Small waveforms/low sound levels

I’d really appreciate any help anyone could give me on this issue. I just picked up my first basic recording setup, and for some reason when I record audio the wave forms are super small, like -0.1-0.1, It records and plays back just fine, and the audio quality seems okay to me. I’ve tried doing my own research and playing around with settings, but I’m stumed.

Setup: Audio Technica AT2020 mic, Behringer UMC204HD interface, running on a windows 10 laptop

When I check the sound levels they come out around -12db, which I think is normal. I’m very new to this so please forgive the ignorance. Thanks in advance for any assistance.

Yes, that recording level looks a bit low.
What are you recording, and how is that connected to the UMC204HD?

Make sure 48V phantom power is turned on (required for studio condenser microphones). Make sure the pad-switch is off. I assume the line/instrument switch doesn’t do anything with a balanced XLR connection but you might want to try it both ways.

That’s a directional side-address mic, so make sure you are speaking/singing into the front side, not the end or the back.

If you are speaking/singing into the mic you should be close to the mic (maybe 6 inches) and speaking/singing with a strong-confident voice. If you are recording nature-sounds in the forest you will be stuck with low levels. :wink:

like -0.1-0.1 …When I check the sound levels they come out around -12db…

Just for reference, 0.1 (or 10%) is -20dB. -12dB is 25%. Pros often record around -12 to -18dB (at 24-bits). Then, the levels are boosted after recording. The most important thing is that you don’t “try” to go over 0dB (100%) because your analog-to-digital converter will [u]clip[/u] (distort) if you try to go over. Nothing bad happens when you get close to 0dB. Generally, you just need to leave some headroom for unexpected peaks… And if there are no unexpected peaks you didn’t really need the headroom.

So, lower digital levels are OK. That is, it’s OK to turn-down the recording level knob on your interface to leave some headroom. But, low acoustic or analog levels will give you a worse signal-to-noise ratio… When you boost the volume later, you’ll also boost the room noise and any preamp noise, and that can sometimes be a problem.


One more thing - If you record in stereo with one microphone of course you’ll get one silent channel so after recording you’ll want to convert to mono, or copy the “good” channel into the silent channel.

If you record in mono with one mic into a stereo interface, you’ll be limited to -6dB (while recording) because it’s leaving room for the other unused channel to be mixed-in. The clipping indicators on your interface are correct and they will show clipping at -6dB with one input (or 0dB with two inputs). So in this case, you’ll need to boost the levels after recording (which you’re doing already since you’re only hitting -12dB).

We never got the goal. Why are you performing and what are you performing?

The Behringer 204 is a native stereo device. If you have it configured for mono, it could insist on reducing your performance level by half (-6dB). Try configuring Audacity and Windows for stereo and see if that doesn’t help.

You will get a stereo performance with one silent track.

Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 12.15.44.png
Use the menus on the left dropdown > Split to Mono. Delete the dead track.

Where you go from there depends on your goal.


Thanks for the replies everyone,

Just for clarity, I’m using this set up to record song covers for fun. I know about the 48 volt phantom power, and I’m singing into the right end of the mic, maybe I’m just not fully understanding the way sound levels work in practice.

I was able to record audio and use the amplify effect to get the waveform where it needs to be (I’ve read an average of around -0.5-0.5), so I guess my question now is, is it normal to have to do this? Microphones can record with low sound levels and then you just amplify it after the fact? Does this affect quality in any way?

what is the exact relation between sound levels/quality and waveform height?

thanks :smiley:

We assume you have the microphone connected with one of these.

Mostly because it wouldn’t work at all if you didn’t, but we have to cover the bases.

Do you get the green SIG (signal) light on the Behringer when you perform?

Is the PAD button Not depressed?

I’m fairly sure INST/LINE doesn’t make any difference.

Generally, there is a fairly wide range of recording volumes which will produce a good song, but there are limits. If the volume is too low, you may find your song competing with the quiet noise that all system have. That would be rain in the trees hiss sound. FFFFFFF.

This is what it sounds like if you do it wrong.

The other end is much more serious. If you get too loud, the digital system will stop following your music. The sound will have cracking and popping and it’s nearly impossible to fix. The Audacity sound meter goes all the way up and turns red. The blue waves fill the space top to bottom. If you have View > Show Clipping turned on, the blue waves will have red lines.

Nobody records directly into a final show. There’s always a difference between the recording studio and the MP3 for people to listen to. That’s the mastering thing that makes it so hard for a home performer to compete with a store-bought song. The commercial song has had a lot of work done to it.

The instructions are not crystal clear, but I think the green SIG light is supposed to flash when your volume is about right. Does it? You’re supposed to keep increasing the volume on the 204 until the green light comes on.

I suspect that and recording in Stereo should give you a much improved volume on the timeline.

For AudioBook reading, we recommend occasional sound meter peaks up to about -6dB to -10dB. That’s about 50% on the blue waves.

You should probably start there.


Hi, I’m having the exact same problem with my Blue Yeti and MacBook Pro: tiny waveforms that sound fine in playback.

I have Mojave 10.14.2. I’ve double-checked that the Yeti’s selected, and I’ve tinkered with the Yeti’s gain and the input volume setting on Audacity. The volume meters are in a normal to high range without clipping.

I know my Yeti is a side mic (I’m talking into the logo) and I’ve selected the cardioid setting. I’ve got a pop filter and I position my mic a thumb-to-pinkie span away from my mouth.

I’m attempting to record a demo for audiobooks. I’m completely stumped as to why I’m getting this teeny little -0.15 to 0.25 (on average) waveforms.

Please help as this is making me neurotic! :open_mouth: