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In the history and timeline development of microphones, the topic of the first microphone invented is rich yet often debated. The development of the microphone quickly became popular among scientists, inventors, engineers, and manufacturers, and being able to claim ownership and the title of ‘first’ was highly sought after.
As a result, a multitude of microphone types such as ribbon microphones, condenser microphones, dynamic microphones, USB microphones, clip-on microphones, and more were created.
However, it was the invention and development of the first microphone that started it all. With that being said, let’s do a further deep dive on the first mic made.
While the term ‘microphone’ was first coined in 1827 by Sir Charles Wheatstone, the English physicist was not responsible for the creation of the earliest known mic. On the other hand, his invention of devices that could amplify sound while transmitting it to another location paved the way for the Reis Telephone.
The Reis Telephone was invented by Johann Philipp Reis and this device marked the “formal “ history of the microphone in 1861. While again the device was not technically a mic, the Reis Telephone acted as a transducer that could convert mechanical wave energy (sound wave) into electrical energy (audio signal). Essentially, this is how microphones work and so the Reis Telephone became the prototype of the core mic design.
Putting the two inventions of Sir Charles Wheatstone and Johanna Philipp Reis together, the earliest known microphone was invented — the carbon button microphone. Although the first types of mics included acoustic megaphones, dynamic microphones, the Reis Telephones, the vacuum tube, and the liquid microphone transmitter, it was the carbon button microphone that would be hailed as the first formal mic.
The drum-like device consisted of a carbon button microphone, hence the name, and was invented by Emile Berliner and Thomas Edison together.
The carbon button microphone is what they would also call a “loose-contact transmitter” since it had two electric contacts separated by a layer of carbon. When joined together with the diaphragm, the electric contacts would vibrate when struck by a sound wave.
The carbon microphone was the first formal mic made. This was invented by Emile Berliner and Thomas Edison together in 1876 and was formally introduced to the public in 1877. Although David Edward Hughes would later independently create his carbon mic in 1878, it was the invention of Emile Berliner and Thomas Edison that hailed the title of the first carbon microphone. However, its history is greatly debated by many even to this day.
Although Emile Berliner invented the microphone in 1876 alongside Thomas Edison, it would be the latter who would receive the credit as the inventor. In a Supreme Court ruling in 1892, Edison became the legal inventor of the mic. Such was the case because of a series of events.
Berliner designed and developed the microphone based on Alexander Graham Bell’s liquid transmitter or water microphone idea. He essentially used a steel ball and placed it against a stretched metal diaphragm. This allowed the sound pressure or sound waves to vibrate against the diaphragm and produce pressure on the carbon granules. Later on, this mic design became an integral part of the first Bell Telephones of Bell Laboratories.
In 1878, Alexander Graham Bell bought the microphone patent for Berliner’s microphone, which Thomas Edison also helped work on. However, the same patent would be sold to Edison for an amount of $50,000, and so he was credited as the inventor of the microphone in 1892.
There were a lot of things happening in the microphone industry in 1877. The invention of the carbon mic by three individuals; Berliner, Edison, and independently Hughes, and the invention of the moving-coil microphone.
The moving-coil microphone was invented by Ernst Werner Siemens, a German electrical engineer. Siemens’ moving-coil microphone design used a diaphragm that has an attached moving coil within its permanent magnetic field. This caused a small electrical current to be induced across every time the diaphragm and coil moved.
Simple as it may sound, this design did not gain much popularity back when it was made public in 1877. However, the invention of said mic was important as it proved the microphone can work even without requiring an external power supply and still achieve good sound quality.
It was not until 1931 when Edward C. Wente and Albert L. Thuras of Western Electric re-introduced the modern moving-coil dynamic microphone. It now made use of a circular polystyrene diaphragm with a conductive coil attached to the rear sides and had stronger magnets. This allowed the mic to produce stronger audio signals via electromagnetic induction compared to other previously developed mics.
In any microphone book, you will read the name Georg Neumann, and rightly so as he is credited as the person who introduced the first mass-produced condenser mic. It was in 1928 when Neumann founded his company bearing the same name and brought to the market the CMV 3 also known as the Neumann Bottle.
It was a great change from the traditional mic designs a the time as the CMV 3 had a cylindrical chamber and differing pick-up patterns. This allowed the mic to have superior audio quality may it be for a radio broadcast or live performances.
The stories and history behind the first mic made are indeed rich and packed. With a lot of individuals and instances that occurred, there are times wherein credits may be debatable. Be that as it may, all of these events helped in developing the microphones we have and their impact on music, radio broadcasting, and more today.
Engineers Gerhard Sessler and Dr. James E. West invented the electret condenser mic in 1961. The two engineers came from Bell Laboratories and developed said mic as they wanted a model that is compact and sensitive, but would not cost a fortune. At the time, the ribbon microphone was already invented and though it ticked out the first two boxes, it was on the rather expensive side.
Not to be confused with the electrostatic microphone, the electret is a condenser that has a permanently charged membrane or back electrode. This allowed electrical signals to be amplified and processed into the digital audio that we hear. With that, electret mics are often used to record sound in professional-grade audio equipment and common gadgets such as smartphones, laptops, and digital recorders.
The mic is a recording device that can capture audio by converting sound waves into electrical signals. This concept was first discovered by Sir Charles Wheatstone, which is why he was the first individual to coin the term ‘microphone’.
With three individuals inventing the carbon mic, its development happened in differing places. The first carbon mic invented by Berliner and Thomas was in the United States while the independently developed mic by Hughes was in England.