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Microphone, device used to transform sound energy into electrical energy (see Sound Recording and Reproduction). Microphones are important in many kinds of communications systems and in instruments that measure sound and noise. The American inventor Alexander Graham Bell built the first microphone in 1876 when he constructed his telephone transmitter.

The simplest type of modern microphone is the carbon microphone, used in telephones. This microphone consists of a metallic cup filled with carbon granules; a movable metallic diaphragm mounted in contact with the granules covers the open end of the cup. Wires attached to the cup and diaphragm are connected to an electrical circuit so that a current flows through the carbon granules. Sound waves vibrate the diaphragm, varying the pressure on the carbon granules. The electrical resistance of the carbon granules changes with the varying pressure, causing the current in the circuit to change according to the vibrations of the diaphragm. The varying current may either actuate a nearby telephone receiver or may be amplified and transmitted to a distant receiver. If the current variation is suitably amplified, it may also be used to modulate a radio transmitter.

Another common type, the crystal microphone, utilizes piezoelectric crystals, in which a voltage develops between two faces of the crystal when pressure is applied to the crystal (see Piezoelectric Effect). In this microphone sound waves vibrate a diaphragm, which in turn varies the pressure on a piezoelectric crystal. This generates a small voltage, which is then amplified.

Examples of dynamic microphones include ribbon microphones and moving-coil microphones. In ribbon microphones, a thin metallic ribbon is attached to the diaphragm and placed in a magnetic field. When sound waves strike the diaphragm and vibrate the ribbon, a small voltage is generated in the ribbon by electromagnetic induction. A moving-coil microphone operates on essentially the same principle but has a coil of light wire, instead of a ribbon, attached to the diaphragm. Some modern microphones, designed to pick up sound from one direction only, combine both ribbon and coil elements.
Another type of microphone is the condenser microphone. The condenser microphone has two thin metallic plates placed close to each other that serve as a capacitor. The back plate of the capacitor is fixed, and the front plate serves as the diaphragm. Sound waves alter the spacing between the plates, changing the electrical capacitance between them. By placing such a microphone in a suitable circuit, these variations may be amplified, producing an electrical signal. Condenser microphones can be very small. A common type of condenser microphone, the electret condenser microphone, is used in hearing aids.

Among the important characteristics of microphones are their frequency response, directionality, sensitivity, and immunity to outside disturbances such as shock or vibration.

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