Monday, May 2, 2016

Neodymium: The Music Producing Rare Earth?

Even though it had stayed a mere scientific curiosity decades after its discovery, but did you know that neodymium had become indispensable in the music producing world near the end of the 20th Century?

By: Ringo Bones  

Ever since it was discovered by the famed Austrian chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach as part of the family of rare earth elements back in 1885, neodymium has stayed a mere scientific and laboratory curiosity decades after its discovery. Its name is a derivation of the Greek neos didymos or new twin. In pure form, neodymium has found use of producing the only bright purple glass known which was used in welder’s goggles before cheaper plastic alternatives were invented. In a cruder state, neodymium is used to take color out of glass and to make special kind of glass that transmits the tanning rays – as in ultraviolet-A spectrum – of the sun but not the unwanted infrared rays. 

Near the end of the 1970s, neodymium was found out to be an important component in ultra compact rare earth magnets that are more powerful than the alnico magnets that were then in use to make high-fidelity loudspeakers and microphones. The new much powerful neodymium magnets used in unbalanced dynamic microphones that are often used as a workhorse in live stage performance applications – like Peavey’s PVM 22 Diamond Mic – manages to generate a much stronger output signal than their alnico magnet equipped predecessors that it has resulted in the proliferation of low-cost dynamic microphones with quite high signal-to-noise ratios that can never be achieved using alnico magnets. 

Small but powerful neodymium magnets also made possible those “active” electric guitar pickups that became popular during the latter half of the Hair Metal revolution of the 1980s. Given that they produce more output signal than their alnico magnet predecessors, noise pickup issues in live onstage electric guitar playing has more or less been solved.