Dynamic range of a microphone

The dynamic range of a microphone is defined as the range between the lowest level and the highest level which the microphone can handle. This is not only a function of the microphone alone, but also of the preamplifier used with the microphone. The dynamic range of a microphone is, to a large extent, directly linked to its sensitivity.

The dynamic ranges of various GRAS microphones are shown in the chart below:


Sensivity of a microphone

The sensitivity of a microphone is determined by the size of the microphone and the tension of its diaphragm. A large microphone, with a loose diaphragm, will have a high sensitivity and a small microphone, with a stiff diaphragm, will have a low sensitivity. A microphone with a high sensitivity will be able to measure very low levels, but not very high levels, and a microphone with low sensitivity will be able to measure very high levels, but not very low levels.

Upper limit of dynamic range

The highest levels that can be measured are limited by the amount of movement allowed for the diaphragm before it comes into contact with the microphone’s back plate. As the level of the sound pressure on a microphone increases, the deflection of the diaphragm will accordingly be greater and greater until, at some point, the diaphragm strikes the back plate inside the body of the microphone. This is ultimately at the highest level the microphone can measure.

Lower limit of dynamic range

The thermal agitation of air molecules is sufficient for a microphone to generate a very small output signal, even in absolutely quiet conditions. This “thermal noise” lies normally at around 5 μV and will be superimposed on any acoustically excited signal detected by the microphone. Because of this, no acoustically excited signal below the level of the thermal noise can be measured.

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