One of the essential tools for a modern-day content creator is a microphone – unless you are doing silent films or something. Well, you may have noticed that when you make certain sounds with your mouth, such as P’s or S’s, you tend to cause the audio signal to jump in intensity dramatically, which often leads to peaking, or clipping your mic. This has been a problem since the first microphones were invented, and a novel solution was invented to counter this – the humble pop filter.
Table of Contents
What Is a Pop Filter?
A pop filter is a device used to interrupt the flow of air between your mouth and a microphone. They vary in size, shape, and technical function. Still, they all serve to limit the air pressure that reaches a microphone’s diaphragm and prevent it from being overdriven, particularly when you use plosive letters (b, d, k, g, p, and t, with p’s being the worst offender) in speech.
The reason these filters are used is to prevent overdriving the microphone’s diaphragm, which causes:
- The audio signal to clip to the maximum value, and audio detail will be lost.
- This results in audible distortion in your signal and recording.
Traditional pop filters work by slowing down air molecules through a cloth or mesh screen before reaching the microphone’s sensitive diaphragm. This reduces the intensity of the pressure wave to keep it below the threshold where it will peak. Another type might instead redirect the air away rather than slow it down. Whatever type it is, the end goal is satisfied – prevent the diaphragm from being overloaded.
Do You Need a Pop Filter?
A pop filter is not strictly necessary, but there is no denying that they are a nice bit of insurance on your takes and can help to salvage recordings that would be ruined from clipping/peaking. They are convenient for singers, as there are many instances where a singer is pushing the limits of the microphone diaphragm at loud parts of a song.
As for live streamers? You could take it or leave it.
If you are using a dynamic microphone, such as an SM58, chances are that the pop filter is actually built into the capsule enclosure, making an external filter a little redundant. With that said, dynamic microphones can still benefit from an external pop filter, so they shouldn’t be dismissed entirely because there is one already on the microphone. Not only that, but not all dynamic microphones share this internal filter feature.
Pop Filter vs Foam Cover vs Windscreens – Which Is Better?
A pop filter and foam cover both serve a similar purpose – slow down the air before it reaches the microphone so that it can properly record the sound rather than the rush of air. Each design has its advantages, as well as disadvantages that you should be aware of.
Foam Covers Explained
The advantage of a foam cover is that it completely surrounds the microphone, which means that it can help deal with recording in environments that are not climate controlled. In other words, it can better deal with the wind outside than a traditional pop filter.
A foam cover is technically classified as a windscreen, but many tend to use it as a sort of in-between solution for dealing with plosives and wind. Pop filters are better against plosives, but the foam cover does well enough in most cases. It does a good enough job that if you were just getting started, and wanted to do indoor and outdoor recording, a foam cover is probably the most cost-effective option for you, especially if you factor in some microphone speaking techniques.
However, It cannot be positionally adjusted – It is either on or off. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s good because it simplifies set-up significantly, but it’s bad because you cannot optimize the effect.
- 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
- Can’t be adjusted
- Can have a strong chemical smell
Pop Filters Explained
A Pop filter, as many imagine them, is a piece of fabric or mesh stretched between a frame on a gooseneck mounting system that attaches to the microphone’s mounting arm. However, this is merely one of many different form factors that they can take. The advantage of this design is that you can adjust how close the filter is to the microphone itself, dramatically affecting how well the filter performs.
The pop filter that I use is a wrap-around design, which I prefer as it is a smaller footprint. This design sacrifices adjustability, but it works well enough when paired with one of the microphone speaking techniques called off-axis rejection. This design ends up leaving an inch gap between the microphone and the filter, so it isn’t the end of the world to lose the adjustability of a gooseneck design.
- Some designs are fairly large and unwieldly
- Very effective against plosives when used correctly
- Typically made of cloth mesh
- Easy to create a DIY pop filter using old clothes.
- Can be a challenge to position for your microphone if you lack a microphone boom arm
- Doesn’t do much against the wind
- Can be difficult to clean
Microphone Windscreens explained
The third and final type of filter for your microphone is the windscreen. This filter is designed to slow down incoming air from all directions, giving the microphone a fighting chance to capture audio rather than clipping out in windy environments. They are better at this than foam covers in several cases, though both are used interchangeably for the same task.
When I say windscreen, I’m specifically referring to the design that looks like a small hairy mouse. Here is a picture of one for reference:
This hairy design is very effective at interrupting the flow of air, which makes it one of the best microphone windscreen designs. The Foam covers also technically fall under the same category, but I’ve separated them out so you can see each design type.
The Best Place to Put an Adjustable Pop Filter
If the filter you chose has an adjustable design, the best place to put the pop filter is at the halfway point 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 whole lot of time to disperse, reducing the efficiency of the filter.
However, it is important to remember that to get good, clean audio out of any microphone, it 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.
What is the Best Pop Filter?
The Best Pop Filter that I have personally used is this Generic wraparound filter, and it does the job well enough that I haven’t found a reason to upgrade it. As long as you properly use the filter and give small air gaps between it, your mouth, and your mic, it is plenty for live streaming. An added benefit is that it doesn’t obstruct my view as much as the traditional gooseneck design.
Pop filter design is a bit of a deep rabbit hole – there are very cheap filters out there designed to do an okay job, and then there are super expensive, premium designs that tend to be only slightly better. A cheap design gets you 80% of the way. The last 20% has a massive price hike, as they tend to be more niche products designed for professional recording studios.