Whether you’re recording vocals for your new album, chatting with a record exec over Zoom, or live streaming to your thousands of adoring followers, nothing is quite as frustrating and embarrassing as a mic that’s a little too quiet for the occasion.
Here are some proven fixes that can help you find the perfect settings for your mic.
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Microphone Related Troubleshooting
While there are a few variables to consider when it comes to quiet mics, the first place to look is with the microphone itself.
In this section, we’ll troubleshoot your microphone and determine whether this is where the issue is!
Is Your Microphone Connected?
Broadly, there are two types of mics – wired and wireless.
A wired microphone connects to your computer via USB or XLR (or both), and if you’re using a mic that uses an XLR connection, you’ll also require an audio interface (more on this later).
If you have a USB mic, then ensure your mic is plugged into a convenient USB port. Ensure that both ends of the cable are properly inserted into the correct ports.
If your microphone still isn’t working, you’ll want to check connections and ensure that your cable or your machine’s USB port isn’t damaged (you can try a separate USB port).
If you have a wireless microphone and you can’t seem to connect, try turning your Bluetooth device off (if you have the option), and turn Bluetooth connections off on your computer as well. Turn both back on and try pairing again. You can also try restarting your computer if this still doesn’t work.
Is Your Microphone On?
Many microphones don’t come with switches. But I happen to own an Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid mic and know for a fact it has an on / off switch.
You can easily waste hours on troubleshooting if you’re not present to the fact that your microphone may not be on, and simply needs to be turned on.
Is Your Microphone Turned Up?
As with on / off switches, most microphones don’t come with input gain knobs on them. But some, like the Blue Yeti, do.
If you’re inaudible, or too quiet, it could be because your gain isn’t at a sufficient level. Gradually turn up and check your levels again. See if that fixes your problem.
Are You Using The Microphone As Designed?
The placement of a microphone is key to its performance – while this concept can be second nature to many professionals who use mics all the time, not everyone is up to speed on the do’s and don’ts of mic positioning.
It’s easy to assume that a mid-quality mic would pick up your voice from halfway across a room, or even a few feet away. But one of the easiest ways to fix a quiet mic is simply to move closer to it!
There is such a thing as being too close to your mic, though. We’ve all heard the teeth-grating feedback screeches that blare through speakers and eardrums. To avoid subjecting your audience to harsh sounds, find the right balance for your setup.
The ideal mic placement is approximately three to six inches away from your mouth. A good method for finding the right distance is to shape your hand into the hang loose sign and place your thumb on your chin. Move your mic to the end of your pinky, and voila! Your mic is in the optimal position for recording strong vocals without popping P’s, feedback, or low levels.
If you’re using a headset mic, make sure the mic arm is right over your mouth, rather than resting on your chin or nose. When using earbuds, hold the mic up to your face instead of resting it against your chest and possibly picking up noise from your clothing.
Keep in mind, though, that all mics are different. Experiment with your equipment to find the perfect setup – record yourself with your mic in different positions and when you’ve found the sweet spot, take a picture, or create a visual marker so you always know the best placement.
Is The Microphone Damaged?
Although we all try to take care of our equipment, sometimes accidents happen. Do you have any memories of dropping your mic? Maybe your less-than-careful sibling used it for remote schooling or a creative project. Even an innocent looking perpetrator like a pet cat or dog could have used your mic as a plaything.
If you hear a rattling sound that wasn’t there a few days ago, or a large dent where there shouldn't be, you may have internal damage to your microphone. Damaging a mic can affect its ability to capture the sound waves of your voice and convert them to electrical signals.
If you think your mic is showing signs of damage, contact the manufacturer for details on warranty and repair. In some rare instances, the manufacturer may supply basic troubleshooting and repair instructions in the manual, so check for relevant information.
Another option is to look up equipment repair specialists in your area and inquire for further details on the nature of the damage and potential repairs.
Didn’t find any dents, rattles, or other indicators of damage to your mic? Phew! Keep reading.
Do You Have The Appropriate Drivers Installed?
Many USB or Bluetooth mics are technically “plug and play,” but don’t always work right out of the box.
Check with the manufacturer website to see if there are any drivers for your microphone, and if there are, install them on your machine, restart, and try again.
Computer Related Troubleshooting
If you’re certain that everything is working with your microphone, you can take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. The issue probably isn’t with your mic.
What that means, then, is that the issue may be with your computer. This doesn’t necessarily mean your computer is broken, though, and there may even be a quick fix in the system settings.
Here’s what to look out for with your computer if you find your mic is too quiet:
Do You Have The Correct Input Device Selected?
It may be the case that your device isn’t recognizing your microphone. Computers and consoles will typically automatically switch to any external devices like microphones for audio input and headphones for audio output when they are plugged in, but don’t take it for granted if you’re running into issues.
A quick check of your device's Sound settings will let you see whether your mic is detected and selected as the primary input device.
While you’re checking the input, make sure the mute or disable option is toggled off. Enabling your mic might solve all your problems!
If your mic isn’t showing up on the input devices list, and you’ve already tested the connection and cables, try unplugging or disconnecting your mic and restarting your computer or device. Reconnect your mic when you’ve restarted your computer and navigate back to the input devices settings again. Make sure your mic is detected by your computer and selected as the input device.
Is The Input Level Set High Enough?
While you’re checking your system’s input device, also check to ensure the volume is turned up. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a PC or a Mac, it is possible to change your device’s volume in the system settings (sometimes in multiple places).
If, for instance, your microphone is set to 10 on your PC, no wonder it’s so quiet! Try bringing up the volume level to at least half (50) and see if that helps. If it does, keep adjusting until you’ve found optimal levels.
If you’re using a Mac, input levels are often displayed as percentages, where 0% is quietest and 100% is loudest. If, for example, your input level is set to 20%, it might explain why others can’t hear you. Set it to 50%, test again, and keep adjusting as necessary.
Audio Interface Related Troubleshooting
If you’re a musician, there’s a good chance you’re using an audio interface to connect to your computer – for example, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (a very popular choice).
Audio interfaces make it possible for you to connect XLR microphones, and even instruments (via 1/4” instrument cables) to your computer, for recording, live streaming, making videos, and more.
For better or for worse, audio interfaces add another layer of complexity to troubleshooting your mic problems. Here’s what to look out for:
Is Your Audio Interface Connected To Your Computer?
First, check to ensure that your audio interface is connected, and that it has power.
Many audio interfaces connect via USB, but regardless of connection, if you believe your connection to be secure, and your interface isn’t powering on, you may also want to check your connections and cables.
Don’t forget that USB cables are easy to find and cost effective to replace. If you order from Amazon, it may take a day or two to arrive at your door, but in the grand scheme of things, it shouldn’t set you back too much.
If your audio interface is powering on but you’re unable to adjust microphone levels, it could be because your machine isn’t recognizing your audio interface. Try unplugging and plugging the interface back in, and if that still doesn’t work, restart your machine as well.
Your audio interface may also have drivers that need to be installed for it to perform as expected, in which case, go to the manufacturer website, find the appropriate drivers, install them, restart your computer, and try again.
Is Your XLR Cable Functional?
Besides the USB connection (between your audio interface and your computer), you should also check your XLR cable. As with any other cable, they can be damaged and become defective, and there is the chance that this is the culprit of your problem.
If you have a spare XLR cable, swap out the one you’re using to test. If you don’t have an extra XLR cable, you may need to invest in one.
Is The Gain Turned Up On Your Audio Interface?
Your audio interface has its own audio input gain knobs, and these sometimes need to be set to appropriate levels for you to be heard by others.
Gradually turn your input gain up to about 12 o’ clock (if it isn’t already) and see whether that makes a difference.
Is Your Microphone Plugged Into The Right Input?
Some audio interfaces only come with one channel, in which case, this is not the issue. But most popular audio interfaces come with at least two channels.
If, for example, your mic is plugged into channel two, but you’re adjusting the input gain on channel one, the changes you make to the input gain will have no effect on your signal.
Make sure you’re plugged into – and are adjusting – the same channel.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Related Troubleshooting
If you’re using an audio interface, you’re probably a musician, and if you’re a musician, there’s a chance you’re trying to record.
The most popular way to record is with a DAW application, like Pro Tools, Live, Logic Pro, Cubase, or FL Studio.
If you’re having trouble recording yourself, try these fixes.
Is Your DAW Recognizing Your Microphone?
Within every DAW, you should be able to adjust input and output settings. If your DAW isn’t recognizing your external mic, by default it’s using your machine’s built-in microphone, which of course won’t sound as good as an external mic and may even be quieter too.
If your DAW can’t seem to identify your mic, try unplugging it and plugging it in again. Also restart the application and try again.
Have You Set Your Mic As The Primary Input In Your DAW?
As we looked at earlier, checking your system settings to ensure that your microphone has been set to the primary input device is always a smart idea.
The idea here is the same – even if your mic is plugged in, and has been recognized by your DAW, there’s the chance that it hasn’t been set to the primary input device.
So, check your settings to see whether the mic has been chosen as the main input device.
Have You Armed Your Track?
Some DAWs won’t even let you record without arming at least one track, but just in case.
There should be a record enable, R, or red circle button next to every channel. If you attempt to record without this button enabled, your DAW will simply record silence.
We can’t cover all the ins and outs of DAW usage here, but this falls under the category of “easy to forget,” so we thought it would be worth going over.
Application Related Troubleshooting
If you’re experiencing any issues with Zoom video conferencing, live streaming, or anything of the sort, there may be additional troubleshooting to perform. The good news? There’s nothing here you haven’t already seen earlier in this guide.
So, here are a couple of things to check if you find your microphone a little too quiet while in use with an application.
Have You Set Your Microphone As The Primary Input Device?
Check the settings in your app to ensure your microphone has been set as the primary input device. If the app does not recognize your device, you may need to reconnect it, restart the app, restart your machine, etc.
Is The Input Level Set High Enough?
Check the settings in your app to ensure the input level is high enough for you to be heard. Experiment with turning on / off any settings that may auto adjust your levels or cancel background noise as these can interfere with your levels.
Why Is Your Mic So Quiet? Final Thoughts
If you’ve tried everything and you find your mic is still a little too quiet, there are two things you can do:
- Get your microphone repaired or replaced
- Experiment with third-party software / microphone boosters
Where there is a will, there’s always a way. But if you’ve tried all the above and you're still not having any luck, there could be issues with your computer or audio interface or application too – just so you know!