I recall sitting in a movie theatre and watching Michael Corleone drop the gun that he had just used to “off” some dirty cops in The Godfather.  It’s the first time that I saw this done.

Michael Corleone about to drop his gun after he “offed” two dirty cops in The Goldfather

Since then there have been many runner-ups to that, with microphones and not guns:  JayZ at the Superbowl and President Obama during his last speech to the press club.  It shows finality – with attitude!

The audiologist side of me says, don’t do that.  It’s like folding back book pages in a book. This is not cool.

But part of me wants to be as cool as the President or Michael Corleone. Dropping a microphone gives instant street cred.

Well, in the olden days, it certainly wasn’t cool, especially with the piezo-electric microphones that were used back then.  It’s much more likely to just dent the microphone casing nowadays than cause any real damage to modern day microphones. The piezo-electric microphones use a crystal that bends and flexes whenever an acoustic signal impinges on it, thereby creating a current.  (Incidentally, they also work backwards; when an alternating current is applied to the crystal, it bends and flexes and can be used as a loudspeaker; albeit with different efficiencies.)

President Obama at his farewell speech to the Press Club. Photo courtesy of imgflip.com

If Michael Corleone (or his father The Don) had dropped a microphone, the odds are that the mechanism inside of it would have shattered and the microphone owners would not have been pleased.  But then again, if Michael Corleone or his father had dropped my microphone, I would have just smiled and slunk away into a dark alley.

In more modern times, hearing aid microphone technology has improved and we typically use either a dynamic microphone or an electret based capacitor microphone and both of these are less susceptible to be damaged by some well-meaning but street smart performer who wants to look cool.

Dynamic microphones do not require a power supply whereas the capacitor microphones do.  Other than that, at least for speech, dynamic microphones and capacitor microphones are virtually identical.  For music, capacitor microphones can be more useful, especially for percussive musical instruments.

In the next blog entry, dynamic and capacitor microphones will be compared and contrasted, and maybe we will find out why the XLR cable connector is called an XLR cable connector…

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