How to fix audio recording quality problems

Last update on Dec. 24, 2015.

There are several common audio quality problems that are easy to fall into if it's your first time recording your instrument on your computer.  This post explains how to identify problems and fix them so your audio recordings are good quality.

When using jammr to jam together online it's important to have good quality audio without background noise that can distract other musicians.  Luckily the sources of poor audio quality fall into a few common causes that can be easily diagnosed.

Noisy single-coil guitar pickups

Single-coil guitar pickups such as those found in Stratocaster guitars can be susceptible to noise or interference from other electrical equipment such as dimmer lights.  The noise is typically described as "hum" or "buzz".

You can identify noise problems with single-coil guitar pickups by moving your guitar around the room.  Usually the noise changes when you move around because the magnetic fields causing the noise are strongest in one part of the room.  Simply rotating the guitar so the pickups are facing in a different direction can also reveal that single-coil pickups are causing the noise.

There are several solutions: turning off electrical equipment that is causing noise, moving to a part of the room where there is no noise, or replacing the pickups with "noiseless pickups" that are not susceptible to interference.

Poor microphone placement

If you record using a microphone then the placement of the microphone can make a big difference in the audio quality.  This is because the sound source (acoustic instrument or amplifier speaker) can sound very different depending on where the microphone is placed and its orientation.

Poor microphone placement can produce recordings that have too much bass or treble, making the sound unpleasant.  Or the background noise from air conditioning units, computer fans, or general room noise might actually be louder than the instrument itself.

Luckily microphone placement can be fixed without a lot of effort.  Try moving the micrphone close to the sound source and experiment with different positions/orientations.  There are accessories like microphone stands or reflection filters that make it easier to get a clean microphone recording, but try to find a good microphone position before spending money on them.

Gain staging problems

Audio components have a signal level where they produce the best output.  If you have ever turned up the volume too loud and gotten distortion you know what happens when the optimum signal level is exceeded.  Gain staging is about keeping the signal level close to optimum at each component so that no noise or distortion is introduced.

Typical examples of gain staging problems are running a very quiet signal into a soundcard.  In order to hear the signal you might turn up the soundcard very loud and notice there is a lot of hiss or hoise.  Another example is running a very loud signal into a soundcard.  You might have to turn the soundcard down to reach a comfortable volume level but notice that the signal is distorted.

Gain staging problems can be solved by avoiding very low and very high volume levels on your audio devices.  Some devices have a "clipping LED" or light that indicates when the input signal is too loud.  Make sure that the signal is loud but the clipping LED doesn't quite light up.

Connecting to the wrong type of input

There are different types of audio inputs that require different signal levels or have different impedances.  Often times someone trying to hook up their audio gear will purchase an adapter and plug the wrong type of audio connection into an input.  The result is often a weak or thin signal, or a distorted signal.

Be aware of line, instrument, and mic level so that you only connect the right type of signal.  Amp inputs are instrument level.  Amp line out is line level.  Mixer inputs may give you the option of choosing between different line levels.

Also note that input impedance affects the tone.  Recording soundcards usually have Hi-Z or guitar inputs that have high impendance (1 megaohm) just like a real guitar amplifier input.


Hopefully these pointers help you solve any computer recording audio problems that you may encounter.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask on the jammr forums.

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