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How Much Can a Microphone Hear?


By Stephanie Ciccarelli

December 6, 2009

Comments (16)

Man with a microphone behind himThe microphone is a very sensitive piece of equipment and can pick up just about everything!

What has your microphone picked up when you've listened back to your recordings?

Be sure to comment with what was making noise and how you were able to solve the problem!

Just How Much Does a Mic Pick Up?

Microphones are very sensitive. If you've ever been part of a recording session or edited your own work, you know what I mean!

The microphone is part of the audio signal chain. Whatever is fed into the mic makes it's way into the recording.

According to Bob Bergen, "The mic can hear your hair growing."

The Microphone Also Hears:

๏ Mouth noises
๏ Breathing
๏ Coughing
๏ Audible body movements
๏ Jangling jewelery
๏ Wind-up watches
๏ Clothing ruffling
๏ Touching the music stand
๏ Rolling pencils
๏ Pages being turned
๏ Extraneous noises
๏ Room tone

While we're at it, don't wear anything that might obstruct your access to the microphone or being picked up by the microphone. If you are wearing a baseball cap, turn it backwards so that the rim doesn't hit the microphone.

What Has Your Microphone Picked Up?

Has anything prevented you from getting a good take?

What steps do you take before recording to ensure that you won't have any additional noise?

I'd love to hear your stories and also learn more about how you were able to either solve the problem or compensate.

Best wishes,


©iStockphoto.com/Pascal Genest

Related Topics: audio recording, editing, Microphones, sessions, voice acting, voiceovers


    Just having completed another audio book project, I am very sensitive to this issue. I've had to redo takes because of a mouth noise and clicks, noise made from clothing or even a seemingly slight touch, rub or scratch of the face. I now think carefully about what I'm wearing, eating, and my own movements before I begin to record.

    Working on an audio book can be hard work and time consuming, but it can help you practice to be more consistent and aware of the sounds your microphone can pick up.

    Posted by:

      My mic picks up the low level hum of the central heating system, something I never normally hear with the "naked ear"! I always make sure I switch it off before I record. I also make sure I'm wearing a warm jumper...

      Posted by:
      • Helen
      • December 6, 2009 5:16 PM

        There are a couple of points here, I reckon. The first is that if you've got a sensitive mic - a large diaphragm condenser, for example - it will probably pick up just about everything. I've been caught out like this before. It's so tempting sometimes to slob around the house in the mornings and do the odd bit of recording in my dressing gown, but the thing is... it rustles - and my mic picks it up.

        If you're using a dynamic mic, or something that's hyper-directional then you might be more lucky, but I've learned the hard way not to wear either a baseball cap, for exactly the reason you mention (!) or even a dress shirt, because I can hear the collar moving...

        This brings me back to another pet subject of mine: you need to wear headphones! There's been a lot of talk about how you should let it all hang out, and that your delivery is more natural without them. But if you can't hear what the mic is picking up then sooner or later you're going to have to go back and re-record something that you catch in the edit. And that might be a couple of hours of work. Our brains do a wonderful job of filtering out everything we don't need to hear, to stop us from going mad. Wearing headphones is your way of short-circuiting that part of the brain and making yourself aware of exactly what's going onto the recording track.

        Posted by:

          Some things that I've picked up in the past include, the cat purring (hiding under the chair), The wind-chimes outside, a creaky stair. And the dreaded computer hum! Which I get around by capturing the hum as a noise reduction profile. (really must get around to installing a quieter fan!)

          Posted by:
          • Carole
          • December 7, 2009 10:22 AM

            Doing mostly audio books, I agree with Paul H. ---- a person can get pretty sensitive to the things a mic can pick up.

            So far, I've picked up my dog sniffing at the recording booth door; my head touching a foam panel and my stomach growling like the Hounds of the Baskervilles ;o)

            Ran Alan Ricard
            Voice Artist
            'Don't Just Get Voice Over ... Get Ran Over!'
            soli una stamos

            Posted by:

              While recording Woody Allen's vocals on "Everyone Says I Love You" I had to go into the vocal booth and ask Woody to please empty his pockets. He had his hand in them and was jingling his change. He asked: "Oh, can you hear that?" I responded: "This is a $ 3,000 mic - I can hear the hairs in your nose when you breathe!"

              Posted by:
              • Roy Yokelson
              • December 7, 2009 11:06 AM

                OMG! I had the most confusing, annoying, confounding and mysterious situation awhile back. There was a noise I was hearing in my recordings-- a dull thud kind of sound.....At first I thought it was my inhales which can be rather sonorous, but that wasn't it. Then I thought it was my body moving, but after nearly putting myself in a straight jacket so as to prevent any movement, I discovered that that wasn't it. Finally I had to have an audio engineer friend stop by to help me figure it out. My music stand was the culprit! My voice was reverberating off the metal stand!! A simple solution-- remove it or swath it in felt. I opted for the former and now my recordings are sweet and thudless!



                Posted by:
                • Debbie Irwin
                • December 7, 2009 11:07 AM

                  Made the mistake a few years back of wearing a new wrinkle-free LL Bean button down oxford. The engineer informed me that my shirt was "too noisy."

                  Since then, I stick to soft tops such as mock turtlenecks or golf polos, rubber soled shoes etc. I've also hit the music stand a couple of times and noticed that President Obama occasionally has as well.

                  Have a joyous week.


                  Posted by:
                  • David Cook
                  • December 7, 2009 11:08 AM

                    Right now my mic is picking up rain drops! It's raining! It is really raining here in San Diego. My backup plan is to set up my travel recorder in my ISDN closet which is in the house - which has a crawl space in the roof so that I don't hear the rain drops. My studio has no crawl space - and the insulation and upholstery have helped considerably, but when the skies open up (which is rarely), I can't do much recording in here.

                    Stomach growing has gotten me. And once in a session at someone else's studio we had to boot the cat due to his purring.

                    Posted by:

                      I had a big problem with my computer being too loud. So I had my husband install a quiet CPU fan and also lined the inside of my computer box with a sound insulator called Dynamat. Since that I did those 2 things, I have not gotten any complaints from clients.

                      Wendy Brown

                      Posted by:
                      • Wendy Brown
                      • December 7, 2009 12:14 PM

                        My Neumann TLM 193 can pick up crumbs off the floor! It can also detect when I'm ready for lunch. More good takes have been ruined by my growling stomach than I like to say, but it's true. I've also become keenly aware of certain types of fabric that I'll no longer wear in the booth, as they will make noise with the slightest movement that I become only aware of during playback.
                        Thanks for listening!
                        All The Best,
                        Bobbin Beam

                        Posted by:

                          Sometimes I like to use my studio to record music as well....this past Halloween I was listening to some playback of me playing piano and I noticed the strangest creaking noise. I had no idea what it was because I couldn't hear it when I was recording. It started to get very creepy! Then I realized the piano pedal was making a tiny creak every time I used it. The mic picked it up so loudly!

                          Posted by:

                            What has my mic picked up? Let's see, my stomach rumbling, my cat meowing, and scratching her post, the leaf-blowing lunatics next door, fire trucks, a clock ticking, a leaking scuba tank, and an earth tremor.

                            Posted by:
                            • VOX Daily Reader
                            • December 7, 2009 4:48 PM

                              Oh, yeah, and my downstairs neighbors ceiling fan.

                              Posted by:
                              • Anonymous
                              • December 7, 2009 4:50 PM

                                Aside from the occasional 'click', which thankfully occurs at the END of a phrase and can be easily edited out, I've heard the shower downstairs on my cardiod, and now that the folks downstairs have moved out, a hammer -- as the landlord gets the place ready for new tenants.

                                Someone who posted earlier mentioned to always wear headphones, but that depends on your setup; it can be misleading, because not everything you hear on headphones gets written to track. If you're running a high- or low-pass filter, and have your settings tweaked "just right", a lot of these incidental noises (hums, room noise, even leaf blowers, etc.) will never make it to your edit window. You may hear it in your ears, but not on playback.

                                Posted by:

                                  Noise has always been, and always will be a problem. I have tried various ways of curtailing the noises in my room. I have my Computer tower in a sound insulated closet, (Leaving plenty of room for it to breath). I have switched to quieter fans both in my computer and my digital board, (but I still get a little from the exposed board). But the easiest way to handle noise is to use a noise gate.It shuts the mic off when your not talking into it. I currently use the gate in my Digital board now, but my road rig uses a DBX 363x. Pretty cheap on Ebay...under 50 bucks I believe, and don't be afraid to push those levels, you want the greatest distance between the noise floor and your voice level as you can get.

                                  One more thing...go to your room, shut everything off,(even the lights) and just listen....if you can hear it...so can your mic, (As a matter of fact, at my age IT can hear ALOT better than I can)

                                  John McCann
                                  Audioeast Recording

                                  Posted by:
                                  • John McCann
                                  • December 10, 2009 11:49 PM

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