What Is Gain On a Microphone

When you speak in front of a microphone, your voice creates tiny vibrations that the microphone converts to a very small voltage.  

It’s actually too small to be usable. So this electrical “signal” has to be increased or “amplified”, often 1000 or more times greater.

Microphone gain increases the amplitude of a microphone signal. Gain boosts signal strength from mic level to line level so the microphone signal is compatible with professional audio equipment. 

Mic preamps control gain and are the first circuits a signal passes through after the microphone output.

On a mixer or a preamp, the gain is the first control that affects the raw microphone signal. It functions to boost the signal to a strong enough level to allow the rest of the controls to have an effect.

On a guitar amp, the main function of the gain is to create distortion. 

Generally speaking, there are 2 possible “microphone” gain (preamplification) stages for a mic signal to pass through in practical situations:

  • Gain from an active preamplifier within the microphone (active microphones only)
  • Gain from a separate microphone preamplifier (standalone preamps, audio interfaces, mixing consoles, etc.)
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Setting the microphone gain is really quite simple. You just have to make sure it isn’t too low or too high.

If it is too low it will be closer to the noise level in the console or the digital audio workstation (DAW). This means that the signal-to-noise ratio would be too low and you would end up with more noise in the output than you want.

If the gain is too high, you could end up with clipping, which results in distortion. Thus, whenever you get clipping, you always solve it by lowering the gain, not the fader or something else. 

The signal is clipped at the gain control and adjusting anything after that is already too late.

Once you have the gain set correctly, you should not need to adjust it again, unless you make changes to the sound source, microphone position, etc.

Written by:
Amit Gupta
Amit Gupta

Hi, my name is Amit Gupta, and I am the owner and contributor at Radaudio. My passions include guitar, bass, and piano, as well as a range of classical instruments that I have been playing since school.

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