What Causes Distortion in Microphones? How To Fix It


Distorted audio output can take away from the overall audio quality, explaining why audio engineers and producers strive to eliminate microphone and speaker distortion. Fixing microphone distortion shouldn’t prove too hard; however, it’s important first to understand the causes of distortion in the devices before addressing the problem.  

The main cause of distortion in microphones is improper microphone handling techniques such as standing too close to the mic and failure to position the mic well. Poor quality or damaged microphones can also lead to distortion, especially when used to perform heavier tasks than they can handle. 

If you have recurring issues with mic distortion, you’re in the right place! This article will discuss the main causes of distortion in microphones and how to fix the issue. Let’s get started!

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Poor Microphone Handling 

A common cause of distortion in microphones, especially for first-time users, is poor mic technique. No matter the type of microphone you’re using, overloading it with too much sound will almost certainly lead to distortion, which explains the need to mind your source-to-microphone distance. 

Ideally, you shouldn’t stand (or sit) too close to a microphone as the moving air from your lips will likely interfere with the mic’s performance. This explains why some professional-grade microphones like the Electro Voice Broadcast Announcer Microphone come with distortion-reducing foam shields that help reduce the impact of moving air.  

Electro-Voice RE20 Broadcast Announcer Microphone with Variable-D
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Electro-Voice RE20 Broadcast Announcer Microphone with Variable-D
  • Professional quality dynamic cardioid microphone with studio condenser-like performance
  • The classic sound of FM radio voices with smooth, natural, and controlled sonic character
  • The Variable-D design and heavy-duty internal pop filter excel for close-in voice work, while an internal element shock-mount reduces vibration-induced noise

Improper Use of Microphones 

Any sort of vibration or movement when recording or using a microphone will contribute to a certain degree of distortion. The higher the vibrations or movements, the more the distortions will be, hence the need to use stands or microphones with advanced features. 

For instance, you’re likely to get more distortion when using a condenser microphone (which is highly sensitive and more responsive to frequencies) outside. Dynamic microphones are a lot more preferred for live settings where noise and disruption levels might be higher than in studio settings. 

Lack of Distortion-Minimizing Accessories

It’s almost impossible to use a microphone without some degree of distortion. As a result, most audiophiles prefer reducing the amount of distortion as much as possible. This means making use of accessories like pop-filters and windscreens, especially when recording audios that have little room for error. 

Failure to use a windscreen when recording outdoors increases the chances of distortion significantly, more so when recording on windy days. Distortion is also common in studio setups, especially when audios are recorded without the use of a pop filter. 

The burst of air emitted when pronouncing B and P words is enough to cause microphone distortion, hence the need for quality pop-filters like Auphonix Pop Filter Screen (available on Amazon.com), which comes with a gooseneck for increased flexibility during use. 

While some professional grade microphones like Shure SM58 Cardioid Dynamic Microphone (available on Amazon.com) come with electromagnetic shielding to reduce distortion, most other types of mics will need you to invest in a pop-filter separately. 

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Shure SM58 Handheld Dynamic Vocal Microphone
  • Frequency response tailored for vocals with brightened midrange and bass rolloff to control proximity effect
  • Effective built-in spherical wind and pop filter. Frequency response: 50 to 15000 Hz
  • Cardioid (unidirectional) dynamic

Poor Quality Audio Devices 

Low-quality microphones with poor signal-to-noise ratios are a lot more likely to cause distortion than quality mics because parts like vacuum tubes, printed circuit boards, and transistors usually play a role in altering the audio quality. 

Microphones with damaged components perform poorly by failing to pick up (or over-picking) sounds in the immediate environment. While this might not be a problem for casual microphone users, it can lead to excessive audio distortion, especially when making professional recordings. 

A faulty microphone or preamp cable might also lead to distorted sound. This is especially common when the microphone keeps on producing distorted noise despite alternating between mics. As a result, you should make a habit of inspecting your audio cables regularly, more specifically cables that have been in use for long. 

How To Fix Distortion in Microphones 

Use an Appropriate Microphone

Perhaps one of the leading causes of distortion in microphones is the incorrect usage of the devices. The good thing about this type of distortion is it can be easily corrected by switching to an appropriate mic. For instance, it’s advisable to use dynamic microphones when working outdoors or during live performance to reduce the chances of distortion. 

When using a condenser microphone, you should avoid getting too close to the device due to its heightened sensitivity. Instead, aim to maintain a safe distance to reduce the chances of distortion. In most cases, a studio producer will advise on the safest distance depending on the mic’s sensitivity and ability to pick up sounds. 

In addition to using an appropriate microphone that suits your task, it’s crucial to also learn proper microphone handling techniques. Avoid moving or tapping the microphone when in use. You should also record in controlled, well-treated studio environments for successful recording outcomes. 

Ensure you understand the best practices for the type of mic you’re using. For instance, you won’t need to face or direct your voice to an omnidirectional microphone, which is unlike a unidirectional microphone that picks up sound from one major direction. Learn or inquire more about how to make the most of the type of mic you’re using to reduce the chances of distortion. 

Invest in Accessories That Improve Overall Audio Quality

Mechanical noise is common in microphones and, more often than not, manifests as distortion when the vibration reaches the microphone capsule. Footsteps, the vibration of other instruments, and any type of noise can greatly affect audio quality, hence the need to invest in accessories like shock mounts. 

Although some professional-grade microphones come with internal shock mounts, investing in an external shock mount will help provide mechanical isolation and thus reduce the chances of distortion when recording. 

You should also invest in quality microphone windscreens for outdoor performances or live recordings. The Mudder Large Foam Mic Windscreen (available on Amazon.com) is suitable for large microphones and will help reduce the impact of wind or air movements in your recording. Investing in a stand for your dynamic mic can also help fix distortion, especially for outdoor recordings. 

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Mudder Large Foam Mic Windscreen for MXL, Audio Technica, and Other Large Microphones, Black
  • Size: 2.75 x 3.4 inches (W * H); Caliber: 1.57 inches
  • Suitable for condenser microphone in diameter of 1.57 - 1.85 inch/ 4 - 4.7 cm
  • Good breathable material, good effect for voice

Switch to Balanced Mic Cables

Most professional microphones use balanced cables that carry audio signals on two different pins as opposed to one. This ensures that one pin carries the signal with positive polarity while the other transmits the signal with a negative polarity. A differential amplifier at the mic preamp helps sum the differences between the pins, ensuring that resulting commonalities are rejected.  

The Mogami Gold Studio Microphone Cable (available on Amazon.com) is among the best for reproducing analog audio signals and is available in different lengths, from 2 feet (0.61 m) to even 100-foot (30.48 m) lengths. Using unbalanced cables increases the chances of distorted audio, which can negatively impact the outcomes of your recordings. 

Mogami Gold STUDIO-15 XLR Microphone Cable, XLR-Female to XLR-Male, 3-Pin, Gold Contacts, Straight Connectors, 15 Foot
  • From large recording facilities to small project studios, engineers and artists trust Mogami GOLD STUDIO XLR Microphone Cables for professional results. Engineered to provide an enhanced dynamic range with a pin-drop quiet recording environment, Mogami GOLD STUDIO XLR Microphone Cables help to cure many of the problems encountered in a typical project or home studio.
  • Mogami GOLD STUDIO XLR Mic Cables are wired with Mogami Neglex Quad High Definition Microphone Cable, a balanced 4-conductor cable with amazingly superior clarity and the highest cancellation of noise and RF interference. Mogami’s quad cable design is renowned for vastly improving the rejection of noise to the tune of a 95% quieter background as compared to even the best 2-conductor microphone cable.
  • Use Mogami GOLD STUDIO XLR Cables for pro audio sound with nearly any device equipped with an industry-standard XLR 3-pin input or output. Common uses include to and from mixers, preamps, amplifiers, audio interfaces, loudspeakers, powered speakers, studio monitors, and more. Also excellent for use with amplifier, percussion, and vocalist mics as well as vocal effects, processors, and loopers.

Replace Your Equipment

Sometimes, the problem is usually with the microphone and not cables or other studio devices. Try replacing your microphone with another one to determine if it has a problem. While some defects might be repairable, it’s usually advisable to replace broken down mics due to the little room for error when recording audios. 

You should also check the cables to ensure they aren’t damaged. Don’t hesitate to call in an audio engineer for a thorough inspection of your equipment, as you might struggle to know the problematic areas. 

When making replacements, it’s best to get a high-quality microphone that suits your studio or live recording needs. Remember that studio microphones aren’t ideal for live recording the same way dynamic microphones won’t work too well when used in studio setups. 

Wrapping Up 

Distortion in microphones is a common occurrence that, although easily fixable, can have a negative impact on your listening experience, especially if it’s too much. Some of the leading causes of distortion include poor mic handling techniques, use of damaged microphones, use of unbalanced mic cables, and recording in exposed, windy environments. 

To fix distortion, it’s best to invest in audio quality-improving accessories like windscreens, pop filters, and shock mounts. You should also avoid speaking too close to your microphone, especially when using extra-sensitive condenser microphones. 

Check out my article on how to reduce background noise on a Blue Yeti mic.

Sources 

Last update on 2021-10-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

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