What is gain on a microphone? There are many different types of microphones, each with its unique purpose. “Gain” is a term used to describe the sensitivity of a microphone. In other words, how much amplification the microphone provides. Microphones with high gain are great for capturing loud sounds, while microphones with low gain are better for more subtle sounds.
- 1 Gain vs. Volume
- 2 What Is Microphone Gain, And How Does It Affect Mic Signals?
- 3 Utilize Both Gain and Volume on Your Microphone
- 4 FAQ
- 5 Conclusion
Gain vs. Volume
Volume is something you are already familiar with. Volume is simply an increase in the volume of sound. Volume is an audio device’s output decibel (dB) in the recording.
Volume changes the strength of a signal, but only after processing. Changing volume doesn’t affect the tone; it simply alters its loudness.
Gain is an entirely different matter. Gain refers to the input dB. It alters the signal strength before it is processed. Gain can be used to alter the signal processing and operation of the audio device. Gain can have an impact on the sound’s characteristics.
This is a great example of the difference in amp parameters for guitars. The amp’s gain is increased, so it cannot handle the audio signals. This is what gives rise to distortion sounds on electric guitars.
You can combine volume and gain to maximize distortion and lower the volume, so the building doesn’t tremble when you play every chord.
What Is Microphone Gain, And How Does It Affect Mic Signals?
Let’s begin our discussion by reviewing some basic information about audio signals.
An analog audio signal is an electronic signal. They are measured in decibels relative voltage (both are measured in dBu and dBV).
- 0 dBu = 0.775 volts
- 0 dBV = 1 volt
Decibels can be described as a logarithmic ratio. +6 dB effectively doubles the voltage, and -6 dB effectively halves it. To avoid confusion, I will use dBu whenever possible in this article!
You can improve your understanding of the article by reading my detailed article What are Decibels? The Ultimate dB Guide for Audio & Sound.
Although microphones are analog, they can output digital signals in certain cases. Gain is applied to analog signals. Digital gain is simply a multiplication or addition of the digitalized value, which results in a loss in resolution.
Mic Level And Line Level
A microphone will produce what is called “mic level” signals. These signals are nominally between -60 and -40 dBu.
Professional audio equipment can only work with audio signals at line-level, which is nominally +4dBu. Mixing consoles and digital audio workstations are examples of “professional equipment.”
Both mic and line levels have nominal values of just average. These levels depend on many factors, including the distance from the sound source, the microphone’s level of sensitivity, the amount and type of gain applied to the microphone signal, and other factors.
Mic level is typically considered 100-1000 times stronger than line level. These mic level signals must be boosted to line-level to make microphones compatible with professional audio equipment. A gain boost of 44 dB-64 dB would suffice, according to the above nominal values.
Mic inputs expect mic level signals. A mic input should have a preamplifier built-in. This preamplifier should be able to boost the mic signal to line level. The extreme risk of overloading a mic input is when a line output is connected to a mic input.
Line inputs expect line-level signals. A mic output plugged into a line input will produce very low signal levels and a poor signal-to-noise ratio.
The Definition Of Gain
Gain is an electronic term that refers to the ability of an amplifier to increase the amplitude of a signal from its input to the output. An amplifier “applies” gain on an input signal to make it stronger at its output.
By adding energy to the signal, you can gain. This energy is converted to an external power source (AC wall plug, phantom, batteries, or any other source).
There are generally two stages of microphone gain control in practical situations (preamplification).
1. You can gain from an active preamplifier in the microphone (active microphones only).
2. You can get a separate microphone preamplifier (standalone or audio interfaces, mixing boxes, etc.).
Microphone gain refers to the gain that is applied to mic-level microphone signals.
This can occur inside microphones that have active circuitry, as mentioned. If the preamps are separate, the microphone gain setting is applied directly to the microphone input signal.
Gain From An Active Preamplifier Within The Microphone
Condenser microphones and active microphones include an active preamplifier in the microphone body. A microphone capsule produces an audio signal that is too low in voltage or too high in impedance for it to be useful.
An active amplifier is installed directly after the capsule. This is done to raise the voltage to a workable level and immediately reduce the signal impedance. The signal can travel over reasonable lengths of cable with low impedance without being affected.
A fixed value is often used to describe the gain of an active microphone’s amplifier.
Attenuation pads are used on many active microphones to reduce the output volume of the capsule before it reaches the amplifier. These pads prevent overloading of the active circuitry/amplifier and subsequent signal distortion.
Active amplifiers increase the signal strength of the microphone. Their gain isn’t strong enough to amplify active microphone output signals at line level.
AKG C 414XLII is a great example of an active condenser mic with an integrated FET. The mic outputs mic-level signals even with the “amplifier,” though.
Gain From An Active Preamplifiers In USB/Digital Microphones
USB microphones and other microphones that produce digital audio have integrated analog-to-digit converters (ADCs).
A lot of them will also have a mic preamp before the ADC.
The preamplifier built into the microphone should have an adjustable gain that effectively brings the mic’s signal up to the line before converting it to a digital signal.
Blue Microphones’ popular USB gain microphone, the Blue Yeti (link to see the price at Blue Microphones), has a mic preamp and ADC. The microphone acts as its interface, with a headphone amp and DAC built-in.
Gain From A Separate Microphone Preamplifier
Professional microphones all output mic-level signals, requiring gain to bring them up to line level. Microphone preamplifiers provide this gain!
The mic input of a preamp is subject to microphone gain.
This distinction is important when working with multiple input channels. Don’t plug your microphone into a line input. Line inputs expect stronger signals than the mic level and won’t provide enough gain to boost the microphone signal.
Mixing and recording audio, analog or digital, almost always takes place at the line level. It is crucial to get analog audio up to line level with gain. ADCs that convert analog line-level signals into digital signals is essential.
Although mixing consoles often have preamplifiers built-in, standalone preamps are preferred. Make sure you are connecting the standalone preamplifier directly to the mixer.
A digital/analog converter can be used to connect standalone preamps to DAWs. DAWs can also use audio interfaces to provide mic inputs. Audio interfaces have built-in preamps.
Mic preamps are circuits that amplify mic input to line level. A microphone preamp is almost always the first circuit to which a microphone’s output signal is exposed.
A mic preamp prepares the microphone’s audio signal for all other audio devices.
A microphone preamp can also supply +48 volt Phantom power to active power microphones plugged into it.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a popular audio interface with two combo inputs (mic/line/instrument) capable of supplying phantom power.
Heritage Audio 1084 (link for Sweetwater price check) is an example of a standalone solid-state preamp/EQ with phantom and 80 dB Class A preamp gain; an equalizer.
Utilize Both Gain and Volume on Your Microphone
Sometimes people use gain to denote volume. Volume and gain can be used in different ways if they are understood correctly. Volume is the output signal strength. Gain refers to the input signal strength.
Although changing gain can affect the volume of your microphone, it is not true in reverse. The input signal can change the characteristics and sound quality of your microphone.
Remember to use volume and gain effectively when you use your microphone next time.
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What is mic gain? Should mic gain be high or low?
Talk at the volume you intend to use at the microphone distance you will be using. Turn up the gain if the recording level (the sound waveform) is too low. Turn down the gain if the recording level is too high.
What is a good gain level?
It would help if you kept the same idea of optimal gain staging as you used during the recording. -18dBFS is an acceptable average level. It will ensure that your mix has a consistent grain structure.
What is a good microphone sensitivity?
A condenser microphone or active ribbon active microphone will have a sensitivity rating between 8 and 32 mV/Pa (-42 – -30 dBV/Pa). The 8 to 32 mV/Pa range is good for active microphone sensitivity ratings.
How much should I gain stage?
Aim for a minimum of -18 dBFS and maximums around -10. A channel should not exceed -6 dBFS when recording. This range will ensure your success.
Thanks for reading! In conclusion, gaining microphones can be a great way to improve your audio quality. Increasing the gain can make your audio sound louder and clearer. This can be a great way to improve your overall audio quality and make your recordings sound more professional.