Check 1,2 – microphones are all around us, and we hardly ever notice them. But think about it – without mics, we wouldn’t be able to jam out to Drake and Adele in our rides, or even chat with Grandma when she’s out and about.
So here’s the thing: why does Adele sound like she’s serenading you up close and personal, while Grandma sounds like she’s talking through a tin can bouncing off a satellite orbiting the Earth?
Have you heard most of the recordings sent through Discord?! Yikes.
Let’s diagnose the phenomenon of noisy mics and give some quick fixes!
Table of Contents
I’m a music producer and engineer, so my day usually starts and ends with setting up studio microphones.
The four basic components of a proper mic setup are a professional microphone, a solid mic stand, a good-quality microphone XLR cable, and a pop filter.
Fun fact: the cheapest way to reduce static is actually by using a pop filter, not fancy cables or microphones. Personally, I swear by the Stedman Proscreen XL to keep my recordings free of sibilance, pops, and those annoying breath noises.
The placement of the instrument and vocalist is also important. With very sensitive mics, such as ribbons, even exhaling can cause major static and distortion. So be careful when placing wind instruments like flutes, trombones, and saxophones too close to the mic.
Studios might run into some trouble with their sound quality because of funky old cables.
Have you ever seen a rock band in action? These guys are jumping around and swinging mics like they’re trying to wrangle a bull, and sometimes they even put their heavy amps right on top of the cables.
Now, we could try and teach these dudes to be more gentle, but let’s be real, that’s not gonna happen. Instead, what we need are some top-notch reinforced cables, like the Mogami Gold line.
These cables are dope because they come with 3-pin XLR connectors that have gold contacts. And you might be thinking, “Gold contacts? That sounds expensive!” But really, it’s just a fancy way of saying that these cables eliminate low hums and interference like nobody’s business.
So let’s go back to my little joke from the start. The reason Adele sounds like a superstar and Grandma sounds like she’s stuck in a tin can is all about power. Not the kind of power Adele has when she belts out a tune, but electrical power.
See, everyday gadgets like phones, laptops, and tablets need to run off one battery, which makes it tough to get a decent mic in there.
Studios have it easier with their fancy mics that run on a dedicated power source just for that microphone.
But not only that, consumer tech needs to be small and super functional. Take the iPhone, for example. It’s got this MEMS Condenser mic that barely uses any power. But because it’s omnidirectional, it’s picking up everything and anything, which is why you get all that annoying static.
Luckily, Bluetooth came along and saved the day – well, sort of. It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good alternative.
The easiest solution is to use Bluetooth accessories for any wireless device. Additionally, if you are connected to a power source, whether at home or on the go, try using a dedicated power strip that regulates power and ground hum.
So, have you ever been chillin’, and then your phone rings next to some speakers? That noise is like nails on a chalkboard, even if the speakers are just a few feet away. It’s freaky to think about the Chernobyl-esque effects of that, but let’s stay on topic. That’s called radio-frequency interference.
These days, most singers read their lyrics off their phones while they’re in the booth. It’s the worst when you’ve just nailed a great take and then that buzz comes in and ruins the vibe.
Even if your phone is on silent, it’s still receiving and the mic will pick it up.
So, always put your phone on airplane mode, or even better, deactivate all incoming signals, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Have you heard about the cool trend happening right now? People are recording sounds in nature and creating these amazing soundscapes, calling it “Found Sound”. It can be anything from streams with effects to windstorms through the forest.
If you’re planning to record outdoors, make sure to use a foam windscreen. You might have seen this on boom mics used for movie location audio – those thick, dark gray foam covers that go on the mic directly. They’re super helpful in reducing wind noise and other unwanted sounds.
But here’s the thing: using windscreens can slightly affect the high end of your mics. It’s not a big deal though, especially when recording on location. You can always add some EQ later on your computer to balance things out.
TikTok and Instagram Reels have really shaken things up, especially in the music business, changing the way we share music and performances.
If you’re trying to create some content on the fly for these platforms, you’re gonna run into some issues like static, traffic noise, or just the general ambiance of your surroundings. Let’s break down the options, issues, and fixes:
- Handheld microphones: Not the coolest look, but a solid option with a windscreen to reduce static. The downside is you’ll need a preamp to connect the XLR cable, which means more equipment to carry. All that shuffling around could also create some unwanted static.
- USB microphones: Super stable and relatively shielded, but they need to connect to your computer. The big issue here is the amount of gain needed, which can cause static either indoors or outdoors. Because it’s connected to your audio drivers as a preamp, you’ll have to crank up the levels to get a decent signal. This can definitely cause some static and unwanted noise. The solution could be getting an independent preamp for this mic to avoid any computer-based static.
- Lavalier microphones: They look like something you’d see in a cable news interview. These are great because they can clip onto your clothing and be a bit more hidden. The issue is the static created from potentially rubbing against your clothing. One solution could be attaching it to your skin either on your chest or using a Neopax wrap. Another option is using Joe’s sticky stuff, a double-sided tape that works well for mounting on clothes.
- The final and probably safest choice is going the Boom Mic route and placing it above the performer, out of the frame. This also works best for video aesthetics. The downside is the distance from the person speaking or playing, which will bring in unwanted ambient noise.
By now, we’re all familiar with the struggles of video conferencing apps. Audio on computers can be problematic due to janky sound drivers, and let’s not forget about the sound of the computer fans themselves.
When computer CPUs overheat, they turn on the fan to cool down. However, the fan noise can interfere with the signal, causing all kinds of static.
Let’s talk about Discord for a sec. They tried to make the signal better, but they actually made it worse. You might hear robotic or fake-sounding audio, on top of the static. Fixing it is easy: Just go to your audio settings, click on Voice and Video, and turn off Krisp noise suppression, noise reduction, and echo cancellation.
Zoom has got some pretty cool extra features now, thanks to the pandemic. Apparently, there were so many musicians doing live on-air jams that Zoom actually added a feature in the Audio settings called “Original Sound for Musicians”. Here are the settings you can choose from:
- High-fidelity music mode: This makes your music sound amazing, but you’ll need a special microphone, headphones, and a computer. It might not work so well if you don’t have all those things.
- Echo cancellation: This stops any weird sounds or echoes from happening. You should only turn it off if you’re using headphones or playing music.
- Stereo audio: With this setting, sounds come out of both ears so you feel like you’re surrounded by sound. But you’ll need a special microphone or computer to make it work.
These features definitely make the sound quality better, but they do require some extra gear, which can be a bit pricey. But if you’re looking for a way to reduce static, these settings are the way to go.
Wireless Microphones & Bluetooth
This is a microphone format that’s really gaining popularity. It’s used for everything from AirPods to super classy wireless microphone PA systems. There are some really high-quality brands out there, and the fact that they don’t need cables is great because it can avoid common static issues. Unfortunately, they also bring problems of their own.
Because Bluetooth only works over short distances, it’s got a small sweet spot. If you’re too far from the device that’s sending or receiving the signal, you’ll start to hear static.
Another problem is when too many signals are being used in a small space, which can cause frequency crowding and intermodulation. That’s not good news for live setups where the singer, background singers, and drummer are all using wireless microphones.
Intermodulation is a kind of static distortion that’s really, really unpleasant.
The best way to solve this problem is to improve the receiver’s antenna. A product like RF Venue’s Diversity Fin antenna works brilliantly to solve this problem. It uses a unique and proprietary way of separating the different signals to avoid crowding.
When All Else Fails – Fix in the Mix
I feel you, every audio engineer hates hearing this, but guess what? It’s gone viral now. Thanks to sick software like Izotope’s RX10, Waves Clarity Vx Pro, and the Sonnox Restore bundles, you can clean up most static, hum, buzz, and ambiance like a boss.
Of course, getting a great signal from the start is the way to go, but let’s be real, sometimes you gotta use those golden takes. Lucky for us, the AI gods have given us hope.