Nearly every vocal recording session features a pop filter along with the vocal microphone. But what does a pop filter do, and do you need one? Today’s post will answer all your questions about mic filters.
Let’s dive right in!
Read on to learn:
- What a pop filter is
- Why you should use one
- How to position a pop filter
- Things to consider when buying a pop filter
What Is Pop Filters And Why You Should Use Them
A pop filter is a circle of nylon mesh or thin metal positioned a few inches from the microphone. It’s clipped to the mic stand via an adjustable gooseneck mount.
Pop filters are typically used in recording studios and it serves to reduce and eliminate unwanted popping noise from plosives. Plosives occur naturally when we speak or sing certain words. It’s the blast of air that comes from our mouths whenever we use words with hard letters.
These plosives cause popping sounds when recorded into a hot microphone. Popping sounds are a nightmare when you’re editing or mixing your tracks. Why? They’re often impossible to fix in the mix.
English pronunciation contains 6 plosive phonemes: “p”, “b”, “t”, “d”, “k”, and “g”.
So how do you prevent popping sounds when recording vocals containing any of the 6 plosive phonemes? Glad you asked. By using a pop filter of course!
Pop filters do exactly what it sounds like. They filter those pops out of your vocal sound. How? They disperse the air coming from your mouth in different directions. This means the air from the plosives doesn’t reach the mic with one big hit. It distributes the blast into smaller ones that a hot mic doesn’t pick up.
Last but not least, pop filters also prevent saliva from getting into the microphone, making the mic last longer.
Why Do Popping Sounds Occur?
When you speak words with hard letters in front of a microphone, the loud blast of air from plosives goes straight into the capsule. This will cause an unpleasant overload. The result? Your microphone will pop.
Try this: place your hand palm a couple of inches from your mouth, and say the word “plosives”.
Notice the blast of air coming from the harch letter “p”? Plosives sound louder in microphones than they do in the real world. Especially in condenser microphones because of the proximity effect.
Do I Always Need A Pop Filter?
No. You don’t necessarily need a pop filter, but it’s nice to have. You could position the microphone a little off-axis to the vocalist’s mouth, and have the vocalist sing somewhat sideways into the mic. Doing so will prevent plosives from going straight into the capsule.
The key is to experiment by recording different mic placements. Using a pop filter tends to make the vocals sound less bright, and if you have the time it’s always worth trying recording without.
On the other hand, pop filters are very affordable and it feels a lot safer to use one and then not have to worry about unwanted pops in your vocal recordings.
Lastly, you don’t need a pop filter when recording instruments and distant choirs.
How Far Should The Pop Filter Be From The Microphone?
A good starting point is to position the pop filter one fist length away from the microphone (at least 4 inches, or 10 cm). It should be placed in such a way that it protects the front of the microphone capsule from the singer’s mouth.
It’s also a good idea to have a slight angle on the pop filter. This will prevent sound reflections from bouncing between the mic capsule and the pop filter. Reflections often cause “comb filtering” which can make the sound appear artificial.
As for the singer, position varies from person to person and it depends on the style of voice. As long as the pop filter is positioned correctly, it should prevent blasts of air from getting into the capsule.
What About “Esses”?
Although pop filters are great for dealing with plosives, they don’t help with sibilant sounds. Sibilant sounds, or esses are heard when pronouncing letters such as “s”, “z”, “c”, and “sh”. The best way to combat these sounds is by using a type of plugin called de-essers.
Windscreen vs. Pop Filter
Even if they look different, pop filters and windscreens get confused all the time. Both are standard tools used to reduce excessive pressures on a microphone’s element. So what’s the difference?
Windscreens are like a hat made of foam, that you put on the microphone basket. They’re made specifically to deflect wind when recording outside at concerts, film shoots, or interviews.
Unlike pop filters, windscreens are NOT designed to deflect concentrated air blasts coming from plosives. As the name suggests, windscreens protect the capsule against the wind.
A windscreen will also cut off the top end frequencies and dampen the sound, making it almost impossible to get crisp vocal recordings.
Don’t use them when you’re recording a singer in a studio environment.
Things to Consider When Buying a Mic Pop Filter
Since mic pop filters are affordable compared to other recording equipment, they’re often a great investment. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when buying a pop filter.
First, make sure the pop filter is easy to install and that the adjustable gooseneck mount stays in place. You don’t want to spend time readjusting a flimsy pop filter or making sure it’s well-positioned. So make sure the clamping mechanism is stable and doesn’t feel cheap.
Second, pop filters come in a lot of different sizes. Mic filters with wide diameters cover the microphone better, which essentially gives the vocalist more room for movement while singing.
On the other hand, large filters are bulkier and heavier and do pull down on your microphone stand. Make sure it’s durable and stable enough to handle some weight.
I would choose a smaller pop filter if you have a cheaper mic stand that isn’t as stable as a premium alternative.
Last but not least,, pop filters also come in different materials. The two most common types of pop filters are either made of nylon or metal.
Nylon Pop Filter
Recommended product: Nady MPF-6
Nylon pop filters are the industry standard in most home recording studios. They use double-layered nylon fabric stretched across the inside of a ring frame made of either metal or plastic. Thanks to the double layers, they effectively defuse the air from your breath.
- The industry standard
- Great for removing plosives
- Since nylon is delicate it can easily get ripped
- Usually have a wider diameter than metal pop filters
- Can slightly reduce high frequencies
- Harder to clean than metal pop filters
Metal Pop Filter
Recommended product: Stedman Proscreen XL Pop Filter
Metal pop filters have a single layer that is stamped in a very specific pattern, designed to make the air deflect in different directions. The bigger holes allow high frequencies to pass through more effectively compared to nylon pop filters. Metal pop filters are smaller compared to their nylon counterpart and the perforated metal is solid enough to hold the circular shape without an outer frame.
- Allows high frequencies to pass through better than nylon
- Durable and does not rip
- Easy to clean
- The thin metal sheet is easily bent which is hard to fix
- A bit more expensive than nylon
- Can increase sibilant sounds (esses)
- Some slight whistling sounds can occur when air passes through
Pop filters are an important piece of equipment when you’re recording a vocalist positioned a couple of inches from the microphone. For most modern genres, vocal recordings are the most important part of the music. If you don’t nail it, your music will sound amateur.
Sure, experienced singers with good mic techniques may not need any means of protection. Still, it allows singers to fully focus on their performance, and sound engineers can focus on getting great sounds and optimal levels. It makes everybody’s life easier.