Table of Contents
As a podcaster or a recording artist, it is important to know how to test a microphone. A podcaster’s voice-over may lack the authority or the entertainment it’s supposed to have if the mic is not compatible with your type of voice and project. Hence, testing your mic is a prerequisite to any performance.
Similarly, it falls flat if a singer’s vocal track sounds or recorded audio feels like it has gone through so many inaudible layers. Your microphone settings can alter the sound they capture in different ways. A microphone test not only ensures it’s working properly but also enables you to learn more about the mic you bought. In this way, you will be able to do more sound tests and experiment with the best settings and features for you.
There are many strategies you may use to learn how to test microphones. When you test your microphone, secure a copy of the manufacturer’s data on the specifications of the mic. This will enable you to properly test its sound settings, such as frequency response, sensitivity, and polar pattern. Here are some tips and tricks to test the audio reception of your mic.
Choosing the best microphone for you is one thing. But to test, appraise, and track every single minute element of a microphone’s performance requires more resources, skills, and experience. Typically, manufacturers utilize high-end audio analyzers and special sound-deadening rooms known as anechoic chambers. These may all sound overwhelming and difficult, but you don’t need to go to the lengths of acquiring these tools and supplies.
Your microphone settings may vary from one mic to another, but the general rule of the mic test is uniform. Below are the general prerequisites before testing out the efficiency of your mic.
Always remember when, where, and why you need to buy a microphone in the first place. Every mic has a different purpose and specific requirements for usage. However, there might be instances wherein the mic won’t fit the purpose you want it to use. But this is fine because you can still buy a mic that closely resembles the ideal setting you think of.
For instance, listeners will be keen to know about your adventures if you use a highly directional mic with a tight polar pattern and a low-frequency roll-off switch. In this manner, you can carry the microphone around, without the need to always adjust it so the audio can be listened to or will be recorded. This is one of the reasons why you need to always test the mic and see if it’s in line with your goals.
But how do you do test your microphone for different types of sound sources?
If your sound source is a human voice, you need to bear in mind that it should be able to capture all of the frequencies which make it colorful. This includes the unique high and low variations of tones, and the midrange “body”. Also, keep in mind to avoid using an overly sensitive mic if the job doesn’t require it. Too much sensitivity can potentially distort the captured sound during a wild or energetic performance. However, it should be sensitive enough to catch your sound without the need for excessive amplification, which might cause unwanted noise in your recording.
When we talk about microphone kinds, we always look at the mechanical features it has, such as the difference between dynamic vs. condenser vs. ribbon vs. USB microphone, or a Bluetooth microphone.
Every mic has a polar pattern. These patterns tell us how a microphone can gather sound from different directions. It can be categorized from omnidirectional to “hyper-cardioid”, which captures sound waves right in front of it. Whereas a “super-cardioid” mic can reject audio that comes from the back or sides of the microphone.
Typically, the microphone you buy comes with a user manual from the manufacturer. It’s best to read all the information written in the guide to get the gist of how to maneuver your microphone. In any case that it lacks the information you want to know, or if the product didn’t have an accompanying instructional guide, don’t hesitate to contact the supplier.
Although this is optional, sometimes you need to use a reference microphone to determine the best sound settings for your mic. Before choosing a reference mic, make sure the manufacturer has told you everything about the mic you bought. In this way, you can base the reference mic on the given specifications, such as type of microphone, frequency response, polar pattern, and sensitivity.
When choosing a reference microphone, it should be an omnidirectional, flat-response, ultra-transparent one. It needs to be able to capture every sound from all directions to quantify the acoustic properties of a room. Moreover, the reference mic will also help you determine accurately and objectively whether your microphone is suitable in your studio or not.
Even without using an expensive recording studio, you can ask the sales clerk if you can test the microphone before buying it. Most stores have their studios that cater to different sorts of mic.
If you plan on buying a Bluetooth microphone, bring in the device that you’ll use it for. For both laptops and smartphones, simply connect the Bluetooth microphone to the sound settings. Check the connected microphones and once linked, test its audio reception and see if there are signs of delay, cloudy feedback, or unnecessary echo.
Also, adjust the volume of your device by clicking on the speaker icon. Make sure the audio is audible enough to ensure you’re not testing on thin air. The speaker icon on either the PC or the smartphone can be used to modulate the sound more efficiently. The same testing can be applied to the PC and smartphones with a built-in microphone.
Moreover, make sure that your Bluetooth microphone is compatible with any plug-in device you use.
The produced sound waves by your voice or by any instrument carry air vibrations toward the microphones. When this happens, the diaphragm and the coil attached to it inside the mic move back and forth.
In addition, a magnetic field is created by the permanent magnet, which is then converted to an electric current. A sound device or an amplifier receives this, which in return is broadcasted by the microphone you use.
To test microphones and see how they can capture sound effectively a sound test is usually administered. In most common circumstances, it’s called a microphone check wherein you see performers say “test mic, 1… 2… 3…” But how do I start?
When choosing the “sweet spot” or the test area of your microphone, make sure you understand your mic’s specifications such as polar pattern and frequency response.
The sweet spot is the location relative to where the sound source is objectively and subjectively better captured. Two factors generally influence the sweet spot of a microphone. This includes the audio source and the acoustic room. If you’re using a microphone for live performance, make sure to speak directly on the mic. Have someone check the sound feedback if no unnecessary muffling or echoes can be heard or if the microphone is working. Once satisfied, note the settings of the microphone and the amplifier so that your live performance will be without any problems.
Depending on the polar pattern of your mic, these are some tips you can use to determine the best place where you can use it.
Start the test by plugging one ear while paying close attention to the other. Move around the room and see where your mic can best capture the audio. Remember, Omni-directional microphones can have a frequency response from all directions.
Similarly, plug one ear but cup the other one this time. Using the open ear, carefully listen to the audio and place the cardioid mic in your palm while facing the sound source. Make sure its capsule is pointed perpendicular to your hand. You can do this technique to all types of cardioids to ensure it is working correctly in your studio.
Make sure the mic is connected to your PC or amplifying device. Your computer should be able to read the input, if not, then install the necessary software that will fit either your Windows or Mac computer. Speak on the microphone’s receiver and check whether the green bars are rising with how strong you modulate the sounds.
Additional sounds may interfere with your testing, but make sure that you can still hear your own.
Proper positioning is important if you want to effectively test the frequency response of your microphone. Make sure you’re at a distance of 30 cm (1 ft) from the on-axis mic. This is the average distance between a studio microphone and a vocalist, wherein the microphone will be ensured to be working correctly.
Move the off-axis, which includes 45 degrees to the side and 45 degrees up, to conduct the close-up test. The purpose is to check for pop-noise and proximity effects, which will fix the problem with studio mics if not tested properly.
Also, do an ambiance test from a distance of 3-4 meters (10-12 feet) to validate the coloring and attenuation from the back by doing a 180° test at this distance.
To adjust the sensitivity of the test and reference microphones, use vocals or instrumental sounds of the same level. Make sure to double-check the sensitivity levels using the console’s peak meters and set all equalizers to neutral. More so, you can mute or unmute the microphone you want to specifically listen to. This will effectively let you compare the difference between the mic you wish to use and the reference microphone.
After positioning your microphone correctly, never hesitate to test its polar pattern immediately. To do this, make sure you know the type of polar pattern your microphone has. Have your performer sing at various volumes, and pick the tune that has a couple of octaves of the pitch range.
Set the device’s equalizer to neutral and turn off any signal processing, which includes the compressors and limiters. Make sure that you adjust the mixer accordingly, to prevent any unnecessary sound and pitch to your recording or performance. Moreover, test the microphone with other sound sources. A studio or stage mic can also be used to enhance the sound of your musical instruments, tone generators, or even traffic noise. This will allow you to set the proper audio input and settings for your performances.
Sometimes, despite preparing all the requirements to make sure the sound is good, the environment is unstable. This includes crowded places or sudden weather occurrences. If you experience any sound fluctuations with your microphone, then it has an off-axis sound source.
To further optimize your microphone, you have to test its reaction to an off-axis area. You need to determine its changes in frequency response, sensitivity, and proximity effect. By doing so, you can see how much noise can interfere with your source, while your main sound is playing. Make sure you place the microphone about a foot away from the source but consider setting it up at a 45-degree angle.
Turn on all appliances or devices, such as the TV, radio, and air conditioner to see if these noises can greatly affect the main sound source or not.
Be careful when a mic is too close to you or not. Sometimes, even the slightest proximity, like an inch or so, immediately amplifies the bass frequency. If the sound is too loud, it might make the sound less audible. To check the proximity, talk in front of the microphone, be as loud as you can, and record it. The proximity of the microphone will give significant data on what occasion you can use it.
When using a wireless mic, download its drivers to your PC and connect to it. However, some computers have built-in software so you can proceed with the test immediately.
To do this, go to System and Sound and select “add device” once you see the icon of your mic. This works well too for a headset. But this is the tip of the iceberg — below are the instructions you can follow once the device input is done.
Without a doubt, a MacBook is arguably one of the most sought-after devices. It has an embedded mic in its rear end, but you can still add an external microphone. To verify if both the internal and external mics are working, here is a quick list you can follow.
Whether it’s to fix or set up mics, it’s never wrong to create a routine every time you check out a new type. Owning a high-quality microphone is a long-term investment itself, which can help you through many projects.
Remember to always understand the strengths and weaknesses of mics. This will help you create a profile on what microphone is best, compatible, or budget-friendly. In addition, it will also provide you the basic knowledge about the device, in case you need to fix it sooner or later.