What is a Microphone?

Microphones are incredibly common electronic appliances. They are utilized in telephones, on headsets for computers, in hearing aids, in tape decks, in megaphones, for VoIP purposes and much more.

Microphones work on very well understood electrical principles and are actually very old devices. Depending upon what you actually consider a microphone, there are varying ways to look at when they were invented and their overall history.

Microphones, despite the fact that they are audio equipment, are also designed with aesthetics in mind. The many different types of microphones include designs that are intended to be easily hidden from view, which makes them particularly useful for video and live theater productions.

History of Microphones

The first thing that resembled a modern microphone was developed in the late 1800s by Ernst von Siemens, whose name is associated with one of the largest electronic component manufacturers in the world. The Siemens invention, however, did not end up being turned into a microphone. He invented what is called a moving coil transducer, which ended up being used for loudspeaker applications rather than for microphone applications, though his invention is very much a part of the development of what we consider a microphone today.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented what would be recognized as the first incarnation of the modern microphone. This is detailed in the Elizabeth MacLeod book “Alexander Graham Bell: an inventive life”. This was an electrical device and, after it was patented, other inventors stepped in to improve upon it. Thomas Edison, not surprisingly, was among the first inventors associated with the improved microphone, which was called a carbon microphone. At the time it was invented, however, it was referred to as a transmitter.

The Edison carbon microphone would be used for the first radio broadcast in 1910. This microphone was still not quite in line with modern designs, however. The condenser microphone was invented in 1916, and by 1923, the moving coil microphone was developed by Captain HJ Round. Other types of microphones were developed throughout the 20th century. Today, advanced materials, such as fiber optics and lasers are utilized to manufacture microphones that offer better audio reproduction and a smoother response along a wider range of frequencies.

How does a Microphone work?

There are many different types of microphones available and they have different operating principles. For instance, a condenser microphone works by responding to the vibrations created by a sound and translating that energy into variations in capacitance – capacitors were once referred to as condensers – and creating an electric signal that can be interpreted by a loudspeaker.

What all microphones do have in common is that they function on some variety of the process described above. They take acoustic vibrations, translate that to an electric signal and then transmit that signal to equipment that is able to reproduce the signal as an amplified acoustic vibration, generally through a loudspeaker. The basic function is the same whether you are speaking into your smartphone, yelling into a megaphone or singing a song to a crowd of thousands at an arena.

What are the various Microphones available?

There are many different types of microphones. In addition to being able to differentiate between the various types of microphones available based upon how they reproduce sound electronically, they can be distinguished between based upon how they are mounted, how they are used and so forth.

What are Boundary Microphones?

Boundary microphones were developed in the 1970s and have a design that makes them a lot less conspicuous than other types of microphones. In fact, one of their main advantages is that they are very discreet and that they can be used in applications where a visible microphone might be a distraction for an audience. These microphones can be positioned so that they cannot even be seen on camera, in many cases, which makes them particularly useful for video and film work.

What are Gooseneck Microphones?

Gooseneck microphones are a type of adjustable microphone that has a flexible shaft that can be adjusted, allowing the microphone to be positioned in the best possible location for sound. These are quite commonly used by speakers and it’s not at all uncommon to see them mounted to podiums. The advantage of the gooseneck microphone is that it can be adjusted by the speaker to accommodate taller or shorter people and so forth. The cords for gooseneck microphones are typically threaded through the gooseneck itself, making for a very clean appearance.

What are Hand Held Wired Microphones?

Shure makes some of the most recognizable handheld wired microphones, which are commonly seen in the hands of singers in live bands. These are typically designed to be of a weight and a balance that make them very comfortable for a singer to hold. Handheld wired microphones come in very inexpensive, discount store type designs and in very expensive professional designs that are utilized by some of the most well-known singers in the world.

What are Hand Held Wireless Microphones?

Handheld wireless microphones are simply an improvement on wired microphones. Rather than using a wire to transmit the electrical signal to the amplifying equipment, these utilize radio signals. They typically broadcast on VHF or UHF bands and allow a singer to move around the stage unencumbered by cords. They also, of course, are easier to set up because of this.

What are Hanging Microphones?

Hanging microphones are oftentimes utilized in scenarios where there are many singers or many acoustic instrumentalists who all need to be amplified via a microphone. They are quite literally hung from a boom or the ceiling, allowing them to capture the ambient sound being produced by a group of musicians, speakers, the cast of a play and so forth. These are oftentimes condenser type microphones but come in many different designs. These are sometimes referred to as boom mics, as well, as they are oftentimes supported by a boom.

What are Headphones?

Headphones are loudspeakers that are designed to be worn directly over the ears. They are typically held together in one device by a headband that wraps over the top or around the back of the head. Headphones come in many different designs, from extremely expensive isolating models that cut out all ambient noise to very cheap models that can be picked up for under $10 at most electronics stores. Some headphones are designed for specific uses. For example, the isolating headphones that are popular with DJs, musicians and other professionals are utilized in environments where ambient noise may make it difficult for the performer or the DJ to discern the subtleties of the music that they are playing, in which case the headphones function as a sort of monitor.

What are Headset Wireless Microphones?

Headset wireless microphones are quite commonly seen on public speakers. Because microphones can be made in such compact designs today, they can be worn and, if a speaker or a singer is standing in front of a large crowd, people a few rows back may not even be able to see the device. The wireless feature enables the microphone to be used without any cords attaching it to the loudspeakers or amplification equipment.

What are Lavalier Wired Microphones?

Lavalier microphones are also called lapel microphones. They are designed to be worn directly on the clothing and are quite popular on talk shows and in other venues when a microphone would be distracting. They are typically designed to reproduce speech and are not designed to handle singing or other louder noises.

What are Lavalier Wireless Microphones?

Lavalier wireless microphones are the same things as wired lavalier microphones, excepting that they don’t require a cord to connect to the amplification equipment. Oftentimes, there is a radio transmitting device that is attached to the belt of the person wearing the microphone, making it invisible, particularly on camera. These are very common pieces of equipment used on television shows, as they allow a guest and the host to use a microphone, be properly amplified but, at the same time, they do not introduce any distracting equipment into the shot or onto the person’s clothing.

What are Microphone Stands?

Microphone stands are stands that are specifically designed to hold a microphone in a given position. Some of these devices are 90° stands, allowing a person to only adjust the height at which the microphone is positioned. By utilizing gooseneck attachments and other attachments, microphone stands can be adapted to hold the microphone at different angles or to hold a microphone outward from the stand itself, allowing the microphone to be positioned in front of an instrument without obstructing the musician’s access to that instrument. Microphone stands are sometimes chosen for a dramatic flairss, such as by rock singers who sometimes mount their microphones at odd angles to give a distinctive visual look.

What are Mixed Combination Wireless Microphone Sets?

Mixed combination wireless microphone sets are generally designed for production companies that need to get several different types of microphones and that don’t want to purchase them all separately. These are oftentimes used as starter kits for production companies that are just getting off the ground and that need to make certain that they have lavalier mics, handheld mics, and who want a wireless setup for those mics, as well. This can be a very cost-effective way for production companies to purchase equipment, particularly when starting up, though they are also useful when buying new equipment.

What are Paging & Desktop Microphones?

Paging and desktop microphones generally share quite a bit in common in terms of design. They typically have a wide base and a microphone that projects upward and at an angle, making it easy for the user to speak into the device. A paging microphone will typically have a button that activates the microphone and that deactivates the microphone when it is released. These are used by dispatchers and quite frequently at venues such as hotels, when a guest may need to be paged. The desktop versions tend to have regular on and off functions and are utilized by everyone from people playing games on their computers to talk show hosts on television.

What are Wireless Microphone Receivers?

Wireless microphone receivers are designed to provide the interface between a wireless microphone and the amplification equipment to which it is attached. They can be purchased as part of a set, including the microphone and the receiver, or they can be purchased separately. They can also be purchased in single or multi-channel designs and with varying degrees of sensitivity.

What are Wireless Microphone Transmitters?

Wireless microphone transmitters make it possible for some of the most involved stage performances to happen. These can be purchased as separate devices that are attached to a microphone of the speaker or singers choice or they can be purchased as part of a set, specifically designed for a specific microphone. Some handheld microphones have the transmitter built directly into them and these are among the most expensive microphones available on the market.

Where can you buy Microphones?

Microphones are among those odd electrical appliances that straddle the line between equipment designed for a specific group of people and equipment that is simply electronic equipment in general. They can be purchased from music stores and dealers and they can be purchased from electronics stores. Major manufacturers such as Shure generally have their products available at both types of venues and they are widely available online, as well.

For specialty microphones, such as those that are installed inside equipment rather than being held in the hand, electronics manufacturers and retailers are generally the best options for purchasing. In some cases, very expensive microphones are rented, such as during film production when the most expensive boom mics may be needed by production companies that aren’t capable of purchasing them outright. In most other cases, however, microphones can be purchased from just about any electronics retailer, along with wireless equipment and other equipment that may be needed to go along with the microphone.

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