How To Set Up A Digital Microphone

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Microphones are arguably the most important tool that any audio engineer should have at his disposal.

With the proliferation of microphones that you can plug right into your computer via USB, the intricacies of calibrating an audio interface and software have largely been eliminated for most basic recording applications.

xlr cablesHowever, in the event that you choose to integrate a more sophisticated audio interface with multiple XLR inputs into your setup, it can be helpful to know the basics of how to achieve proper signal flow with a single microphone that isn’t necessarily “plug-and-play”.

Types of Microphones

Although there are several different types of microphones available in the audio industry, the most common types of microphones  classed as:

  • Dynamic microphones
  • Condenser microphones

Certain microphones, like the Shure RS230 , have an on/off switch that needs to be engaged before signal can be routed, whereas others, like the Sennheiser 835, can be simply plugged in.

In order to plug the mic into the interface, you’ll need an XLR cable. Simply plug the ‘female’ end of the cable into the microphone, and then plug the ‘male’ end of the cable into the XLR input of the interface, which is usually labeled as ‘Input’ or ‘Mic’.

Integrate With Your DAW

Secondly, you open up your DAW of choice (for this article, we’ll use Reaper), and create an audio track to determine whether there is signal coming from the mic.

In Reaper, you can do this by pressing Cmd or Ctrl+T to create the track, changing the track input from ‘Front Left / Front Right’ to ‘Front Left’, and then arming (i.e. switching on the track to record a signal by pressing the red button on the far left) the track so you can check the level of the signal prior to recording.

How to Test Your Connection

Afterwards, you speak a repetitive phrase, such as, “Testing, testing, one, two, three…,” or “Mic check…”, into the microphone and monitor the level of the signal.

The goal for the signal is to reach a level that is adequately loud enough, (i.e. ‘hot’) while not being so loud that it clips the channel. But given that most human voices tend to have a fairly wide dynamic range, this part of the process can be a little tricky.

The most effective technique that I’ve found is speaking one of the above-mentioned phrases into the mic at a level that is firm, controlled, and consistent. Once you’ve found a level that is hot enough, you can then record the signal by pressing Cmd or Ctrl+R.

Of course, if you come across a situation in which a random word that you spoke a little too forcefully caused the signal to redline like a stop light, it can be helpful to insert a compressor or limiter as a pre-effect in order to prevent those unruly transients from distorting.

In Reaper, this can be done by simply clicking the ‘Input FX’ button on the track, selecting a dynamic range processor, and then setting up the device accordingly to properly limit the signal, like so.

That’s It – Now You’re Ready to Get to Work