With the advancement of technology, microphones are widely available now either in the built-in form in electronic devices or as a separate tool suitable for recording voice clips or songs. These tiny electronic pieces have come a long way since they were invented by Emile Berliner in 1877. There were multiple versions of microphones that were invented before but they were not generally accepted. Moreover, there were quite a few advanced versions that came after 1877. Learn more about when was the microphone invented.
You can also read: Best Microphone for Singing 2021: Reviews + Buying Guide
1861: Reis Telephone
In 1861, Johann Phillip Reis invented a device that converts sound waves to audio signals, known as the Reis Telephone. The mechanism was pretty simple with the use of a parchment diaphragm which was placed on a closed wooden box. Out of the two brass strips that were set on top of the diaphragm, one was stuck to the center while the other was in contact with the tip. When a sound wave was passed, the diaphragm vibrated causing an electric signal to be sent to the user. That’s how the initial microphone mechanism was established.
1876: Water Microphone
Next, there was a co-invention by Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray called the water microphone or the liquid transmitter. In this case, a variable contact principle was used to carry a more effective technique of electrical signal modulation. Although the water microphone was a more effective form of this device, it was impractical due to the use of liquid.
1876: Carbon Microphone
The first true microphone was invented by Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner in 1876. Since then there have been multiple arguments on who invented it although both of them worked together. This version of the microphone converts sound waves into audio signals using variable resistance. The device contains two carbon granule metal plates where one is thicker and the other one is very thin resembling a diaphragm. When sound waves pass through the device, the diaphragm vibrates causing pressure on the carbon granules which leads to a variation of electrical resistance between the metal plates. This causes a change in the current that clashes with the diaphragm movement thereby creating an audio signal. Carbon microphones were quite popular till the 1980s before the invention of electrical microphones which were more effective and affordable.
1877: Moving-Coil Microphone
As the name suggests, this type of microphone utilized a permanent magnetic field where the movement of the coil and the diaphragm would cause the induction of an electric current across them. The moving-coil microphone did not become popular even though it was a huge achievement towards microphone development.
The transformer was designed and developed in the Austro-Hungarian Empire after which multiple variations including step-up and step-down transformer were developed as well.
1886: Carbon-Button Microphone
The carbon-button microphone was invented by Thomas Edison as well as he thought that just a little roasting of the carbon in the previously invented version would create a better microphone. So, he made a few structural improvements and the new version was used in Bell telephones till the 1980s.
1904: Vacuum Tube
The first triode vacuum tube was invented in 1905 after the initial vacuum tube in 1904 by Sir John Ambrose Fleming. This was a huge success because it relatively improved the quality of electrical signals.
1916: Condenser Microphone
The condenser microphone was similar to the previously invented carbon microphone where two metal plates are used. It is still one of the most popular types of microphones found in the market today.
1920: Early Electret Microphone
Before the more refined version of Electret microphone that was invented in 1961, an earlier simpler version was invented by Yoguchi, a Japanese scientist. The design was quite similar to the predecessor, condenser microphone where the backplate of the device was made of an electret material. It did not become popular at the time because of the low sustainability of charge by the device.
1941: Shotgun Microphone
This microphone was designed with an extended tube from the diaphragm thereby resembling a “shotgun”. The mechanism used in this microphone helped to experience sound at different frequencies, which was only an established theory before this successful practical experiment by Harry F. Olson in 1941.
1957: Wireless Microphone
Although working wireless microphones were invented in the 1940s, it was patented in 1957 an American electrical engineer, Raymond A. Litke. The idea was to incorporate a wireless microphone into radio, television, and in teaching as well.
1961: Electret Condenser Microphone
In 1961, electret technology was invented where microphones could be made more cost-effectively as it did not require the use of any external power. Even today, electret microphones are the most common type of microphone due to their longevity and affordability.
1983: MEMs Microphone
MEMs stands for Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems which was initially utilized by D. Hohm and Gerard M. Sessler. It surpassed the performance of electret microphones in multiple ways including better reliability, smaller size, higher compatibility with increased temperature, etc.
2003: Digital Microphone
After the invention of plus-code modulation in 1937, there has been a rise in the development of digital audio. Later in the 1970s, it became popular in professional audio industries as well, followed by the start of digital recording in the 1990s. Fast forward to 2003, the first digital microphone came into the market for consumers to test out.
A microphone is an excellent invention that helps to convert sound waves to electric signals which are then converted back to sound waves. This amazing tool helps us record vocal samples, songs, and of course, speak to people on the other end of the line. Nowadays, if you have access to a good quality microphone you can utilize it as a source of music and entertainment. So, we have indeed a lot to be thankful for its invention more than centuries ago.