How to Clear Distortion From a Microphone

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Distortion is an audio effect that occurs when the level of an audio signal is too high. The most common cause of distortion is setting the "gain" of the input device too loud. In the majority of cases, distortion is undesirable as it degrades the sound and diminishes its clarity. Distortion is characterized audibly by a crackling or "fizzing" sound. When using an interface with a signal meter, such as audio recording software, the red LED warning light flashes when the signal is likely to cause distortion. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to mitigate distortion without compromising your preferred method of recording.

  • Audition the microphone. Sing into the microphone at the loudest volume you plan to record at. If you hear anything but a clean and crackle-free sound, it is likely that the microphone is causing distortion.

  • Adjust the "gain" dial on the audio interface. The audio interface converts an audio signal into a digital signal before sending it to your computer-based recording program. Turn down the "gain" dial in small increments and test the microphone. Set it to the highest possible level you can that doesn't cause distortion. It's important to record a strong signal, provided it's not too strong.

  • Observe the recording program interface. Sometimes distortion can be subtle during the audition stage, but upon listening back, it becomes more obvious. When you sing, the signal meter gives a reading of the signal level, typically in the form of a vertical light strip that "jumps" in time with the signal. If the light strip is fully illuminated, there is a strong change that the signal is too high.

  • Adjust the audio interface "Gain" dial again so that the signal meter jumps high, but doesn't touch the top of the light strip.

  • Click "Effects" in the top-left corner of your recording program interface and select "Compression." This is an audio effect that limits the dynamic range of your microphone signal. It cuts the very loud signals and boosts the very quiet signals. This allows the average volume to be louder without unwanted peaks when you sing a bit louder. The compressor won't let the signal go above a certain level.

  • Adjust the "Threshold" parameter on the compressor interface. Threshold determines at which point the compressor begins to cut and boost the signal. Set it high for a strong compression and low for a subtle compression. Subtle compression cuts only very loud signals and boosts only very quiet signals. Strong compression will cut slightly loud signals and boost slightly quiet signals. The latter results in a distinctive "squashed" sound, as it drastically limits the dynamic range of the microphone.

Tips & Warnings

  • Singing too loudly and standing too close to the microphone can cause distortion, too. If you are recording someone else singing, have them audition at their loudest and closest so you can make adjustments based on the maximum potential volume.

References

  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images
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