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History and development

All types of microphones we know and use today, have been invented in second part of the 19th century. But it took untill the 1920s and 30s, before the theoretical ideas, of the possible workings of such devices, could be made to function in practice.

The invention of the triode (an electronic tube with three electrodes), in 1906 by Lee De Forest, made it possible to amplify electronic signals. This led to experiments with radio, wireless communication, electronic recording of music and speech, public address systems, sound for movies and television. In short: the beginning of mass-communication.

For all these, it was essential to use good and reliable microphones, which were not present at this time.

There were microphones, however, which were part of the telephones, invented in 1876 by Graham Bell, and further perfected by Edison. These were the microphones used at first, but their frequency range was far too limited.

Below you can find 14 milestones in microphone history

  candlestick

The candle stick microphone, is a telephone with the ear piece removed. The lever which had supported it was now used as a"push to talk"switch.

This picture is of a Kellogg T 48, produced as a telephone since 1901, and used as a microphone untill the end of World War 2, by the U.S.Military.

 
       
  carbonmic

The Western Electric 600A double button carbon , one of the very first professional quality microphones.

It dates from the mid Twenties and was used in 1929, for the first inaugural speech, from a U.S. President (Hoover), ever to be recorded for the "Talkies".

 
       
  reisz mic

The Reisz carbon was of much better quality. It was invented by Georg Neumann, in 1923, while his employer Reisz was away on business.

This type was used by many of the emerging radio stations, for many years. In England Marconi produced them under licence; King George V was presented a Royal version.

 
       
  Condenser

The CMV 3 condenser microphone, from 1928, made by Neumann for his own company, which he had recently started in Berlin..

Allthough there had already been condensers produced in the US, this was the first ever taken into regular production. Soon the CMV 3A followed, with capsules that could be interchanged for different directive patterns. It was also the first reliable condenser and became known as "the Hitler bottle", because the Nazi dictator was often seen with it.

 
       
  Dynamic

The Western Electric 618, from 1931, was the first good dynamic microphone. Unlike condensers, it required no external power supply, which made it far less prone to failure and perfect for broadcast and Public Address. The STC-made British version, the 4017, was used by the BBC till far into the 1950s.

 
       
  Ribbon

RCA had introduced ribbon microphones in 1931, this type, the 74B Junior Velocity, from 1935, was bi-directional and cost effective, resulting in a good radio studio mic.

It is still popular and sought after to this day.

 
       
  WE 639

The Western Electric 639A was a large mic, containing two transducers; a ribbon element and a dynamic capsule. By combining the signals it was possible to switch between a directive-, an omni- or a bi-directional pattern. Production started in 1939.

The directiveness delivered much more gain before feedback in Public Address, than other microphones.

 
       
  Shure 556

Ben Bauer devised the Shure 55, also in 1939. This was the first directive dynamic with a single element, and has one of the most iconic mic shapes. In 1951 a smaller version was produced: the 55S, which is still in production. Both these types are commonly known as "the Elvis microphone".

 
       
  RCA 77D

RCA was the major company to supply the pro-market. After their succes with bi-directional ribbon mics, they also came up with types that could switch to a directive pattern, by means of an adjustable shutter behind the ribbon. The polydirectional 77D, pictured here, from 1945, was one of the best.

 
       
  RCA BK1

The RCA BK1, dating from 1952, was the first end-addressed type, before it all types were side addressed. This dynamic "Ice Cone" was a stick mic that could be pointed in the direction of the sound, or be held straight in front of the face of someone interviewed by a reporter.

 
       
  Labor W DM2

The Labor W DM2, from 1949, was one of the first products from the (later rebranded as) Sennheiser company. It is a dynamic and adjustable in height, to a maximum of 1.6 metres. The actual capsule is hidden in the foot, where the sound is led through the long tube.

 
       
  Pencil mic

In the Fifties, miniaturization of electronic tubes made it possible to reduce microphone size dramatically. One of the finest specimen is this Schoeps CM 640, which is still popular today in recording studios, because of it's warm and detailed sound.

 
       
  421

Few microphones remain as popular as this Sennheiser MD 421. Originally produced in gray and silver, in 1960, it is still in production and used all over the World, for both live and studio work.

 
       
  EV 642

Finally here is the Electro Voice 642, a dynamic rifle microphone meant for recording sounds that are distant. It dates from the beginning of the Sixties and was presented an American Academy Award, of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for its contribution to better sound, in 1963. The mic uses EVs "Variable D principle" (soundholes at different points behind the element) to reduce the "proximity effect". This system is still in use by EV today.

 
       
       
       

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