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What Do Microphone Pop Filters Do?


When it comes to recording audio, whether for professional music production, podcasting, voiceovers, or even casual video chatting, microphone pop filters are often considered an essential tool. But what exactly do these peculiar-looking shields do, and are they really necessary for your recordings? In this article, we’ll dive into the world of microphone pop filters to understand their purpose and benefits.

What is a Microphone Pop Filter?

A pop filter, also known as a pop shield or pop screen, is a noise protection filter. It’s a simple but effective device designed to eliminate plosives, or popping sounds caused by fast moving air on a microphone. 

The primary function of a pop filter is to disperse the air coming from our mouth in different directions. This dispersion breaks down the air burst into smaller components that a vocal microphone will not detect. This then reduces plosives picked up by the microphone

Pop filters are crafted to diminish the force of plosive sounds, which, if left uncontrolled, could surpass the microphone’s design input capacity and result in clipping.

Popping sounds occur when an air blast is made while pronouncing aspirated plosives, like the initial ‘p’ in the English word “popping.” Additional plosive sounds encompass ‘t,’ ‘k,’ ‘d,’ ‘b,’ and ‘g.’. The sudden air pressure from popping sounds can be problematic when recording audio. 

A popping sound recorded by a microphone consists of two distinct components: the high-frequency element, arising from the air moving past around the microphone’s grille or other structural components of the microphone body, and the low-frequency component, resulting from the impact of air on the mic diaphragm.

The presence of mechanical impact and electrical saturation, such as clipping, can also have an impact, contingent upon the level of headroom intentionally incorporated into these systems. 

In essence, the plosive’s discrete envelope of sound energy is intercepted and fragmented by the filter material, preventing it from reaching and momentarily distorting the microphone’s sensitive diaphragm.

A typical pop filter usually consists of one or more layers of acoustically semi-transparent material, like woven nylon stretched across a circular frame. It often comes equipped with a clamp and a flexible mounting bracket. The filter is usually placed at least a couple of inches away from the microphone capsule itself.

They come at a reasonable price and provide substantial value. It’s a remarkably cost-effective recording accessory that effectively mitigates undesirable popping sounds. 

This simplifies the process for everyone involved: singers can fully focus entirely on their performance, while sound engineers can dedicate their attention to achieving high-quality sound and ideal levels.

You can discover professional pop filters for as low as $20 at your local music store. With a bit of ingenuity, you can DIY your pop filter by bending a wire coat hanger into a circular frame and cutting a pair of pantyhose or a t-shirt to fit over the frame snugly.

While most pop filters may appear similar in design, they can be primarily categorized into two main types of mesh: nylon and metal.

When considering getting your pop filter, each material offers distinct advantages that make it suitable for specific scenarios. 

For instance, nylon pop filters are budget-friendly and readily available, while metal pop filters are renowned for their durability and great sound quality. 

Nylon Pop Filter

Nylon mesh pop filters represent the prevailing choice in the realm of pop filters, establishing an industry benchmark for a home studio environment. These filters consist of a thin nylon layer adept at capturing saliva or other liquids that may inadvertently escape while singing or speaking.

In addition to their popularity, nylon pop filters generally come with a more budget-friendly price tag compared to their metal counterparts. Nonetheless, it’s essential to note that nylon filters are not as robust, tending to tear easily. Their soft texture can also pose challenges when it comes to maintenance, and they may have a minor impact on high-frequencies.

These nylon pop filters come equipped with several key attributes that set them apart. They excel at air diffusion, efficiently dispersing airflow to obstruct plosives from interfering with the microphone’s performance. 

Moreover, they are adept at plosive reduction, significantly minimizing the impact of these disruptive sounds before they can reach the microphone’s sensitive diaphragm. The filters feature a double-layered design, enhancing their filtering capabilities for even cleaner recordings. 

Notably, their ample width distinguishes them from their wire mesh metal counterparts, offering more extensive coverage and protection for your audio recording needs.

Metal Pop Filter

Metal pop filters, in contrast to their nylon counterparts, employ a fine mesh metal screen. The advantage of this solid material lies in its ease of maintenance; it can be effortlessly wiped clean with a cloth without causing damage to the mesh. 

Additionally, the solid nature of metal filters results in a more efficient deflection of plosives when compared to nylon pop filters. However, it’s worth noting that some recording engineers contend that this deflection might lead to vocals losing a degree of their natural, human feel.

These metal mesh pop filters boast several notable characteristics. They excel at air redirection, expertly guiding airflow to divert plosive sounds away from the microphone, thus upholding the integrity of audio quality. 

Their efficient deflection of plosives ensures that recordings remain pristine and free from disruptive noises. With a single-layered design, these filters offer ease of maintenance and robust durability, making them a reliable choice for long-term use. 

Their compact size, relative to nylon pop filters, makes them a space-efficient addition to recording setups, especially in situations where space is at a premium.

How Does a Pop Filter Work? 

If you were to place your ear in close proximity to someone’s mouth, you would also pick up the additional rush of air entering your ear, which is why a pop filter becomes crucial. 

It diminishes the fast moving air from the mouth to the microphone and effectively eliminates plosives, such as loud ‘p’ and ‘t’ sounds. Speaking a little off axis or a few inches away from the mic also helps diminish plosive sounds that are recorded.

Subsequently, many audio mixers might apply a high-pass filter to eliminate any remaining low-frequency sounds that could have passed through the pop filter. Pop filters do not appreciably affect hissing sounds sibilance, characterized by the loud ‘s’ and ‘sh’ sounds, typically found in the higher frequency range.

The positioning of your pop filter hinges on the level of energy you or your client intends to convey during the recording. The farther you place the pop filter from the microphone, the fewer plosive sounds you’ll capture.

However, more distance means increasing the microphone gain and gaining more room noise.

As a general guideline, for louder and more forceful singing, maintain a few inches between the pop filter and the microphone. When recording softer, more intimate vocals, position the pop filter about 2 to 3 fingers away from the microphone.

These are the general principles I follow when recording, both for myself and others. It’s essential to experiment and determine the ideal distances that complement the room acoustics and the vocal presence in your mix. Acquaint yourself with the style and genre of the material you or your singer will be recording.

Why Use a Pop Filter on Vocals?

Without a pop filter, these plosive sounds can create undesirable audio artifacts, such as plosive pops and distorted recordings. These issues can be particularly prominent when recording vocals, as singers, podcasters, and those doing voice acting frequently produce plosive sounds during their performances. 

The proximity effect, where the microphone captures more low frequencies when positioned closely to the sound source, can also contribute to this problem.

A pop filter works by acting as a barrier between the microphone and the sound source, preventing the direct impact of plosive air bursts. This results in cleaner, more natural-sounding recordings, reducing the need for time-consuming post-production edits.

Do Pop Filters Improve Sound Quality?

The primary purpose of a pop filter is not to enhance sound quality per se, but rather to prevent undesirable artifacts caused by plosive sounds. By doing so, pop filters indirectly contribute to better sound quality. When plosives are eliminated or reduced, the recorded audio will be clearer and more pleasant to listen to. It’s worth noting that pop filters can have a more noticeable impact on dynamic microphones, which are more susceptible to plosives, than on condenser microphones.

Furthermore, pop filters can be beneficial in studio environments, where multiple microphones are used simultaneously. When microphones are placed close to each other, they can pick up sounds from nearby sources. Using pop filters can help reduce cross-talk between microphones and ensure that the recorded audio remains focused and free from interference.

Do I Need a Pop Filter for My Microphone?

The necessity of your own pop filter depends on your specific recording needs and microphone type. Here are some considerations to help you decide if you need one:

Microphone Type

Dynamic microphones, commonly used for live sound and broadcasting, are more susceptible to plosives. If you primarily use a dynamic microphone, a pop filter is highly recommended. When using a dynamic microphone without a pop filter, speaking slightly off-axis will help reduce the plosives.

Condenser microphones, on the other hand, are less affected by plosives due to their design, but a pop filter can still be useful in some situations. Certain studio condenser microphones are designed to have an integral pop filter built in.

Recording Environment

If you’re recording in a controlled environment where plosives can be managed through mic technique or where you have good control over the distance between the microphone and the sound source, you may not need a pop filter. However, for less controlled environments, such as field recording or live performances, you will need a pop filter.

Attaching a pop filter to a table stand can be problematic. To properly use a pop filter, they are typically positioned in front of the microphone to counteract the impact of swift-moving air. 

These filters are commonly affixed directly to the mic stand, so having a microphone stand is essential. If you possess a podcast-style table microphone stand, you may encounter difficulty in attaching the pop filter.

A pop filter differs from a microphone windscreen. Pop filters are typically utilized in studio settings, whereas windscreens are more commonly employed outdoors. 

In a studio setting, the objective is to enhance the recorded voice’s sound quality, often achieved through the use of studio pop filters. Conversely, windscreens are more commonly employed in outdoor settings to eliminate low-frequency distortions. 

Vocalists on stage also utilize windscreens to diminish plosive sounds and minimize saliva interference on the microphone element, although these may not offer the same level of acoustic transparency as a studio pop filter.

Personal Preferences

Some individuals have softer pronunciations and produce fewer plosive sounds. In such cases, the need for a pop filter might be less critical. It ultimately depends on your speaking or singing style.

Is It Worth Getting a Pop Filter?

In most cases, the answer is yes. Pop filters are relatively affordable and provide a valuable function in ensuring clean audio recordings. They are an essential tool for professionals in the audio industry, and for hobbyists and content creators, they can significantly enhance the quality of your recordings without a major investment.

Ultimately, whether you are a podcaster, musician, voice actor, or just someone who enjoys recording audio for personal use, a pop filter is a useful accessory to consider adding to your setup. It helps minimize plosives, which in turn lessens the need for post-production correction, and enhances the overall audio quality of your recordings. So, when it comes to achieving the best sound possible, investing in a pop filter is a sound decision.

Ash Burnett

Hailing from Chicago, IL - Ash made his break into journalism at the age of 23 writing music reviews for a local website. Now in his late 30's and after being pulled closer towards the technical side of the music and live gig industry, he founded Shout4Music to write thorough microphone reviews.

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