Microphones can be found nearly everywhere nowadays (we carry them around in our devices all day). However, there was a time when microphones did not exist at all and had to be invented.
Who invented the microphone? Emile Berliner invented the first microphone in 1876 with Thomas Edison. David E. Hughes independently created the same type of carbon mic in 1878. Alexander Graham Bell bought the patent to Berliner’s mic in 1878. In 1892, the Supreme Court ruled that it was Edison who had invented the microphone.
It’s important to know our history. As anyone who is interested in or uses microphones in their lives, it’s worth knowing the history of microphones and who invented each type of mic. In this article, we’ll discuss just that.
Timeline Of Microphone Inventions By Microphone Type
Let’s look at a quick table that outlines the invention dates and the inventors of the different microphone types:
|1861||Reis Telephone||Johann Philipp Reis
|1876||Liquid Transmitter||Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray
|1876||Carbon Microphone||Emile Berliner
|1876||Carbon Microphone||Thomas Edison
(US) awarded patent
|1877||Moving-Coil Microphone||Ernst Werner von Siemens
|1878||Carbon Microphone||David Edward Hughes
|1878||Carbon Microphone||M. Makhal’skii
|1883||Carbon Microphone||P. M. Golubitskii
|1886||Carbon-Button Microphone||Thomas Edison
|1916||Condenser Microphone||E.C. Wente
at Western Electric (US)
|1917||Piezoelectric Microphone||Paul Langevin
|1923||Marconi-Sykes (Moving-Coil) Magnetophone||Captain H. J. Round
|1924||Ribbon Dynamic Microphone||Walter H. Schottky and Dr. Erwin Gerlach
|1925||Piezoelectric Microphone||S. N. Rzhevkin and A. I. Lakovlev
|1931||Electrodynamic Moving-Coil Microphone||E. C. Wente and A. L. Thuras
|1941||Line "Shotgun" Microphone||Harry F. Olson
at RCA (US)
|1957||Wireless Microphone||Raymond A. Litke
(US) awarded patent
|1959||Top-Address Unidirectional Microphone||Ernie Seeler
at Shure (US)
|1961||Electret Condenser Microphone||James E. West and Gerhard M. Sessler
at Bell Labs (US)
|1965||Solid-State Condenser Microphone||Advancement in
|1983||MEMS Microphone||D. Hohm and Gerhard M. Sessler
at Georg Neumann GmbH
Other noteworthy inventions that have proved critical in the development of microphone technology are:
Let’s take a closer look at each of the above inventions while also mentioning the other critical inventions that helped to improve microphone technology.
1827: The Birth Of The Term “Microphone”
The term “microphone” was first coined by Sir Charles Wheatstone, the English physicist best known for inventing the telegraph.
Sir Charles Wheatstone was one of the early scientists to figure out that sound is transmitted through waves within a medium. With this knowledge, he worked on creating devices that could amplify sound while transmitting it for one place to another. He deemed these devices “microphones,” a term that holds up to this day.
For more info on the term “microphone,” check out my article Why Are Microphones Called Microphones?
1861: Invention Of The Reis Telephone
In 1861, German inventor Johann Philipp Reis successfully designed and built a device to convert sound into electrical signals. These signals were then transmitted through a conductive wire to a similar device that converted them back into sound.
The Reis telephone arguably hosts the first-ever true microphone in the way we define them today: as a transducer that converts mechanical wave energy (sound waves) into electrical energy (audio signals).
The “microphone” part of the Reis Telephone was made of a horizontally stretch parchment diaphragm mounted on top of a closed wooden box. A speaking horn allowed sound to enter the box from the front.
Above the diaphragm were two brass strips. One strip was glued to the centre of the diaphragm and had a contact made from a drop of mercury at its tip. The other strip was mounted above this with a platinum contact. These contacts were held together lightly by gravity.
As sound waves caused the parchment diaphragm to vibrate, the resistance between the two contacts changed proportionately. This sent an electrical signal to through to the “speaker.”
Though this could be considered the first microphone and telephone, it is commonly forgotten in history.
That being said, Alexander Graham Bell was able to invent the first telephone with his liquid transmitter. He received the patent for the telephone due to the improper/incorrect physical theories Reis had produced about the workings of his telephone.
It is also said that Thomas Edison had acquired a translated transcript explaining the inner workings of the Reis Telephone, which were highly influential in his an Emile Berliner’s eventual invention of the carbon microphone.
Though largely forgotten, the Reis Telephone was a massive breakthrough in microphone technology.
1876: Invention Of The Liquid Transmitter (Water Microphone)
As part of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, the liquid transformer (water microphone) was born. It is said to have been a co-invention between A. G. Bell and Elisha Gray (though some argue that Bell actually stole the idea of the liquid transformer from Gray).
The liquid transformer was made from a metal cup filled water and a small amount of sulphuric acid. The acid was added to make the liquid electrically conductive.
A diaphragm was stretched in a small horn and was attached to a needle. The other end of the needle was submerged in the liquid but did not touch the metal cup. As the needle or rod vibrates up and down in the water, the resistance of the water fluctuates.
A separate wire also submerged in the liquid then carried an inversely proportionate electrical signal to the speaker part of the telephone. This is explained by Ohm’s law, which states that current in a wire varies inversely with the resistance of the circuit.
Again, Thomas Edison took notes from the success of the liquid transmitter in his development of the carbon microphone.
The speech intelligibility of the liquid transmitter was greater than the Reis Telephone, but the liquid portion of the mic made it commercially impractical. Edison aimed to improve upon the sound quality of Bell’s invention while making a microphone that could be mass-produced.
1876: Invention Of The Carbon Microphone
In 1876, the carbon microphone was invented. This was the first true microphone ever invented!
In the United States, Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner were working together to create this microphone. Oddly enough, David Edward Hughes independently created the same type of microphone in England in the same year, only later than the American team.
Many would argue that is was Emile Berliner who truly invented the microphone while others would argue it was Edison, even though the two did work together on the project.
The carbon microphone is a variable resistance device that turns sound waves into electrical audio signals.
It consists of two metal plates separated by carbon granules (hence the name).
One plate is thicker and stationary while the other plate is very thin and acts as a diaphragm. Varying sound pressure (sound waves) at the diaphragm causes it to vibrate and exert varying pressure on the carbon granules. This, in turn, causes a changing electrical resistance between the plates.
A steady DC voltage is applied across the plates. The varying resistance between these plates causes modulation in the current that coincides with the diaphragm movement.
For more info on microphones and electricity, please consider reading my article Do Microphones Need Power To Function Properly?
Again, Emile Berliner is often credited with the invention of the first carbon microphone in 1876 (along with Thomas Edison).
David Edward Hughes is said to have demonstrated his invention successfully before the American duo, but did not acquire a patent for his work, calling his microphone a “gift to the world.” Hughes also brought the term “microphone” to his invention, perhaps as a tribute to fellow English inventor Sir Charles Wheatstone.
In 1878, Alexander Graham Bell bought the patent to Berliner’s carbon microphone in order to improve the functionality and practicality of his telephone. The patent was purchased for $50,000 USD, which would be roughly $1.1 million today.
In 1892, after a controversial legal discussion, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was Edison who had invented microphone and the original patent was overturned and awarded to Edison.
Prior to the widespread use of vacuum tube technology in the 1920s, the carbon microphone reigned supreme as the only practical method of producing high-level audio signals.
Carbon microphones were used in a majority of telephone systems until the 1980s, when electret microphones became a cheaper and higher quality option.
1877: Invention Of The Moving-Coil Microphone
Ernst Werner von Siemens, the German electrical engineer and inventor, was awarded a German patent for the invention of the moving-coil dynamic microphone in 1877. Some say he has initially invented the microphone as early as 1874.
This primitive microphone worked with a diaphragm and attached moving-coil within a permanent magnetic field. As the diaphragm and coil moved, a small electrical current was induced across them.
Though this microphone worked and was a huge step forward in microphone development. It did not gain popularity in its time.
The advent of transformers (1886) and stronger permanent magnets (1930s) would eventually bring moving-coil dynamic microphone technology into the realm of practicality.
Note that in 1923, the magnetophone was invented (a moving-coil microphone with stronger magnets and amplifiers that used transformers and vacuum tubes.
In 1931, American scientists Edward C. Wente and Albert L. Thuras invented a close approximation of the modern moving-coil dynamic microphone. Improvements in material and design have happened since then, but the basic design has remained the same.
For more information on microphones and magnets, check out my article Do Microphones Need Magnetism To Work Properly?
1885: Invention Of The Transformer
Many names are mentioned when discussing the inventor of the electrical transformer (including William Stanley, Nikola Tesla, and George Westinghouse).
However, it was Ottó Bláthy, Miksa Déri, and Károly Zipernowsky, who worked for the Ganz factory in the Austro-Hungarian Empire who originally designed and developed the transformer.
It wasn’t until the early 1920s that transformer technology had made its way into microphone designs. Since then, many microphones have benefitted from both step-up and step-down transformer-coupled outputs.
1886: Invention Of The Carbon-Button Microphone
In 1886, Thomas Edison, now working to improve the Bell Telephone microphone (Emile Berliner’s carbon microphone mentioned above), found a way to do so.
He found that the carbon worked better if roasted. This, combined with a few structural improvements, produced what is known as the carbon-button microphone.
It was this improved type of carbon mic that would ultimately be used in all Bell telephones until the 1980s.
1904: Invention Of The Vacuum Tube
In 1904, Sir John Ambrose Fleming, an English electrical engineer and physicist, invented the first vacuum tube.
By the 1920s, vacuum tubes became widely used in technology and were starting to be experimented with in the world of microphones.
Lee De Forest, in 1905, invented the first triode vacuum tube (the basic tube used in microphones). The patent was awarded in 1906.
With vacuum tubes, inventors could improve the quality of their microphones’ electrical signals. Triode vacuum tubes act as impedance converters and “amplifiers” of the relatively weak audio signals that are generated by microphone capsules.
1916: Invention Of The Condenser Microphone
In 1916, Edward Christopher Wente, an American physicist invented the first-ever condenser microphone while working at Western Electric.
Like its predecessor (the carbon microphone), the condenser microphone utilized two plates. However, the condenser microphone did not include any carbon granules and rather had an empty space between the plates.
The two plates of the condenser microphone formed a capacitor (then referred to as a “condenser,” hence the name). A consistent voltage was applied across the plate to hold a fixed charge.
One of the plates, as had been done with the carbon microphone, was very thin and acted as a diaphragm, moving in sympathy with the sound waves that hit it. The other plate (the backplate) was thicker and stationary.
As the diaphragm moved, the distance between the plates changed which altered the capacitance of the parallel-plate capacitor.
By maintaining a fixed charge across the plates, any change in capacitance caused an inversely proportional change in voltage. Therefore, the moving diaphragm caused a coinciding AC voltage (mic signal) to be outputted from the mic.
The condenser microphone is one of the two main microphone transducer types on the market today. For more information on the main microphone transducer types, check out my article Microphone Types: The 2 Primary Transducer Types + 5 Subtypes.
1917: Invention Of The Piezoelectric Microphone
The piezoelectric microphone actually came about in a strange way,
In 1917, Paul Langevin, the French physicist, was the first person to use piezoelectric crystals to detect sound.
This sound capturing device, however, was used as an ultrasonic submarine detector. It was used in conjunction with an ultrasound frequency emitter. Together, the devices were used to calculate the distance of enemy submarine by knowing the amount of time it took the signal (from the emitter) to travel to the submarine, echo off, and travel back to the microphone.
Paul Langevin also used an electrostatic (condenser) microphone for this purpose.
It is said that in 1919, Alexander Nicolson (not the Scottish lawyer) produced the first piezoelectric microphone for capturing sound waves. He did so while also developing piezoelectric loudspeakers and phonograph pickups.
1920: Invention Of The Early Electret Microphone
The electret microphone is said to have been invented in the 1960s (patent awarded to Gerhard Sessler in 1962). However, the earliest electret microphone was perhaps invented in 1920 by the Japanese scientist Yoguchi.
This primitive electret microphone worked similarly to the aforementioned condenser microphone. The backplate of the microphone was made of an electret material, which was designed to hold the required fixed charge across the plates.
Electret materials at this time could not sustain this charge for very long and so this microphone design never reached the market and was quickly forgotten.
1923: Invention Of The Moving-Coil Magnetophone
It’s worth noting here that Ernst Werner von Siemens, the German electrical engineer and inventor, perhaps created the first-ever moving-coil microphone in 1877. In the same year, he received a German patent for the electromechanical “dynamic” or moving-coil transducer.
The Marconi-Sykes magnetophone was the first-ever moving-coil type microphone. It was invented by the English engineer Captain Henry Joseph Round in 1923 during his time as chief engineer at Marconi. The microphone quickly became the standard for BBC studios in London and remained so until 1928.
The magnetophone was made of a cylindrical iron pot with a carefully place cylindrical pole piece in its centre. This odd-shaped magnet, then, had a thin cylindrical cavity with one magnetic pole to its interior (the pole piece) and the other magnetic pole to its exterior (the iron pot).
At the top of this magnetic piece was a paper diaphragm. The diaphragm was attached at its outer circumference to the iron pot and was connected to the pole piece in the centre, giving it an annular shape.
A light coil of conductive aluminum wire was attached to the paper diaphragm via cotton-wool pads fixed with rubber solution. This light coil was suspended inside the cylindrical cavity of the magnetic piece.
As the annular diaphragm moved, so too did the aluminum coil. As this coil moved within the magnetic field of the iron pot and pole piece, an electrical voltage was produced across the coil via electromagnetic induction.
This AC voltage would be the mic signal.
The mic signal was then sent through two amplifier stages (each made of an input transformer, multiple vacuum tubes, capacitors, and resistors, and an output transformer). The signal was then sent through a final output transformer and outputted as a relatively strong audio signal.
1924: Invention Of The Ribbon Dynamic Microphone
In 1924, another type of dynamic microphone (one that works on electromagnetism) was born. German scientists Walter Hans Schottky and Dr. Erwin Gerlach co-invented the first-ever ribbon microphone.
The idea behind the ribbon microphone was that a very fine conductive ribbon could be suspended within a magnetic field and produce an electric signal as it moved within this field.
So they did just that. They suspended a ribbon made of very thin aluminum within a magnetic structure. The ribbon, in this case, acted as the diaphragm, moving in sympathy with the sound waves that hit it.
As the conductive ribbon moves, it generated an AC voltage (an audio signal)
However, it was until the 1930s that strong enough magnets became available to make this ribbon microphone invention practical for audio production. In these early years, Harry F. Olson of RCA really propelled ribbon microphone technology forward.
For more information on the ribbon dynamic microphone, please check out my article Dynamic Ribbon Microphones: The In-Depth Guide.
1931: Invention Of The Moving-Coil Dynamic Microphone
In 1931, the basic moving-coil dynamic microphone we know today was invented. Note that this could arguably be considered on the 1877 invention of Ernst Werner von Siemens and the 1923 invention of Captain Henry Joseph Round.
That being said, in 1931, American scientists Edward C. Wente and Albert L. Thuras invented the modern moving-coil dynamic microphone.
This microphone was made of a circular polystyrene diaphragm with a conductive coil fastened to its rear side bout its centre point at a smaller radius.
This coil of fine conductive wire moved with the diaphragm as it was suspended within an annular gap in an oddly shaped magnet.
By this point, stronger magnets were available to make this moving-coil microphone practical.
A larger magnetic piece was the main magnet and encompassed the coil to the coil’s exterior. A pole piece extended up in the interior of the coil. This odd shape provided the aforementioned annular gap.
The pole piece to the interior of the coil provided the opposite magnetic pole than the larger magnet on the exterior of the coil.
As the diaphragm and coil moved, an audio signal was produced across the coil via electromagnetic induction. Though that wasn’t an overly high voltage, it was a strong signal relative to the signals of the microphone’s predecessors.
For more information on the moving-coil dynamic microphone, please check out my article Moving-Coil Dynamic Microphones: The In-Depth Guide.
1941: Invention Of The Line Microphone “Shotgun Microphone”
In 1941, Harry F. Olson of RCA had invented and been awarded a US patent for an “Electro-acoustical Apparatus (Line Microphone “Shotgun Microphone”).”
This electro-acoustical apparatus featured a microphone with a tube extending from in front of its diaphragm.
This tube (known in modern times as an “interference tube”) had carefully measured slots that allowed sound through and was open at the far end.
The slots cause off-axis sound waves to experience timing differences at various sound frequencies. This, in turn, caused frequency cancellation of off-axis sounds within the tube and at the microphone diaphragm.
This cancellation focused the microphone’s polar pattern in the direction the tube pointed at.
Since then, there have been great improvements in the shotgun microphone design. The advent of the top-address pencil microphone and the ability to create supercardioid and hypercardioid polar patterns have greatly increased the “focus” of shotgun polar pattern.
For a more in-depth read on shotgun microphones, check out my articles The Lobar/Shotgun Microphone Polar Pattern (With Mic Examples) and What Is A Boom Microphone? (Applications + Mic Examples).
1947: Invention Of The Transistor
In 1947, American physicists at Bell Laboratories (John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley) invented the first-ever point-contact transistor.
Since then, numerous transistors have been developed. The main transistor type worth mentioning in microphone technology is the junction-gate field-effect transistor (JFET).
The JFET was first patented by Heinrich Welker, a German theoretical and applied physicist, in 1945.
Field-effect transistors would not show up practically in microphone technology until the mid-1960s. However, this invention has changed the world of microphones (and the world in general!).
Note that the first-ever patent for the FET was awarded to Austro-Hungarian physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfeld in 1925. The FET was designed to be a solid-state alternative to the triode vacuum tube (which it ultimately ended up being), however, the materials and technology available at the time could not produce a functioning model.
For more information on microphones, transistors, and the aforementioned transformers, check out my article Do All Microphones Have Transformers And Transistors? (+ Mic Examples).
1948: Invention Of The Multi-Pattern Microphone
The invention of the multi-pattern microphone came about with the creation of the M7, the world’s first dual-diaphragm condenser capsule. Both these inventions are credited to Georg Neumann and his engineers at Georg Neumann GmbH.
The first microphone to feature the M7 capsule and multiple polar patterns was the Neumann U 47 tube condenser microphone (which we’ll talk more about later). The mic featured an omnidirectional polar pattern (with both sides of the capsule polarized) and a cardioid polar pattern (with only the front side of the capsule polarized).
For more information on microphone capsules, check out my article What Is A Microphone Capsule? (Plus Top 3 Most Popular Capsules).
1957: Invention Of The Wireless Microphone
Schematics for wireless microphones began circulating in the mid-1940s and working wireless microphone date as far back as 1947 (The first noted was Reg Moores’ wireless “figure skater” microphone).
However, the first recorded patent for a wireless microphone only happened in 1957. It was filed by Raymond A. Litke, an American electrical engineer. Litke is historically credited with having invented the wireless microphone.
Litke’s motivator in inventing the wireless microphone was to meet the needs of television, radio, and classroom instruction. His models included a handheld mic and a miniature lavalier.
With all that being said, Shure had introduced the wireless Vagabond 88 microphone to the market in 1953. Sennheiser had also developed a wireless microphone system before Litke in 1957 that was eventually released by Telefunken in 1958 under the name “Mikroport.”
For more information on wireless microphones, check out my article How Do Wireless Microphones Work?
1959: Invention Of The Top-Address Unidirectional Microphone
In 1959, Shure engineer Ernie Seeler had developed the Unidyne III capsule and Shure had introduced the Model 545 to the market. This marked the invention of the first-ever unidirectional top-address microphone.
The Unidyne III capsule featured a single diaphragm and an air volume cavity at its rear. This allowed the capsule to be positioned at the end of a microphone, pointing out from the top of the mic (top-address) rather than pointing out of the side of the mic (side-address, like every microphone until this point).
1961: Invention Of The Electret Condenser Microphone
In 1961, Bell Laboratory engineers Gerhard Sessler and Dr. James E. West developed the Electroacoustic Transducer Electret Microphone. They received the patent for their invention in 1962.
With electret technology, the condenser microphone capsule could be quasi-permanently charged.
With no need for external power, these capsules (and their microphones) could be manufactured at a lower cost than externally polarized capsules.
Today, electret microphones are the most common type of mic on the planet (though MEMS microphones may very well exceed them in the near future).
The rise of electret microphones came about as:
- Longevity increased in electret materials.
- JFETs became smaller and more efficient.
1965: Invention Of The Solid-State Condenser Microphone
With the advent of the transistor, vacuum tubes began getting phased out and replaced with the cheaper, longer-lasting FETs. It was only a matter of time before solid-state transistors began replacing the vacuum tubes in microphone designs.
The first-ever solid-state microphone was developed by Schoeps (the CMT 20).
1983: Invention Of The MEMS Microphone
The first microphone based on silicon micro-machining (MEMS microphone) was introduced in 1983 by D. Hohm and Gerhard M. Sessler.
The duo essentially took the working principles of Sessler’s electret microphone (invented in 1962) and fabricated the first working silicon condenser mic with Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems technology.
Today, MEMS mics are preferred over electret mics in the following ways:
- Better performance/reliability.
- Smaller size.
- Compatibility with high-temperature automated printed circuit board (PCB) mounting processes.
- Lower sensitivity to mechanical shocks.
- Integrated with CMOS electronics on the same chip or package.
- More cost-effective.
2003: The Invention Of The Digital Microphone
Pulse-code modulation (PCM), a common way of digitally representing analog signals, was invented in 1937 by the British scientist Alec Reeves.
Digital audio has been developing since then, with a particular rise in development in the 1960s. The first commercial digital recordings were released in 1971.
It wasn’t until the late-1970s that digital audio began catching on in the professional audio industries. It wasn’t until 1982, with the introduction of the Compact Disc, that digital audio became popularized with consumers.
In the 1990s, digital recording really gained popularity. Today, the vast majority of audio is recorded digitally.
Because microphones are inherently analog devices, their signals need to be converted into digital audio for digital processing. This is typically done with an external analog-to-digital signal converter.
In 2003, engineers at Georg Neumann invented the first-ever digital microphone and released it to the market under the name Solution-D D-01.
The design of this microphone is simple in theory. The D-01 has an analog-to-digital converter built inside its body. Therefore, the microphone itself outputs digital audio.
With the rise of computers and audio recording software, the market decided that USB microphones (with built-in-analog converters) would do well. USB microphones (of varying quality) began surfacing around 2005.
To read more about digital microphones, check out my article Are Microphones Analog Or Digital Devices? (Mic Output Designs).
Timeline Of Microphone Types To Enter The Marketplace
Inventing a type of microphone is a great accomplishment. Another major step forward with new microphone technology is the introduction of commercial microphone models.
Here is a table outlining the first commercially available microphones of each type:
|Year||Microphone Type||Product Name|
|1928||Condenser Microphone||Neumann CMV3
|1931||Ribbon Microphone||RCA PB-31|
|1931||Moving-Coil Dynamic Microphone||Western Electric 618A|
|1938||Early Electret Condenser Microphone||Bogen Company No-Voltage Velotron|
|1948||Multi-Pattern Microphone||Neumann U 47|
|1953||Wireless Microphone||Shure Vagabond 88|
|1956||Shotgun Microphone||Lab W (Sennheiser) MD 82|
|1959||Top-Address Unidirectional Microphone||Shure 545|
|1964||Solid-State Condenser Microphone||Schoeps CMT 20|
|1966||Phantom Powered Microphone||Neumann KM 84|
|1968||Electret Condenser Microphone||Sony ECM-22P|
|2002||MEMS Microphone||Knowles SiSonic|
|2003||Digital Microphone||Neumann Solution-D D-01|
Let’s take a closer look at each of the above microphones and their introductions into the marketplace.
1928: First Commercially Available Condenser Microphone
Georg Neumann’s CMV3 “The Bottle” microphone was the first commercially available condenser microphone. The CMV3 “Condensator Mikrofon Verstärkerwas 3” or “condenser microphone amplifier 3” released in 1928.
The CMV3 featured the Neumann M1 omnidirectional with its large, gold-sputtered colloidal diaphragm and RE084 triode-based tube electronics.
Neumann had a worldwide distribution deal with Telefunken, and so much like the future Neumann microphones, the CMV3 models exported outside Germany had Telefunken logos.
Neumann is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use
• Top Best Studio Monitor Brands You Should Know And Use
1931: First Commercially Available Ribbon Microphone
The RCA PB-31 was the first-ever commercially available ribbon microphone designed by Harry F. Olson and his team at RCA. This photophone-type mic had a very limited run (of about 50 units) and was released in 1931.
The creation of a practical ribbon microphone was a major breakthrough in microphone technology. The PB-31 was the first of many ribbon mics to hit the market at this time. Ribbon microphones, at the time, outperformed condenser mics in frequency response, clarity, and realism.
The PB-31 was replaced in early 1932 by the improved RCA 44-A (the predecessor of the famed 44-BX).
The RCA 44-BX is featured in my Top 12 Best Vintage Microphones (And Their Best Clones).
1931: First Commercially Available Moving-Coil Dynamic Microphone
The introduction of the first moving-coil dynamic microphone happened in the same year as the first ribbon mic: 1931.
In 1931, Edward C. Wente and Albert L. Thuras (of Western Electric) brought the Western Electric 618A Electrodynamic Transmitter to the market. It was the world’s first commercially available moving-coil dynamic mic.
This omnidirectional microphone has a duralumin diaphragm clamped around the outer edge of its cobalt-steel alloy magnet.
A coil of aluminum ribbon was attached to the rear side of the diaphragm. As the diaphragm and coil move relative to the stationary permanent magnet, an audio signal was induced.
The permanent cobalt-steel alloy magnet made the microphone passive.
1938: First Commercially Available Electret Condenser Microphone
The Bogen Company produced the first-ever commercially available electret microphone. It was called the No-Voltage Velotron and it had a short production run from 1938 to 1940.
These wax electrets did work but were very unstable and their “permanent” charges faded rather quickly. Therefore, these early electret mics did not catch on until the 1960s, when electret materials had vastly improved and transistors were available to convert the electret capsule impedances.
1948: Commercially Available Multi-Pattern Microphone
In 1948, Georg Neumann brought another first to the microphone market. The legendary Neumann U 47 (with selectable omnidirectional and cardioid polar patterns) was the first multi-pattern microphone to hit the market.
The U 47 was originally designed with the Neumann M 7 capsule, a dual-PVC-diaphragm condenser capsule. Later in 1960, the capsule would be replaced by the improved Neumann K 49 capsule, which had biaxially oriented PET film as its diaphragm material.
By polarizing both diaphragms of the U 47 capsule, an omnidirectional polar pattern was achieved. By only polarizing the front diaphragm of the capsule, a cardioid polar pattern was produced. The mic was actually 5 dB more sensitive in cardioid mode since the capacitance losses of having the rear diaphragm engaged were eliminated.
The U 47’s circuitry was based around the Telefunken VF 14 M RF pentode vacuum tube, which was military-grade.
The Neumann U 47 is featured in my Top 12 Best Vintage Microphones (And Their Best Clones).
1953: First Commercially Available Wireless Microphone
Although I stated previously that the wireless microphone was only “invented” in 1957, that was simply when the first patent was awarded (to Raymond A. Litke).
However, in 1953, the Shure Brothers (Sidney N. and Samuel J. Shure) introduced the world’s first professional wireless microphone system. This system was named the Vagabond 88 and was sold from 1953 to 1960.
The Vagabond 88 system included the following:
- Model 88T handheld transmitter (2 MHz).
- Model 88R FM receiver (2 MHz).
- Mic stand adapter for the 88T.
- Lavalier cord and clip to hold the 88T.
- Coil of copper antenna wire.
- Set of batteries consisting of a 30 volt “B” battery and a 1.3-volt mercury cell.
This system employed 3 CK526AX pentode vacuum tubes and 2 CK512AX is a pentode vacuum tubes.
Shure is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use
• Top Best Headphone Brands In The World
• Top Best Earphone/Earbud Brands In The World
1956: First Commercially Available Shotgun Microphone
In 1956, Labor W (now Sennheiser Electronics GmbH) released the Model MD 82. It was the world’s first commercially available shotgun microphone.
The MD 82 featured a 1-metre long interference tube. Sound could enter the tube from a slot that ran from one end of the tube to the other.
This tube increased the directionality of the microphone by blocking sounds from most directions before they reached the diaphragm.
Resonators were set about 3 mm apart along the slot to reduce high-frequency loss.
Sennheiser is featured in my Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.
1959: First Commercially Available Unidirectional Top-Address Microphone
In 1959, Ernie Seeler of the Shure company finalized the design of the first unidirectional top-address mic and the company released its Model 545 microphone.
Collecting sound from the top of the microphone rather than the side may seem like a small detail. However, Seeler’s invention (the Unidyne III capsule) set a new level for microphone technology and design.
The Unidyne III capsule is a single-diaphragm directional capsule. The rear side of its diaphragm is open to an air volume that allows sounds to enter but at a reduced rate. This causes the unidirectional (cardioid) polar pattern.
The Unidyne III capsule of the Model 545 also featured a pneumatic shock-mount system.
Of course, this may sound simple nowadays, but at the time (and still today), this technology was very complicated and caused a giant step forward in microphone technology.
1964: First Commercially Available Solid-State Condenser Microphone
The first-ever transistorized microphone to hit the market was the Schoeps CMT 20, which was released in 1964.
The CMT 20 did use a transformer, but not the low-noise FETs commonly used today. The transistor was used to convert impedance (rather than a vacuum tube), but the only way to keep the noise low was to use a radio-frequency circuit in which the capsule modulated an RF carrier.
It’s worth noting here that the CMT 20 was perhaps the first active transformerless microphone on the mass market that relied on a balanced output circuit rather than an output transformer.
Schoeps claims the CMT 20 to be the first-ever phantom powered microphone, running on 9-12 volts DC supplied through the balanced audio cable. However, most would argue that the first phantom-powered microphone (with the now standardized +48 volts DC) was the Neumann KM 84.
Schoeps Mikrofone is featured in My New Microphone’s Top Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.
1966: First Commercially Available Phantom Powered (+48V) Microphone
In 1966, Neumann GmbH and the NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) came together and set the standard 48 V DC phantom power (which was later standardized in DIN 45596).
With this new powering method just established, Neumann boldly presented the world with the first-ever phantom powered microphone, the Neumann KM 84.
The KM 84 was a small-diaphragm externally polarized condenser microphone. It was a top-address mic with a cardioid microphone.
The 48 V phantom power effectively polarized the capsule of the KM 84 and powered its active FET circuitry. This microphone used an output transformer.
The Neumann KM 84 is featured in my Top 12 Best Vintage Microphones (And Their Best Clones).
For more information on microphones and phantom power, check out my article Do Microphones Need Phantom Power To Work Properly?
1968: First Commercially Available Electret Condenser Microphone
In 1968, Sony released its ECM (electret condenser microphone) line of microphones, which starred the ECM-22P.
The ECM-22P is a small-diaphragm electret condenser pencil microphone. It was among the first to feature a practical “quasi-permanent” electret capsule. Electret materials, at this time, would hold their charge for a long time, though the charge would slowly fade.
The ECM-22P could run on phantom power or batteries in order to power its active transistorized circuitry.
2002: First Commercially Available MEMS Microphone
In 2002, the first commercial Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems microphone was introduced to the market. It was produced by Knowles and called the SiSonic.
Built on CMOS/MEMS technology, the SiSonic was a huge breakthrough for microphone technology.
2003: First Commercially Available Digital Microphone
The Neumann Solution-D D-01 was the first every digital microphone introduced to the commercial market. It was released in 2003 and is, to this day, the flagship microphone of the Neumann Solution-D series of microphones.
The Neumann Solution-D D-01 microphone analog-to-digital converter is compliant with the AES 42 standards for digital audio and digital microphones.
The mic features the following:
- Digital output (AES 42).
- Internal digital signal processing (DSP) functions (gain, overload protection, compressor/limiter, de-esser, variable low cut, etc.).
- All parameters may be stored in the microphone.
- Remote controllable signal LEDs for communication with the artist.
- Balanced sound in 15 directional patterns.
- Extremely low self-noise (8 dB-A).
- A/D Conversion: Neumann process (patented), 28-bit internal word length.
- DSP: Fixed-point, variable internal word length 28 bits to 60 bits.
- Sampling rates: 44.1/48/88.2/96/176.4/192 kHz.
- Output data format: 24 bits as per AES/EBU (AES 3).
What is the best microphone? The “best microphone” is a subjective title. Choosing the best microphone for your application depends on the sound source, acoustic environment, mic placement, and desired result.
What is a mic pack? A mic pack (microphone package) is a collection of microphones for a specific purpose. Popular mic packs include those from miking drum kits and for location sound. A mic pack is an essential part of a larger audio pack for recording or live sound reinforcement.