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An Introduction to Compression: Basic Compression - A free download from Audio Masterclass

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The professional way to make sure your mics are connected correctly

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What level of background noise is acceptable in a recording?

"My microphone sounds like a fried breakfast. What can I do?"

If your microphone sizzles like a frying pan full of eggs, bacon and sausages, clearly there is a problem to be solved.

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Mmmmm... eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, bread and maybe some black pudding, all sizzling away in a pool of molten lard in a much-used and deeply patinated frying pan.

That's what we call a 'full English breakfast' over here, and we have it nice and early every morning ;-)

But sometimes microphones make the same sound, and that isn't so appetizing.

So why do microphones sometimes sizzle, and what can be done about it?

The usual suspects in this case are capacitor microphones.

What is likely to make them sizzle is condensation.

If you have taken your mics out of the studio, on a location recording for instance, and they have chilled in the trunk of the car on the way back, then condensation will form on the diaphragm when you bring them out again into the warm.

This can cause an irritating sizzling noise (electrically, not acoustically of course) that should go away after a while. Some mics are more prone to this than others.

It would be worth considering whether this can do any permanent damage. But some of my own mics are decades old and they have been in and out of the studio in all weather conditions without apparent effect.

A microphone repair specialist might be able to give us more detail on this, but if I had an expensive vintage mic, I would probably be more considerate about how I use it.

If a microphone sizzles under any other conditions, then it has a fault and needs to be repaired.

Of course, you might see the sizzle as an element of audio texture to be exploited towards your musical ends.

What do you think?

Should mics be given the cotton-wool treatment, or are they just tools to do a job and you will replace them when they are worn out?

Discussion below...

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By David Mellor Friday February 12, 2010
Learn music production