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Troubleshooting Microphone Distortion

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  • Troubleshooting Microphone Distortion

    I have been having a bit of a nightmare trying to troubleshoot my home vocal recording set up. The problem is distortion from the mic, which seems like it shouldn't be too hard to solve, and yet I can't deliberately avoid it. It's not all the time, but when I happens I can't solve it, I can just come back later.

    It very much sounds like the mic being overworked just enough to get a little crackle break up, but the basic solutions to that just don't want to work, or at least not reliably.

    Most frustratingly, I don't think the mic is actually the problem. I had the problem on my cheap Behringer XM5800, but I have now replaced it with a Shure SM58 and it still happens exactly the same. The much better mic is not noticably better in this respect.

    If I record a take and hear the distortion, then take half a step back it just flatly refuses to fix the problem. I will just get a take that is too quiet to her the distortion, but once amplified to an audible level it's still there. If anything, crowding up on the mic helps more, and certainly doesn't make the problem worse.

    ​​​​​​I've played with all the various gain and volume knobs I have available too, and it really doesn't seem to make a difference at any stage. In Reaper I hear the distortion whether the incoming signal is at -10dB or -36dB.

    It doesn't seem to matter at all whether I get my mic level from the audio interface box, my separate mic pre-amp, or my microphone monitor. Even just going from the mic into the monitor, which has practically no gain, I can hear if the distortion crops up.​​​​​

    All the little tricks like pointing the mic in a slightly different direction don't seem to make a difference, or at least not reliably. Today the Shure did better pointing up at the top of my head, yesterday it wanted to be aimed to my left.

    The only reliable solution is "sing quieter" which is, frankly, sub-optimal. I'm recording a demo for a metal band, you know?

    Weirdly, screaming so hard I feel feint doesn't seem to cause distortion, not so you'd notice anyway. This problem only shows up in my clean vocals. Yes, only when I'm belting it out, but even so.

    The only thing I have yet to look at is echoes and/or resonance - I have a makeshift vocals booth (think blanket fort) and there is no audible echo picked up on the mic. It's possible that only when I'm very loud at specific frequencies (around G5 is where I mostly get the distortion) something slips through, but that's all I've got.

    ​​​If I might be so direct; what the hell is going on here and how can I fix it?

  • #2
    Tried a different cable yet? You might have a dodgy solder connection on one of the connectors. Although I do admit the chances of a "bad" cable manifesting its "badness" in this fashion is slim to none. Nevertheless, it's one of those things that's so easy to try that you might as well.

    You didn't say whether those mics were purchased new or used. Or whether they're B-stock.

    Sorry, that's all I got. Hope you get it sorted out.


    • #3
      I had to look to see what that Behringer XM5800 was.....Dynamic mic, sort of a clone of a Shure SM58. When you're getting the same problem with the SM58, which can handle intensely loud singers without breaking up, I wouldn't expect the problem being the mic. Perhaps cable issue, as nhbassguitar suggested. What are you using for a mic preamp in your setup? As tweaking the Gain and Volume of the mic preamp stage hasn't yielded a solution, have you tried a different mic preamp/channel, if that's available? Does the preamp have an Attenuator pad (say10dB or so)? I'd try a different preamp, or, if need be, an in-line attenuator (XLR Female-Male).

      These days with so few people in the same TV studio in interviews, I'm hearing gross distortion occurring live on the air, which is probably at the 'talent' end of the broadcast. Sound anything like that breakup? Could be in the digital domain of your recording set-up. Got to be a headroom problem someplace in your signal path all the way to your monitoring chain that's breaking up.
      Logic is an organized way of going wrong with confidence


      • #4
        Check the track in Reaper to see if it's clipping.
        "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man."


        • #5
          Sometimes if I let my vocal chain - mic plugged into cable plugged into preamp - "sit" for a few days (weeks?) I find there's enough corrosion buildup on the connectors to make for a noisy/loss-of-signal condition. Wiggling the connectors seems to clear it up. NB: I have since thrown out the few mic cables that were so grossly out of spec that they really had too much play on the pins/sockets.

          The other possibility (having not heard what your distortion sounds like) is something digital, as others have suggested.
          If it still won't get loud enough, it's probably broken. - Steve Conner
          If the thing works, stop fixing it. - Enzo
          We need more chaos in music, in art... I'm here to make it. - Justin Thomas
          MANY things in human experience can be easily differentiated, yet *impossible* to express as a measurement. - Juan Fahey