Petroleum Product of the Week: Microphones
If you think about the magical capabilities of microphones for a moment, you may begin to realize just how spectacular the science of these simple machines actually is.
Nowadays, microphones connected via audio interface or USB can transmit data instantaneously, sending your voice through the input — miraculously converting its sound to numbers, then converting that numerical data back to a sound that you can understand: all in milliseconds.
It’s a science that is often overlooked for its brilliance. Most of us have gotten used to speaking more often on the phone than in person; and, as such, we might take for granted the ingenuity of such an invention. Imagine Alexander Graham Bell making the first telephone call to his assistant. Can you imagine how incredible it must have been to have heard another voice on the end of the phone for the first time?
The microphone has come a long way from those early days, and now microphones are manufactured to such high standards that greatly contribute to the way we hear everything. We can send microphones with our astronauts, use them on stage in arenas, and place them in front of the evening news team — and even though the microphone is one of history’s most important (yet often overlooked) inventions, it’s got a pretty simple concept.
As is the case with most technology requiring precise physical specs, most of the microphone-making process is done via industrial machinery. Precision cutting, pressing, and punching are some of the machine-powered movements required to assemble a solidly-built microphone. To ensure that one microphone sounds identical to a second of the same design, these processes need to be controlled by computer. Naturally, this process is powered by petroleum-based lubricants — but that is not where oil’s job ends.
Plastics, aside from conductive metals, are probably the most important aspects of microphones. In addition to acting as an insulating material, petroleum-based plastics and rubbers are used to drastically increase the durability of very expensive (often times gold plated) internal components of higher-end microphones. Also, in addition to serving a role as a support material for microphones, rubber is used as insulation on the wires than transmit sound waves to a digital signal.
This microphone, in particular, is one of the fanciest ones on the planet. Costing several thousand dollars, you can see why precision and quality is everything in the manufacturing process.