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My Podcast Recordings are Too Quiet, How Do I Increase the Gain?

I received a pretty common question today, but delivered in a really interesting way. Let's have a look:

I've committed myself to daily podcasts for a year and a day… offering meditations. I keep the window open and like to have the sound of the birds in.I don't have time to mix or anything, neither during the recording nor afterwards.I encounter the following problem: I have some excellent dynamic mics, Sennheiser M 421 and Schuhe M58, I combine them with the focusrite 2i4, the sound quality is rich and warm, but the volume level is way too low.

My other option is the logitech pro9000 webcam, the quality is nasty, lost of reverb, but the volume is OK.

So I learned more expensive isn't always better, I ‘m ready to spend some money but have no clear idea what will help me. Seems like for my case- my voice is quite soft- condenser would be best, but small or large diaphragm? What brand?

Why's it interesting? Well, most of the time people are asking me how to reduce background noise, or how to cut out unexpected sounds in your environment.  Well, this reader is taking the opposite view. She realises that background noise can add athmosphere and texture to a recording, and so she's embracing it!

The only problem is, her voice is too quiet. So, how do we fix that?

Mic Technique, Not New Kit

So, dear reader, rather than think about a new microphone straight away, it sounds like your problem may be either gain or in being close enough to the microphone. In terms of mic technique, the sound may be improved just by getting right up close to the microphone.

Get yourself a good pop filter and then experiment with different distances between your mouth and the microphone. Go from only a couple of inches back to 12 inches or so and see what gives the best sound.

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Buy Some Clean Gain

If that still doesn't give enough gain, then you might benefit from a simple pre-amp like the Fethead or the Cloudlifter. Both of these do nothing more than sit inbetween your mic and the Focusrite and add a good chunk of clean gain to the signal. They can do wonders for gain hungry mics, of which the Shure SM58 is definitely one.

A New Microphone After All?

Next, to the idea of getting yourself a new condenser. For sure, this will help, as condenser mics are more sensitive than Dynamics and they need much less gain. This is thanks to the phantom power that drives them.

They'll also pick up a bit more of that nice background noise that you describe, although this could be good and bad, depending the volume of the birds compared to other less desirable sounds around your house. If you go that route, I'd recommend the MXL990 – that's my primary podcasting mic and it's great value.

If you're looking for more microphone info, though, check out my podcasting microphone guide. Hope that helps!

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Written by:

Colin Gray

Colin has been teaching people how to podcast since 2007. He's worked with Universities, businesses and hobbyists alike. He started The Podcast Host to share his experience and to help as many people as possible get into Podcasting. He runs Podcraft, to spread the art of podcasting, and does the Mountain Bikes Apart podcast whenever he can. Who doesn't like to talk bikes, after all!

May 28th 2015