Pop Filters are a very commonly used device in audio production fields. They serve an important purpose in ensuring you get the best quality audio you can. This is because they protect against certain aspects of physics that can ruin a recording.
This protection extends to all forms of content creation involving audio, including live streaming. That means that streamers would benefit from having a pop filter. But that isn’t the full answer, so let’s get into it.
Table of Contents
What Does a Pop Filter Do?
Y’know, saying a pop filter protects against some physics of human speech is kinda complicated. So, let’s break it down into something a bit easier to understand. All a pop filter does is slow down the air that hits the microphone diaphragm to help prevent it from clipping.
Some models of pop filters will instead redirect the air, pushing it parallel to the microphone rather than just slowing it down.
Pros of Using a Pop Filter for Streaming:
- Very effective against clipping and plosives
- Typically made of cloth mesh and plastic, making them very cheap
- Easy to create a DIY pop filter using an old sock and a 3D-printed frame
Cons of Using a Pop Filter for Streaming:
- Can be a challenge to position your microphone if you lack a microphone boom arm
- Doesn’t do much against the wind
- Can be difficult to clean
- Some designs are fairly large and unwieldy
- Can block your face with larger designs
What is Clipping?
Clipping occurs when the air pressure that reaches a microphone’s diaphragm causes it to be overdriven. This results in the audio signal becoming distorted, which causes sharp drops in audio quality and a loss of frequency data points.
You can’t fix an audio signal that has clipped at the microphone because there simply is no audio information to salvage. That is what makes the addition of a cheap pop filter such a huge boon.
Clipping is sometimes called “peaking,” so if you hear that term, then they mean clipping.
Problematic Sounds of Human Speech
A pop filter is mainly used to combat certain sounds of human speech. These sounds emit something called a “plosive,” which is essentially tiny blasts of high-pressure air.
Since the filter combats the high-pressure air by slowing it down, which lowers its pressure, you can get closer to the microphone and talk as usual with a far lower chance of clipping the microphone audio. This will improve the audio quality of your recording and even introduce something called the “Proximity effect,” which changes the characteristics of the audio a bit.
The problematic sounds I am referring to are:
- B, or “Ba”
- D, or “Da”
- K, or “Ka”
- G, or “Ga”
- P, or “Pa” (The harshest sound in human speech)
- T, or “Ta”
Put your hand in front of your mouth as you make those sounds, and you’ll feel the high-pressure air blasts I am talking about. That is what causes clipping in a microphone.
Do Pop Filters Reduce Sound Quality?
A pop filter affects the audio’s quality but in mostly good ways. Slowing down the air makes you a tiny bit quieter than you would be without a pop filter, but that drawback is immediately overcome by getting closer to the microphone, making you louder. Overall, it actually increases the sound quality because it mostly eliminates microphone clipping at the hardware level.
Other Tools for Microphones – Foam Covers & Windscreens
Besides the pop filter, there are two other types of microphone tools to help with different problems:
- Foam Covers
What is a Foam Cover
A Foam cover is a middle-ground alternative to a pop filter that serves two purposes:
- Slow down the air, like a pop filter
- lower ambient background noise being picked up from the microphone
A foam cover does not protect against plosives as well as a pop filter, but it can reduce the ambient background noise picked up by the microphone by a fair amount. It also protects the microphone diaphragm from accumulating dust, making it easier to keep the microphone in good working order.
This is especially true for fragile ribbon microphones, which are easily destroyed by dust.
Can you use a pop filter and foam at the same time?
There is nothing stopping you from using both a pop filter and foam cover, getting the benefits of both. It is a bit overkill, but
Pros of using a Foam Cover For Streaming:
- They don’t obstruct your view very much
- They filter noise from all directions
- Helps against plosives
- Works well against wind
- Super easy to use
- Easy to clean – Hand wash Soap and water, let dry for 72 hours
Cons of using a Foam Cover for Streaming:
- Can’t be adjusted
- Can have a strong chemical smell
What is a Microphone Windscreen
A windscreen, or a “dead cat” as it is sometimes morbidly called, is a microphone tool that shields the microphone from – you guessed it – the wind. It is excellent at this, more so than the foam cover, and it even offers some level of plosives protection like a pop filter. However, it is not as good as the foam cover or the pop filter in dealing with plosives.
It is better at dealing with higher-frequency noise than a foam cover, but that type of noise isn’t usually hard to deal with. Like the foam cover, a windscreen also protects against dust accumulation on the microphone, even more so as these types of tools can usually be washed with your laundry.
This is the least useful tool for live streamers, at least if your content is based indoors. I don’t recommend using a windscreen for the purpose of streaming.
What is the Best Pop Filter for Streamers?
The best pop filter for streamers depends on whether you have a side-address or front-address microphone.
For side-address microphones, I recommend using something like this Generic wrap-around filter, which I personally use. It does the job well enough that I haven’t found a reason to upgrade it, and it’s super cheap. Not much else to say, it just works, and it doesn’t obstruct the camera view like the larger, adjustable designs.
For front-address microphones, I recommend something like the Seiren Mini Microphone filter. The reason is that the filter itself is small, merely 4 inches around, and can be adjusted to be positioned in front of a microphone. I chose this for compatibility purposes, as not all microphones share a round body or are the same diameter.
The Best Place to Put an Adjustable Pop Filter
If your chosen filter has an adjustable design, the best place to put the pop filter is halfway between your mouth and the microphone. This is important because the closer the filter is to your mouth, the less efficient it is at slowing down air. At the same time, if it is too close to the microphone, it doesn’t have a lot of time to disperse, reducing the filter’s efficiency.
However, it is important to remember that getting good, clean audio out of any microphone must be within 1 to 4 inches away from your mouth. If you want to get the most out of the filter and have good-quality audio, put it 2 inches away from the mic, and speak into the filter from two inches back.
An Alternative to Using a Pop Filter – Off-Axis Rejection
If you are strapped for cash, then you can utilize an age-old voiceover technique of dealing with plosives – Off-axis rejection. To do this, simply position the microphone to face the sensitive side of your mouth, but not directly in front of it. The video above explains this concept using a rather extreme use case, but for streaming, you just need to move the microphone out of the direct line of your speech.
This does result in a slightly different sound from talking directly into the microphone, but you won’t be blasting the diaphragm with tiny, high-speed air explosions; thus, you prevent plosives. It also reduces the proximity effect if you don’t like how that makes you sound.