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Microphone windscreens are an often overlooked yet crucial accessory in the world of audio recording. These small, often foam or mesh coverings are designed to serve several important functions in ensuring that the audio you capture is of the highest quality.
In this article, we will delve into the world of microphone windscreens, exploring their purpose, their impact on microphone sound, and whether they are necessary for your particular recording setup.
Achieving professional-quality outdoor audio recording is a complex task that demands not only the expertise of your sound engineers but also the proper tools. When it comes to outdoor audio capture, the incorporation of wind protection for your microphones is nearly always a necessity to provide industry-standard sound quality.
During the early 20th century, wind protection technologies were developed, aiming to mask undesirable wind interference from the microphone diaphragm. These innovations were engineered to achieve this while preserving high-frequency components and allowing sound waves to pass through.
Many microphones started incorporating an internal windscreen in the grill to protect the microphone element. Windscreens and pop filters are used in conjunction with microphones to assist in reducing excessive pressures on a microphone’s element from the wind as well as popping sounds from the vocal wind.
A windscreen will redirect the wind away from the microphone diaphragm while allowing sound waves to pass.
Wind noise can prove to be a formidable adversary for those engaged in recording audio, indoors or outdoors. To the uninitiated, it manifests as a bass-heavy, ominous rumbling akin to “thumping” or “fwapping” that infiltrates the audio track of your video.
This disruptive element typically invades the sub-500 Hz range within the audio frequency spectrum. Given that the foundational frequencies of human speech generally reside in the 85 Hz to 265 Hz range, wind noise has the potential to directly impact dialogue, rendering it incoherent and utterly unusable.
What audio professionals and camera operators seek is a means to reduce wind noise, measured in decibels (dB). This attenuation can be achieved by employing a porous and wispy barrier, often fashioned from materials like foam, plastic mesh, fabric, or faux fur in various combinations.
This arrangement creates a sort of “chamber,” in which the microphone capsule is suspended and safeguarded. Such materials constitute the majority of the solutions available today for shielding your audio from unpredictable elements.
Whenever a pressure differential emerges, air invariably moves from regions of higher pressure to those of lower pressure. In controlled indoor environments, minor shifts in air pressure—perhaps due to a door’s gentle draft, the operation of a heating/cooling system, or even the swift movement of a boom pole carrying a microphone—tend to be the most common occurrences. In contrast, capturing professional audio indoors is markedly less challenging than braving the outdoors.
Outdoor pressure differentials can be far more drastic, resulting in more pronounced wind disturbances. The most effective microphone wind protection must initially disperse the wind and stabilize air pressure in close proximity to the microphone capsule, effectively quelling disturbances and unwanted wind noise around the microphone.
A bare microphone barrel allows air to flow over the microphone’s exterior, causing disruptions near the microphone capsule. However, the introduction of a protective windscreen acts as a barrier, dispersing the wind around the microphone capsule while permitting sound waves to penetrate the material.
Different wind protection products possess distinct acoustic properties and acoustic transparencies, which influence their impact on audio quality. The acoustic transparency of a windscreen cover can significantly affect audio, contingent on the material used. A less porous material crafted from denser fabric is more likely to attenuate sound at high frequencies.
Conversely, a more porous and less dense fabric is less likely to impact high frequencies (and hence more transparent) but is more susceptible to wind-induced noise. There is an inherent trade-off between acoustic transparency and the wind-blocking capabilities of a windscreen cover.
The creation of a larger dead-air “chamber” around the microphone capsule is generally advantageous. In essence, the greater the amount of protective material surrounding the microphone, the more adjustments may be required to achieve the desired audio quality.
Given the unpredictable nature of outdoor conditions, proactive measures are paramount. These microphone covers are needed to help prevent wind noise and background noise from ruining your important audio:
Many novice videographers and sound recordists are aware that many microphones come equipped with standard foam windscreens, but they might not be certain when to utilize them or when it’s advisable to upgrade their setup for enhanced audio protection.
A foam windscreen is perfectly suitable for indoor applications, as air movement indoors typically registers at less than 1 meter per second. Foam windscreens fit snugly around a microphone and provide basic wind protection. Despite the fact that foam windscreens remove a significant amount of wind noise, they do not cause significant high-frequency loss.
At a minimum, a microphone should always have a foam windscreen on it, but for any type of shoot outdoors, the camera operator or sound professional must be aware of their surroundings and choose the protection they deem necessary.
Foam windscreens generally offer up to about 8dB of wind noise attenuation, or reduction. Typically, a foam windscreen is crafted from open-cell foam materials such as polyurethane.
However, for outdoor scenarios with a lot of air movement and microphones affixed to ENG/EFP-type cameras, it’s advisable to consider investing in a denser foam material, which excels at outdoor wind noise reduction beyond what the standard foam windscreen can provide.
The combination of foam and faux-fur windscreens is commonly known as “windjammers.” These windjammers enhance air dispersion around the microphone capsule by affixing a synthetic flocked “fur” material to the exterior of a polyurethane foam windscreen.
Windjammers offer superior wind protection, compared to foam windscreens. The strands of fur act as baffling to redirect wind. This method creates less friction than stiff foam, which means less noise is created in the process.
However, it’s important to consider the quality. Low-quality fur windscreens can cause high-frequency attenuation. High-quality windjammers effectively reduce wind noise, while creating virtually no adverse effects on sound quality.
Conversely, very short fur material is less effective at noise reduction as it generates greater air friction near the microphone capsule. With minimal resistance, the longer fur permits air to flow seamlessly over the microphone’s capsule, thereby adding an extra layer of noise protection without significantly compromising the microphone’s high-frequency response.
Fur windguards offer between 25dB and 40 dB of wind noise attenuation. Layering a windjammer over a windscreen can offer up to 50dB of attenuation, even in conditions with wind speeds of up to 6 meters per second. In some instances, a windjammer is designed to be slid directly over the microphone’s existing foam windscreen.
“Baskets” or “blimps” essentially consist of an inner layer of thin foam liner and an outer layer of plastic or metal mesh. These blimps boast a considerably larger circumference compared to the standard foam windscreen or “windjammer.” Baskets offer shock absorption by suspending the microphone, or microphones.
They typically adopt a “pill” shape but on a much larger scale, which aptly justifies the nickname “blimp.” Blimps serve to create an expansive dead air chamber around the microphone, thereby increasing the distance between moving air and the microphone’s capsule.
This method of suspension creates a large chamber of dead air which lends itself to maximum attenuation of up to 50dB with minimal high-frequency loss. Employing a blimp in conjunction with an additional faux-fur slip-on windshield represents maximum noise protection.
When all these measures are in place, it’s possible to achieve a remarkable wind noise reduction of up to 50 dB, even in the presence of wind speeds exceeding 6 meters per second.
Nevertheless, due to the large static air chamber, thin foam layer, and faux-fur material surrounding the microphone, there’s a heightened potential for a loss of high-frequency elements in your recordings. To counteract this effect, post-production adjustments to boost the high frequencies can be beneficial.
It is crucial to recognize that, regardless of the quality of visuals captured with top-tier cameras, if audio is compromised, the resulting content becomes nearly unwatchable.
When considering the purchase of a microphone windscreen, several critical factors come into play, contingent on the specific equipment, what your sound engineers deem acceptable for use, and intended usage. This section will guide you through the most essential aspects to keep in mind.
Different types of windscreens are available in a diverse array of sizes and styles, and it is imperative to select one that snugly fits your microphone to ensure a secure seal and prevent air from interfering with the diaphragm as it may create noise if the windscreen moves while recording.
For most handheld microphones, universal foam windscreens are suitable. Ensure that the screen fully covers any ports on the grill. Universal foam windscreens can be found for use with both large and small diaphragm condenser microphones, as well as a lavalier microphone.
Specialized windscreens are designed for shotgun microphones with long barrels. Choose one that provides a secure fit without excessive movement, as any shifting can introduce unwanted background noise.
One should find different combinations of pop filters and windscreens while recording audio to see what suits which scenarios best.
Noise attenuation, or the degree of noise reduction, ranks as the foremost consideration. When using shotgun mics, you are typically positioned several feet away from the sound source, necessitating increased gain.
Additionally, directional microphones are particularly susceptible to wind noise and background noise. To combat these challenges, opt for a fur windjammer or a basket when employing a shotgun mic. These will offer significantly more protection and ensure that a whole film shoot isn’t ruined by poor audio.
For robust wind protection, the most efficient option available is the blimp, a microphone cover resembling an oversized pill. It constitutes a hollow cage that forms an open airspace, allowing a tranquil pocket of air to envelop the microphone.
Alternatively, you can also mix and match between different types of windscreens, windjammers, and blimps depending on the need of the shoot.
A trade-off exists between noise reduction and potential high-frequency loss. Generally, as more layers are added, acoustic transparency tends to diminish.
The highest quality types of windscreens do a great job of blocking the wind without adversely affecting audio quality. In most cases, any high-frequency loss incurred during recording can be rectified through post-production adjustments to boost the high frequencies.
Microphone windscreens are designed to minimize unwanted noise while preserving the clarity of your audio. When used correctly, a microphone windscreen should not muffle your microphone. In fact, they can often enhance the sound quality by reducing distortion and eliminating disruptive noises like wind or plosives.
Whether or not you should use a windscreen on your microphone depends on your specific recording environment and the type of microphone you are using. Here are a few factors to consider:
If you frequently record outdoors or in windy conditions, using a windscreen is highly recommended. It will help ensure that your recordings remain free of wind noise and other environmental disturbances.
It’s essential to remember that wind flowing past a stationary microphone is essentially the same as a microphone moving through stationary air. In situations where the microphone is expected to be in motion during operation, even when recording indoors, the use of at least a foam windscreen is recommended, as foam windscreens can help protect the microphone from the air resistance created while in motion.
For example, if you’re utilizing a boom pole in a film shoot, there may be instances where you need to reposition the microphone to capture a dynamic source or multiple sources. This could include recording scenes within a vehicle or capturing audio from a moving vehicle.
In such scenarios, windscreens play a vital role in safeguarding the microphone from air resistance generated during motion.
Dynamic microphones, which are often used for stage performances, may be less affected by plosives and wind noise, but it’s still a good idea to use a windscreen for added protection. Condenser microphones, commonly used in studio settings, are more sensitive and can benefit significantly from windscreens.
If you are recording vocals, particularly in close proximity to the microphone, a windscreen can make a substantial difference in sound quality. It helps prevent plosives and sibilance issues that are common in vocal recordings.
Condenser microphones, due to their sensitivity and accuracy, often benefit the most from using a windscreen. A cardioid microphone is a type of condenser microphone that is characterized by its unidirectional polar pattern.
This means it is most sensitive to sound sources directly in front of the microphone while rejecting sound coming from behind or off-axis. They are commonly used in studio recording and are highly susceptible to plosives, sibilance, and environmental noise. If you are recording indoors, be sure not to place the microphone near any source of forced air.
Using a windscreen or attaching mesh pop screens can help ensure that your condenser microphone captures clean and pristine audio and helps prevent loud pops in your recording.
Microphone windscreens also play a crucial role in videography and filmmaking, where audio quality is just as essential as video quality. When mounted on a camera’s built-in or external microphones, windscreens serve a similar purpose:
Microphone windscreens are indispensable tools for anyone involved in audio recording or videography. They serve to improve the quality of your audio recordings by minimizing wind noise, plosives, and sibilance, especially in outdoor or windy conditions. While their necessity varies depending on your recording setup and microphone type, in many cases, using a windscreen can significantly enhance mic quality.
Whether you’re a musician, podcaster, filmmaker, or content creator, the addition of a windscreen to your microphone can make a world of difference in the clarity and professionalism of your work.