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Carbon microphones
Old 29th August 2007
Gear Head

Carbon microphones

I was wondering how come no one speaks about carbon microphones much these days? I was reading a book and notice that it was in fact another catagory of microphones and now i'm all interested in knowing more about them. I'm sure they dont sound the best. but i still want one

also i was wondering if it was easy at all to make a carbon microphone?
Old 29th August 2007
Lives for gear
max cooper's Avatar

You could get one out of the handset on an older telephone.

Just unscrew the mouthpiece. FYI payphones usually won't come open unless you break them.

Remember payphones?
Old 31st August 2007
Gear Head
KansasAudioWorks's Avatar

Once used in radio broadcast until the ribbon took dominance, the carbon mic was the first practical mic design, and remained in use in communications and then telephony into the 1980's. If you look at a picture of an old radio studio, and see a circular mic suspended by springs in a circular frame, you're probably looking at a carbon mic.
The largest manufacturer of carbon mics was Western Electric for the telephone industry. Chosen not for their fidelity, but rather for their high output and robustness, they were (and still are) the toughest mics for the toughest phones. Ever.
A look through any thrift store worthy of the name will probably yield a telephone you can extract the carbon mic from. The series 500 desk phone is probably the best source for one- W/E made millions of them, and they're easy to spot since they're so heavy. Also the caps on the handset (also relatively heavy) unscrew. If they don't, keep looking. You'll eventually find what you need. A Carbon mic is about 2" diameter and held in place by a couple of "finger" spring contacts.
The carbon mic has such a unique and easily recognizable sound, mostly a peaky midrange, somewhat noisy and distorted, it sounds like, well, a telephone. W/E finalized the design on these so the voice would cut through on all but the absolute worst connections.
There are some instructions on the web for making your own carbon mic, but you're really better off using an existing phone. Connecting the mic for recording is better done by using the whole phone. Using a series circuit with a 6-volt battery, the phone, and a 470 ohm resistor, take the output audio from across the resistor through a capacitor, about 0.1uF should do it. The bonus here is you can also get the pick up and hang up sounds as well, if you want them.
Not hi-fi, but it makes for a great effect.
Old 31st August 2007
Lives for gear
r0ck1r0ck2's Avatar

there's a gentleman in milwaukee by the name of Bob Paquette..
Carbon mics are his passion..
he is waay more interested in them than the 10 1950's Neumanns on display.

here's a link..


truly, the designs are wonderful..really caveman.
Old 31st August 2007
Lives for gear
lofi's Avatar

well i got one...

gets used from time to time to get that odd low fidelity vocal thing...

not really a great sounding mic really...

also got a real old telephone handset for that genuine psycho phonecall sound

all in all not really serious tools imo

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