Buzzer Basics – Tones, Technologies, and Drive Circuits

There are many choices for communicating information between a product and the user. One of the most common choices for audio communication is a buzzer. Understanding some of the technologies and configurations of buzzers is useful during the design process, so in this blog post we will describe typical configurations, provide example buzzer tones, and present common drive circuit options.

Magnetic and Piezo Buzzers

The two most common technologies used in buzzer designs are magnetic and piezo. Many applications use either a magnetic or a piezo buzzer, but the decision regarding which of the two technologies to use is based upon many different constraints. Magnetic buzzers operate at lower voltages and higher currents (1.5~12 V, > 20 mA) compared to piezo buzzers (12~220 V, < 20 mA), while piezo buzzers often have greater maximum sound pressure level (SPL) capability than magnetic buzzers. However, it should be noted that the greater SPL available from piezo buzzers requires larger footprints.

In a magnetic buzzer, a current is driven through a coil of wire which produces a magnetic field. A flexible ferromagnetic disk is attracted to the coil when the current is present and returns to a “rest” position when the current is not flowing through the coil. The sound from a magnetic buzzer is produced by the movement of the ferromagnetic disk in a similar manner to how the cone in a speaker produces sound. A magnetic buzzer is a current driven device, but the power source is typically a voltage. The current through the coil is determined by the applied voltage and the impedance of the coil.

Drawing of the internal construction of a typical magnetic buzzer
Construction of a typical magnetic buzzer

Piezo buzzers are used in similar applications as magnetic buzzers. Piezo buzzers are constructed by placing electrical contacts on the two faces of a disk of piezoelectric material and then supporting the disk at the edges in an enclosure. When a voltage is applied across the two electrodes, the piezoelectric material mechanically deforms due to the applied voltage. This movement of the piezo disk within the buzzer creates sound in a similar manner as the movement of the ferromagnetic disk in a magnetic buzzer or the speaker cone mentioned above.

Drawing of the internal construction of a typical piezo buzzer
Construction of a typical piezo buzzer


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