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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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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


A microphone, sometimes referred to as a mike or mic (both IPA pronunciation: [maɪk]), is an acoustic to electric transducer or sensor that converts sound pressure into an electrical signal. Microphones are used in many applications such as telephones, tape recorders, hearing aids, motion picture production, live and recorded audio engineering, in radio and television broadcasting and in computers for recording voice, VoIP, and furthermore for non-acoustic purposes like ultrasonic checking.


The invention of a practical microphone was crucial to the early development of the telephone system. Several early inventors built primitive microphones (then called transmitters) prior to Alexander Bell, but the first commercially practical microphone was the carbon microphone conceived in October, 1876 by Thomas Edison. Many early developments in microphone design took place at Bell Laboratories. See also Timeline of the telephone. The main basic designs still popular are of American, British or Russian origin.

Principle of operation

An Oktava condenser microphone.
An Oktava condenser microphone.

A microphone is a device made to capture waves in air, water or hard material and translate them to an electrical signal. The most common method is via a thin membrane producing some proportional electrical signal. Most microphones in use today for audio use electromagnetic generation (dynamic microphones), capacitance change (condenser microphones) or piezoelectric generation to produce the signal from mechanical vibration.

Microphone varieties

Condenser or capacitor microphones

Inside the Oktava 319 condenser microphone.
Inside the Oktava 319 condenser microphone.


In a condenser microphone, also known as a capacitor microphone, the diaphragm acts as one plate of a capacitor, and the vibrations produce changes in the distance between the plates.

There are two methods of extracting an audio output from the transducer thus formed. They are known as DC biased and RF (or HF) condenser microphones.

DC-biased microphone operating principle

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:

Q = C \cdot V

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. (See capacitance for details.)

The charge across the capacitor is not maintained perfectly constant. As the capacitance changes, the charge across the capacitor changes to make the voltage drop across the capacitor equal to the bias voltage. However, the rate of this change is kept slow by using a series resistor of a very high value (of the order of 10 MΩ). Note that the time constant of a RC circuit equals the product of the resistance and capacitance.

Within the time-frame of the capacitance change (on the order of 100 μs), the charge thus appears practically constant and the voltage across the capacitor adjusts itself 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 and reproduced to audio or recording.

RF condenser microphone operating principle

In a DC-biased condenser microphone, a high capsule polarisation voltage is necessary. In contrast, RF condenser microphones use a comparatively low RF voltage, generated by a low-noise oscillator. The oscillator is modulated by the capacitance changes produced by the sound waves moving the capsule diaphragm. Demodulation yields a low-noise audio frequency signal with a very low source impedance. This technique achieves better low frequency response with small capsules. Due to their lower mass and inertia, small capsules achieve a considerably better high frequency response than large capsules.

The RF biasing process results in a lower electrical impedance capsule, a useful byproduct of which is that RF condenser microphones can be operated in all weather conditions. The Sennheiser "MKH" series of microphones all use the RF biased technique.


Condenser microphones span the range from cheap throw-aways to high-fidelity quality instruments. They generally produce a high-quality audio signal and are now the popular choice in laboratory and studio recording applications. They require a power source, provided either from microphone inputs as phantom power or from a small battery. Professional microphones often sport an external power supply for reasons of quality perception. Power is necessary for establishing the capacitor plate voltage, and is also needed for internal amplification of the signal to a useful output level. Condenser microphones are also available with two diaphragms, the signals from which can be electrically connected such as to provide a range of polar patterns (see below), such as cardioid, omnidirectional and figure-eight. It is also possible to vary the pattern smoothly with some microphones, for example the Røde NT2000.

Electret condenser microphones

Main article: Electret microphone

An electret microphone is a relatively new type of capacitor microphone invented at Bell laboratories in 1962 by Gerhard Sessler and Jim West[1]. An electret is a dielectric 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. 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 mics were once low-cost and considered low quality, the best ones can now rival capacitor mics in every respect (apart from low noise) and can even have the long-term stability and ultra-flat response needed for a measuring microphone. Unlike other capacitor microphones, they require no polarizing voltage, but normally contain an integrated preamplifier which does require power (often incorrectly called polarizing power or bias). This preamp is frequently phantom powered in sound reinforcement and studio applications. While few electret microphones rival the best DC-polarized units in terms of noise level, this is not due to any inherent limitation of the electret. Rather, mass production techniques needed to produce electrets cheaply don't lend themselves to the precision needed to produce the highest quality microphones.

Dynamic microphones

Dynamic microphones work via electromagnetic induction. They are robust, relatively inexpensive, and resistant to moisture, and for this reason they are widely used on-stage by singers. Dynamic microphones are velocity receivers. There are two basic types: the plunger coil microphone and the ribbon microphone.

Moving coil microphones

The Shure SM57 and Beta 57A dynamic microphones
The Shure SM57 and Beta 57A dynamic microphones


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. The frequency content of the generated signal is proportional to the perceived frequency. So a 1KHz sine wave would generate an identical frequency output from the microphone. A single dynamic membrane will not respond linearly to all audio frequencies. Some microphones for this reason utilize multiple membranes for the different parts of the audio spectrum and then combine the resulting signals. Combining the multiple signals correctly is difficult and designs that do this are rare and tend to be expensive. There are on the other hand several designs that are more specifically aimed towards isolated parts of the audio spectrum. AKG D112 is for example designed for bass content rather than treble. In audio engineering several kinds of microphones are often used at the same time to get the best result.

The dynamic principle is exactly the same as in a loudspeaker, only reversed.

Ribbon microphones

Main article: Ribbon microphone

In ribbon microphones a thin, usually corrugated metal ribbon is 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 plunger coil microphones in the sense that both produce sound by means of magnetic induction. Basic ribbon microphones detect sound in a bidirectional (also called figure-eight) pattern because the ribbon, which is open to sound both front and back, responds to the pressure gradient 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 mic horizontally, for example above cymbals, so that the rear lobe picks up only sound from the cymbals. 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. Ribbon mics give very high quality sound reproduction, and were once valued for this reason, but a good low-frequency response can be obtained only if the ribbon is suspended very loosely, and this makes them fragile. Protective wind screens can reduce the danger of damaging the ribbon, but will somewhat reduce the bass response at large miking distances.

Most ribbon microphones don't require phantom power; in fact, this voltage can damage these microphones.

Carbon microphones

Main article: Carbon microphone

A carbon microphone, formerly used in telephone handsets, is a capsule containing carbon granules pressed between two metal plates. 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 voltage across the two plates, and hence 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.

Unlike other microphone types, the carbon microphone can also be used as a type of amplifier, using a small amount of sound energy to produce 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, with a resulting 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.)

Piezo microphones


A piezo microphone 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 Rochelle salt (potassium sodium tartrate), which is a piezoelectric crystal that works as a transducer, both as a microphone and as a slimline loudspeaker component.


Piezo transducers are often used as contact microphones to amplify sound from musical instruments for live performance, or to record sounds in unusual environments (underwater, for instance). Saddle mounted pickups in acoustic guitars are piezos and are mechanically connected to the strings through the saddle. This is not to be confused with magnetic coil pickups commonly visible on typical electric guitars that use steel strings. Instruments that use non-metallic strings cannot use magnetic pickups, but can use piezo transducers which pickup sound vibrations mechanically. Small acoustic microphones have also been used, but are less practical because they also pickup ambient noise and feedback. Some instruments feature hybrid combinations of the piezo and magnetic technologies. See Guitar#Guitar_components which shows pickups next to the fretboard and on the bridge. A bridge is where the strings are mounted to the guitar on the opposite end of where the head and tuning pegs are.

Laser microphones


A laser microphone is an exotic application of laser technology. It consists of a laser beam that must be reflected off a glass window or another rigid surface that vibrates in sympathy with nearby sounds. This device essentially turns any vibrating surface near the source of sound into a microphone. It does this by measuring the distance between itself and the surface extremely accurately; the tiny fluctuations in this distance become the electrical signal of the sounds picked up.


Laser microphones are new, very rare and expensive, and are most commonly portrayed in the movies as spying devices.

Liquid microphones


Early microphones did not produce intelligible speech, until Alexander Graham Bell made a set of improvements. Bell’s liquid transmitter consisted of a metal cup filled with dilute sulfuric acid. A sound wave caused the diaphragm to move, forcing a brass tube to move up and down in the liquid. The electrical resistance between the wire and the cup was then inversely proportional to the length of wire submerged. Elisha Gray filed a patent for a version using a needle instead of the brass tube. Other minor variations and improvements were made to the liquid microphone by Majoranna, Chambers, Vanni, Sykes, and Elisha Gray, and one version was even patented by Reginald Fessenden in 1903.


These were the first working microphones, but they were not practical for commercial application and are utterly obsolete now. It was with a liquid transmitter that the famous first phone conversation between Bell and Watson took place. Other inventors soon devised superior devices.

Speakers as microphones

A loudspeaker is the exact opposite of a microphone, since it's a transducer that turns an electrical signal into sound waves. 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 result, though, is a microphone with poor quality, limited frequency response (particularly at the high end), and poor sensitivity.

In practical use, speakers are sometimes used as microphones in such applications as intercoms or walkie-talkies, where high quality and sensitivity are not needed. However, there is at least one other novel application of this principle; using a medium-size woofer placed closely in front of a "kick" (bass drum) in a drum set to act as a microphone. This has been commercialized with the Yamaha "Subkick".[1]

Capsule design and directivity

The shape of the microphone defines its directivity. Inner elements are of major importance and concerns the structural shape of the capsule, outer elements may be the interference tube.

A pressure gradient microphone is a microphone in which both sides of the diaphragm are exposed to the incident sound and the microphone is therefore responsive to the pressure differential (gradient) between the two sides of the membrane. Sound incident parallel to the plane of the diaphragm produces no pressure differential, giving pressure-gradient microphones their characteristic figure-eight directional patterns.

The capsule of a pressure microphone however is closed on one side, which results in an omnidirectional pattern.

Microphone polar patterns

A microphone's directionality or polar pattern indicates how sensitive it is to sounds arriving at different angles about its central axis. The above polar patterns represent the locus of points that produce the same signal level output in the microphone if a given sound pressure level 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". For small diaphram microphones such as the Shure (also pictured above), it usually extends from the axis of the microphone commonly known as "end fire". 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 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 will give the best omnidirectional characteristics at high frequencies. The wavelength of sound at 10 kHz is about an inch (2.5 cm) so 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" mikes 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 mikes also respond much less to wind noise than directional (velocity sensitive) mikes.

A unidirectional microphone is sensitive to sounds from only one direction. The diagram above illustrates a number of these patterns, with the microphone capsule being represented as a red dot. The mike 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. These diagrams just provide an overview of the typical shapes and their names.)

The most common unidirectional mike is a cardioid microphone, so named because the sensitivity pattern is heart-shaped (see cardioid). A hyper-cardioid is similar but with a tighter area of front sensitivity and a tiny lobe of rear sensitivity. These two patterns are commonly used as vocal or speech mikes, since they are good at rejecting sounds from other directions. Because they employ internal cavities to provide front-back delay, directional mikes tend to have more coloration than omnis, and they also suffer from low-frequency roll-off. These problems are overcome to a large extent by careful design, but only the best cardioids can begin to approach the performance of a tiny low-cost omni in terms of absolute accuracy. This is not always recognised, but is the price paid for directionality, often needed to exclude ambient reverberation wherever very close placement is impossible.

Figure 8 or bi-directional mikes receive sound from both the front and back of the element. Most ribbon microphones are of this pattern.

An Audio-Technica shotgun microphone
An Audio-Technica shotgun microphone

Shotgun microphones are the most highly directional. They have small lobes of sensitivity to the left, right, and rear but are significantly more sensitive to the front. This results from placing the element inside a tube with slots cut along the side; wave-cancellation eliminates most of the off-axis noise. Shotgun microphones are commonly used on TV and film sets, and for location recording of wildlife.

An omnidirectional microphone is a pressure transducer; the output voltage is proportional to the air pressure at a given time.

On the other hand, a figure-8 pattern is a pressure gradient transducer; the output voltage is proportional to the difference in pressure on the front and on the back side. A sound wave arriving from the back will lead to a signal with a polarity opposite to that of an identical sound wave from the front. Moreover, shorter wavelengths (higher frequencies) are picked up more effectively than lower frequencies.

A cardioid microphone is effectively a superposition of an omnidirectional and a figure-8 microphone; 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. A hypercardioid microphone is similar, but with a slightly larger figure-8 contribution.

Since pressure gradient transducer microphones are directional(partially), their frequency response is dependent on the distance to the sound source. This is known as the proximity effect, a bass boost at distances of a few centimeters. A phenomenon related to the physics of wave and particle propagation. Low frequency audio does not exhibit the same properties as high frequency audio.

Design concerning practical application

A lavalier microphone is made for hands-free operation. These small microphones are worn on the body and held in place either with a lanyard worn around the neck or a clip fastened to clothing. The 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 is one which does not use a cable. It usually transmits its signal using a small FM radio transmitter to a nearby receiver connected to the sound system, but it can also use infrared light if the transmitter and receiver are within sight of each other.

A contact microphone is designed to pick 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 against the object from which vibrations are to be picked up; the contact pin transfers these vibrations to the coil of the transducer. 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, used to pick up speech directly from the throat, around which it is strapped. This allows the device to be used in areas with ambient sounds that would otherwise make the speaker inaudible.

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.



The most common connectors used by microphones are:

  • Male XLR connector on professional microphones
  • ¼ inch mono phone plug on less expensive consumer microphones
  • 3.5 mm (Commonly referred to as 1/8 inch mini) mono mini phone plug on very inexpensive and computer microphones

Some microphones use other connectors, such as 1/4 inch TRS (tip ring sleeve), 5-pin XLR, or stereo mini phone plug (1/8 inch TRS) on some stereo microphones. Some lavalier microphones use a proprietary connector for connection to a wireless transmitter. Since 2005, professional-quality microphones with USB connections have begun to appear, designed for direct recording into computer-based software studios.

Impedance matching

Microphones have an electrical characteristic called impedance, measured in ohms (Ω) that depends on the design. Low impedance is considered under 600 Ω. Medium impedance is considered between 600 Ω and 10 kΩ. High impedance is above 10 kΩ. Most professional microphones are low impedance, about 200 Ω. Less expensive models have an impedance of at least 600 Ω. Low-impedance microphones are preferred over high impedance on long-run cables for two reasons: one is that using a high-impedance mike with a long cable is likely to result in loss of high frequency signal; the other is that long high-impedance cables tend to pick up more hum (and possibly radio-frequency interference (RFI) as well).

To get the best sound, the impedance of the microphone must be distinctly lower (by a factor of at least five, preferably ten) than that of the equipment to which it is connected. Microphones are not designed to have their impedance "matched" by the load to which they are connected; doing so can alter their frequency response and cause distortion, especially at high sound pressure levels. There are transformers (confusingly called matching transformers) that adapt impedances for special cases such as connecting microphones to DI units or connecting low-impedance microphones to the high-impedance inputs of certain amplifiers, but microphone connections follow the principle of bridging (voltage transfer), not matching (power transfer). In general, any XLR microphone can usually be connected to any mixer with XLR microphone inputs, and any plug microphone can usually be connected to any jack that is marked as a microphone input, but not to a line input. This is because the signal level of a microphone is typically 40-60 dB lower (a factor of 100 to 1000) than a line input. Microphone inputs include the necessary amplification circuitry to deal with these very low level signals.

Measurements and specifications

A comparison of the far field on-axis frequency response of the Oktava 319 and the Shure SM58
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, mics 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 (IEC 60268-4), but very few manufacturers adhere to it. 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.[2].

A frequency response diagram plots the microphone sensitivity in decibels over a range of frequencies (typically at least 0–20 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 a (mostly) 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.

The self-noise or equivalent noise level is the sound level that creates the same output voltage as the inherent noise of the microphone. 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 to 14 dB higher. A quiet microphone will measure typically 20 dBA SPL or 32 dB SPL 468-weighted.

The maximum SPL (sound pressure level) the microphone can accept is measured for particular values of total harmonic distortion (THD), typically 1%. This is generally inaudible, so one can safely use the mic at this level without harming the recording. Example: "142 dB SPL peak (<1% THD)". The higher the value, the better.

The clipping level is perhaps a better indicator of maximum useable 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. Harmonic distortion from microphones is usually of low-order (mostly third harmonic) type, and hence not very audible even at 3-5%. Clipping, on the other hand, usually caused by the diaphragm reaching its absolute displacement limit (or by the preamplifier), will produce a very harsh sound on peaks, and should be avoided if at all possible. For some mikes the clipping level may be much higher than the max SPL.

The dynamic range of a mike 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 mic converts acoustic pressure to output voltage. A high sensitivity mic creates more voltage and so will need less amplification at the mixer or recording device. This is a practical concern but not directly an indication of the mic'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 will generally be set by the noise floor, and too much "sensitivity" in terms of output level will compromise 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

Some microphones are intended for use as standard measuring microphones for the testing of speakers and checking noise levels etc. These are calibrated transducers and will usually be supplied with a calibration certificate stating absolute sensitivity against frequency.

Microphone calibration techniques

Pistonphone apparatus

A pistonphone is an acoustical calibrator (sound source) using a closed coupler to generate a precise sound pressure for the calibration of instrumentation microphones. The principle relies on a piston mechanically driven to move at a specified rate on a fixed volume of air to which the microphone under test is exposed. The air is assumed to be compressed adiabatically and the SPL in the chamber can be calculated from PV = const. The pistonphone method only works at low frequencies, but it can be accurate and yields an easily calculable sound pressure level. The standard test frequency is usually around 250 Hz.

Reciprocal method

This method relies on the reciprocity of one or more microphones in a group of 3 to be calibrated. It can still be used when only one of the microphones is reciprocal (exhibits equal response when used as a microphone or as a loudspeaker).

See also

  • Loudspeaker — The inverse of a microphone
  • Microphone practice
  • A-weighting
  • Button microphone
  • ITU-R 468 noise weighting
  • Nominal impedance — Information about impedance matching for audio components
  • Sound pressure level
  • Wireless microphone
  • XLR connector — The 3-pin variant of which is used for connecting microphones

Microphone manufacturers

See List of microphone manufacturers.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
  • Microphones database, resources, user reviews, pictures
  • Info, Pictures and Soundbytes from vintage microphones
  • Microphone construction and basic placement advice
  • History of the Microphone
  • Microphone sensitivity conversion — dB re 1 V/Pa and transfer factor mV/Pa
  • Large vs. Small Diaphragms in Omnidirectional Microphones


  1. ^ "Electret Microphone Turns 40"
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