Sounding Off With A Boo and a Hiss

Foam on the walls of my studio, mid build.

You can put all the foam you want on all of your walls and ceiling. But if there’s a hitch in your audio, it won’t matter a whit.

Suddenly, after almost three years of nearly flawless sound, there’s a buzz on all my recordings. Or is it a hiss? You might not think it matters what you call it, but it does. And there’s a bunch of different electronic devices and cords and now it’s up to me to find the origin of the problem. Oh, and I can’t work until I figure it out!

This isn’t a new phenomenon. It happens to most of us from time to time but it rattles your confidence in the system you’ve assembled. Is it the microphone? A cord? Computer? Maybe an audio cord is picking something up from another cord? Is something breaking down? You simply don’t know until you get down on your hands and knees and crawl around, testing everything one at a time.

Plug in a new microphone cord. Test it. Buzz still there? Try something else. Test it. Record a file. Buzz is STILL there.

All of that pretty red and purple is what the unwanted sound looks like.

And there’s the terminology that I alluded to. What some describe as a hiss might actually be a buzz. Hisses and buzzes are different. If you’re trying to resolve a hiss but you’ve actually got a buzz, well mister, you’re in for a lot of trying and testing!


Once, many years ago, a client said he could hear a radio station faintly in the background of my audio. The horror! But I couldn’t hear it and neither could Derek. This client was using the most sensitive playback equipment known to humans. But it was there, so faint that only dogs (and this client) knew.

The culprit? A mic cord had moved and was touching a power cord. Somehow, that allowed my audio to pick up a radio station signal. (Don’t ask – like most of these issues, it defies explanation!)

Another time, a microphone went kaput. It’s not common but it does happen. After several happy years together, the mic suddenly decided to end our partnership.


We have gone to great lengths to make sure my computer tower is outside of my recording space so there’s no computer fan noise. But that also means that cords are living together like university students in a frat house. One by one, I’ve been unplugging, replacing, separating and hoping, to no avail. Then Derek did the same in addition to testing my microphone and preamp and other dodads and whatnots.

Sometimes components inside computers fail. Yikes.

I’m lucky that I have Derek’s booth down the hall if I need it. But we can’t go on like that long term if we want to stay married! We need our own space. Meantime, I must thank my friends MaryAnne, Rachel and Kendra for their willingness to listen to the same buzz – or is it a hiss? – over and over while I ask, is it gone now? Is it still there? HAS IT STOPPED YET!

And it all came down to this: the settings in my recording software had changed. A friend of Kendra’s figured it out. I did not intentionally change the settings. Adobe Audition had been glitchy for a couple of days and – this is my bad – I really need to reboot my computer more often. So, thankfully it wasn’t anything to do with failing equipment. I’m back, baby!


Thank you to Broadcast Dialogue, THE trade magazine for Canadian media, for mentioning Gracefully and Frankly’s 100,000 downloads milestone! We are pretty proud and grateful.

A quick article clipped from Broadcast Dialogue mentioning me, Erin, our podcast, and that we do it all ourselves, accompanied by a photo of us talking.

4 thoughts on “Sounding Off With A Boo and a Hiss”

  1. Buzzes, hiss, pops, flutter, hums, wobbles, fades, drop outs, static, high pitch squeals and all the joys of working with electronics. Just thinking about it, my knees hurt.

  2. I’m listening and I don’t hear a hiss or a buzz, but I do hear a click. Do you hear that?

    Let me ask you. Since some of this defies explanation, as you say, what amount of recording is a science and what amount is an art?

    1. Well, in the 100+ years I’ve been working with audio, the science gets you started but experience finds the problem.

      For example, next time I’ll check my settings FIRST. But this time I checked first for the things that were problematic last time!

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