What Is a Transducer? (Definition)

A loudspeaker with graphic, stylized sound waves emitting out
A transducer is a device that converts one form of energy – typically a signal – into another. mmatasic (Marko Matasic)/Getty Images

The term "transducer" isn't a common topic of discussion, yet it pervades our everyday lives. Plenty can be found in the home, outside, while on the way to work, or even held in one's hand. In fact, the human body (hands included) is packed with different types of transducers that we understand innately. Discovering and describing the ones we have isn't too difficult once the concept has been explained.

Definition: A transducer is a device that converts one form of energy – typically a signal – into another.

Pronunciation: trans•dyoo•ser

Example: A speaker is a type of transducer that converts electrical energy (the audio signal) into mechanical energy (vibration of the speaker cone/diaphragm). This vibration transfers kinetic energy to the surrounding air, which results in creating sound waves that can be heard. The speed of vibration determines the frequency.

Discussion: Transducers can be found in a variety of types that convert different forms of energy, such as force, light, electricity, chemical energy, motion, heat, and more. You can think of a transducer more simply as a translator. Eyes are transducers that convert light waves into electrical signals, which are then carried to the brain in order to create images. Vocal cords vibrate from the passing/exhalation of air and, with the assistance of mouth, nose, and throat, produce sound.

Ears are transducers that pick up sound waves and also convert them into electrical signals to be sent to the brain. Even skin is a transducer that converts thermal energy (among others) into electrical signals that help us determine hot and cold.

When it comes to stereos, home audio, and headphones, a classic example of transduction at its best involves a vinyl record and a loudspeaker.

The photo cartridge on a turntable features a stylus (also known as a "needle") that travels through the record's grooves, which are physical representations of the audio signal. This act converts the mechanical energy into electrical, which is then passed along to the speaker. The speaker uses this electrical energy to move the cone/diaphragm, thereby producing frequencies that we can hear. A microphone works in reverse by transducing the mechanical energy from sound waves into electrical signals for future storage or playback.

The same concept applies to audio systems using cassette tapes or CD/DVD media. Instead of using a stylus to transduce mechanical energy (as with a vinyl record), a cassette tape has its patterns of magnetism read by way of an electromagnet. CDs and DVDs require optical lasers to bounce beams of light in order to read and transduce the stored data into electrical signals. Digital media falls under either before-mentioned category, depending on the medium of storage. Obviously, there are more elements involved throughout any of these processes, but the concept remains the same.