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  1. Acoustics
  2. AKG Acoustics
  3. Audio feedback
  4. Audio level compression
  5. Audio quality measurement
  6. Audio-Technica
  7. Balanced audio connector
  8. Beyerdynamic
  9. Blumlein Pair
  10. Capacitor
  11. Carbon microphone
  12. Clipping
  13. Contact microphone
  14. Crosstalk measurement
  15. DB
  16. Decibel
  17. Directional microphone
  18. Dynamic range
  19. Earthworks
  20. Electret microphone
  21. Electrical impedance
  22. Electro-Voice
  23. Equal-loudness contour
  24. Frequency response
  25. Georg Neumann
  26. Harmonic distortion
  27. Headroom
  28. ITU-R 468 noise weighting
  29. Jecklin Disk
  30. Laser microphone
  31. Lavalier microphone
  32. Loudspeaker
  33. M-Audio
  34. Microphone
  35. Microphone array
  36. Microphone practice
  37. Microphone stand
  38. Microphonics
  39. Nevaton
  40. Noise
  41. Noise health effects
  42. Nominal impedance
  43. NOS stereo technique
  44. ORTF stereo technique
  45. Parabolic microphone
  46. Peak signal-to-noise ratio
  47. Phantom power
  48. Pop filter
  49. Positive feedback
  50. Rode
  51. Ribbon microphone
  52. Schoeps
  53. Sennheiser
  54. Shock mount
  55. Shure
  56. Shure SM58
  57. Signal-to-noise ratio
  58. Soundfield microphone
  59. Sound level meter
  60. Sound pressure
  61. Sound pressure level
  62. Total harmonic distortion
  63. U 47
  64. Wireless microphone
  65. XLR connector



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Carbon microphone

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Carbon microphone from Western Electric telephone.
Carbon microphone from Western Electric telephone.

The carbon microphone is also known as a carbon button microphone (or sometimes just a button microphone) or a carbon transmitter. It consists of two metal plates separated by granules of carbon. One plate faces outward and acts as a diaphragm. When sound waves strike this plate, the pressure on the granules changes, which in turn changes the electrical resistance between the plates. (Higher pressure lowers the resistance as the granules are pushed closer together.) A direct current is passed from one plate to the other, and the changing resistance results in a changing current, which can be passed through a telephone system, or used in other ways in electronics systems to change the sound into an electrical signal.

Carbon microphones once had the advantages of low cost, high output level, and low impedance. However, they suffered from very low quality of sound reproduction and limited frequency response, as well as a high noise (hiss) level, so they were abandoned for radio broadcasting after the 1920s, and were not used for public address and amateur radio after the 1930s.[1]


The invention of the carbon microphone (then called a "transmitter") was claimed both by Thomas Alva Edison in March 1878[2] and separately by Emile Berliner who filed related patent applications in June 1877 and August 1879.[3] The two sides fought a long legal battle over the patent rights. Ultimately a federal court awarded Edison full rights to the invention of the carbon microphone, saying "Edison preceded Berliner in the transmission of speech...The use of carbon in a transmitter is, beyond controversy, the invention of Edison" and the Berliner patent was ruled invalid. British courts also ruled in favor of Edison over Berliner. Having settled the Dowd suit (after Peter A. Dowd, agent of Western Union) out of court in 1881, Western Union left the telephone business, and sold Edison's patent rights and related assets to the Bell company in exchange for 20% of telephone rental receipts. Subsequently Bell telephones used the Bell receiver and the Edison transmitter. (Josephson, pp. 147-151). Later, carbon granules were used between carbon buttons. Carbon microphones were widely used in telephones in the United States from 1890 until the 1980s.[2]

Carbon microphones used as amplifiers

One of the surprising attributes of carbon microphones is that they can actually be used as amplifiers. This capability was used in early telephone repeaters, making long distance phone calls possible in the era before vacuum tubes. In these repeaters, a magnetic telephone receiver (an electrical-to-mechanical transducer) was mechanically coupled to a carbon microphone. Because a carbon microphone works by varying a current passed through it, instead of generating a signal voltage as with most other microphone types, this arrangement could be used to boost weak signals and send them down the line. These amplifiers were mostly abandoned with the development of vacuum tubes, which offered greater amplification and better sound quality. Even after vacuum tubes were in common use, carbon amplifers continued to be used during the 1930s in portable audio equipment such as hearing aids. The Western Electric 65A carbon amplifier was 1.2" in diameter and 0.4" high and weighed less than 1.4 ounces.[4] Such carbon amplifiers did not require the heavy bulky batteries and power supplies used by vacuum tube amplifiers. Transistors replaced carbon amplifiers in hearing aids in the 1950s. However, carbon amplifiers are still being produced and sold.[5]

One illustration of the amplification provided by carbon microphones was the oscillation caused by feedback, that resulted in an audible squeal from the old "candlestick" telephone if its earphone was placed near the carbon microphone.

Early radio

Early AM radio transmitters relied on carbon microphones for voice modulation of the radio signal. In the first audio transmissions by Reginald Fessenden a continuous wave from an Alexanderson alternator was fed through a carbon microphone.


  1. ^ Heil, B. The Microphone: A Short Ilustrated History. QST, 90(6), 50
  2. ^ a b IEEE Virtual Museum: Carbon Transmitter. New Brunswick, NJ: IEEE History Center [1]
  3. ^ Inventors Hall of Fame, E. Berliner, U.S. Patent 0463,569  filed June 1877, issued November 1891
  4. ^ Douglas Self. Electro-Mechanical amplifiers (Western Electric 65A carbon amplifier in 66B hearing aid).
  5. ^ Carbon III amplifier.
  • Josephson, Matthew, Edison: A Biography, Wiley, 1992, ISBN 0-471-54806-5

See also

  • Microphone

External links

Edison's invention of the carbon (graphite) microphone by Frank Dyer

  • T A Edison, U.S. Patent 0474230  Speaking Telegraph (graphite microphone), filed April 1877, issued May 1892
  • T A Edison, U.S. Patent 0203016  Improvement in Speaking Telephones (compressed lamp black button insulated from diaphragm), filed March 1878, issued April, 1878
  • T A Edison, U.S. Patent 0222390  Carbon Telephone (carbon granules microphone), filed Nov 1878, issued Dec 1879
  • E. Berliner, U.S. Patent 0222652  Improvement in Electrical Contact Telephones (carbon diaphragm with carbon contact pin), filed August 1879, issued December 16, 1879
  • A C White, U.S. Patent 0485311  Telephone (solid back carbon microphone), filed March 24, 1892, issued November 1, 1892 (Bell engineer)
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