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Why is the Condenser Mic So Quiet?

Condenser microphones are great for recording all kinds of sounds, especially on vocals. But if not set up properly, you may find the microphone to be extremely quiet. So how do we fix that?

If you’re using a USB microphone, you can:

  1. Check the USB connection & cable.
  2. Increase the input volume.
  3. Use the Microphone Boost option on Windows.

Otherwise, if you’re using an XLR condenser microphone, here are the exact steps you can take to tackle this issue:

  1. Connect to audio interface or mixer.
  2. Turn on phantom power.
  3. Check XLR connection & cable.
  4. Check the input gain.

For both the USB and XLR condenser microphones:

  1. Record closer to the microphone.
  2. Make sure you’re recording on the correct side.

Now let’s go into further detail on how we can increase the volume of the condenser microphone!

USB Condenser Microphone

Check the USB connection & cable.

First and foremost, you should double-check your USB connection. If you haven’t done so, try unplugging and plugging in the USB cable to your computer again, and make sure it is secure.

If you have another USB cable handy, try to use that one instead and see if your recording is still quiet. If using another USB cable solves the issue, the previous cable is probably broken.

Also, try to use another USB port on your computer. Although chances are small, that particular USB port may have issues.

Increase the input volume.

Try increasing the input volume on your operating system settings. On Windows 10, you can do the following:

  1. Go to the bottom right-hand corner of your screen.
  2. Right-click on the speaker icon.
  3. Click “Sound”.
  4. Select the “Recording” tab.
  5. Right-click on your microphone.
  6. Click “Properties”.
  7. Select the “Levels” tab.
  8. Increase the volume.

Use the Microphone Boost option on Windows.

Following the steps from the section above, you may see another option called “Microphone Boost”. If your condenser microphone is still quiet after increasing the volume to its max, you can try increasing the “Microphone Boost” option too.

Beware though, using this option may increase the noise in your recording. So if you’re getting a reasonable volume without using this option, you should just leave it as it is.

If your USB condenser microphone is still very quiet, scroll down to the section “All Condenser Microphones“.

XLR Condenser Microphone

Connect to audio interface or mixer.

When you use an XLR condenser microphone, you should connect it to an audio interface, a mixer, or a standalone preamp. The reason for this is that the audio signal is transmitted at the mic level, which means it is very small and needs to be boosted for us to hear it.

In the audio world, we generally have 4 types of signal levels, and they are:

  • Mic level
  • Instrument level
  • Line level
  • Speaker level

Mic level being the weakest of the four, if plugged straight into the speakers, will be too quiet for us to hear. Therefore, we need a preamp to amplify the audio signal. Generally, using an audio interface or mixer is the best way to go about it, but if you’re at a more advanced level you may choose to use a standalone preamp for the job.

In short, if you’re currently not using an audio interface, a mixer, or an external preamp, you should definitely do so, and it should increase your microphone’s volume.

Turn on phantom power.

Most condenser microphones require electricity to function. And for XLR condenser microphones, typically they use phantom power (+48V) for supplying them with the necessary power.

Phantom power is safe and convenient. Most audio interfaces and mixers will have phantom power built-in. To engage it, simply look for the switch labeled as “48V” and press it. The light should light up to indicate phantom power is now on.

Note that phantom power is supplied by the same XLR cable you’re connecting from the microphone to the audio interface or mixer for recording purposes. Therefore there is no need to worry about another power cable for the microphone.

Make sure to engage phantom power (+48V) when you’re recording using a condenser microphone. Otherwise, you’ll either get a very quiet signal or no signal at all.

Check XLR connection & cable.

Is your XLR cable functioning as it should? Try disconnecting and connecting again. If that fails, use another XLR cable if you have a spare. Although XLR cables are designed to last for a long time, you may have a bad cable at hand. If changing the XLR cable increases the microphone volume, it may very well mean your previous XLR cable is broken.

That doesn’t mean you need to through it away immediately. You can actually open up the connector and see if anything is shorted, or if any connection has come loose. You can bring the XLR cable to your local music store and let them have a look too. Believe it or not, XLR cables are pretty easy to fix for a professional, so try fixing it first before you throw the cable away.

Check the input gain.

Is your input gain knob on the audio interface or mixer turned up? Make sure you’re using the correct knob for that particular input channel.

However, you shouldn’t need to turn it all the way up. If it’s around three-quarters of the way up, and the microphone signal is still too quiet, there’s probably a problem somewhere else.

Try singing into the microphone while connected to the audio interface or mixer. Is the indicator for the input channel lighting up? Typically the color green shows that the input volume is good and ready to record. If it’s lighting up, the problem is most likely to be a software issue rather than hardware. However, if it’s not lighting up, or the volume shown is very low, then the problem is somewhere between the microphone and the audio interface.

Don’t give up yet! Try the steps below and see if you’re able to increase the condenser microphone’s volume.

All Condenser Microphones

Record closer to the microphone.

Are you recording close enough to the microphone? A good distance is around 5 to 10 inches from the mouth of the singer to the microphone.

Don’t get closer than 4 inches from the microphone! Recording that close to a microphone will introduce what is known as the Proximity Effect. Basically, that will boost the low frequencies of your voice and ruin the vocal recording.

Similarly, don’t get further than 12 inches away from the microphone. Not only will the vocal be too small for the condenser microphone to pick it up in detail but the microphone will also pick up a lot of room sound. For vocals in a modern song, we want to record a clean and dry vocal to add specific effects later on in our Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). So avoid recording that far away from the microphone.

Make sure you’re recording on the correct side.

Many condensers look like they have 2 sides to record, but in reality, only 1 of the sides actually does the recording. Look up the manual of your particular microphone and check if you’re recording on the correct side!

A lot of singers prefer to shoot videos with their microphone facing the wrong way, due to the fact that the side that actually picks up sound is usually colored. So from the camera’s perspective, seeing the colored side of the microphone is usually more appealing to the audience. But don’t do that if you’re actually recording!

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