphones also respond much less to wind noise and plosives than directional (velocity sensitive) microphones.

Areas of application: studios, old churches, theatres, on-site TV interviews, etc. [38]

An example of a nondirectional microphone is the round black eight ball. [39]


A unidirectional microphone is primarily sensitive to sounds from only one direction. The diagram above illustrates a number of these patterns. The microphone faces upwards in each diagram. The sound intensity for a particular frequency is plotted for angles radially from 0 to 360°. (Professional diagrams show these scales and include multiple plots at different frequencies. The diagrams given here provide only an overview of typical pattern shapes, and their names.)

Cardioid, hypercardioid, supercardioid, subcardioid

University Sound US664A dynamic supercardioid microphone Us664a microphone.jpg
University Sound US664A dynamic supercardioid microphone

The most common unidirectional microphone is a cardioid microphone, so named because the sensitivity pattern is "heart-shaped", i.e. a cardioid. The cardioid family of microphones are commonly used as vocal or speech microphones, since they are good at rejecting sounds from other directions. In three dimensions, the cardioid is shaped like an apple centred around the microphone, which is the "stem" of the apple. The cardioid response reduces pickup from the side and rear, helping to avoid feedback from the monitors. Since these directional transducer microphones achieve their patterns by sensing pressure gradient, putting them very close to the sound source (at distances of a few centimeters) results in a bass boost due to the increased gradient. This is known as the proximity effect. [40] The SM58 has been the most commonly used microphone for live vocals for more than 50 years [41] demonstrating the importance and popularity of cardioid mics.

The cardioid is effectively a superposition of an omnidirectional (pressure) and a figure-8 (pressure gradient) microphone; [42] for sound waves coming from the back, the negative signal from the figure-8 cancels the positive signal from the omnidirectional element, whereas for sound waves coming from the front, the two add to each other.

By combining the two components in different ratios, any pattern between omni and figure-8 can be achieved, which comprise the first-order cardioid family. Common shapes include:


"Figure 8" or bi-directional microphones receive sound equally from both the front and back of the element. Most ribbon microphones are of this pattern. In principle they do not respond to sound pressure at all, only to the change in pressure between front and back; since sound arriving from the side reaches front and back equally there is no difference in pressure and therefore no sensitivity to sound from that direction. In more mathematical terms, while omnidirectional microphones are scalar transducers responding to pressure from any direction, bi-directional microphones are vector transducers responding to the gradient along an axis normal to the plane of the diaphragm. This also has the effect of inverting the output polarity for sounds arriving from the back side.


An Audio-Technica shotgun microphone Shotgun microphone.jpg
An Audio-Technica shotgun microphone
The interference tube of a shotgun microphone. The capsule is at the base of the tube. Interference Tube.jpg
The interference tube of a shotgun microphone. The capsule is at the base of the tube.

Shotgun microphones are the most highly directional of simple first-order unidirectional types. At low frequencies they have the classic polar response of a hypercardioid but at medium and higher frequencies an interference tube gives them an increased forward response. This is achieved by a process of cancellation of off-axis waves entering the longitudinal array of slots. A consequence of this technique is the presence of some rear lobes that vary in level and angle with frequency, and can cause some coloration effects. Due to the narrowness of their forward sensitivity, shotgun microphones are commonly used on television and film sets, in stadiums, and for field recording of wildlife.

Boundary or "PZM"

Several approaches have been developed for effectively using a microphone in less-than-ideal acoustic spaces, which often suffer from excessive reflections from one or more of the surfaces (boundaries) that make up the space. If the microphone is placed in, or very close to, one of these boundaries, the reflections from that surface have the same timing as the direct sound, thus giving the microphone a hemispherical polar pattern and improved intelligibility. Initially this was done by placing an ordinary microphone adjacent to the surface, sometimes in a block of acoustically transparent foam. Sound engineers Ed Long and Ron Wickersham developed the concept of placing the diaphragm parallel to and facing the boundary. [47] While the patent has expired, "Pressure Zone Microphone" and "PZM" are still active trademarks of Crown International, and the generic term boundary microphone is preferred. While a boundary microphone was initially implemented using an omnidirectional element, it is also possible to mount a directional microphone close enough to the surface to gain some of the benefits of this technique while retaining the directional properties of the element. Crown's trademark on this approach is "Phase Coherent Cardioid" or "PCC," but there are other makers who employ this technique as well.

Application-specific designs

A lavalier microphone is made for hands-free operation. These small microphones are worn on the body. Originally, they were held in place with a lanyard worn around the neck, but more often they are fastened to clothing with a clip, pin, tape or magnet. The lavalier cord may be hidden by clothes and either run to an RF transmitter in a pocket or clipped to a belt (for mobile use), or run directly to the mixer (for stationary applications).

A wireless microphone transmits the audio as a radio or optical signal rather than via a cable. It usually sends its signal using a small FM radio transmitter to a nearby receiver connected to the sound system, but it can also use infrared waves if the transmitter and receiver are within sight of each other.

A contact microphone picks up vibrations directly from a solid surface or object, as opposed to sound vibrations carried through air. One use for this is to detect sounds of a very low level, such as those from small objects or insects. The microphone commonly consists of a magnetic (moving coil) transducer, contact plate and contact pin. The contact plate is placed directly on the vibrating part of a musical instrument or other surface, and the contact pin transfers vibrations to the coil. Contact microphones have been used to pick up the sound of a snail's heartbeat and the footsteps of ants. A portable version of this microphone has recently been developed. A throat microphone is a variant of the contact microphone that picks up speech directly from a person's throat, which it is strapped to. This lets the device be used in areas with ambient sounds that would otherwise make the speaker inaudible.

A Sony parabolic reflector, without a microphone. The microphone would face the reflector surface and sound captured by the reflector would bounce towards the microphone. Sony parabolic reflector.jpg
A Sony parabolic reflector, without a microphone. The microphone would face the reflector surface and sound captured by the reflector would bounce towards the microphone.

A parabolic microphone uses a parabolic reflector to collect and focus sound waves onto a microphone receiver, in much the same way that a parabolic antenna (e.g. satellite dish) does with radio waves. Typical uses of this microphone, which has unusually focused front sensitivity and can pick up sounds from many meters away, include nature recording, outdoor sporting events, eavesdropping, law enforcement, and even espionage. Parabolic microphones are not typically used for standard recording applications, because they tend to have poor low-frequency response as a side effect of their design.

A stereo microphone integrates two microphones in one unit to produce a stereophonic signal. A stereo microphone is often used for broadcast applications or field recording where it would be impractical to configure two separate condenser microphones in a classic X-Y configuration (see microphone practice) for stereophonic recording. Some such microphones have an adjustable angle of coverage between the two channels.

A noise-canceling microphone is a highly directional design intended for noisy environments. One such use is in aircraft cockpits where they are normally installed as boom microphones on headsets. Another use is in live event support on loud concert stages for vocalists involved with live performances. Many noise-canceling microphones combine signals received from two diaphragms that are in opposite electrical polarity or are processed electronically. In dual diaphragm designs, the main diaphragm is mounted closest to the intended source and the second is positioned farther away from the source so that it can pick up environmental sounds to be subtracted from the main diaphragm's signal. After the two signals have been combined, sounds other than the intended source are greatly reduced, substantially increasing intelligibility. Other noise-canceling designs use one diaphragm that is affected by ports open to the sides and rear of the microphone, with the sum being a 16 dB rejection of sounds that are farther away. One noise-canceling headset design using a single diaphragm has been used prominently by vocal artists such as Garth Brooks and Janet Jackson. [48] A few noise-canceling microphones are throat microphones.

Stereo microphone techniques

Various standard techniques are used with microphones used in sound reinforcement at live performances, or for recording in a studio or on a motion picture set. By suitable arrangement of one or more microphones, desirable features of the sound to be collected can be kept, while rejecting unwanted sounds.


Microphones containing active circuitry, such as most condenser microphones, require power to operate the active components. The first of these used vacuum-tube circuits with a separate power supply unit, using a multi-pin cable and connector. With the advent of solid-state amplification, the power requirements were greatly reduced and it became practical to use the same cable conductors and connector for audio and power. During the 1960s several powering methods were developed, mainly in Europe. The two dominant methods were initially defined in German DIN 45595 as de:Tonaderspeisung or T-power and DIN 45596 for phantom power. Since the 1980s, phantom power has become much more common, because the same input may be used for both powered and unpowered microphones. In consumer electronics such as DSLRs and camcorders, "plug-in power" is more common, for microphones using a 3.5 mm phone plug connector. Phantom, T-power and plug-in power are described in international standard IEC 61938. [49]


A microphone with a USB connector (not visible) Yeti-USB-Microphone.jpg
A microphone with a USB connector (not visible)

The most common connectors used by microphones are:

Some microphones use other connectors, such as a 5-pin XLR, or mini XLR for connection to portable equipment. Some lavalier (or "lapel", from the days of attaching the microphone to the news reporter's suit lapel) microphones use a proprietary connector for connection to a wireless transmitter, such as a radio pack. Since 2005, professional-quality microphones with USB connections have begun to appear, designed for direct recording into computer-based software.


Microphones have an electrical characteristic called impedance, measured in ohms  (Ω), that depends on the design. In passive microphones, this value relates to the impedance of the coil (or similar mechanism). In active microphones, this value describes the load impedance for which its amplifier circuitry is designed. Typically, the rated impedance is stated. [50] Low impedance is considered under 600 Ω. Medium impedance is considered between 600 Ω and 10 kΩ. High impedance is above 10 kΩ. Owing to their built-in amplifier, condenser microphones typically have an output impedance between 50 and 200 Ω. [51]

If a microphone is made in high and low impedance versions, the high impedance version has a higher output voltage for a given sound pressure input, and is suitable for use with vacuum-tube guitar amplifiers, for instance, which have a high input impedance and require a relatively high signal input voltage to overcome the tubes' inherent noise. Most professional microphones are low impedance, about 200 Ω or lower. Professional vacuum-tube sound equipment incorporates a transformer that steps up the impedance of the microphone circuit to the high impedance and voltage needed to drive the input tube. External matching transformers are also available that can be used in-line between a low impedance microphone and a high impedance input.

Low-impedance microphones are preferred over high impedance for two reasons: one is that using a high-impedance microphone with a long cable results in high frequency signal loss due to cable capacitance, which forms a low-pass filter with the microphone output impedance[ citation needed ]. The other is that long high-impedance cables tend to pick up more hum (and possibly radio-frequency interference (RFI) as well). Nothing is damaged if the impedance between microphone and other equipment is mismatched; the worst that happens is a reduction in signal or change in frequency response.

Some microphones are designed not to have their impedance matched by the load they are connected to. [52] Doing so can alter their frequency response and cause distortion, especially at high sound pressure levels. Certain ribbon and dynamic microphones are exceptions, due to the designers' assumption of a certain load impedance being part of the internal electro-acoustical damping circuit of the microphone. [53] [ dubious ]

Digital microphone interface

Neumann D-01 digital microphone and Neumann DMI-8 8-channel USB Digital Microphone Interface Neumann D-01 IBC 2008.jpg
Neumann D-01 digital microphone and Neumann DMI-8 8-channel USB Digital Microphone Interface

The AES42 standard, published by the Audio Engineering Society, defines a digital interface for microphones. Microphones conforming to this standard directly output a digital audio stream through an XLR or XLD male connector, rather than producing an analog output. Digital microphones may be used either with new equipment with appropriate input connections that conform to the AES42 standard, or else via a suitable interface box. Studio-quality microphones that operate in accordance with the AES42 standard are now available from a number of microphone manufacturers.

Measurements and specifications

A comparison of the far field on-axis frequency response of the Oktava 319 and the Shure SM58 Oktava319vsshuresm58.png
A comparison of the far field on-axis frequency response of the Oktava 319 and the Shure SM58

Because of differences in their construction, microphones have their own characteristic responses to sound. This difference in response produces non-uniform phase and frequency responses. In addition, microphones are not uniformly sensitive to sound pressure, and can accept differing levels without distorting. Although for scientific applications microphones with a more uniform response are desirable, this is often not the case for music recording, as the non-uniform response of a microphone can produce a desirable coloration of the sound. There is an international standard for microphone specifications, [50] but few manufacturers adhere to it. As a result, comparison of published data from different manufacturers is difficult because different measurement techniques are used. The Microphone Data Website has collated the technical specifications complete with pictures, response curves and technical data from the microphone manufacturers for every currently listed microphone, and even a few obsolete models, and shows the data for them all in one common format for ease of comparison.. Caution should be used in drawing any solid conclusions from this or any other published data, however, unless it is known that the manufacturer has supplied specifications in accordance with IEC 60268-4.

A frequency response diagram plots the microphone sensitivity in decibels over a range of frequencies (typically 20 Hz to 20 kHz), generally for perfectly on-axis sound (sound arriving at 0° to the capsule). Frequency response may be less informatively stated textually like so: "30 Hz–16 kHz ±3 dB". This is interpreted as meaning a nearly flat, linear, plot between the stated frequencies, with variations in amplitude of no more than plus or minus 3 dB. However, one cannot determine from this information how smooth the variations are, nor in what parts of the spectrum they occur. Note that commonly made statements such as "20 Hz–20 kHz" are meaningless without a decibel measure of tolerance. Directional microphones' frequency response varies greatly with distance from the sound source, and with the geometry of the sound source. IEC 60268-4 specifies that frequency response should be measured in plane progressive wave conditions (very far away from the source) but this is seldom practical. Close talking microphones may be measured with different sound sources and distances, but there is no standard and therefore no way to compare data from different models unless the measurement technique is described.

The self-noise or equivalent input noise level is the sound level that creates the same output voltage as the microphone does in the absence of sound. This represents the lowest point of the microphone's dynamic range, and is particularly important should you wish to record sounds that are quiet. The measure is often stated in dB(A), which is the equivalent loudness of the noise on a decibel scale frequency-weighted for how the ear hears, for example: "15 dBA SPL" (SPL means sound pressure level relative to 20  micropascals). The lower the number the better. Some microphone manufacturers state the noise level using ITU-R 468 noise weighting, which more accurately represents the way we hear noise, but gives a figure some 11–14 dB higher. A quiet microphone typically measures 20 dBA SPL or 32 dB SPL 468-weighted. Very quiet microphones have existed for years for special applications, such the Brüel & Kjaer 4179, with a noise level around 0 dB SPL. Recently some microphones with low noise specifications have been introduced in the studio/entertainment market, such as models from Neumann and Røde that advertise noise levels between 5–7 dBA. Typically this is achieved by altering the frequency response of the capsule and electronics to result in lower noise within the A-weighting curve while broadband noise may be increased.

The maximum SPL the microphone can accept is measured for particular values of total harmonic distortion (THD), typically 0.5%. This amount of distortion is generally inaudible,[ citation needed ] so one can safely use the microphone at this SPL without harming the recording. Example: "142  dB SPL peak (at 0.5% THD)". The higher the value, the better, although microphones with a very high maximum SPL also have a higher self-noise.

The clipping level is an important indicator of maximum usable level, as the 1% THD figure usually quoted under max SPL is really a very mild level of distortion, quite inaudible especially on brief high peaks. Clipping is much more audible. For some microphones the clipping level may be much higher than the max SPL.

The dynamic range of a microphone is the difference in SPL between the noise floor and the maximum SPL. If stated on its own, for example "120 dB", it conveys significantly less information than having the self-noise and maximum SPL figures individually.

Sensitivity indicates how well the microphone converts acoustic pressure to output voltage. A high sensitivity microphone creates more voltage and so needs less amplification at the mixer or recording device. This is a practical concern but is not directly an indication of the microphone's quality, and in fact the term sensitivity is something of a misnomer, "transduction gain" being perhaps more meaningful, (or just "output level") because true sensitivity is generally set by the noise floor, and too much "sensitivity" in terms of output level compromises the clipping level. There are two common measures. The (preferred) international standard is made in millivolts per pascal at 1 kHz. A higher value indicates greater sensitivity. The older American method is referred to a 1 V/Pa standard and measured in plain decibels, resulting in a negative value. Again, a higher value indicates greater sensitivity, so −60  dB is more sensitive than −70 dB.

Measurement microphones

An AKG C214 condenser microphone with shock mount AKG C214 condenser microphone with H85 shock mount.jpg
An AKG C214 condenser microphone with shock mount

Some microphones are intended for testing speakers, measuring noise levels and otherwise quantifying an acoustic experience. These are calibrated transducers and are usually supplied with a calibration certificate that states absolute sensitivity against frequency. The quality of measurement microphones is often referred to using the designations "Class 1," "Type 2" etc., which are references not to microphone specifications but to sound level meters. [54] A more comprehensive standard [55] for the description of measurement microphone performance was recently adopted.

Measurement microphones are generally scalar sensors of pressure; they exhibit an omnidirectional response, limited only by the scattering profile of their physical dimensions. Sound intensity or sound power measurements require pressure-gradient measurements, which are typically made using arrays of at least two microphones, or with hot-wire anemometers.


To take a scientific measurement with a microphone, its precise sensitivity must be known (in volts per pascal). Since this may change over the lifetime of the device, it is necessary to regularly calibrate measurement microphones. This service is offered by some microphone manufacturers and by independent certified testing labs. All microphone calibration is ultimately traceable to primary standards at a national measurement institute such as NPL in the UK, PTB in Germany and NIST in the United States, which most commonly calibrate using the reciprocity primary standard. Measurement microphones calibrated using this method can then be used to calibrate other microphones using comparison calibration techniques.

Depending on the application, measurement microphones must be tested periodically (every year or several months, typically) and after any potentially damaging event, such as being dropped (most such microphones come in foam-padded cases to reduce this risk) or exposed to sounds beyond the acceptable level.


A microphone array is any number of microphones operating in tandem. There are many applications:

Typically, an array is made up of omnidirectional microphones distributed about the perimeter of a space, linked to a computer that records and interprets the results into a coherent form.


Microphone with its windscreen removed. Microphone and cover.JPG
Microphone with its windscreen removed.

Windscreens (or windshields – the terms are interchangeable) provide a method of reducing the effect of wind on microphones. While pop-screens give protection from unidirectional blasts, foam “hats” shield wind into the grille from all directions, and blimps / zeppelins / baskets entirely enclose the microphone and protect its body as well. The latter is important because, given the extreme low frequency content of wind noise, vibration induced in the housing of the microphone can contribute substantially to the noise output.

The shielding material used – wire gauze, fabric or foam – is designed to have a significant acoustic impedance. The relatively low particle-velocity air pressure changes that constitute sound waves can pass through with minimal attenuation, but higher particle-velocity wind is impeded to a far greater extent. Increasing the thickness of the material improves wind attenuation but also begins to compromise high frequency audio content. This limits the practical size of simple foam screens. While foams and wire meshes can be partly or wholly self-supporting, soft fabrics and gauzes require stretching on frames, or laminating with coarser structural elements.

Since all wind noise is generated at the first surface the air hits, the greater the spacing between shield periphery and microphone capsule, the greater the noise attenuation. For an approximately spherical shield, attenuation increases by (approximately) the cube of that distance. Thus larger shields are always much more efficient than smaller ones. [56] With full basket windshields there is an additional pressure chamber effect, first explained by Joerg Wuttke, [57] which, for two-port (pressure gradient) microphones, allows the shield/microphone combination to act as a high-pass acoustic filter.

Since turbulence at a surface is the source of wind noise, reducing gross turbulence can add to noise reduction. Both aerodynamically smooth surfaces, and ones that prevent powerful vortices being generated, have been used successfully. Historically, artificial fur has proved very useful for this purpose since the fibres produce micro-turbulence and absorb energy silently. If not matted by wind and rain, the fur fibres are very transparent acoustically, but the woven or knitted backing can give significant attenuation. As a material it suffers from being difficult to manufacture with consistency, and to keep in pristine condition on location. Thus there is an interest (DPA 5100, Rycote Cyclone) to move away from its use. [58]

In the studio and on stage, pop-screens and foam shields can be useful for reasons of hygiene, and protecting microphones from spittle and sweat. They can also be useful coloured idents. On location the basket shield can contain a suspension system to isolate the microphone from shock and handling noise.

Stating the efficiency of wind noise reduction is an inexact science, since the effect varies enormously with frequency, and hence with the bandwidth of the microphone and audio channel. At very low frequencies (10–100 Hz) where massive wind energy exists, reductions are important to avoid overloading of the audio chain – particularly the early stages. This can produce the typical “wumping” sound associated with wind, which is often syllabic muting of the audio due to LF peak limiting. At higher frequencies – 200 Hz to ~3 kHz – the aural sensitivity curve allows us to hear the effect of wind as an addition to the normal noise floor, even though it has a far lower energy content. Simple shields may allow the wind noise to be 10 dB less apparent; better ones can achieve nearer to a 50 dB reduction. However the acoustic transparency, particularly at HF, should also be indicated, since a very high level of wind attenuation could be associated with very muffled audio.

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

An analog signal is any continuous signal for which the time-varying feature (variable) of the signal is a representation of some other time varying quantity, i.e., analogous to another time varying signal. For example, in an analog audio signal, the instantaneous voltage of the signal varies continuously with the pressure of the sound waves. It differs from a digital signal, in which the continuous quantity is a representation of a sequence of discrete values which can only take on one of a finite number of values. The term analog signal usually refers to electrical signals; however, mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic, human speech, and other systems may also convey or be considered analog signals.

Loudspeaker transducer that converts electrical energy into sound energy; electroacoustic transducer; converts an electrical audio signal into a corresponding sound

A loudspeaker is an electroacoustic transducer; a device which converts an electrical audio signal into a corresponding sound. The most widely used type of speaker in the 2010s is the dynamic speaker, invented in 1924 by Edward W. Kellogg and Chester W. Rice. The dynamic speaker operates on the same basic principle as a dynamic microphone, but in reverse, to produce sound from an electrical signal. When an alternating current electrical audio signal is applied to its voice coil, a coil of wire suspended in a circular gap between the poles of a permanent magnet, the coil is forced to move rapidly back and forth due to Faraday's law of induction, which causes a diaphragm attached to the coil to move back and forth, pushing on the air to create sound waves. Besides this most common method, there are several alternative technologies that can be used to convert an electrical signal into sound. The sound source must be amplified or strengthened with an audio power amplifier before the signal is sent to the speaker.

A hydrophone is a microphone designed to be used underwater for recording or listening to underwater sound. Most hydrophones are based on a piezoelectric transducer that generates an electric potential when subjected to a pressure change, such as a sound wave. Some piezoelectric transducers can also serve as a sound projector, but not all have this capability, and some may be destroyed if used in such a manner.

Tweeter loudspeaker for high audio frequencies

A tweeter or treble speaker is a special type of loudspeaker that is designed to produce high audio frequencies, typically from around 2,000 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Specialty tweeters can deliver high frequencies up to 100 kHz. The name is derived from the high pitched sounds made by some birds (Tweets), especially in contrast to the low woofs made by many dogs, after which low-frequency drivers are named (woofers).

Headphones pair of small speakers held close to a users ears

Headphones traditionally refer to a pair of small loudspeaker drivers worn on or around the head over a user's ears. They are electroacoustic transducers, which convert an electrical signal to a corresponding sound. Headphones let a single user listen to an audio source privately, in contrast to a loudspeaker, which emits sound into the open air for anyone nearby to hear. Headphones are also known as earspeakers, earphones or, colloquially, cans. Circumaural and supra-aural headphones use a band over the top of the head to hold the speakers in place. Another type, known as earbuds or earpieces consist of individual units that plug into the user's ear canal. A third type are bone conduction headphones, which typically wrap around the back of the head and rest in front of the ear canal, leaving the ear canal open.

Electrostatic loudspeaker Sound playback device

An electrostatic loudspeaker (ESL) is a loudspeaker design in which sound is generated by the force exerted on a membrane suspended in an electrostatic field.

Ribbon microphone

A ribbon microphone, also known as a ribbon velocity microphone, is a type of microphone that uses a thin aluminum, duraluminum or nanofilm of electrically conductive ribbon placed between the poles of a magnet to produce a voltage by electromagnetic induction. Ribbon microphones are typically bidirectional, meaning that they pick up sounds equally well from either side of the microphone.

Boundary microphone

A boundary microphone is a small omnidirectional condenser mic capsule positioned near or flush with a boundary (surface). The arrangement provides a directional half-space pickup pattern while delivering a relatively phase-coherent output signal.

The Shure SM58 is a professional cardioid dynamic microphone, commonly used in live vocal applications. Produced since 1966 by Shure Incorporated, it has built a strong reputation among musicians for its durability and sound, and half a century later it is still considered the industry standard for live vocal performance microphones. The SM58 and its sibling, the SM57, are the best-selling microphones in the world. The SM stands for Studio Microphone.

The Shure SM57 is a low-impedance cardioid dynamic microphone made by Shure Incorporated and commonly used in live sound reinforcement and studio recording. It is one of the best-selling microphones in the world. It is used extensively in amplified music and has been used for speeches by every U.S. president since its introduction in 1965. In 2004, honoring its four decades of "solid, dependable performance", it was inducted into the first-ever TEC Awards TECnology Hall of Fame.

Georg Neumann German microphone manufacturer

Georg Neumann GmbH (Neumann), founded in 1928 and based in Berlin, Germany, is a prominent manufacturer of professional recording microphones. Their best-known products are condenser microphones for broadcast, live and music production purposes. For several decades Neumann was also a leading manufacturer of cutting lathes for phonograph disks, and even ventured into the field of mixing desks for a while.

Electret microphone

An electret microphone is a type of electrostatic capacitor-based microphone, which eliminates the need for a polarizing power supply by using a permanently charged material.

The RCA Type 77-DX microphone is a poly-directional ribbon microphone, or pressure-gradient microphone, introduced by the RCA Corporation in 1954. Both it and its predecessor, the Type 77-D, are listed in RCA's 1955 catalog, and the 77-DX appears as late as 1967. Its design has inspired a stereotypical microphone icon. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, phonograph record album cover photos show artists singing into the side of a 77-DX.

AKG (company) Austrian acoustics company and manufacturer

AKG Acoustics is an acoustics engineering and manufacturing company. It was founded in 1947 by Dr. Rudolf Görike and Ernest Plass in Vienna, Austria. It is a subsidiary of Harman International Industries, a division of Samsung Electronics.

Ultrasonic transducer

Ultrasonic transducers or ultrasonic sensors are a type of acoustic sensor divided into three broad categories: transmitters, receivers and transceivers. Transmitters convert electrical signals into ultrasound, receivers convert ultrasound into electrical signals, and transceivers can both transmit and receive ultrasound.

The proximity effect in audio is an increase in bass or low frequency response when a sound source is close to a directional or cardioid microphone.

Moving iron speaker

The moving iron speaker was the earliest type of electric loudspeaker. They are still used today in some miniature speakers where small size and low cost are more important than sound quality. A moving iron speaker consists of a ferrous-metal diaphragm or reed, a permanent magnet and a coil of insulated wire. The coil is wound around the permanent magnet to form a solenoid. When an audio signal is applied to the coil, the strength of the magnetic field varies, and the springy diaphragm or reed moves in response to the varying force on it. The moving iron loudspeaker Bell telephone receiver was of this form. Large units had a paper cone attached to a ferrous metal reed.

In order to take a scientific measurement with a microphone, its precise sensitivity must be known. Since this may change over the lifetime of the device, it is necessary to regularly calibrate measurement microphones. This service is offered by some microphone manufacturers and by independent testing laboratories. Microphone calibration by certified laboratories should ultimately be traceable to primary standards a (National) Measurement Institute that is a signatory to International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation. These could include the National Physical Laboratory in the UK, PTB in Germany, NIST in the USA and the National Measurement Institute, Australia, where the reciprocity calibration is the internationally recognised means of realising the primary standard. Laboratory standard microphones calibrated using this method are used in-turn to calibrate other microphones using comparison calibration techniques, referencing the output of the ‘test’ microphone against that of the reference laboratory standard microphone.

Equivalent input, is a method of referring to the signal or noise level at the output of a system as if it were an input to the same system. This is accomplished by removing all signal changes to get the units to match the input.


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