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An attenuator is an electronic device that helps reduce sound without distortion. You can also passively ‘attenuate‘ sound by reducing it’s ‘flow rate’ by blocking or filtering the incoming sound. For examples of passive attenuation, foam mic coverings, fuzzy muffs and chamois are used to cover a mic to cut down on the strength of the sound coming in and sound blankets arranged around the intended sound source block the wavelengths of incoming unwanted ambient sound.
For electronic attenuation, your prosumer and pro recording devices usually have built-in attenuators but you can purchase additional external devices such as power attenuators or coaxial connectors. Built-in attenuators in such cameras and audio recorders are activated by switching your audio recording selector from ‘manual’ to ‘auto’. Some devices will have an ‘attenuator’ switch on the device instead of ‘auto’.