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How to choose your microphone on a mac

Jul 20, 2020
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Macs come with a built-in mic and you can connect an external mic to all Mac models. As with most audio devices, a mic will be plug & play. In fact, it will be easier to set up an external mic on a Mac that it is on a Windows 10 system where the right audio driver may have to be installed.

While it is easy to install/set up a mic on a Mac, checking to see if it’s working isn’t as simple. Here’s how you can check the mic on a Mac.

Check mic on Mac

Broadly speaking, there are two ways you can check if a connected mic is getting any input; the system’s own mic volume settings, and third-party apps/services.

1. System Preferences for mic

If you want to test an external mic, go ahead and connect it to your Mac first.

  1. Open the System Preferences app.
  2. Go to the Sound preference.
  3. On the Sound preference, go to the Input tab.
  4. Select the input device i.e., the mic that you want to test.
  5. Adjust the volume so that it can pick up the sound you want the mic to pick up and speak into it.
  6. The bars will light up to indicate the input that is detected. If they do not light up, your mic is not detecting any input.

How to choose your microphone on a mac

2. Browse and web service

A mic is an input device and as such, access to it is given at the discretion of the user. If your Mac is able to detect mic input from the System Preferences app, but an app isn’t able to pick it up, it might be a problem with permissions or with the app. To check what’s wrong, run a mic test from your web browser.

  1. Open your web browser and visit this Microphone test app.
  2. Click the Play button indicated at the right.
  3. Your browser will ask for permission to access the mic. Allow the browser access to the mic.
  4. Once the browser has access to the mic, speak into it.
  5. The little window under the test area will indicate sound input; the line will change to reflect the volume of the sound.

How to choose your microphone on a mac

Conclusion

Mic testing apps on macOS aren’t common. You will find a few free apps that allow you to control the mic’s On/Off state, and in some cases, you will be able to change the volume, and toggle the mic On/Off with a keyboard shortcut. The built-in mic volume indicator will do the job but if you’re not satisfied, download a free recording tool like Audacity and allow it to monitor the mic live.

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How to choose your microphone on a mac

If you want to record music or spoken word on your Mac, you’ll want a high-quality mic. You can get a microphone in dozens of styles. The most popular are headset mics (often called “gaming headsets”), USB microphones, and standard XLR microphones that connect through a digital pre-amplifier.

In this tutorial we will show you how you can set up an external microphone on macOS.

Connect the microphone

How to choose your microphone on a mac

Depending on the type of microphone you have, it will connect to your Mac in different ways. Regardless, all connections lead to the same place: the USB port.

The easiest type of microphone to connect to a computer is a USB mic. You simply plug the mic’s USB cable into any open USB port. These mics have a small pre-amplifier chip built into their chassis, allowing them to take in audio and output a digital signal.

Headset microphones that are compatible with macOS will connect over USB or the headphone jack. Either way, it’s a plug-and-play operation. There should be no configuration required to get the microphone to pick up audio. Just make sure you select the microphone as your input (see below) before using it.

How to choose your microphone on a mac

The more standard microphone connector is called XLR. This three-pin circular connector takes an XLR cable. Observant users will notice that computers do not have XLR ports. That’s what you need a USB pre-amplifier for.

How to choose your microphone on a mac

The pre-amplifier, or “preamp,” is an outboard USB device that can accept an XLR connection. It also powers the microphone, if the microphone uses “phantom power,” and converts the mic’s analog signal to digital. Preamps, also known as audio interfaces, can range widely in price and quality. The Focusrite Scarlett line is popular, inexpensive, and effective.

Connect the preamp to your Mac through the USB port. Typically, the device will connect with a “printer style” USB 2.0 Type B connector. Plug that into your preamp, then plug the other end of the cable into your Mac.

Some audio interfaces also connect via Thunderbolt. These interfaces function no differently from the USB-style audio interfaces. They just use a different connection protocol and connector style.

Configuring the audio interface

Once you have all your devices connected and turned on, it’s time to configure the audio interface. While Windows requires drivers for audio interfaces, macOS typically does not require a driver. It’s simply plug and play! That makes your life a lot easier, but you’ll likely still need to flip some switches to set things up the way you want.

Open the “Sound” preference pane in System Preferences.

How to choose your microphone on a mac

Within that preference pane, you’ll see two tabs: “Input” and “Output.” Click on the “Input” tab and find your microphone or audio interface, and set it as the system input. While most digital audio workstations allow you to select your input from within the application, setting the input at the system level streamlines the recording process. To set the device for input, click on it within the list of available audio interfaces.

If you do not see the audio interface in this list, first make sure that the audio interface is turned on and connected properly. Make sure it’s plugged directly into your Mac rather than a USB hub.

You’ll also want to set your output device appropriately. If you will be monitoring your mic from the headphone jack on your audio interface, make sure the audio interface is selected in the “Output” tab of the Sounds preference pane. If you will be connecting headphones to your Mac’s headphone jack, make sure “Built-In” is selected as the audio output.

Don’t try to record without headphones. It’s dramatically more difficult to get clean audio that way, and you’ll have no way of double-tracking if you so choose. Even cheap earbuds are better than nothing.

Conclusion

Connecting your mic to your Mac is a simple process: it’s basically plug and play! If you are having trouble getting the microphone or audio interface to connect, check with the manufacturer’s installation process to ensure there aren’t any special steps or software you need.

With the mic physically connected and configured, you’ll need the appropriate software. Audacity is a popular open-source choice, and the new Voice Memos app for macOS can make simple single-track audio recordings as well.

Alexander Fox is a tech and science writer based in Philadelphia, PA with one cat, three Macs and more USB cables than he could ever use.