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What is line level and how is it different from mic level?

Posted by Ashley on 5th Oct 2020

In this article we cover some of the basics of line level and mic level outputs.

  • What does line level mean?
  • How is line level different from microphone level?
  • How is professional line-level different from consumer line-level?
  • What about aux level?
  • What are signs that you need a different audio input?
  • What device to I need?

What does line level mean?

A device that operates at line level either has a very strong output signal, or only functions properly when you feed a very strong signal into it. Examples of line level outputs include mic preamps, mixers, soundboards, the "line out" of an amp, and some effects-loop "send" jacks.

While it varies from device to device, typically line level is in the region of 0 dBV (1.000 volt). See professional line-level v. consumer line-level for more of a rabbit hole.

How is line level different from microphone level?

A mic-level or microphone-level signal is the voltage amount that comes out of a microphone when someone speaks into it, typically just a few ten-thousandths of a volt. Of course, this voltage varies in response to changes in voice level and and in the talker-to-mic distance. But the signal is still quite small relative to line-level.

Microphone level is in the region of -60 dBV (0.001 volt) to -40 dBV (0.010 volt), or just a fraction of line-level.

How is professional line-level different from consumer line-level?

Even though you might be using a line-level input or output, turns out it's more complicated than that. You need to know if you're using a professional line-level or a consumer line-level.

Professional line level is generally thought of as a signal whose level is at +4 dBu (1.23 volts or significantly higher). Signal-processing equipment and professional mixing consoles are examples of professional line level equipment.

Consumer line level is generally thought of as a signal whose level is at -10 dBV (0.316 volts). CD players and DVD players are examples of consumer line level equipment.

What about aux level?

You may also encounter jacks marked "aux," or auxiliary. Aux-level inputs and outputs are found on many kinds of equipment, including DVD player, tape recorders, CD players, and some computer sound cards. Aux-level is near to line-level, but aux-level inputs and outputs are nearly always unbalanced, using RCA connectors or 1/4" phone plugs. Microphones will not operate properly if connected to aux inputs.

What are signs that you need a different audio input?

Generally speaking if you send an instrument-level signal into a device that needs line-level input, you will get weak sound and probably extra noise as you increase the signal to compensate. If you send a line-level signal into a device that's meant for instrument or mic-level input, you will get distortion.

What device do I need?

1) To go up in dBV
You can boost microphone level signals up to line level signals. Mixers are the most popular piece of equipment. A mixer will not only boost a microphone level signal, but it will also combine multiple signals together into a single output. There are also devices called Mic preamplifiers or Mic-to-Line amplifiers. These are available as single-channel or multi-channel devices.

2) To go down in dBVYou can reduce, or attenuate a line level signal down to a microphone level signal, using our iPhone-Mic-Line Level Adapter for an 1/8" plug, Mic-Line-Plus Adapter for monitoring, or our Mic-Line-Pro Adapter for a 1/4" plug.

We also have dynamic microphone adapters, ECM (batteryless) microphone adapter cables, and line level to mic level adapters for DSLR cameras.

Mic-Line: -20dBV

Mic-Line Plus: -17 dBV

Mic-Line ECM: 0 dBV

Mic-Line Dynamic: Corner Frequency of 60 Hz

Not bored yet?

See the attachment below for a detailed explanation of the difference between dBu, dBv, and dBV, or have fun with this dB and voltage calculator.

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