Improving your show: Check your Microphone

There is one guarantee when DJing, there will be microphone problems.  Sometimes the microphone is very low or very loud, or the quality is just dreadful.  The quality and settings of your microphone will make or break your show in Second Life (and online). I have attended a lot of shows where the DJ was playing great music but their microphone quality was horrible immediately turning me off.  I myself have had microphone problems turning a potentially great show into a horrible experience. Before a gig, perform a simple microphone test, turn on your microphone, talk into it and monitor the levels.  This process takes as little as 5 minute or as long as 30.  While a microphone test does help you determine if something is wrong, or how ineffective your microphone is there are ways to improve your microphone quality.  The factors for better quality are: the quality of your microphone, your hardware and sound settings, and your software sound settings.

The Quality of Your Microphone

Not every microphone is created equal, some just get the job done others provide a really great quality.  The difference in quality doesn’t always affect your wallet; there are great quality microphones at very low prices. While aiming for quality, there may not be much of a difference between a USB and a 3.5mm analog headset, I find there is a difference in the ability to control your microphone settings.  When DJing with Winamp with a USB headset you may not be able to control the settings of your microphone; this deals with the fact that your microphone is not connected directly into your sound card.  SAM Broadcaster does not have this problem, it allows you to choose different inputs and outputs for music and voice.  I recommend the Plantronics .650 headset because it works as either a USB or analog headset.  For greater microphone control a unidirectional microphone and mixer are required.  For a microphone, I use the Shure SM58 which is a great microphone often used in studios, for those on a smaller budget the Shure C606WD will perform quite well.  There are several types of mixers you can purchase, but a simple two or four channel mixer will do just fine, two great choices are the Gemini PS121x or the ART PowerMIX l.

If you go the mixer route you may need to purchase quarter inch to 1 male 1/8 inch wire so that you can plug it into your computer.  They are very easy to get at a Radio Shack or music store.

Hardware and Sound Settings

The hardware you use is very important, especially when it comes to using the microphone.  I have always had issues with integrated sound cards, generally found on laptops and budget computers.  While they played music great, when using my microphone with Winamp I would always get static and interference.  While SAM Broadcaster seems to not have this problem and the quality of integrated sound cards have improved I still recommend having either an external or PCI sound card. My choices of sound cards are all made by Creative, they have sound cards that fits any budget, and you really don’t need to spend a lot to get great quality.  For desktop users the Creative Sound Blaster SE is a great choice and provides everything you need, if you want something fancier the Sound Blaster Audigy 2, Audigy 4 or the X-Fi XtremeGamer series are what you’re looking for.  For laptop or external sound card users, the Audigy 2 NX provides great quality and takes up very little space.

After having your PCI or External sound card in place (or maybe you already have one), there’s one important setting you should make sure you have one – Mic Boost.  Mic Boost amplifies the sound of your microphone plugged in through your microphone jack on your computer.  Even with a mixer you may require use of this setting.  To check that Mic Boost is on, go to Control Panel -> Sounds and Audio Devices -> then click advanced under the Volume tab to display the mixer.  While in the mixer click on Options -> Advanced and an advanced button should appear under your microphone setting.  Click on advanced and make sure “Mic Boost” is selected.  The only time that you don’t want to use Mic Boost is if your voice is deafening loud.  Otherwise you can tweak your microphone settings through your software.

Software Sound Settings

Both Winamp and SAM Broadcaster can control how the loudness of the microphone. There is no uniform setting; every computer has a different setting. However, in my experience my mic has always been between -1 and -5 db.  The best way to know how loud you are is to perform a sound test or mic check (as mentioned above).  Turn on your mic and begin talking and look at your input levels.  If you’re consistently at -1 or 0 db, you’re too loud; if you are at -10 and below, generally you’re too soft.  My general rule of thumb is that while talking, my input should be either between -6 to -1 or at the same level that my music is playing.  If all my music peaks at -9 then while talking my music should peak at -9.  (Note: -9 is pretty low, you may receive complaints about being very low.)

Another suggestion is to record yourself.  SAM Broadcaster has the ability to record your broadcast, use it and then listen to it.  See how high or how low you really are.  Then, as a final thought, test with your friends and ask them if your voice is significantly lower than the music playing.  If you ask “Do I sound fine?” your friends may just say yes not to hurt your feelings.  If you say “Hey is my voice really low compared to the music playing?” they will be able to answer that without hurting your feelings.

My final tip is that if you have the correct settings and correctly configure your microphone you should be able to talk normally. Some DJ’s feel that they have to shout or unable to DJ because their voice is to low or soft. This is a myth; a person’s voice can always be amplified without needing to break the bank. There is no such thing as a voice that is too low if you have the right hardware and have calibrated the microphone settings correctly. You don’t need a studio space or expensive equipment to get high quality sound from your microphone, just find the right things that work best for you.

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5 Responses to Improving your show: Check your Microphone

  1. Mark Briggs says:

    I have a problem with Second Life that I hope you can help me with. I'm running an X-Fi Elite Pro Card. When I go to the log in page of SL, My effects mute on my Mic. The Small amount of reverb I use is completely gone and the voice is totally dry.
    Your help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Mark

  2. Hey Mark, I've been trying to duplicate your problem on my end with very little success. So far I've figured out that it has to do with your EAX. What happens is that EAX gets activated with programs such as Second Life. With Second Life's voice component the two may be interfering. You may want to turn off voice in Second Life, and see if that works for you.

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