The microphone is a pretty ubiquitous piece of technology that we’re all familiar with, but what if you’re not looking to record audio in the air, and instead want to listen in on what’s happening underwater? That’s a job for a hydrophone! Unfortunately, hydrophones aren’t exactly the kind of thing you’re likely to find at the big-box electronics store. Luckily for us, [Jules Ryckebusch] picked up a few tricks in his 20-year career as a Navy submariner, and has documented his process for building a sensitive hydrophone without needing a military budget.
Fascinated by all the incredible sounds he used to hear hanging around the Sonar Shack, [Jules] pored over documents related to hydrophone design from the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) until he distilled it all down to a surprisingly straightforward build. The key to the whole build is a commercially available cylindrical piezoelectric transducer designed for underwater communication that, incredibly, costs less than $20 USD a pop.
The transducer is connected to an op-amp board of his own design, which has been adapted from his previous work with condenser microphones. [Jules] designed the 29 x 26 mm board to fit neatly within the diameter of the transducer itself. The entire mic and preamp assembly can be cast inside a cylinder of resin. Specifically, he’s found an affordable two-part resin from Smooth-On that has nearly the same specific gravity as seawater. This allows him to encapsulate all the electronics in a way that’s both impervious to water and almost acoustically transparent. A couple of 3D-printed molds later, the hydrophone was ready to cast.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first homebrew hydrophone we’ve seen. But compared to that earlier entry, which basically just waterproofed a standard microphone pickup, we think this more thoughtful approach is likely to have far better performance.