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How to Tell if a CCTV Camera is Recording Audio (with examples)

Do Security Cameras Record Audio?

A CCTV camera’s main purpose is to capture video from the lens and store it onto a hard drive or microSD card. However, some cameras also record audio. They have a built-in microphone that’s weatherproof and can record sound continuously.

Cameras five years and older typically do not have microphones built-in. It also depends on the brand and model number of the specific camera.

Since technology is getting cheaper and better, a lot of cameras built today include a microphone.

How Can I Tell Which Cameras Have Microphones?

You can tell whether a camera has a microphone by looking at it closely. The microphone looks like a tiny hole – it’s quite small so you may need to take a photo and zoom in to tell.

A security camera mounted outside on a brick wall. A conduit pipe is installed at the base of the camera.
This turret camera from Uniview is recording audio. Can you spot the small hole with a microphone?

Similarly, you can also spot cameras that do not have a microphone. If the front of the camera is completely solid without any holes, then it means there is no microphone.

A security camera mounted on a brick wall with a red arrow pointing towards it that says No Microphone
This Hikvision turret camera does not have a microphone – there is no small hole near the lens.

Do Dome Security Cameras Have Microphones?

Microphones can also be found on dome security cameras. It’s not as common though – the vast majority of dome cameras do not have built-in microphones.

For those that do, they are more difficult to spot because the hole is very small. The hole may also be found in different positions, such as the side or front of the housing. However, with a keen eye, you’ll be able to spot whether a dome camera has a microphone or not.

A security camera mounted outdoors on a concrete wall
A dome camera with a microphone. Since the dome is glass, the microphone hole is in a different position – along the camera housing.

How Good is the Audio Quality from Security Cameras?

Based on our testing, we’ve found that the audio from security cameras is usually low-quality. This is especially true when the camera is installed outdoors. Noise from vehicles, planes, or wind can easily overpower the microphone and prevent reliable audio from being captured.

We recorded a few words with a camera’s microphone to give you an idea of how it sounds.

These microphones will perform a lot better indoors. However, it may still be difficult to hear conversations depending on how close the camera is. Also, if the environment has a lot of echoes, it will be difficult to hear what’s being said.

The audio from security cameras is also highly compressed, in order to save storage space. Most security cameras record at 8kHz, which is then further compressed to a low bitrate of ~12Kbps.

How to Improve the Quality of the Microphone?

Two factors determine how effective the microphone is:

  • 1. How close the microphone is to the sound source
  • 2. How much background noise is present

If you have a camera installed too high, such as 12ft, the microphone is going to be too far away to hear people speaking. By lowering the camera down to around 7 or 8ft, you can improve sound – however don’t put the camera too low or you risk it being tampered with.

If there’s a lot of background noise, you will have a difficult time hearing the audio. If possible, try to install your camera away from sources of noise such as HVAC fans, open windows, and machines.

Is it Illegal to Record Audio from a Security Camera?

Depending on where you’re located, it may be illegal to record audio from your security camera.
For example: In Canada it’s illegal to record conversations that you aren’t a part of. Using a device to intercept a private conversation could lead to imprisonment for up to five years.[1]

There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as if one of the people involved in the conversation has given consent, or a judge has issued a warrant authorizing the conversation to be recorded.

We’re not experts regarding the law – however, you can watch the video below by privacy lawyer David Fraser regarding the use of surveillance cameras in Canada.

Final Thoughts

We’ve compiled a list of cameras with microphones available for purchase from XLR Security. Our company is supplier in Toronto with a focus on commercial-grade security cameras. We ship within North America.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about CCTV cameras and audio recording.

Jaeden Wiens

Jaeden Wiens has been working in the CCTV industry since 2018. He started with technical support, then quickly moved into sales and marketing. When he's not writing articles or optimizing the performance of his website, you can find him listening to music or practicing piano at home. You can follow him on LinkedIn.