Ghost Microphones

December 19, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Posted in Computers, Hardware, Software | Leave a comment

Ran into a curious issue with microphones on a computer the other day. Even with my Mic disconnected, there was still a strong and noisy live signal. This arises because there is now a few ways a Mic may be connected to your computer.

When you use the Mixer and any sound card related software, you can control Mics connected that way. Adjust the volume, mute it, and so forth. But what of USB Mics? Or Mics built into something else? Many webcams and monitors now have Mics built in. They are activated with the device.

This last point was the issue in my case. The webcam Mic was still live – and adding a lot of noise – even with the sound card Mic muted or unplugged. These don’t show in the Mixer.

The trick is in the settings of the software you’re using. For example, in Skype, you select which Mic source you want the software to use. But some software like Audacity may default to the  Microsoft Sound Mapper – this picks up all sources. And this was a problem for getting a clean voice recording.

But this can also be an issue if you’ve begun to use your computer for Internet Phone calls and such. Make sure the software is set to the Mic you think it’s using, and only that Mic. And use the softwares Mute.

Otherwise, you can create an unexpected faux pas. For example, if you mute the Mic with it’s physical switch to have a private side conversation but other Mics are live, you may not be private at all. But if you set the software to use a specific  Mic and mute that Mic in software, you know it’s muted.

Just remember that some of these Mics are as little as a pinhole in a monitor frame. You might even not know it’s there. Newer video connections include audio, so it gets connected automatically.

You can also set the “Default” Mic in the Sounds Control Panel and change what Mic your camera or other device uses in it’s settings software. For example, change the cameras Mic to use the sound card Mic and the camera Mic is ignored. But not muted.

We’re moving into the age of everywhere-live. We just have to get used to it.

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