We all spend a lot of time trying to get the most out of our audio equipment.
I find it weird how much pressure there is for a regular person to know all these things some people specialize in. And it’s not the stuff they pick up by watching a few tutorials online but knowledge they gain in university and/or trade school. Is it so bad that you are not a professional sound technician?
No. It isn’t. In fact, being bad at it may have a few advantages. And this leads us to our topic today.
You may wonder why should you know how to make your mic sound bad. It just makes little sense that someone would put some effort into it. Being bad at something isn’t difficult, right?
Thanks to the modern technology, it is. Manufacturers make most gear today to be foolproof. But today, I’ll show you 10 ways you can mess with the sound quality on your recording, stream, meetings, etc.
There’s a method to this madness and a couple of good reasons behind it.
Why Make Your Mic Sound Bad
Before we look into how to make your mic sound bad, let’s ask ourselves why.
The first thing that comes to mind is for entertainment purposes. If you are a content creator, sometimes you will need more than just your words to illustrate a scene. Playing with your mic can help you create interesting soundscapes and effects. As a voice over artist, bad audio can help you recreate phone calls, video evidence, old memories, etc.
The same goes for game masters of any style of table top games. A lot of you have taken your gaming sessions online in the past couple of years, and now you’re looking at all the ways to spice things up. Making your mic sound bad can help you enhance your characters and storytelling, especially when you need to flesh out supernatural scenes and the feelings of fear and panic.
Finally, we also have nefarious means, like getting out of Zoom meetings. Let’s be honest, sometimes, we just want to keep our mics off, and the best way to make that happen is to persuade your boss and coworkers that you’re having technical issues. It’s sneaky, but one has to do what one has to do. Now you can crunch on chips during meetings to your heart’s content.
10 Ways to Make Your Mic Sound Bad
Be too close or too far from the mic.
The first step in learning how to make your mic sound bad has nothing to do with complicated settings or advanced sound engineering experience. All you have to do is move a little.
Every microphone has an optimal recording range. There’s a certain distance you should keep from it to get the sound clarity while being able to pick up on your voice.
Moving too far from the mic means it will not pick up your voice properly. Moving to close, and it will start recording your breath.
Sit back and find a position that allows you to get a good recording of your voice. Now, just mess that up by moving the microphone towards or away from you. If you’re wearing a headset, move the mic closer to your lips or push it away towards your nose or chin and neck.
However, don’t overdo it. If you’re trying to pass this as a gear issue, going overboard will just leave people commenting on how you should come closer or move away from the mic. Therefore, it will not look like a microphone problem but a user problem.
Be in a windy area.
Even with a pop filter or pop shield, most microphones don’t like a lot of air circulation. If you’ve ever tried to have a phone conversation with someone during a windy day, you know what I’m going on about.
Now, unless you’ve learned how to summon wind, you mostly depend on the weather and location to use this tip. Or you could get as close as possible to an AC unit and let both the air and the hum of the motor mess with the sound.
Any type of background noise will work as well. Most mics and apps these days come with noise cancellation AI that usually takes care of it. However, this technology is not perfect, and stuff can still bleed through.
What’s even more useful to you is that you can overload these programs. Sometimes, some noises don’t filter through. And sometimes, there is so much going on, and so much that the AI needs to take care of that, it messes with your voice as well.
Use a wrong power source.
Microphones run on electricity. I know, shocker.
However, did you know microphones are one of the most finicky electric devices? No matter how good and expensive the model is, if you don’t use the correct power source, the audio quality will be terrible.
To begin, try not using the cable the mic came with. Sometimes, not using the manufacturer’s gear is enough to do the job. Playing with the XLP power cables is also very effective, but watch out not to create permanent damage (unless you want to).
Mics that have phantom power (aka contain active electronic circuitry) are the most sensitive to these changes. Know the preferred power source, and you will know how to make your mic sound bad in one step.
Also, check if the mic is amp or pre-amp. You can see if that model also supports the USB connection as a power source. It’s more likely to be the inferior option.
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Have bad connection.
A bad power source is a problem, so is the poor connection to your setup. I have a mic that I don’t have to plug in all the way to get a connection. Of course, the jack will fall out if a strong wind blows that way, but the mic stays operational.
Operational doesn’t translate to great sound. In fact, if I don’t secure the jack properly, the playback sounds like it’s coming from the bottom of a well. Damaging cables works similarly.
The easiest connection to mess with is Bluetooth. Already, it’s not the ideal option if you’re seeking perfection, plus it takes very little to make things worse.
First option is to put an obstacle between your mic and the recording device. Anything made of metal is a good option. It’s even better if you can move to another room and have an entire wall as a barrier.
Next, you can overload the connection. Turn on every single thing you can connect via Bluetooth to your recording device. And finally, erase all updates. Outdated firmware is likely to cause terrible audio quality.
Mess with the EQ.
Most devices don’t have an equalizer for the microphone. You’ll probably find that bundled with other software like the recording studio or the mic’s accompanying software.
A recording equalizer differs slightly from the one you’ve used before to set up speakers and headphones. However, if you could wrap your head around that, you’ll figure this one in a jiffy.
From that point, it’s all about playing around and seeing which settings produce the worst outcome.
Use the wrong diaphragm size.
A diaphragm converts sound into mechanical data. It’s a thin membrane that sits in the middle of the mic’s head. If you’ve ever broken or opened a mic, you’ve probably seen a little drum shaped piece with a net on top. That net is what we’re talking about.
All microphones come with a range of recommended diaphragm sizes. The larger ones pick up more data and make for better quality recordings. This means that you should pick the smallest one possible if you want to make your mic sound bad.
Record with high gain.
This option does something similar to getting too close to the mic to record but takes it to the next level. Getting too close to the mic will make you sound muffled and breathy, but this takes it to the next level.
Having high gain allows the mic to pick up more details in the environment and the human voice. However, push that gain a bit too far, and your voice will sound distorted.
This is the most likely to happen when you’re singing high notes or shouting. It can also be a good thing in some situations, i.e., adding extra emotion to those high notes.
In speciality programs and apps, you’ll see a bar that says Gain, and all you have to do is to push it beyond recommended level. You can achieve a similar effect if you dial up the audio input on your device’s settings.
Distortion and Overdive.
You don’t feel like jumping through all these hoops? There’s a way to make your recordings sound bad in the post. This will not be useful in meetings or when streaming, but it’s an acceptable option to have in your repertoire.
Almost every DAW will have Distortion and Overdrive on their plug-in list. If you wish to invest more into audio equipment, you could also use them live with vocal pedals.
These two plug-ins have a greater effect on the human voice, while they don’t destroy the sound of musical instruments as much.
By the way, playing with distortion can come with other benefits. For example, you can make yourself sound like a hard rock or metal vocalist without going through the trouble of learning how to sing with compression. But that’s another episode.
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Use a wrong mic.
Such a simple solution after everything we had to go through. There is a reason you can find so many microphones in the market. Each one has a purpose, as well as the type of the setup it goes with.
Speaking of purpose, you need more or less different microphones for speaking and singing, and different ones for recording and live performances. If you have mics for different purposes, simply swap them around.
Another thing you can swap is the whole setup. Connecting a studio mic to a computer may sound like an upgrade, but it doesn’t always end up being so. It’s the same like going the other way around, and giving gaming headphones to an opera singer, then expecting them to perform in front of thousands of people.
If you already have multiple microphones sitting around, play with them and see which one sounds the worst for your recording or streaming setup.
Break the mic.
If you ran out of options, it’s time for some productive destruction. It’s a thing, look it up.
Anyway, I mention in one section above how finicky microphones are with their power source. It only makes sense that the sound will worsen if you damage the power cable in any way, shape or form.
There are many other ways you can do damage to a mic beyond ruining the cable. You can unscrew the top part, cut through the foam and/or grille, leave it in direct sunlight for an afternoon, damage or remove the diaphragm, etc. Or simply drop it against the floor once or twice.
But be sure that you want to do this. In most cases, there is no coming back. Even if you go too far and somehow put the mic back together, the sound will permanently suck.
How to Make Your Mic Sound Bad on Zoom
You will not find that many things you can play with in Zoom. Everything I covered on how to make your mic sound bad will work for this app as well.
However, there is one thing you can switch on and off, and that’s Use Original Audio. It’s in the Meeting Settings, right at the top.
This option allows you to enable or disable noise suppression. Using original audio means the app registers everything your mic is picking up. Introduce some background noise and everyone will be more than willing to mute you during meetings.
There are a lot more ways to mess with the video quality on Zoom. My best tip is to play with some of those options as well if you want to make everyone believe you are working with bad equipment.
How to Make Your Mic Sound Bad on Discord
It would surprise you how easy is to get the mic to sound bad on Discord. Even when you leave all the settings on default and touch nothing, it can still get pretty bad. Let’s see how to make it even worse.
1. Go to your User Settings and tap on Voice & Video. First, find the Auto Sensitivity and turn that off. Then you can play with the volume output and see what that does to your recording.
2. Turn off the Noise Suppression, and then scroll down and turn off Noise Reduction as well. The latter will appear only after you turn off the former. This will allow your mic to pick up a lot of background noise.
3. Turn off the Echo Cancellation, Automatic Gain Control, but run a trial before you turn off the Advanced Voice Activity. Playing with the last one can either help or cause trouble when your voice is not automatically picked up by the mic.
Some Discord users have also complained about the mic quality when the app doesn’t recognize their mic. The mic is still connected and working, but the sound is absolutely dreadful. See if something this simple works before you play with other settings.
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This exercise has additional purpose other than helping you get out of Zoom meetings. Learning how to make your mic sound bad can also help you learn how to make it sound good.
You can watch all tutorials you want, but practice is the best way to make the knowledge stick. Not only do you learn what every step of the process means when you’re setting up a mic, but you also see how things can go wrong. Including how everything sounds when the things go wrong as well!
In the end, you end up not only knowing how to set up the mic for the best recording quality possible but also how to fix any issues that come along.