Back to Basics

This morning, I am bedeviled by the details. I’ve spent the last 2 hours chasing a microphone problem. I had a lot of equipment running along with the mic the last time I used it, so Jenn (our awesome Office Coordinator) and I tried every combination of equipment and microphone one at a time, eliminating possibilities. These included:

  • lighting: on, and off
  • various cables: touching, or not
  • mic 1, mic 2, or mic 3
  • camera power cable: plugged in, or not
  • camera battery: attached, or not
  • camera mic settings: auto, or manual
  • camera monitor: plugged in, or not, powered, or not, muted, or not

We were chasing a buzz, and not the fun kind. Rather, the annoying kind, where in addition to voices and the sound of the air conditioner, our mic is randomly recording the most annoying audio buzz ever. And spoiler, we did not find the cause.

But our search uncovered another problem. Mic 3 was only recording sound on the left channel.

Disgruntled, we were about to begin trying to isolate that problem.

  • Maybe our camera’s microphone jack is bad.
  • Maybe there is a camera setting we need to adjust.
  • Or maybe the mic is malfunctioning.

Fortunately I had one of those intuition flashes that I get now and then. I’m always grateful when I notice and act on them. In this one, a picture of the headphone plug popped into my head, and I had to go compare the plug of Mic 3 to Mics 1 & 2.

See if you spot the difference:

The plug for Mic2 has 2 stripes, and the plug for Mic3 has one stripe.
Mic2 plug on the left, Mic3 plug on the right

If you noticed the stripes on the plugs, give yourself a gold star. 🌟

In case you’ve never run into an audio plug with only one stripe, here’s what’s going on. One stripe indicates a single (mono) audio channel. If you see two stripes, there are two (stereo) audio channels. This is basic information I was taught in my very first class about microphones.

illustration of stereo audio plug with two black stripes, and mooo audio plug with one black stripe
Image by


So, my “problem” microphone is working exactly as expected.  And my flash of intuition or memory just saved me a chunk of time, because there is no need to test this microphone in different equipment to figure out if the “problem” lies with the mic or the camera I connected it to.

Lesson: No matter what trouble you are troubleshooting, start with the basics.


4 thoughts on “Back to Basics”

  1. This reminds me of my CISCO training, even with complex tasks like programming routers the first thing to check was always the “physical” layer, which is a fancy way of asking “are the cables right and is it turned on?”.

  2. Hi Cheryl,

    Glad my duties don’t involve microphones! LOL. Your post reminds me of a lesson I learned a long time ago….always make sure the computer is plugged in before calling the help desk. Talk about embarrassing…stupid cord…


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