Monday, November 27, 2006

The Microphone Part 1

In 1827, Sir Charles Wheatstone was the first person to coin the phrase "microphone." the microphone did not exist yet, but he thought it would be so he thre around the new term like it made him feel hip. ...actually he was a pretty clever guy microphones aside.

His father was a shoemaker, but its thought he was also a musician. There is little evidence for this except that Charles invented a keyed flue called the flute-harmonique at the age of 16. somebody was letting him at their record collection.. Even then he began thinking about how sound moved and how resonance worked. He recognised that sound is propagated by waves even if he described it as "undulations of the luminiferous ether." This was a pretty big deal.

For years he tinkered with lyres and flutes and eventually taking over his uncle Charles's musical instrument business at the age of 21. It was focused generally on woodwinds but also instrument sales and manufacture. It was here, now with his own workshop that his tinkering moved to typewriters, electromagnetic clocks, pitch measuring devices, and eventually the electric telegraph.

That luminous ether idea stuck with him though. He estimated that sound would travel 200 miles per second [pretty close right?] througha pair of rods. He had this weird idea that he could send the modulations with high velocity, and he hatched a plan to transmitting sound-signals to telegraph from London to Edinburgh. He called it a telephone. He didn't do it. He just thought about it alot. While working on it he devised a simple instrument for augmenting faint sounds, to which he gave the name of 'Microphone.' It consisted of two slender rods, which conveyed the mechanical vibrations to both ears. It did NOT provide amplification and had zero resemblance to David Hughe's Carbon Microphones (more this week) During his career he invented such disparate things as the concertina, the stereoscope and the Playfair Cipher (an encryption technique). He was knighted in 1868, and rightly so.

Picture from The Virtual Microphone Museum. Please visit them!