Blue Ribbon Microphone

Edmund_Lowe_fsa_8b06653If you’ve ever seen an old movie or TV show where there was a radio announcer, you’ve probably seen a ribbon microphone. The RCA 44 (see Edmund Lowe, on right) had exceptional sound quality and are still valued today in certain applications. The name ribbon microphone is because the sound pickup is literally a thin strip of aluminum or other conductive material.

Unlike other common microphones, ribbons pick up high frequencies much better due to the high resonant frequency of the metallic ribbon. This is not only better in general, but it means the ribbon mic has a flatter frequency response even at lower frequencies. Another unique feature is that the microphone is bidirectional, hearing sounds from the front or back equally well. It is possible to build them with other directional patterns, although you rarely see that in practice.


In the early 1920s, Walter Schottky and Erwin Gerlach developed the ribbon microphone (and, coincidentally, the first ribbon loudspeaker). Harry Olson at RCA developed a ribbon mic that used coils and permanent magnets which led to the RCA Photophone Type PB-31 in 1931. Because of their superior audio response, they were instant hits and Radio City Music Hall started using the PB-31 in 1932. A newer version appeared in 1933, the 44A, which reduced reverberation.

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Building a contact mic using homemade piezo crystals


[Leafcutter] is big in to making music and has put together all sorts of musical instruments and tools over the years. Recently, he was inspired to make his own piezo crystals, and wrote in to share the results of his experiments with us.

[Leafcutter] is no stranger to messing around with piezo elements, and after seeing [Collin’s] tutorial on making your own piezo crystals at home, he knew he had to give it a try. He stopped by the grocery store to fetch all of the ingredients, then followed [Collin’s] instructions to the letter…well, almost. It seems that he might have cooled the solution too quickly, so he found himself with a jar full of tiny, barely usable piezo crystals instead of larger ones like [Collin] was able to produce.

Undeterred, he decided to see if the stuff was any good, and rigged up a makeshift contact microphone using some conductive foil and a clamp. He piped the output to his amplifier, and wouldn’t you know it…it worked!

He has a small sound clip of what the mic sounded like on his site, and it worked pretty darn well despite the crystal’s tiny size. He is going to give the whole process another go, so we hope to see more experiments with bigger crystals in the near future.

Add external MIC input for Samsung HMX-T10 videocamera

[Kalin] loved the picture from his new Samsung HMX-T10 camcorder, but the sound quality didn’t match up. Since it records video that can be directly imported to his editing suite of choice he didn’t want to just buy a different model, so he cracked it open and added an external mic input.

As with most consumer electronics these days, the hardest part of the hack is getting the thing apart and assembling it without any damage. [Kalin] had to get down to the bare circuit board to get to the audio input connections. He soldered up some shielded extension wire to an audio jack, then made some space in the case by cutting a bit of the plastic structure before finally gluing it in place. Details are a bit scarce, but it looks like he wired up the jack along with a couple of switches. We’d wager this still lets him use the stock microphone if he doesn’t feel like hauling around extra gear.

A simple FM transmitter

Here is a low component count FM transmitter. It sacrifices some features, like the ability to adjust the frequency, for simplicity’s sake. The build method is fairly common with amateur radio but we don’t see it around here too much. Each component gets a 5mm-by-5mm copper clad pad which is super glued to the ground plate as an insulator. There’s even a pictorial example of this method if you need some help with visualization.

One of the schematics included in the article shows how to incorporate a condenser microphone into the unit. We guess that makes it pretty easy to add an FM ‘bug’ to your arsenal of covert listening devices. Just make sure to check your local laws before building and using this. We’re not sure what the FCC would think of it here in America so we’re hoping some well-informed readers will educate us with a comment.

[Thanks Bart]

Laser mic makes eavesdropping remarkably simple

Here’s a surprisly simple way to build yourself a laser-based listening device. It consists of two modules, a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter is a set of lasers, one is visible red for aiming, and the other is infrared for measuring the vibration of a surface. Point the transmitter at the window of the room you want to listen in on and the laser can be reflected back to the receiver. The receiver module has a phototransistor to pick up the infrared laser light, and an LM386 audio amplifier to generate the audio signal sent to a pair of headphone. The need to be well-aligned which is easy enough using a pair of tripods. Check out the demo after the break.

Looking for something to do with the leftover laser diodes from this project? Try making yourself a laser microscope.

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