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Mic Clipping and Distortion: Causes and Solutions


When you hear some skips, empty gaps, unintended hisses, clicks, pop, and other sounds in your audio recording, then you might be experiencing some mic clipping and distortion issues. Whether you’re talking to an amateur or professional in the industry, anyone would agree that hearing these sounds can be frustrating and distracting.

That is where we come in so you can avoid mic clipping and distortion from happening in the first place!

Causes of Mic Clipping and Distortion

Mic Clipping and Distortion: Causes and Solutions

You can tell if you have clipped and distorted audio if you hear any glitching sounds and notice that the overall quality is poor. For confirmation, you can check the sound recording file itself. If you see a change in the shape of the waveform of the sound recording file, then you have a clipped audio.

Most of the time, audio distortion happens because of mic clipping. This occurs when a user goes beyond the mic’s threshold when it comes to the loudness of the audio signal. As a result, the audio actually “clips” off from the top of the waveform because it has reached its limit, and the final sound recording will be distorted. When this happens, an audio overload will create possible skips, gaps, hisses, clicks, pops, and other unintended sounds in the recording.

Aside from recording too close and loudly to the mic, an amplifier going into overdrive can also cause clipping and distortion. When an amplifier reaches its maximum capacity, it will send out and create a signal since it needs more power to generate and continue to work. When this happens, the audio will begin to clip and you will get a distorted recording. Similarly, when speakers are pushed to the limit and are set to maximum volume for a long time, the sound will begin to clip.

Lastly, clipping and distortion can occur when too much mixing has been done to the original audio recording. This happens when a person decides to record straight in the mixer or the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) above 0dB. This creates a hot signal and will affect the original recording.

Solutions for Mic Clipping and Distortion

Mic Clipping and Distortion: Causes and Solutions

Cleaning and fixing clipped or distorted audio may be tricky. One simply cannot delete these unintended sounds from the recording as it will ruin the entire flow of the audio. With that, it’s best to start from the source so that it doesn’t happen again in your next recording. However, there are other ways to prevent and solve mic clipping and distortion.

Microphone Solutions

The first and easiest way to avoid mic clipping and distortion is to start from the source — the microphone. Regardless of what microphone type you are using, this recording device is the gateway to how your audio will sound. With that, you need to pay close attention to how you handle it, equalize it, and if needed, fix it.

Unlike the first microphone ever made, models today often have signal level meters that are easily visible. These level meters will tell you if you are nearing the threshold of the mic’s volume and system. Aim to always keep the signal level meter green. Once it turns yellow, you are already entering the headroom or warning zone while red means your audio is already starting to clip.

Another easy solution to avoid mic clipping and distortion is to invest in accessories. There are also microphone models that have a distortion-reducing foam shield. This accessory helps in reducing the possible impact of air and other unwanted sounds from getting picked up by the mic. Models with internal shock mounts, external shock mounts, and pop filters also help in isolating sounds and blocking out noise. If your microphone does not have one, then purchasing these accessories is quite easy nowadays.

Be sure to also practice proper mic handling, positioning, and placement. This may sound like a no-brainer but is a practice that can make all the difference to the overall audio recording.

Controlling Noise

Sometimes the clipping or distortion happens because of environmental noise and unwanted sounds. Without you noticing it, your microphone may have picked up those hisses, pops, and claps from your fan, air conditioner, or next-door neighbor.

To avoid this from happening, make sure that the room or location you are recording in is properly set up. Large rooms are usually noisier and can create a rather “hollow” sound as opposed to small rooms. To combat this, you can add some sound-absorbing furniture or make a few adjustments in the room so the recording will sound more compact.

Do observe your surroundings and try to pinpoint if any of the sounds you are hearing in the recording aren’t clippings or distortions at all, but rather unwanted noise.

Installing Plug-Ins

If you are adamant about using the original audio and do not want to go through the hassle of recording again, then your best bet is to install a plug-in. This tool will help enhance the audio and reduce the noise of the recording.

Simply play the audio, highlight the portion where the audio has been clipped or distorted, and click noise reduction. By doing so, unwanted sounds are reduced. However, do be careful in applying de-noising as too much of it can decrease the quality of the recording, and subtle robotic glitches may be added.

Using a Compressor

If you see that the audio file has peaked, then you may need to use a compressor. This software helps in reducing the dynamic range of the recording so you are left with a clean sound. When using a compressor, a threshold level must be set. This will help trigger or activate the compressor once the limit has been exceeded. This is also good software to use if you tend to go “in the red” when talking to the mic.

A good rule of thumb is to set the signal peaks to -9 dBFS and the body of the signal to -18 dBFS. Remember to not set the threshold too low or you might end up with a recording that sounds muffled.

Applying Limiters

Similar to compressors, limiters will set a “limit” or threshold level to the peak loudness of the mic to prevent audio clipping. This tool will help put a preventative stop to either the vocals, instruments, or other sounds when it’s nearing peak loudness. Together with the compressor, the limiter will help in managing the dynamic range of the sound recording.

In most cases, limiters are used in the final process of editing and production. This tool also helps in editing the audio should you want to boost its volume without damaging or moving any other elements. Just be careful that you do not oversaturate this as aggressive editing can cause distortion.

Final Note

Mic Clipping and Distortion: Causes and Solutions

No one wants an audio recording to be ruined because of mic clipping and distortion. After putting in a lot of effort in recording material, the last thing anyone would want to do is to re-record all because of unwanted noises and sounds that may have been prevented in the first place. Luckily, clipping and distortion are easily manageable and can be solved with just a few tools, software, and best mic practices.

Naomi Feller

Originally from the East Coast, Naomi started singing as young as 3 years old. In her early teens Naomi made some embarrassing YouTube videos before settling on a love for Podcast editing. When she's not pouring over endless amounts of audio, she lends her expertise to us here at Shout4Music with her crystal clear and finely tuned microphone reviews.

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