Cable Basics For Singers

When a new singer starts collecting gear for doing gigs, something that can be very confusing is the kind of cables needed. First I’ll show pictures of the different cables connectors most commonly used so you’ll know what I’m talking about. There are two primary kinds of connectors, and they can be mixed on the same cable. (I will be speaking in general terms for this blog entry, there are exceptions to some things.) I will repeat some important concepts in different ways because, well they’re important.

XLR
Xlr-connectors
XLR to XLR cables are typically “balanced” and provide more signal strength for weak audio sources like microphones, while protecting the weak signal from radio interference.

1/4 INCH
Either BALANCED/TRS (Tip-Ring-Shield) or UNBALANCED/TS (Tip-Shield)

TRS TS ENDS
You may occasionally hear people call a TRS plug “stereo” and a TS plug “mono”. This isn’t the best terminology for our application as singers, but be aware that the terms are sometimes used. I’ll cover this again shortly.

Here are the kinds of cables I use, a very common setup:
Cable between the microphone and mixer: XLR female to XLR male, 25ft
Cable between the mixer and the speaker: XLR female to XLR male, 15-25ft
Cable between the mixer and the monitor: TRS to XLR male, 15ft (my mixer has a TRS “MON SEND” output. The monitor itself will accept either XLR male or TRS.)

Other combinations commonly seen in bands:
TRS to TRS
TS to TS (typically used for powered instruments that have a strong signal)
TS to XLR Male (typically used for powered instruments that have a strong signal)
XLR Female to TS (typically used for powered instruments that have a strong signal)

STEREO VS MONO
I’ll clarify something right now because people (like myself when first starting) get confused about mono and stereo, and the different kinds of cables. People imagine that “stereo is better”, so they want a “stereo mic cable”. A typical singer’s microphone is MONO. An XLR cable carries that mono signal to the mixer, even when the other end has a “stereo” 1/4-inch or 1/8-inch connector on it. The “stereo” plug is more correctly called a “balanced” plug in this situation. (A TRS cable can indeed carry a stereo signal or two signals, but only for certain instruments. It is better to think of it as “balanced”.)

Balanced means it is using the three pins to send the signal in a way that doubles the signal strength and minimizes signal interference, which lets you run longer cables without picking up odd signals from radio. The balanced 1/4-inch plug is also called a “TRS” plug (Tip, Ring, Shield from the old telephone operator days). The three pins on the XLR end match the three parts of the 1/4-inch TRS plug.

A “mono” 1/4-inch or “unbalanced” plug is called a TS plug (Tip, Shield). TS cables are sometimes a bit cheaper, but for singers are often not the best choice. I’ll repeat some of these concepts a few times. TS cables are usually intended for powered instruments, not microphones. They can work, but the signal strength is usually half of a TRS connection, and are more susceptible to Radio and CB Radio interference.
TRS TS ENDS

Usually a microphone cable will have XLR connectors on both ends. But sometimes, a microphone cable will have an XLR connector for the mic, and a 1/4-inch plug on the end that goes into a mixer board or directly to a powered speaker input. If the plug has 3 sections, it is a balanced TRS plug. If it has 2 sections, it is an unbalanced TS plug. Either kind will work, but TS carries half the signal strength. Typically, it is preferable to have the XLR or TRS kind to minimize any radio interference with the microphone cable. Instruments will most often use cables with 1/4-inch plugs on both ends, and they are almost always TS plugs because they don’t require signal protection.

MORE ABOUT MONO AND STEREO
A mixer board at a live performance will typically only output mono (the same signal through both speakers) unless you use the pan knobs to separate various inputs into left or right. But it is very rare that you would ever want to move the pan knobs from the center at a gig.

I’ll say that again: At a live gig, the output from both speakers is nearly always mono, even with multiple speakers on each side. This is because the audience on one side still wants to hear all of the music, and they won’t if only half of the band is playing through the speaker on their side. The pan knobs are usually left in the neutral middle position.

KINDS OF INPUT AND CABLE TYPES FOR SINGERS
– unbalanced mono (instrument, strong signal doesn’t benefit from signal protection). This can use a TS cable, though a TRS may work. Typically, you would never connect an instrument to an XLR input on a mixer board because the board is expecting a microphone on that kind of input. It isn’t impossible, but more rare.

– balanced mono (mic, soft signal benefits from signal protection). If the output end is a 1/4-inch plug it should be a TRS cable, though a TS will still work but at a much lower strength.

Microphone cables should almost always use XLR connectors on each end (female-male). If the far end of a microphone cable is a 1/4-inch connector, it should be a TRS connector for the best signal quality. However, a TS connector will still work but with half the strength.

A general standard of XLR Cables:
Signals come out of a Male XLR (part with pins) (such as Male XLR connector on a cable to the mixer board Mic 1 input).
Signals go into a Female XLR (such as microphone with Male pins into Female XLR connector on a cable)

XLR inputs on mixers and powered speakers are typically only for microphones (“mic level” input), or there may be a switch on the device that you can set to Mic or Line Level (meaning an instrument like a keyboard or guitar). Most instruments have a much stronger signal than a microphone and will typically have a 1/4-inch TS plug for attaching to the mixer or speaker. The mixer board may also have a “Hi-Z” (high impedance) button if an instrument like a guitar is being plugged into a particular port. It tells the board that you aren’t using a microphone and to handle the signal differently.

SUMMARY
I hope this helps you to understand better what the various kinds of cables and connector are, and how they are typically used.

Behringer CT100 Cable Tester

Quick Guide PDF Download: Behringer_CT100_Cable_Tester_examples

I recently bought a Behringer CT100 cable tester. I have a lot of different audio cables, and this gizmo is great for testing whether or not there are intermittent problems (shorts or breaks). A cable that otherwise looks fine may be hiding a broken wire that works sometimes, but then cuts out during a gig. That’s a big problem.

The main issue with the tester that I’ve heard from others is the lack of clear instructions. There are at least a couple of good videos on YouTube showing the basic functions of the tester and how to connect cables. I’ll give a brief look at it here and explain how to read the results. You can download a Quick Guide PDF to take with you using the link at the top of this page.

It is a 6-in-1 tester, meaning it was designed to test 6 different kinds of cables:

  1. XLR [X is from the Canon X-series connectors. L is for Latch. R is for rubber-coated] This is a standard microphone cable connector.
  2. 1/4 inch (TS, TRS) May also work with B-gauge (tip is different shape)
  3. RCA (phono)
  4. TT (Tiny Telephone, also called Bantam TT, 4.4mm) This is most common on “patch bays” for audio gear. I don’t have any of these to test. They are similar to the TRS plugs, but with small rounded Tips and an indented Ring.
  5. Midi (tests 3 middle pins only)
  6. 1/8 inch (3.5mm)

Essentially, the tester lights up a grid of red LEDs to show if there is a good connection on each wire in the cable from one end to the other. Once connected, you can move the cables around to see if any of the “intermittent” lights come on. If they do, there is either a break in one or more wires. If more than one light per row or column lights-up, there may be wires shorting (connecting when they shouldn’t).

HOW TO USE
1. With the device off, plug each end of a cable is plugged into the device. One end always goes into an INPUT connection, and the other end always to an OUTPUT connection.
2. Turn the device on, moving the slider switch to the “cable tester” position.
3. The grid of LEDs will light up. Press the reset button to clear the “intermittent” lights and show just the ones the tester detects.
4. Interpret the results

RESULTS
There are three rows of LEDs for input and three columns of LEDs for outputs.
For most cables, you want Pin 1 on the Input to light up with Pin 1 on the Output, Pin 2 with Pin 2, Pin 3 (if it exists) with Pin 3.
A cable with 3 pins like an XLR M/F will light up diagonally like this:
XLR to XLR
XLR MALE TO TRS
1-8 TO 1-8 TRS
RCA TT MIDI

For cables with only two “pins” expected, like RCA cables, it will only light two of the LEDs:
RCA TO RCA

If there is a break in a wire that happens when the cable is moved, the Intermittent light should light for whichever wire it detects.

If there is a short in a wire, then more than one light will appear in a column or row (For example, if pin 1 of Input goes to pin 1 of Output, that light will turn on, but if pin 2 of the Output is also electrically connected to pin 1 of the Input, then the two right LEDs on the top row would light). Shorts are more rare than wire breaks.

HOWEVER…
The odd part of this tester is when we plug in a cable with just two “pins” into the 1/4-inch jacks or the 1/8-inch jacks. This part is not documented with the very short manual that comes with the unit, so I’m showing some pictures here of what to expect and how to interpret what you are seeing.

Many 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch cables are “mono” or “unbalanced”, also called “TS” cables. These only have a tip and a shield portion, no “ring” portion. The tester doesn’t have separate inputs for these kinds of cables, so when they are inserted into the TRS holes, the tester thinks there are pins shorted, typically pins 1 and 3, with 2 being the Tip. This causes an unusual pattern on the LEDs, however it is the correct pattern for this kind of cable on this tester.

XLR CONN PINS

When the cable has been wired with standard polarity (1 and 3 being joined together or shorted on the Shield, and pin 2 going to Tip), the results should look like this:
TS TO TS

This shows Pin 1 of the input lighting up pins 1 and 3 on the output. Since they are wired together on Shield that makes sense. This is also true of Pin 3 of the Input (lights pins 1 and 3 of the output). Pin 2 (Tip) of the input lights up Pin 2 of the Output, so that is also correct.

This is the correct lighting for these correctly wired cables:
XLR to TS
TS to XLR
TS to TS (1/4 or 1/8-inch)

WHEN THINGS ARE NOT WIRED CORRECTLY
Here is an article about some cables that are inverted polarity (pin 3 as TIP instead of pin 2).
https://www.prosoundtraining.com/2010/03/11/which-pin-is-hot-and-when-does-it-matter/

I encountered such a cable today in my box ‘o cables. Here is what it looks like on the CT100. The XLR is on the output side. Pins 1 and 2 show shorted and Pin 3 is on the Tip of the input TS.

TS TO XLR FEMALE

Normally it would be Pins 1 and 3 shorted and Pin 2 on tip. But this is a reverse-polarity XLR to TS cable. (I’m not sure why I even have it, but it proved handy for this blog entry).

If I got anything way wrong, please comment.

4.3GB file limit when shooting in HD modes (Panasonic HC-WXF1 camcorder)

I recently shot in regular HD mode (MP4, 1080p, 28M) and something odd happened that I didn’t see in the documentation for the camera. It auto-split the file when it reached 4.3GB, actually it did this twice during the show.

I used to use a Sony camera that did this at 2GB due to file size limits of the operating system of Windows, and they were trying to make it easier for most customers. I assume that this 4.3GB limit is for people that make DVDs (4.7GB size limit).

I had shot in this mode to save time downsampling from 4K later. Since the split happened partway through a song, I had to do some geekery to join the two files and then extract the song. That took hours of running scripts, so I didn’t save any time. Would have been nice to know about it ahead of time, so I’m posting here for others.

The geekery (which worked but may have been overkill) was to turn the video files into M2TS files, save the audio files as WAV, use Audacity to join the WAV files, use tsmuxer to join the M2TS files, use ffmpeg to turn the joined WAV into AAC, then use ffmpeg to blend the audio with the video and extract the songs clips that had been arbitrarily divided by the camera. Sheesh!

HANDHELD MICROPHONES FOR SINGERS (basic)

Eventually, I hope to do a video showing exactly how to set up a mixer board and do a proper side-by-side comparison of mics. Until then, here are some basics for singers about choosing a microphone. I’ve also added some notes about mixer boards.

This started as a small article that blossomed into a lot more as I kept adding bits of information and advice. It should be quite helpful for new singers and possibly even for veteran singers, because we should all learn from each other.

This article is to help singers understand the basics of handheld microphone types, how different mic patterns affect your singing style, and why you might like one kind versus another. It is sadly common that even music stores that sell the mics won’t know the differences and how they change the way a singer uses the mic. Often the sales-person leans towards one or two mics and that is all a singer may encounter. In the last store I visited with a new singer, they gave her two mics, a cord, and a portable loudspeaker and had her try them in a small room. Not the best way at all, but I was there and made it work well enough to test the two mics.

WHY THIS ARTICLE?
I have been singing publicly for the past 7 years, and my social group is mostly other singers and instrumentalists. Especially in the past 4 years, I’ve been studying handheld microphone types, mic handling technique, mic equalization, and how to select a microphone by actually testing and comparing them. Singers are largely unaware that different mics will make them sound differently, and that is the primary thrust of this article.

I’ve also encountered a fair share of “I’m a pro, and this is the mic EVERYONE should use”, particularly from those who have been in the business for decades. I’ve even seen singers select a very nice mic, only to turn around and also buy “THE mic” because a pro shamed the singer into buying it. I’ve covered this previously in my blog article “MIC SHAMING”. As I point out in that article, nothing compares to testing mics side by side, each one set up on a mixer board and EQ tweaked to get the best sound for that mic and for your particular singing voice.
mic-test

The reason for this test is simple. This is the only way to really hear how a particular microphone design shapes your voice, and to hear the differences in the microphones themselves versus the difference in a whole sound system and room (both of which also change how you sound). It also gives you the opportunity to see how proximity effect (a boomy bass quality from having your mouth very close to the mic grill) changes the sound of your voice on different mics. It also shows how mic patterns differ, and how the the pattern affects how you can actually use the mic (example: most cardioid mics will sound odd with the singer being right up on the grill, but most super-cardioid and hyper-cardioid mics are designed to have the singer that close).

Once you have settled on a particular mic, it is often a good idea to always use that mic wherever you go because you will get used to how it responds to your voice, and other perfectly good mics may respond very differently and distract you during a performance. I’ll revisit this idea at the end of the article.

MICROPHONE GENERAL NOTES
There are a few different general microphone types, and understanding the design of your microphone is important. Advances in technology have been made in the past 40 years, and microphones that were go-to models for singers for years now have strong competition from mics with more modern design. I’m not going to cover wireless options in this blurb, though the “patterns” are still the same.

I’ll end with three common microphone manufacturers and the mics often chosen by singers.

1. This one bears repeating. It is important to read up on how to choose a microphone, and to not buy one simply because “pro singer X said to buy this one”. You may find by testing microphones side by side that you prefer the sound of a different mic. I just helped a singer pick out a mic at a local music store, and the “go-to” mic sounded harsher to us than the mic she chose at the end of the test for an equivalent price. Sometimes that sound quality isn’t apparent until you can hear them side by side.

2. Also note that “more expensive” doesn’t translate to “this is a better mic for my voice”. Nothing compares to a side-by-side test that has been properly set up.

3. Mic pattern (which I’ll discuss shortly) is another consideration. Some singers love being right up on the microphone grill, and others seem to have a hard time staying close to the mic. The mic pattern will help determine what kind of mic to get, and the other part is simply learning how to use the mic properly. Almost all mics should be pointed directly at your mouth and held so that you are speaking directly into the mic from about 2-3 inches away.

4. Don’t “cup” the mic (see pic below), even if famous singer/rapper X does. Cupping is holding the grill/cage of the mic instead of the handle. It is a VERY bad mic technique, even if you think it looks cool. The sound becomes weird, and the sound board has to be tweaked a lot to compensate for this bad technique. Hold the mic by the handle. You don’t need to have a tight death-drip on it, but keep your hand away from the mic grill.
mic-cupping

5. NEVER drop the mic. The whole idea of dropping mics on purpose is stupid. It was intended as a final visual puctuation mark after saying something really profound. But it ruins the mic, and even an average mic is about $120, some are more then $400. You drop it, you bought it. It also makes a super loud BANG and may also cause a shrieking feedback in the monitors. All in all, a very stupid and expensive thing to do, especially with someone else’s equipment.

TWO PRIMARY MICROPHONE TYPES
Dynamic: Non-powered mic, very common for singers, durable. Larger diaphragms can deliver sensitivity close to a handheld condenser mic. If you are going to take your mic to jams and expect to switch out the shared mic for your own, you want a Dynamic kind of mic.

Condenser: Requires power either from a battery or over the mic cable from the mixer board that has “phantom power”. Condenser mics are very sensitive to sound (and damage). Phantom power is usually 48v, though occasionally it is 15v. Condenser mics are said to deliver a better fidelity of sound than dynamic mics, but for most singers the difference is not noticable. I’ve seen several say that they only use condenser mics for quiet instruments or as a non-handheld studio mic. It is also important not to disconnect a condenser mic from the cord while the mixer board is turned on, as the phantom power will cause a very loud POP which is harmful to the speakers. This is why Condenser type mics are not good to take to jams where you want to switch out the shared mic for your own.

MICROPHONE PATTERNS (how the mic picks up sound)
The microphone pattern represents how a microphone picks up sound (or not). All mics pick up sound from the front, but some are designed to not hear sound from the sides or behind the mic. The pattern is essential for understanding how to use a particular mic. The pictures show the “lobes” of where the mic hears sound. Each kind requires a different handling technique from the singer. Some mics are made to be held very close to the mouth, and others are not.
typical patterns

Cardioid: Medium pickup pattern from front and sides, no rear lobe (may also have electronic rear-rejection built-in to prevent feeback from monitors). Singer can be close to mic grill, but mic will exhibit “proximity effect” (boomy bass) if right up on mic. Typically singer should stay 2-4 inches from the mic grill, or further if singing loudly. (HEIL, SENNHEISER)

Super-cardioid: Tight pickup pattern from front (more directional). Singer should stay close to the front of the mic (typically 0-2 inches unless singing loudly). Small rear “lobe” at the back of the mic that can pick up monitors, so keep monitors off-axis (not pointing directly at the mic). (SHURE, SENNHEISER)

Hyper-cardioid: Like super-cardioid, but even more directional. Very tight pickup pattern to avoid picking up other singers or instruments on stage, but also has a significant rear lobe that can pick up monitors, so keep monitors off-axis. Singer should be very close to mic, within 2 inches. (AUDIX)

Omni-directional: picks up from any direction equally. This is not often used on stage since other singers and instruments will be picked up also, though to a lesser extent. However, feedback is much harder to get on an omni mic and proximity effect is non-existent. They are said to give a very clear and accurate sound reproduction. Omni mics are often used in a recording studio because there is no danger of bleed-over from other singers or instruments, and because of the lack of proximity effect. If this had a picture, the lobe would be a complete circle with the center on the mic head.

MOST COMMON MIC MANUFACTURERS AND SOME COMMON SINGER MICS

AUDIX (all hypercardioid)

  • OM2&3: General purpose speaking mics
  • OM5: $195 “Warm” sound, low handling noise and low boominess (not nearly as sensitive to anything below 120Hz), side sound rejection, used by Bonnie Raitt, CSN, Alanis Morissette, Blue Oyster Cult. Excellent overall mic. Compare this one with the Shure Beta 58.
  • OM6: $239 Warmer sound than OM5, lower range not as attenuated so will pick up more low end. Handles “screamers” (rock, blues) well.
  • OM7: $285 Designed for very loud stages and singers with lousy mic technique (cupping), very low impedance requires a rock-star pre-amp and amp that are powerful to get decent sound out of it. No one in the jazz/folk singer circle would probably use this.
  • OM11: $240-320 Very low handling noise, but with low-range sensitivity, desinged to bring the human voice through the mix of other instruments, sharp crisp sound and works well with baritone voices also. It is said to handle plosives well (“P” words that push a sudden gust of air at the mic). Heavier than other mics, according to one user.

HEIL (cardioid)

  • PR22: $184 Large diaphragm (1.125″) dynamic mic with rear-rejection for sound coming from the back of the mic. Accurate vocal reproduction. 50 Hz – 18 kHz. 600 ohms impedance. 14oz.
  • PR35: $277 Large diaphragm dynamic mic. Large diaphragm helps it pick up soft and deep sounds better than other mics. 40Hz-18kHz (or 80Hz-18kHz with low-cut switch engaged). 370 ohms impedance. 15oz. Mic seems heavy for those used to using Shure mics. This is the mic I currently use.

SENNHEISER (cardioid, super-cardioid, prices reflect the amount of design time and electronics inside)

  • e835: $100, basic cardioid, 40Hz-15kHz
  • e935: $179, cardioid, popular singer mic, recommended 5-10cm (2-4 inches) to distance from mic, closer gives high proximity effect (boomy bass). Compare this to the Shure Beta 58.
  • e945: $220, super-cardioid, more sensitive mic for higher pitched sounds, picks up vocals and drums especially strong (helpful if lots of instruments)
  • e965: $700, condenser, cardioid and super-cardiord (switchable), large-diaphragm, low-cut switch, 40Hz-20kHz

SHURE

  • Beta 58A: $100, super-cardioid, very popular singer mic, designed for close up use 0 to 2-inch, Shure website says that proximity effect “adds warmth and fullness”. This is a good one for singers that like to be right up on the mic grill. This is often the one that pros recommend, despite it being nearly a 30 year old design. You may agree or decide differently when you test it with other mics side by side as I’ve recommended repeatedly. Age of design isn’t always a problem, since some old professional mics are still great.
  • SM58: Much older design, was very commonly used in travelling bands. Replaced by the Beta 58.
  • KSM8: New design for 2016, dual-diaphragm, $500. Cardioid. Accurate and sensitive. Low proximity effect, though it has some. Only one review mentioned that it was better for tenor and soprano voices than for baritone and bass. One review said it was easily damaged on tour, others say it is durable.

There are many other great and not-so-great brands and models of mics that I haven’t mentioned. The above are the most common that I encounter.

USING YOUR NEW MIC:
Once you are used to using a particular mic, you may want to always take it with you to gigs instead of relying on whatever they happen to have for you. There are a few things to understand about this:

A. It is always best to ask if you can change the mic when you walk up to the stand. Most places won’t care at all (as long as you don’t make their speakers POP when you switch mics.) Some singers do this to have a consistent sound, others just don’t like using a mic that carries germs.

B. You may want to avoid taking your mic with you if you have a condenser mic, because you can only use it with a mixer board that has “phantom power” (discussed below). Also, the sound for the speakers MUST be turned down before connecting/disconnecting a condenser mic, or engaging or disengaging phantom power, or the speakers *will* POP loudly.

C. Always press the little release button on the cord when attaching or detaching a microphone. This helps avoid a pop when the mic is attached/detached.

D. Make certain that your mic never is pointed at the front of the speaker or at the monitor, because this will nearly always result in a loud screeching feedback that makes everyone wince and makes you look stupid. When you lower your mic hand, always keep the mic head up so this doesn’t happen.

E. The mixer board may or may not be something you are allowed to adjust. Many sound techs really do know what they are doing and have to keep constant vigilance over their mixer boards to keep idiots from changing EQ settings and more. I’ve seen singers in various venues approach a mixer or equalizer and start changing settings that were set professionally, because “Everybody knows the sliders ought to be set like a smile”. $%^&*!! No, don’t mess with someone else’s mixer. I worked on a system that had been set professionally for that room, and we even locked it in a cabinet because one guy kept changing it. He even whined to me about getting a key…

Conversely, some “sound guys” just don’t want anyone else touching their stuff, and some sound guys really don’t know what they are doing. So you may have to settle for what you can get. I had one that almost came unglued over me wanting to plug in a mic cord (and I asked first). He actually yelled “WAIT! THAT’S NOT SOME CHEAP CRAP IS IT?!” Yes, I only ever use cheap crap, in fact the brand name is Cheap Crap. (Actually, I often use Canare brand mic cables.)

F. On your own mixer board, learn what all the dials and sliders do, and what the effects do. Spend time with the manual, or with someone who will teach you. You may need to pay a pro to teach you each part, but you will benefit from knowing what your equipment can do, and how to set it up. Some venues have a lot of sound absorbing material like carpets, cloth covered booths or chairs, curtains, and people with clothes (seriously). All of these will deaden the sound coming from your speakers, and change the sound quality. Other venues are mostly hard surfaces, and even a little bit of volume carries and bounces off walls repeatedly requiring you to adjust your settings. Then when you get to a different venue, you will need to adjust the settings again, especially if you are changing from inside to outdoors.

Some mixers have a small equalizer built-in, most only have three knobs for each channel (high, mid, low).

Basic sound questions for gigs:
A. Is it loud enough for everyone to hear?
B. Can they understand your words?
C. Are you getting feedback?
Learn how to adjust your settings for each of these. Almost never add beyond the midpoint, instead subtract the other ranges. There are videos on YouTube that go into details about these settings.

G. Wind screens (aka “clown nose”) are a foam covering for the microphone. The primary purpose of a wind screen is for when you are singing outdoors, as it keeps the wind from making noise in your mic. Some mics that are especially sensitive to plosives (“P” words that send a sudden gust of air at the mic) and sibilance (“S” words that make the singer breathe out a flow of air at the mic so it sounds like wind) can benefit from having a wind screen on during a performance.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Wind screens are generally acoustically transparent and do not make the sound “muddy”. I’ve been approached by veteran singers at shows who told me never to use a wind screen because it makes the sound muddy. They are incorrect. Muddy sound comes from bad EQ on the mixer, usually from not using a low-cut filter (which I did recently…) Mostly, people don’t like the way the foam cover looks. There are mic techniques such as singing over the mic instead of directly into it that can help control P’s and S’s, and many singers prefer this over the wind screen. But if you are singing outdoors, you really should use it.

H. Use a monitor. This is a small speaker that faces towards you so that you know better how you sound to the audience, and it helps keep you from being pitchy when singing. Alternatively, have your speaker slightly behind you so you hear how you sound. But always have someone in the audience area help correct your sound (more or less volume/bass/treble/reverb). Be careful to never point the mic at the monitor, or you will get very loud shrieking feedback from the speaker and the audience. Some mics will also pick up the monitor directly behind the mic, so know your mic pattern! Also, if you are singing in front of your main speaker, the same kind of feedback can happen, so be aware.

SUMMARY
Hopefully, I have conveyed the basics of common handheld microphone types that most singers will encounter, as well as what those differences mean to singers. Singers need to be aware of the microphone pattern in order to adapt their mic handling technique on-the-fly. This information will also help singers to choose a microphone for purchase.

OTHER MICROPHONE AND SINGING ARTICLES

“Microphone X is prone to feedback”

Something I’ve read rather often on music gear forums is that a particular mic (doesn’t seem to matter which one, call it Mic X) is prone to feedback, or picking up noise. I don’t buy that for a second. What this tells me is that “I always use these particular settings for whatever I attach to my mixer board, and this mic doesn’t sound right and gives feedback.” In other words the person doesn’t really understand that each mic is different and needs to be set up on the mixer separately. It can also mean that the person doesn’t know about proper placement of stage monitors or speakers.

I posted a while back about how to choose a mic, and about well-meaning people that should not ever touch a mixer board because they really don’t understand what they are doing, and who tend to go with “I’ve done it this way for years – everyone knows you’re supposed to do it this way – you’re stupid for not knowing that”.

EVERY MIC MODEL IS DIFFERENT AND REQUIRES YOU TO KNOW WHAT THE KNOBS ON THE MIXER DO TO GET THE BEST SOUND FOR THAT MIC AND FOR THAT SINGER FOR THAT VENUE!

Read that over and over again.

1. For a basic mic/mixer/powered-speaker setup that most singers use, start each mic with gain set to mid-way or less, all EQ knobs in the neutral position.
2. Most of the time, you should engage the “low-cut” filter on that channel to remove the very low sounds that make a singer sound “boomy” or muddy.
3. Have a singer actually sing normally into the mic and start adjusting the volume slider. Then adjust the EQ knobs to get a nice clear sound, typically adding a bit of treble and seeing if that helps, perhaps cutting or adding a bit of the low EQ.

At a recent outdoor gig, one mic needed rather a lot of low EQ added to give the singer presence, while another mic needed quite a bit of treble added to prevent a muddy sound.

It is always best to do your sound check prior to the public showing up (by actually singing normally), but being able to tweak the settings during a performance is also critical as more bodies in the room change the sound.

Speakers should almost always be placed in front of the singers and facing forward to avoid feedback. I did a gig last night where the speaker had to be placed behind and to the left of me and the keyboard, so I aimed the speaker over the head of the keyboard player so it wouldn’t be facing my mic. This made the speaker act as a monitor for us as well, since the venue was small. But remember where the speaker is located so you don’t wander in front of it with the mic.

Monitors are typically on the floor aimed towards the singers, but not necessarily directly at the singers. Some mics like the Shure Beta 58 (super-cardioid) have a small rear-lobe instead of rear-rejection and may pick up the monitor and create feed-back if the monitor is aimed directly at the singer. Aim them a bit off-axis for best results. Usually a standard cardioid mic won’t have that issue.

Singers may be used to a particular model of mic, and other models will be different. Different isn’t necessarily BAD. But if someone has been using a Shure Beta 58 for many years, handing that singer a Heil PR35 is a bad idea since the Heil is a lot more sensitive and has a completely different proximity effect. But just because that singer won’t handle that mic well does not mean the mic has a problem, it is simply different than the singer’s expectations. I’ve had to fend off a LOT of comments and suggestions about mic technique when using my Heil because the other singers are used to their Shure mics.

Sounding Good Despite Incompetent Sound Techs And Well-Meaning Band Members

I sing as a hobby, and usually get to tweak the sound board to make my voice sound good for whatever venue I play. However, occasionally there are actual sound techs for the house and that person will set up the board and adjust it during the concert (if I’m lucky). However, I’ve had a couple that simply did a simple sound check at the beginning with a fancy iPad out in the audience seats, and then sat there the rest of the show listening to tunes on an iPhone. SMITE!!

If you are going to do the job, do the damn job. Know what the knobs are for and what effect they have when changed. Then pay attention to the band during the performance. When the crowd shows up, the audio dynamic changes due to sound absorption. I’m not sure why, but I almost invariably am given way too much bass and my voice sounds muddy compared with my band mates who have higher registers. A good sound tech is such a wonderful asset!

Even on gigs where I set up my own sound board, I’ve had to argue with one person who had a one-size-fits-all EQ form for the sliders, the classic “smile” shape. No, it really doesn’t fit all, and you have no business changing the settings if you don’t know what you are doing. I don’t care if “you’ve done it that way for years because it’s the right way and everyone knows that”. You’re wrong, and get away from my mixer. At one gig, an expert set us up, and within minutes a band member was over there changing things. There is only so much you can do if you want to stay together as a band. Choose your battles.

At one gig, I set up my mic did a few singing tests to make sure I sounded good for the venue, and walked away for a few minutes while the instrumentalists set up. I came back and did another test just to have confidence, and I sounded MUDDY AS HELL. I looked at the board and someone had turned my mid range down to 0, the treble to negative 10, and the bass up! WTF!!! I set it back to how I had it and tested my mic again, and sounded good again. I had to assume that one of them thought he or she was adjusting their own levels and changed mine. Glad I caught it before the show.

Start the EQ flat with everything at middle. If you can move out to where the audience will be for your vocal test, do it. Or if the sound tech is adjusting things, he/she/other should be experienced enough to set your vocals to be crisp and clear with good warmth. My mic has a larger diaphragm than most, so it picks up sound (and bass) more easily than other mics. That typically means I need to boost my treble and slightly lower the bass. I always use a high-pass filter (also called a low-cut filter) to cut mic handling noise and a boomy/muddy sound. When outside or under a fan, I use the much hated “clown nose” foam cover to mitigate wind noise in the microphone.

I did an article months ago on Mic Shaming that describes how to try out and select a microphone at a store, assuming they will let you. If they won’t, go somewhere else. Sometimes musicians will have a selection and will let you try some if you know them. Some will try to sell you on the kind they use, but you really should try out a few without a preconceived notion hanging over you. But remember, when using someone else’s microphones, PLEASE BE CAREFUL! Don’t drop it ever. Don’t swing it by the cord. Don’t pull it off the cord while the mic is live, unless you push in the release button gently and remove gently. If it is a mic that uses Phantom Power, turn the speakers down before removing the mic from the cord or you will cause a loud POP which is bad for the speakers and the ears of those around you. Treat the speakers with great care also, they tend to cost a lot of money.

I currently use a Heil PR35 handheld mic, a Mackie ProFX8v2 mixer board, and a QSC KW122 powered speaker. I also have a Heil Fin stand mic, but rarely use it. I’m fine using other equipment as well. I chose my setup by comparing what other singers in my area use, and then balancing those choices with my own voice and budget. I am the one most responsible for how I sound at a show, so as much as possible, I want the components to be under my control. Unless there is a known competent sound tech at the board, adjust the settings to where you sound good, NOT just where you think they should be. Test it, if at all possible, or you are setting yourself up for problems.

The first two gigs I did with a band, my voice was muddy (way too much bass). The sound equipment in some venues is genuinely lousy, has been there for 40 years, and should have been retired a long time ago. But venues don’t make money by paying for new equipment and they are in it for the money. If possible, bring your own stuff and use it instead of the venue equipment. Do a real mic test after you set up and SING a song so You Know That You Know That You Know you sound good in that venue. A venue with lots of cloth on the walls, carpet, and people in the audience wearing clothing, will absorb sound. Try singing in a closet full of clothing and your voice almost disappears. Conversely, a venue with little cloth and a lot of hard surfaces will bounce the sound a LOT, perhaps too much to be viable. Tweak the volume and EQ to make your voice sound good in that particular venue.

Read about other people’s experiences online and then try it over and over again. You can learn a lot from other’s mistakes and tips, but in the end you have to actually go do it repeatedly to learn your equipment (and learn to recognize when it is failing). I had a sound board start losing a channel right before a gig, so had to switch. Happily I had an open channel left of the mixer. One gig I tried three mixers before one actually worked normally. That was a nervous set-up.

All in all, get yourself gear that you have tested and like, and get used to how it works. Learn what all the knobs and sliders do. Talk with other singers and instrumentalists. Then go do your best. Some days it just won’t go your way and you have to make the best of it. Some days, you don’t get to change the mixer because a control freak is in charge. Some days an incompetent tech will ignore your band through the show. Some days you have to use 3rd hand ancient crap equipment and end up sounding awful. Which is why, as much as you can, be in charge of how you sound and know how to sound good.

Audio hiss/noise on PC

I was having horrible sound quality on my PC and spent hours on forums searching for possible resolutions. I checked several software solutions and became convinced that it was a motherboard or electrical issue. I tried a different outlet across the room, but heard the same noise. I tested the wiring of the outlets and they seem to be wired correctly.

The noise started very suddenly after having been quiet. Even during the boot process, before any drivers can load, there is an odd hissing back and forth in the headphones with odd bloops and beeps now and then. This gets worse after the OS loads (Linux or Windows). Even when sound is muted on the OS, I still hear the hissing and blooping. I did test the headphones on a different device (battery powered) and they work fine. I also tried a much older PC on the same outlet and it only had a very faint rustling sound in the background, leading me to think it is a motherboard issue. Even a ground-loop isolator doesn’t change anything, so it doesn’t seem to be a grounding issue.

The PC and associated equipment are connected to a UPS (battery backup) which also helps condition the power.

SOLUTION:
It did turn out to be the motherboard having a problem. I bought an inexpensive PCI-e audio card (ASUS Xonar DSX) and the sound is perfectly clear now. It took a bit of looking at settings to make it work in Linux, but it was recognized right away and was mostly a matter of adjusting settings in alsamixer and pulse-audio. The PC motherboard is a 10yr-old “ASUS P6X58D Premium”. Still works fine for what I need, but probably time to look at building a new box. I disabled audio in BIOS so that nothing would interfere with the add-in card.