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Laptop Mic Buzz

Discussion in 'Recording' started by ChrisRichard, Dec 27, 2013.

  1. ChrisRichard

    ChrisRichard Active Member

    This is a flyer, and one that I fear may annoy veterans, because I bet it's been asked a million times. But I can't find any of those answers, even though I've used your advanced search engine.
    As a journalist, I use Skype for telephone interviews and I edit field interviews on my laptop. My computers over the past 10 years or so have all been Dell laptops. This time, I went with an XI because they're supposed to be much better made. However, I'm running into a problem similar to what I also encountered with the Dells: Mic buzz.
    Let me start by saying that, although I am not an engineer, nothing in my experience so far, either with Dells or with this computer, leads me to believe that this is a ground loop problem. There's lots of advice out there about unplugging the laptop to get rid of the buzz. I've tried that. It makes no difference. Also, if it were a ground loop, presumably, it would be consistent no matter how many driver configurations I used or how many times I used the same headset. But it hasn't been with previous computers and it's not with this one, either.
    In other words, if this were a ground loop problem, it would persist no matter what I did. It would be like a leak in a boat: the only way to get rid of a leak is to patch it. Changing your shirt doesn't do any good. But in this case, I have changed my shirt -- switched around things that seem to have to do with which driver is in use -- and that has brought at least temporary respite. With other computers, I've been able to solve this problem permanently by disabling some drivers. That's not working in this case, but I still think it's the root of the problem.
    I think it has to do with a driver conflict, and I suspect that Microsoft's driver may be the underlying culprit.
    Before I get into the details, here's another hint that points to drivers: disabling the touchpad on the computer sometimes seems to effect the sound card. They shouldn't be related, but there's been evidence that they are.
    To make things as succinct as possible, I'll stick to skype calls to describe my experience. Here's what happens:
    The built-in mic (I think it's in the screen bezel) handles calls fine, every time. It sounds like you're on a speaker phone, though.
    When I plug in the mini mic-in jack,I have an 80 percent chance of getting an awful buzz. It's like feedback between the headset mic and the built in one
    But, intermittently, that buzz pretty much disappears when I make another call using the built-in mic, or once when I fiddled with the touchpad, then switching back to the plug-in.
    I have much better luck with this:
    USB headset: No buzz
    Try to adjust anything in the sound settings: Buzz
    Disconnect USB and place a skype call with the internal microphone: buzz disappears
    Reconnect USB headset: no buzz
    So far, I haven't gotten any buzz in the playback for my external UA-30 sound card, which I use to edit interviews. That card has no drivers of its own. It works with the Windows USB drivers.
    Again, I've had to solve problems like this for years. With the Dells, it came down to disabling all audio drivers except for the default one. When I try that with the drivers that came with this system (VIA HD audio deck) I get no sound at all.
    My suspicion is that the windows audio drivers are somehow conflicting with the drivers that came with the computer.
    Is there a way to disable the Microsoft drivers, or am I on the wrong track?

    By the way, judging by all the questions there are on the Web about these kinds of issues, I would surmise that many people have asked this question here. If somebody has the answer, could you please post it on the site in such a way that it's easier to find?

  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member


    You may have several different audio drivers active. I don't know how many different audio drivers you've installed on the system over time...

    When you mentioned that you've disabled audio driverS on your Dell... drivers, plural, suggests that you may have more than one audio driver resident.

    Truthfully, you should only need one audio driver on your system.

    You might try uninstalling the drivers you have resident and then re-installing the one that you need.

    At risk of belaboring the obvious, Have you tried a different headset mic?

    Are you using any adapters anywhere? something like a 1/4" to mini jack?

    Some other questions that, while I doubt are the culprits, still need to be asked...

    are you working within proximity to anything with a motor? Say a refrigerator...

    Are you working near fluorescent lighting?

    Are you working within proximity to any lighting that uses dimmer switches?

    PS... your post made my brain hurt... so here's a suggestion... try to get right to the point with your questions... long posts can wave potential help away if people have to read about references to a "leaky boat needing a patch" and "changing your shirt". You're a journalist -keep your topic succinct and you'll likely get more responses. ;)
  3. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I'd say, stay away from onboard sound card specially on laptops. The input is rarely a line input but a mic input which has a very poor preamp. You could reduce noises by using a groudlift on the ac adapter or just run on battery but you'd still have some.

    I suggest you use an external audio interface and if yours does'nt have all the options needed, go and buy another one that does. Also a proper mic and cable is in order ! ;)
  4. ChrisRichard

    ChrisRichard Active Member

    Firstly, while I'm no technician, I certainly agree about the one-driver-at-a-time rule. It just makes sense. If you're trying to use two drivers at once, it would seem logical that it would lead to conflicts.
    However, until I'd been using the computer for a while, I had to have both Via's so-called "high definition audio" and the "stereo mix" active for the mic to register any sound. This has since changed, and I now have the "stereo mix" driver or subset or whatever it is disabled.
    As bizarre as it seems, it almost seems like these computers change the way they see drivers over the initial use period. I can't imagine why at the outset I would have to have both drivers active in order to get sound, and that I would later be able to turn one of them off and get better sound quality, but that is in fact what happened, and what also happened with my previous dell laptops.
    As to external sources, flourescent lights, power cables, etc: I can understand why you'd ask the question, but none of that stuff applies here. It doesn't have to do with my surroundings. It's something in the computer, and I'm coming to suspect it's a software problem. This has been a problem on the last several compters, dell or otherwise, all of which were runining Windows 7 64 bit. Again, I'm no technician, but I think that the underlying problem is that W 7 64 is somehow mangling its own internal/generic sound drivers, and that these are interfering with any drivers installed to handle the sound card. I noticed that these sorts of problems got much worse when I went to Windows 7. I've had 64-bit computers w. windows 7 from the getgo.
    As for external sound cards - The Roland UA 30 that I have, at least 10 years old, continues to work pretty well, but it doesn't have mini jacks, so doesn't work with phone. That's what I use for editing interview recordings. I'm considering getting a cheap (as in turtle beach) external sound card w. minijacks to try to do away with the residual buzz, but am confused about how USB processes sound, why that would be better than simply using the USB headset I have now, etc, etc.
    Any thoughts appreciated.
    It is very, very strange, but over the weekend I've been able to turn that "stereo mix" thing off and still use the mic. That's new. Up until Friday, I couldn't. You'd think this computer were organic or something, and changing to adjust to my needs. Of course, it's not. So why can I do now what I couldn't do at the outset?
  5. ChrisRichard

    ChrisRichard Active Member

    Sorry, just saw the friendly reminder about keeping it brief. So here it is in brief: It's not external factors, because it happens wherever I am, whether the computer is plugged in or not, whatever. So it's that internal conflict I'm trying to fix.
  6. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Buzz comes from internal ground problems or a bad preamp or a preamp boost option. (some have a +15db or +20db option in the driver or software menu)

    I've been doing audio setups for the past 30years and recording for the past 15 years. Internal laptop sound card are crap, buzzing or not.
    Get something, USB or Firewire, that will record at least in 24bit 44khz with decent converters. A focusrite 2i2 is a good start.

    Now you talk about a phone ??? you are recording with one ?? .. why not transferring the files directly to the computer (plug the phone in usb or send the file by email)
    Or get a better recording unit like TascamDR-07MKII?
  7. ChrisRichard

    ChrisRichard Active Member

    Yes, I use Skype for all phone work, including phone interviews. When radio clients use phone interviews at all -- they generally prefer live sound -- Skype is fine, and has been fine on the Dells.
    As for the PMD 660, that's been pretty much the standard field recorder, although I do have my own issues with it, too, chiefly build quality. At any rate, until I have the budget for another recorder, that's what I'll be using. I won't be using it for phoners. Would the focusrite take in and process Skype sound? I'm still confused with how USB sound cards work
  8. ChrisRichard

    ChrisRichard Active Member

    One additional question

    Any external sound card I use will have to have mini jacks as that's what the headsets have. But if I do that, even with a relatively cheap one, will I get away from the internals problems described above?
  9. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Any external sound card you may buy can use a mini jack to quarter inch adapter for your headphones as for mic, I wonder what headset you are using, some noise could be comming from them as well. I might have wrongly gone on my high horse toward quality. No miracle will be done with a computer headset and skype recordings.. but maybe quality is not a factor for you.

    Please explain what the recordings are used for (youtube, online, streaming or radio ?) Is sound quality an issue for you ?
  10. ChrisRichard

    ChrisRichard Active Member

    headset, mic, etc.

    I report for print, radio and web news organizations. For a good many years - I don't remember how long, but a long time - I've done all my telephone calls on Skype. I very occasionally record telephone interviews for radio stories. I sometimes record interviews for print stories through skype as well, to supplement my written notes.
    Public radio sound editors are particular about sound. I've always disclosed that the few phoners I've done are done on Skype, and they've always accepted the sound. Sound quality on cheapo Dell machines has been perfectly acceptable to them, and that makes it acceptable to me.
    For field interviews, I record on the PMD 660 and edit using Audition and a USB sound card, a Roland UA 30, that I've had for a number of years. Its not capable of anything higher than 48 k/16 bit, but that's been acceptable to the same sound editors.
    So for brevity:
    • Internal sound card for Skype
    • UA30 for field sound
    I very strongly doubt that this problem is tied to the mic. At one point in the testing, I plugged in an Electrovoice RE50 mic to the mic-in jack.
    The Re50 is not exquisitely refined, but it's adequate, the workhorse of many journalists, and I've used it on hundreds of radio stories without comment from editors.
    The hum got much worse when I plugged it in to the laptop.
    That makes sense. It's a stronger power source coming through the mic jack.
    It tells me, though, that the problem is not the source of the sound. It's how the sound's getting processed.
    My issue now is that I simply can't have any extraneous sound -- no squealing, no roar, no hum -- in any telephone conversation I have through Skype. I certainly can't have it in telephone interviews, to say nothing of interviews I'd expect to use in a radio story.
    With this new computer, an XI PowerGo, I'm getting some of those things. Most of xi's clients are architects, not journalists, and the techs don't sound too experienced with sound issues, but the computer is generally of better quality than a Dell Precision. I'd be surprised if they purposely put in a sound card that was incapable of doing what a Dell Latitude can do.
    • The issue seems, strangely, to have at least partially resolved itself. That doesn't make sense, I know. This is a machine, not a living, adaptable organism. But the awful sound problems I was having a couple days ago seem to have disappeared. There are little glitches every now and then, but it's usable. And the sound coming in from the people I'm talking to is clean and useable.
    • I'd like to understand why that might be, so that if things go bad again, I'll have a basis for trying to fix them.
    • I don't trust that these problems will stay fixed, and if I can't understand it, I need a safe backup. That's why I'm asking about the external sound cards. The one I have, made by Roland, does not have its own drivers. It uses the windows drivers. As I understand it, some of the newer external sound cards do have their own drivers. I'd appreciate any suggestions on which ones work best. The UA30 has quarter-inch jacks. If I do end up getting an additional external card, I don't want one with quarter-inch jacks, because that raises the threat of new, interference-based noise (see earlier suggestions from another forum member).

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions.
  11. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    The focusrite 2i2 I suggested has 2 xlr mic input with power fantom and a stereo quarter inch for headphones. Buying this would force you to buy another mic but no noise with this baby !! ;) (knowing that it's a starting point)

    Now for the problem, while being a recordist, I'm also a computer repairman.. In my experience, there's no driver that will create noise from the soundcard. But a driver might activate a feature that will produce noise ( a room simulation, a mic boost input, a karaoke effect, reverb or ambiant control...) I've seen many.

    In your case, if the problem is almost gone now and comes back without you doing anything special, I'd say it's a physical problem. A bad soldering in the connector or the audio chipset is giving away. If you would be able to backup your stuff and reinstall the OS completely... You'd know it's physical if the problem comes back.

    I currently have a intermitent problem with my main audio interface, I know it's disconcerting. But I eliminated everything else as possibilities so, warranty call today !!

    Good luck to you !

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