check one two, check one two
April 27, 2012 9:40 AM   Subscribe

A trip through the microphone's early days — from invention to old-school broadcasting. Enjoy these historic photos of a time when recorded and amplified audio were a novelty, rather than a necessity of everyday life: Birth of the Microphone: How Sound Became Signal.
posted by flapjax at midnite (10 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Love the photos. Love seeing Emile Berliner get some well-deserved attention. Hate, hate, hate the abbreviation "mic" for microphone. A bicycle is a bike, not a bic. A microphone is a mike, not a mic.
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:52 AM on April 27, 2012

That's some cool old stuff. It's fun how much of it could be made at home from ordinary materials from the general store, and a lot of winding and gluing.

Here's how we made our own microphones back in the day:

Take a cigar box, and affix two razor blades vertically an inch or
so apart, and lay a pencil lead across them. When the box vibrates,
it changes the resistance between the contacts, and works just like
a carbon microphone.

The book, "Fun With Electrons," that had the instructions went on tell you how to build capacitors from glass and tin foil, how to step up the audio signal and modulate high voltage radio waves using a Model-T Ignition coil, and make a magic trick where the words spoke into the cigar box could be heard by someone touching a metal plate in another room, with no acoustic speaker needed.

I've never been able to locate that library book again. Perhaps something to do with the last chapter, that explained how to build an X-ray fluoroscope from household ingredients, such that an enterprising youth could view the bones in his hand moving in realtime.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:01 AM on April 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Google ngram for the phrase "Is this thing on."
posted by yoink at 10:08 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've just started to get into voiceover work, and this post fits right in with my renewed microphone gear-headedness.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:59 AM on April 27, 2012

Also of note is the companion article in Wired about ribbon microphones: Part 1, Part 2. Pretty neat stuff, even though there aren't any Telefunken U-47's
posted by TedW at 11:55 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Interesting, but I was always a mic geek. In one of those old "boy's" constructor books (similar to what StickyCarpet mentioned) I found plans for taking apart two discharged standard 'C' cells, whose positive element is a carbon rod running down the middle, arranging them, crossed, on top of an inverted shoebox, and connecting the rods to a small amp. The author claimed you could hear a fly's footsteps with this set-up... he was right.

The standard mic used in most old-school telephones til at least into the late 1990s was a carbon button mic. Carbon mics were never hi-fi, but they could be rugged and dependable.

There is alot more to mic history... besides ribbon mics, there's many now-iconic dynamic mics from Altec, Shure and Electro-Voice, and of course the German and Austrian condenser mics as TedW alludes to.

At the risk of Godwinning a mic thread, there's this.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:18 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I took a tour of Bob Paquette's microphone museum last fall and it was a pretty amazing place. Of course he has one of Hitler's microphones along with probably one of every major microphone in existence. It is well worth the trip - it may be around for long.
posted by JJ86 at 7:07 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bob Paquette's microphone museum

Must. Visit.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:12 PM on April 27, 2012

....though the quality of audio is horrible, indie bands in search of vintage cred are predicted to release wax-cylinder singles in the near future.

No they're not.
posted by squalor at 10:56 PM on April 27, 2012

squalor: but how about this: ?
posted by crazy_yeti at 7:34 AM on April 28, 2012

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