What Is Microphone Gain & How Does It Affect Mic Signals?
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What is gain on a microphone?
Microphone gain is something that most people don’t know and it’s important for those who love recording, mixing tracks, and podcasting.
Anyone who has ever bought a microphone or has any mixer or preamplifier would have seen again on it.
A gain is kind of a dial you would see on a microphone or in a preamplifier.
In some microphones it doesn’t have any numbers like 1, 2, 3… 10 or levels adjustment labels (high, medium, low) on it, that is why it becomes hard to adjust it.
The gain control is the primary electrical circuit that is experienced by an audio signal since exiting the microphone.
Adjusting a proper gain control helps the listener to hear clearly and it helps to improve the tone of your audio.
Table of Contents
What is Gain on a Microphone?
When you play an instrument on a microphone or you talk on a mic, that sound travels in the form of waves into the mic and creates vibration.
These vibrations are converted into electrical signals(voltage) by your microphone.
But unfortunately, the conversion of voltage is very low so much so that you won’t hear a proper sound.
In this case, you need something that will amplify the electric signals and that something is ‘’gain’’.
This will amplify the input volts in your amplifier to achieve a good output of volts.
That is why it’s called gain, there’s an increment in the voltage.
Gain is the first thing that will affect raw microphone signals when connected to a mixer or preamplifier.
Setting microphone gain is important in having a good audio output.
Difference between Volume and Gain
A lot of people regard gain and volume equally or are unable to differentiate between these two words.
That is mainly because both help in increasing sound.
However, there is a major difference between these two that you need to know.
First of all, we need to know what volume and gain mean before we can say their differences.
What is Gain?
So, finally, we look at this, “what is gain on a microphone?”
Well, the definition of gain in my words would be the aspect or the reason for the increase in the input signals of the amplifier.
The amplifier gain is the increase of the input signal which in turn amplifies the output result.
Gain deals with input signals for better quality and tone of the sound.
For example, if you put in an input of 2 volts and receive the output of 60 volts then the gain in the amplifier would be 20.
The gain you’ll achieve when you make an input of 2 volts is 20.
The gain is measured as the ratio of output by the input of volts, so it has no unit.
What is Volume?
In simple words, the volume is the capacity to increase or decrease the loudness of the sound you are hearing.
Volume is the output of the audio and is measured in dB (decibels).
In the case of volume, it’s easy to know where to shift the knob of volume.
If you shift it to the higher decibel side, the louder the volume will be and vice versa.
If you set the volume too low on a microphone, your voice won’t be heard by others.
If you set it too high, you’ll hear a harsh sound.
Volume vs Gain
The major difference between the two is that volume only gives you the option to increase or decrease the sound you’re listening to.
Adjusting the volume of the sound system or microphone won’t have any impact on the quality or tone of the sound because it only deals with the output of the sound.
On the other hand, gain deals with the input of the sound.
It helps in controlling and managing the tone and quality of the sound.
A great balancing of the two would help you to listen to the perfect sound from the amplifier.
Methods to Set the Gain in a Microphone
In old times you would need a preamplifier separate from the microphone to have high volume in the mic.
But now, as technology diversifies, we have invented a preamplifier that is already embedded in the microphone body.
As both are two different things, the methods to set the gain of both the systems would also be different, so let’s discuss each one of them.
Steps to Set the Gain in Active Microphone
This kind of microphone is used nowadays, with the preamplifier already active within the microphone.
To set it up, you can follow the following steps:
- Turn on the sound system
- Press the button PFL (pre-fade listen) on the channel to which the mic is connected
- Set the gain level accordingly: not too high, not too low, with bars not touching the red zone
- Just maintaining a balanced healthy level that maintains the sound tone coming out from the mixer
Steps to Set the Gain of a Separate Microphone Preamplifier into the Mixer
Some microphones don’t have a preamplifier within them, that’s why a separate preamplifier is used with them to boost mic gain levels.
- Connect the preamplifier into the mixer line input
- Set the gain line level of the channel to 0 dB
- Then turn on the sound system
- Press the PFL (pre-fade listen) button of the channel to which the microphone is connected
- Use the meter of the mixer, not of the preamplifier
- Set the gain of the preamplifier to the level that the bars don’t touch the red zone
Steps to Set the Gain of the Active Preamplifier to a USB/Digital Microphone
Some microphones come up with a USB port that has an active preamplifier within the body of the microphone.
- Connect your preamplifier to one of the line input
- Now create a new channel to record
- This will show the meter of input signals of the new channel
- Now select the input source to which the preamplifier will be connected
- Turn the sound system on
- Most of the USB microphones have controllable knobs which makes it easy to set a gain meter
- Turn the dial to a 2 o’clock position to make a difference in the sound quality
For the gain setting, you need to look up the best microphone to use.
Some additional advice to set up the levels are:
Don’t try to adjust the level by your voice frequency
This means that you shouldn’t try to adjust your voice by talking slow or loud.
Instead do it in the way you want your recording to be, talk on the same pitch that is required.
Thus adjusting your voice pitch will not make any difference in the gain level; it will only make your recording weak.
Don’t adjust the mic distance
If you think adjusting the mic level will help achieve the gain better, then you are thinking wrong.
Every mic has its proximity effect so if you get too close to the mic it might get bassy.
The distance matters with your mic because of your vocal tones so don’t go too far from the mic.
Find the correct spot for your tone and then adjust the gain according to it.
You don’t do this only when you are very close to the mic, if you’re loud, it may disturb the actual input signal.
If you are recording your track in a loud voice close to the mic and you suddenly want to scream or whisper anything, you may need to adjust your mic.
For a whisper or lower voice, simply move the mic closer, and for the loud part, move it backward.
Don’t go too far from the mic, just keep your distance in these ranges: 2 inches, 4 inches, 8 inches, and 16 inches.
This will create a difference of 18 dB which is enough.
Don’t go more than 16 inches.
Even after adjusting the gain settings, there are still some possibilities that’ll go wrong at some point.
There might be two reasons: either you have set the gain too high or you have set it low.
If you set it too low, the signals in DAW (digital audio workstation: a software used for recording, editing, and making audios) will be low as well.
The signal-noise ratio will be bad in DAW.
If you set it too high, you are risking the clipping of signals that will cause distortion and it must be avoided while making tracks.
You can set the gain low if you get clipping.
The time when you should look up at your gain setting is when you are using EQ boost.
If you are using clipping, and the signal is closed to clipping it will clip it but the EQ boost will push the signals over the top.
In this case, you need to lower your gain again.
Also when your sound source is a mix, you need to set the gain low because if you set it to a balanced healthy level, the fader will be also low and it will be difficult to adjust it.
Once you adjust your gain properly, you don’t need to change until it’s disturbed by the change of microphone position or the change in the sound source.
What is a Microphone Boost?
A microphone boost application is present on the Windows PC and it also helps in boosting mic volume.
It helps in achieving a better mic quality at both ends.
It’s especially necessary when you are on video calls or skype meetings.
To have this microphone boost you need to do the following steps.
- Go to the control panel and select sound
- There you will get an option of recording, click on it.
- Here you will get an option to choose your recording device
- Choose a microphone there
- A microphone properties window will pop up
- Here you can select your level of volume and dB for microphone and microphone boost
- Shifting the levels to left and right will help you achieve your preferred mic setting
Through these simple steps, you can boost your microphone levels.
Software Tools Control Mic Gain
Even after manually setting the microphone gain setting, you need some technical settings for a professional mix.
Some free software tools help in controlling the mic gain.
The software not only helps with the microphone but also with the computer music settings.
Sometimes it happens that when you connect your mic on the PC, the sound card of your PC might not be able to handle it.
So in this case you need to select the most compatible software that works with your PC and mic.
Below are some of the best software to control mic gain that will help you in some editing and recording the tracks.
It’s one of the best software for free sound recording and editing.
It’s easy to use because the main buttons are in large icons.
You can record the music with both of the microphones; external and internal, it gives you a lot of options for editing.
You can layer over your voice tracks and also upload your track as well.
It also has microphone booster software.
It gives you a lot more options of editing like cutting apart and adding time fade-out effects.
For ASMR bloggers, this is a special feature in recording their sound for one dynamic at a time.
Trackinton T7 has some great reviews from the ones who have it to track records in the home studio.
It can be used on any OS system for Linux, Windows, or Mac.
You can drag and drop the files easily and can create several pages for different projects.
You can easily edit your track with different layers.
The plugins and instrumental plugins don’t have much difference, you can add layer effects in your recordings.
It’s also a free premium software to use.
Mixpad is an easier one to use.
Its homepage pops up with information and guidelines.
Besides that, it gives you a lot of options to choose different tracks and concentrate on making your piece first then doing the changes in settings.
The mix pad also allows you to shift between windows and controls to apply different plugins, instruments, and do further editing.
It supports all kinds of music formats.
Also, it gives feasibility to import all kinds of music formats and can process single and multiple tracks even at the same time.
It’s a beginner-friendly tool to use.
This one is also free software to use.
Expstudio Audio Editor
This is only for Windows 10 PC.
It’s used for boosting microphone volume and it provides filters to clear out the uncertain distortions and frequencies.
It gives you a special feature to change the voice.
Like male into female, or any human voice into an animated voice, and so on.
It won’t allow you to export different music formats.
You have to purchase the paid version to have accessibility.
This software is also a free application to use.
Voicemeeter applies to Windows operating systems.
It helps in improving input and output sounds.
It gives you the capability to boost one virtual mic (within the PC) and two physical microphones.
It has a VBAN feature that helps in adjusting the bit rate, sample rate, and quality of the sound.
It helps in mixing the output factors of the audio.
Voicemeter is also a free software application to use.
This software is used to modify the audios.
It gives you a preamplification tool to boost the input and output signal of the audios.
It gives you a sound filter to manage certain frequencies and offers multiple sound filters such as low, high, and bandpass.
The software also gives you two equalizers; 15 and 31 bands.
This helps to manage the frequencies manually.
This application is also a free version to use with a great variety of options.
This software is also free to use.
This software provides features of sound and video editing.
This software allows you to record unlimited audio and video according to your PC space.
It gives you access to import 50 kinds of video, audio, and music formats.
Its user interface is friendly and easier to use and it also provides high demanding editing features.
It will adjust according to your microphone and will help you in recording the soundtrack with high definition and good volume.
You can do specific editing with your mic recording.
One amazing thing is this software is also free to use for audio and video editing.
n- track studio
It gives flexibility in editing audios and is beginners friendly.
It’s designed for multitasking with the files, you can write your music in it and can record and edit it also.
It can as well save your files in different formats and give you different frequencies to set for each type.
It’s available for smartphones, PC and Mac.
It’s not free recording software.
You have to buy its paid version for further use.
It only gives you a trial period for free and leaves its watermark on the download of Mp3 and WMA file extensions you have created.
Adobe audition has been the least favorite because of issues created by the software on the PC but the new 2021 version is sure to fix all the bugs.
It’s not beginner-friendly software because the structure and placement of the icons are a bit different.
It allows you to edit your mixes with multi-channels because it gives a separate area to replace them.
It gives you more versatility in editing your tracks like changing frequency, trimming, mixing, layering, wave editing, audio restoration, and others.
It’s a great software for the ones who podcast because your voice will sound perfect if you are overlaying it directly with the music tracks.
The software also helps you in repairing your audio breaks.
One drawback it has is you only get limited features in the free version.
For more pro editing, you need to buy a paid version which is pretty expensive.
This is a very great software for professional mixers.
The features, icons, buttons are available but are placed in a manner that you can’t find it easily.
It’s divided into categories and subcategories.
A special feature it has is it’s very fast in the conversion of the music and audios.
You can change the color theme of the interface according to your preference and mood.
Another great feature it has is the isotope and ozone elements in the recording.
It will help you in improving your sound quality like a pro.
It gives you VST plugin support.
You can also make a multi-channel recording with this software.
It’s not fully a free version.
For isotope and ozone elements you have to buy a paid version.
There is plenty of software around to make your mixes and tracks.
Try to learn about this software more to decide which one will work best for you.
The above article contains more than enough information regarding the question, “what is gain on a microphone?”
To get started, first adjust the settings according to your microphone.
Ensure you don’t confuse yourself trying to distinguish between volume and gain levels.
You can also select the best software for editing your tracks and recording as well as boost the level of the microphone by your windows sound properties
Keep recording and keep experimenting.