Microphonics describes the phenomenon where certain components in electronic devices transform mechanical vibrations into an undesired electrical signal (noise). The term is derived by analogy to older microphones where that behavior is inherent in the design, while with modern electronics it is sometimes an intentionally added effect.
When electronic equipment was built using vacuum tubes, microphonics used to be a very serious design problem. The charged elements in the vacuum tubes would vibrate and the motion would change the distance between the elements, producing charge flows in and out of the tube in a manner identical to a capacitor microphone. A system sufficiently susceptible to microphonics could experience feedback.
With the advent of solid state electronics (transistors), this major source of microphonics was eliminated but smaller sources still remain. The ceramic dielectrics used in high-K capacitors ("Z5U" and "X7R") are piezoelectric and will directly transform mechanical vibration into a voltage in exactly the same fashion as a ceramic microphone. Wiring and cables can also exhibit microphonics as charged conductors move around and various materials can develop triboelectric ("static") charges that couple to the electronic circuits.
The sound of guitar amplifiers that incorporate the electronic chassis into the same cabinet as the speaker are susceptible to microphonics. Though a guitar amplifier's microphonics distortion is sometimes appreciated as part of the "special sound" of a guitar amplifier, a faulty vacuum tube or other component can cause out of control feedback. Unwanted microphonics-related audible distortions can often be alleviated by using commercially available vacuum tube dampers.
- The term is sometimes incorrectly used to describe the sounds physically produced by mechanical vibrations or knocks on the wires of a headphone or in-ear monitor, where no current induction occurs.
- United Kingdom hi-fi company Microphonic Audio uses the term "microphonic" to describe a cable that allows the listener to hear everything that a microphone can hear.
microphonics in German: Mikrofonie