I’d be surprised if you weren’t sitting within fifty feet of one of James Edward Maceo West’s most well-known inventions — the electret microphone. Although MEMS microphones have seen a dramatic rise as smartphone technology progresses, electret microphones still sit atop the throne of low-cost and high-performance when it comes to capturing audio. What’s surprising about this world-changing invention is that the collaboration with co-inventor Gerhard Sessler began while James West was still at university, with the final version of the electret springing to life at Bell Labs just four years after his graduation.
A Hacker’s Upbringing
James’ approach to learning sounds very familiar: “If I had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, anything that could be opened was in danger. I had this need to know what was inside.” He mentions a compulsive need to understand how things work, and an inability to move on until he has unlocked that knowledge. Born in 1931, an early brush with mains voltage started him on his journey.
Continue reading “James West Began 40 Years At Bell Labs With World-Changing Microphone Tech”
Electret microphones are capable of high-quality output, and are prized for their smooth frequency response. However, unlike other types, they can’t simply be plugged directly into a mixing desk. Instead, they require special high-impedence circuitry to extract the audio signal for recording. [DJJules] is a big fan of these microphones, and decided to build a high-quality, easy to use circuit that he has shared with the community.
The goal of the project was to create a circuit to match the TSB2555B electret capsule that could be used with phantom power, and that could be built with easily obtainable parts. [DJJules] had used FETs in the past, but grew tired of routinely having to hunt for obsolete parts. Instead, this design relies on a dual OPA1642 op-amp, with its low quiescent current meaning it’s perfect for running off phantom power. This means the microphone needs no batteries, and using a dual op-amp enables the circuit to properly drive a balanced audio connection.
The circuit is designed to fit inside a common BM700 or BM800 microphone body, and the PCB can be ordered from PCBWay for those interested in building their own. There’s also a saddle on Shapeways that’s designed to neatly mount the electret capsule within the housing.
The final results are impressive, and this project would make a great entry into the DIY microphone space for anyone eager to start building their own gear. Of course, there are simpler builds if you’re looking for an easier way to get started. Video after the break.
Continue reading “Building A Top-Notch Electret Microphone”
We humans may not have superpowers, but the sensor suite we have is still pretty impressive. We have binocular vision that autofocuses and can detect a single photon, skin studded with sensors for touch, heat, and pain, and a sense of smell that can detect chemicals down to the parts per trillion range. Our sense of hearing is pretty powerful, too, allowing us to not only hear sounds over a 140 dB range, but also to locate its source with a fair degree of precision, thanks to the pair of ears on our heads.
Recreating that binaural audio capture ability is the idea behind this homebrew 3D microphone. Commercially available dummy head microphones are firmly out of the price range of [LeoMakes] and most mortals, so his was built on a budget from a foam mannequin head and precast silicone rubber ears, which you can buy off the shelf, because of course you can.
Attached to the sides of the foam head once it got the [Van Gogh] treatment, the ears funnel sound to tiny electret cartridge microphones. [Leo] learned the hard way that these little capsule mics can’t use the 48-volt phantom power that’s traditionally pumped up the cable to studio microphones; he fixed that problem with a resistor in parallel with the mic leads. A filtering capacitor, an RC network between the cold line and ground on the balanced audio line, and a shield cleverly fashioned from desoldering braid took care of the RF noise problem.
The video after the break shows the build and test results, which are pretty convincing with headphones on. If you want to build your own but need to learn more about balanced audio and phantom power, we’ve got a short primer on the topic that might help.
Continue reading “Homebrew Binaural Microphone Lets You Listen Like A Human”
For those with some experience with pro audio, the term “ribbon microphone” tends to conjure up an image of one of those big, chunky mics from the Golden Age of radio, the kind adorned with the station’s callsign and crooned into by the latest heartthrob dreamboat singer. This DIY ribbon mic is none of those things, but it’s still really cool.
Of course the ribbon mic isn’t always huge, and the technology behind it is far from obsolete. [Frank Olsen]’s ribbon mic starts out with gutting a run-of-the-mill studio mic of its element, leaving only the body and connector behind. The element that he constructs, mostly from small scraps of aluminum and blocks of acrylic, looks very much like the ribbon element in commercial mics: a pair of magnets with a thin, corrugated strip of foil suspended between them. The foil was corrugated by passing it through a jig that [Frank] built, which is a neat tool, but he says that a paper crimper used for crafting would work too. There’s some pretty fussy work behind the cartridge build, but everything went together and fit nicely in the old mic body. The video below was narrated using the mic, so we know it works.
Fun fact: the ribbon microphone was invented by Walter Schottky. That Walter Schottky. Need more on how these mics work? Our colleague [Al Williams] has you covered with this article on the basics.
Continue reading “DIY Ribbon Element Upgrades A Studio Microphone”
When designing a microphone assembly the other day, I reached for an electret condenser microphone capsule without thinking. To be strictly accurate I ordered a pack of them, these small cylindrical microphones are of extremely high quality for their relatively tiny price.
It was only upon submitting the order that I had a thought for the first time in my life: Just what IS an electret condenser microphone?
A condenser microphone is easy enough to explain. It’s a capacitor formed from a very thin conductive sheet that functions as the diaphragm, mounted in front of another conductor, usually a piece of mesh. Sound waves cause the diaphragm to vibrate, and these vibrations change the capacitance between diaphragm and mesh.
If that capacitance is incorporated into an RC circuit with a very high impedance and a high voltage is applied, a near constant charge is placed upon it. Since the charge stays constant, changing the capacitance causes a tiny voltage fluctuation that can be retrieved as the audio signal from the microphone. Condenser microphones built in this way can be extremely high quality, but come at the expense of needing a high voltage power supply to supply the charge and an amplifier to buffer and magnify the audio.
Continue reading “A Bit More Than A Microphone: The Electret Story”
That old upright piano still sounds great, and now it can easily have its own special effects. [DangerousTim] added LED strips which change color when he tickles the ivories. The strips are applied along the perimeter of the rear side of the upright causing the light to reflect off of the wall behind the instrument. This is a familiar orientation which is often seen in ambilight clone builds and will surely give you the thrill of Guitar Hero’s brightly changing graphics while you rock the [Jerry Lee Lewis].
Key to this build is the electret microphone and opamp which feed an Arduino. This allows the sound from the piano to be processed in order to affect the color and intensity of the LED strips. These are not addressable, but use a transistor to switch power to the three colors of all pixels simultaneously.
We think there’s room for some clever derivative builds, but we’re still scratching our heads as to how we’d use addressable pixels. Does anyone know a relatively easy way to take the mic input and reliably establish which keys are being played? If so, we can’t wait to see your ambilight-piano-clone build. Don’t forget to tip us off when you finish the hack!
Go to any concert, show, or basement band practice, and you’ll find someone recording a bootleg. While these live recordings are sometimes fairly high quality, bootlegs recorded with a cell phone usually sound terrible. The guys over at Open Music Labs have a great solution to these poor quality recordings that only needs a few dollars worth of parts.
The project is called bootlegMIC. It’s a simple modification of an electret microphone – the same type of mic found in cellphones and bluetooth headsets – that allows for some very high quality recording in very noisy environments. According to the open music labs wiki, the modification is as simple as cutting a few traces on the PCB in an electret mic and soldering on a cap and a few resistors.
An electret mic contains a small JFET to amplify the signal coming from the microphone diaphragm; the specific JFET is selected by the manufacturer to ensure the microphone has the right gain and response. Usually these JFETs are chosen with the expectation of a relatively quiet environment, and trying to record a concert only results in a ton of distortion. By putting a resistor between the source of the JFET and ground of the microphone, it’s possible to reduce this distortion.
The circuit is easy enough to solder deadbug style, and should work with most cellphones. The guys at Open Music Lab were able to get their mic working with an iPhone, but they’re still working on figuring out the Android mic input. There’s a great demo video showing the improvement in audio quality; you can check that out after the break.
Continue reading “Getting Great Bootlegs With The BootlegMIC”