Impedance matching is the electronics design practice of setting the input impedance (ZS) of an electrical load equal to the fixed output impedance (ZL) of the signal source to which it is ultimately connected, usually in order to maximize the power transfer and minimize reflections from the load. This only applies when both are linear devices.
The concept of impedance matching was originally developed for electrical power, but can be applied to any other field where a form of energy (not just electrical) is transferred between a source and a load.
Matching is obtained when ZL = ZS
Similar to electrical transmission lines, the impedance matching problem exists when transferring sound energy from one medium to another. If the acoustic impedance of the two media are very different, then most of the sound energy will be reflected or absorbed, rather than transferred across the border.
The gel used in medical ultrasonography helps transfer acoustic energy from the transducer to the body and back again. Without the gel, the "impedance mismatch" in the transducer-to-air and the air-to-body discontinuity reflects almost all the energy, leaving very little to go into the body.
Most loudspeaker systems themselves contain impedance matching mechanisms, especially for low frequencies. Because most driver impedances are poorly matched to the impedance of free air at low frequencies, and because of out-of-phase cancellations between output from the front of a speaker cone and from the rear, loudspeaker enclosures serve both to match impedances and prevent the interference. Sound coupling into air from a loudspeaker is related to the ratio of the diameter of the speaker to the wavelength of the sound being reproduced. That is, larger speakers can produce lower frequencies at higher levels than smaller speakers for this reason. Elliptical speakers are a complex case, acting like large speakers lengthwise, and like small speakers crosswise.
A similar effect occurs when light (or any electromagnetic wave) transfers between two media with different refractive indices. An optical impedance of each medium can be calculated, and the closer the impedances of the materials match, the more light is refracted rather than reflected from the interface. The amount of reflection can be calculated from the Fresnel equations. Unwanted reflections can be reduced by the use of an anti-reflection optical coating.
If a body of mass m collides elastically with a second body, the maximum energy transferred to the second body will occur when the second body has the same mass m. For a head-on collision, with equal masses, the energy of the first body will be completely transferred to the second body. In this case, the masses act as "mechanical impedances" which must be matched. If and are the masses of the moving and the stationary body respectively, and P is the momentum of the system, which remains constant throughout the collision, then the energy of the second body after the collision will be E2:
which is analogous to the power transfer equation in the above "mathematical proof" section.
These principles are useful in the application of highly energetic materials (explosives). If an explosive charge is placed upon a target, the sudden release of energy causes compression waves to propagate through the target radially from the point charge contact. When the compression waves reach areas of high acoustic impedance mismatch (like the other side of the target), tension waves reflect back and create spalling. The greater the mismatch, the greater the effect of creasing and spalling will be. A charge initiated against a wall with air behind it will do more damage to the wall than a charge initiated against a wall with soil behind it.