Every microphone leaves a unique signature on the quality of its output. If you’re a podcaster trying to melt your way into your audience’s hearts, a muddy, distorted recording won’t cut it. Similarly, a vocalist needs clear, crispy, and warm melodies, and testing your microphone is the first step to achieving any desired results.
You can test your microphone by analyzing its most important performance parameters, such as frequency response, distortion levels, dynamic range, proximity effects, and noise levels. These tests can be done with readily available online tools, sound settings app, and a professional audio analyzer.
Whether you find what you’re looking for in a microphone or not depends on how well you understand the mic’s performance parameters and how well you’ll use this knowledge in your recordings. In this article, we’ll shed some light on how to test your microphone for different applications.
Easy Ways To Test Your Microphone
Professional studios, manufacturers, and some stage performers test microphones with the best-in-class testing software and audio analyzers – which also happen to be expensive. While these methods are guaranteed to generate more accurate test results for better soundtracks, they might not apply to your situation (especially if you’re a passionate producer running a home studio).
These easy ways to test your microphone will help you get better recordings:
Your Computer’s Built-In Microphone Settings App
Before we go any further, I would like to point out that testing your microphone with your computer’s built-in settings will neither yield comprehensive results nor grant granular control over the testing process. Instead, it will only reveal whether your microphone is working or not.
That said, here’s how to test using your computer’s settings app:
Connect Your Mic to the PC
Simply plug your USB microphone into one of your computer’s open USB ports. XLR microphones will require a USB Audio Interface because they cannot connect directly to your computer. Another way to connect an XLR mic to a computer is through an XLR to USB adapter.
Visit Your Sound Settings App
Sound settings can easily be accessed on your Windows machine by typing “Sound Settings” on the search bar next to the Windows icon. Open the Sound Settings and navigate to your input devices.
On a mac, you need to go to System Preferences and open Sounds. Mac offers more control for the input, output, and sound effects. Since your microphone is an input device, you’ll need to open the Input tab and select your microphone from the listed options.
Play a Test Tone
Lastly, speak into your mic or play a test tone to check whether the microphone is working. A good microphone is marked by a moving blue bar.
If your microphone is not working, there are a couple of places to start. For instance, the mic could be turned off, or its gain brought down to zero. Check your microphone to ensure that it is turned on and that the gain is not set to zero. Otherwise, you may need to troubleshoot your computer and update outdated drivers to flush out any potential software issues.
An Online Microphone Test Tool
The internet provides a vast collection of online microphone testing tools. Essentially, these tools help you determine whether your microphone is in good working condition and, more importantly, whether it has been configured the right way.
Here’s how these tools work:
Search for a Suitable Tool Online
Different tools will offer different features. In my search for the most detailed and accurate results, I found a free online mic test tool mictests.com (https://mictests.com/check). However, more options, such as Webcam Mic Test (https://webcammictest.com/check-mic.html), are available with a simple Google search.
Allow Permissions on Your Browser
Most of the online microphone test tools will run on your browser, which means that you need to grant access to use the microphone. A popup notification appears on the top left side of your browser, where you can allow access.
Later on, after testing, you can undo the permissions by clicking the three buttons on the top right side of the browser window. Go to Settings > Privacy and Security > Site Settings. Locate the tool from the listed options and revoke or reset permissions.
Start the Test
Usually, the online mic test tool will automatically detect the microphones connected to your computer. They will also have a drop-down menu that displays all the available mics. Next, click the “Test my mic” or similar button to commence. Speak a few words into your microphone until the tool is done checking the device.
After running a simple test on my internal mic, here are some of the results I was able to obtain from mictests.com:
- Quality Rating: 731
- Microphone Name: Default – Internal Microphone (Conexant ISST Audio)
- Automatic Gain Control: yes
- Number of Audio Channels: 1
- Echo Cancellation: Yes
- Estimated Latency: 0.01
- Noise Suppression: Yes
- Sample Rate: 48000
- Sample Size: 16
- Volume: ???
While online mic test tools won’t provide professional-grade test results, they can help you identify your device’s strengths and weaknesses in a few minutes. If you’re not satisfied with the results, our next alternative will provide more professional results that can help you better understand your mic’s properties.
Use an Audio Analyzer
If you’re serious about the quality of your recordings, then an audio analyzer is a necessity you shouldn’t skip. Sound engineers, OEMs, and professional studios usually use audio analyzers to test a device’s sound quality. And as the name implies, an audio analyzer assesses the device’s performance across frequencies in the 20 Hz to 20 kHz range.
Some of the issues it helps pinpoint include interference, noise, and distortion.
Prerequisites for a Successful Test
Running your tests with an audio analyzer is a more complicated endeavor. As such, you need to keep the following things in mind:
- Read the user manual and product description. Before conducting any tests, it helps to know what type of microphone you have and its properties. Similarly, it is essential to know what type of analyzer you have (analog, digital, converter based). All this information can be found on the manufacturer’s spec sheet.
- Soundproof the environment. Essentially, you want to avoid noise interference from surrounding rooms. Find a quiet room free from external noise or soundproof an existing room. This also comes at a cost, but a quiet environment plays a significant role in achieving more accurate test results.
- Keep a healthy distance from the mic. Generally, microphones should always be kept close to your mouth, about 6-12 inches (152.4-304.8 mm) away while performing. This gives the best possible chance of capturing clear sound without the need to turn up the gain knob. While testing, try different distances, from 1-9 feet (0.30-2.74 m), both on and off-axis.
Listen carefully to the mic’s response with your powerful pair of mixing headphones.
Choose Your Analyzer
Analyzers come with varying capabilities, and the type of analyzer you choose will depend on your needs and budget. If you’re looking for a lightweight device that’s easy to carry and requires minimal setup, then the PAA3X Handheld Audio Analyzer should suffice.
This little device features a 61-band and 31-band real-time spectrum analyzer that promises to detail every little thing going on in your audio. Its accurate sound pressure level meter adds clarity to the mic’s sound capture abilities, which in turn, plays a significant role in producing suitable audio that’s not harsh to your audience. The refined results can be captured and saved on an SD card for later reference.
Complete Your Setup
Start by downloading and installing your audio analyzer software to your computer. Depending on the analyzer, you may need to download additional software to successfully conduct the test. Other analyzers will readily display real-time results on a built-in screen.
Next, connect the mic to the analyzer’s input port. Again, depending on your analyzer model, you may require an additional power supply for condenser microphones and external power amplifiers. Some devices will contain all the inputs and outputs integrated into them, meaning no extra hardware will be needed.
Setting up the test environment and wiring multiple devices together brings in a couple of challenges, such as not being able to find the right pieces of hardware for your setup. An integrated audio analyzer like the Audio Precision APx517B Acoustic Analyzer brings everything from the amplifiers, power supply, and analyzer together under one roof.
Select Your Microphone and Start Testing
Depending on the analyzer’s capabilities, you may be able to test more than one microphone at a time for a wide variety of parameters. A good analyzer sends a broad range of frequencies across the audible spectrum 20 Hz – 20 kHz through the system and awaits the outcome. It should be able to detect the mic’s signal level and ambient noise at minimum.
Although analyzers are mostly used in a professional setup, acquiring one for more comprehensive testing in your home studio can help shape your future recordings and improve your understanding of a mic’s limitations. However, this requires a little bit more experience with audio analyzers and an intimate understanding of the performance parameters in question.
Still not sure how to get started with an audio analyzer? This comprehensive YouTube webinar discusses everything you need to know about mic testing with the Audio Precision APx517B analyzer, from the test chamber considerations and source speakers to the appropriate software configurations:
Important Performance Parameters in Microphone Testing
Microphone testing involves measuring a broad scope of performance parameters to affirm that the microphone can live up to its specifications. In general, the most important parameters that should be tested include sensitivity, frequency response, noise, polar patterns, and dynamic range, to mention a few.
The frequency response of a microphone is the measurement of the microphone’s ability to pick up audible frequencies. Most microphones have a flat or shaped frequency response. A flat frequency response has a relatively small difference between the highest and lowest frequencies it can pick up. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work so well for vocals.
An ideal frequency response for vocals starts from 80 Hz to 15 kHz. Bass and other low-pitched instruments, on the other hand, fall between 40 Hz to 9 kHz.
Sensitivity is another performance parameter that describes how well a microphone picks up sound, or more precisely, how well it converts acoustic pressure into a voltage. Sensitivity varies by the type of microphone and the transducer technology used in its making.
Condenser mics are more sensitive than dynamic microphones. The more sensitive the microphone is, the less the need for signal preamplification. As such, you would use a less sensitive mic in a louder environment but switch to a more sensitive mic in a quieter environment with less ambient noise.
Polar patterns in microphones refer to how mics pick up sound. It is like the shape of the microphone and how it captures sound waves. The most common polar pattern is the cardioid pattern, which is shaped like a heart. This polar pattern is used for both vocals and instruments.
It picks up sound from the front of the microphone and rejects sound from the back of the mic. This helps reduce background noise and bleed from other instruments when recording.
Another polar pattern is the figure-8 pattern (bi-directional pattern), which is most sensitive at 0° and 180°. This pattern is used for recording two sources at the same time, such as a two-person interview. The bi-directional pattern captures sound from both the front and the back of the microphone, so you can record two sources at once.
Last but not least, we have the omnidirectional pattern that captures sound from all directions, which makes it great for recording a group of people.
Noise in mics is an unwanted sound that is picked up by the microphone, often caused by electrical signals from nearby cell phones and computers or environmental sounds. It is a common problem in audio recording and can be hard to control.
Often, noise in your system will manifest as a low-pitched hum and buzz or a loud, high-pitched hiss. Low-quality mics are more prone to noise, and they may pick up a wide range of unwanted frequencies in the background. For this reason, I recommend a high-quality mic that’s properly set up.
Testing your microphone is an important part of high-quality audio. With the tips highlighted in this article, you can ensure that your microphone is in tip-top shape and that you always get the best quality sound possible.
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