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Microphones and Acoustics

Frequently Asked Questions

Get your most commonly asked acoustics questions answered.

Section I: Definitions and Terminology
Section II: Microphone Recommendations
Section III: Calibration and Testing
Section IV: Specification Clarifications
Section V: Specialty Microphone Applications
Section VI: Maintenance and Handling

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What is the difference between a condenser microphone and a piezoelectric pressure sensor?

A condenser microphone is a capacitance driven device.  When sound pressure impacts the microphone the resulting vibrations change the gap between the diaphragm and the backplate.  The change in capacitance produces an output voltage.   The IEC 61094 standard defines both the dimensional characteristics and the operating criteria of the condenser microphone. A piezoelectric sensor uses an active material that produces electrical charge in response to an applied mechanical stress (or vice versa).   Electrodes are fixed to the active material to carry electrical current produced when a pressure wave is detected by the device.  A piezoelectric pressure sensor does not comply with these standards. Both a condenser microphone and a pressure sensor will measure sound pressure levels. The piezoelectric units of pressure are typically in pounds per square Inch (psi) and the condenser microphone in Pascals (Pa) or decibels (dB.) A prepolarized microphone and certain models of pressure sensors can be powered by ICP® sensor power or a similar 2-20 mA constant current supply. From an application standpoint, the condenser microphone has a very low noise floor, typically 10-15 dBA, ideal for anechoic chambers. It is designed to measure sounds above and below the human audible range. Pressure sensors have a higher noise floor spec, typically 90-100 dB, but can measure very high SPL levels, > 200 dB. They are very rugged and ideal for applications such as blast testing.

What is the difference between a condenser microphone and a piezoelectric pressure sensor?

A condenser microphone is a capacitance driven device.  When sound pressure impacts the microphone the resulting vibrations change the gap between the diaphragm and the backplate.  The change in capacitance produces an output voltage.   The IEC 61094 standard defines both the dimensional characteristics and the operating criteria of the condenser microphone. A piezoelectric sensor uses an active material that produces electrical charge in response to an applied mechanical stress (or vice versa).   Electrodes are fixed to the active material to carry electrical current produced when a pressure wave is detected by the device.  A piezoelectric pressure sensor does not comply with these standards. Both a condenser microphone and a pressure sensor will measure sound pressure levels. The piezoelectric units of pressure are typically in pounds per square Inch (psi) and the condenser microphone in Pascals (Pa) or decibels (dB.) A prepolarized microphone and certain models of pressure sensors can be powered by ICP® sensor power or a similar 2-20 mA constant current supply. From an application standpoint, the condenser microphone has a very low noise floor, typically 10-15 dBA, ideal for anechoic chambers. It is designed to measure sounds above and below the human audible range. Pressure sensors have a higher noise floor spec, typically 90-100 dB, but can measure very high SPL levels, > 200 dB. They are very rugged and ideal for applications such as blast testing.