Whether you recorded vocals for a rock song or did a voice over for a commercial, it’s more than likely that the studio you recorded at had a pop filter.
Even if you’ve never recorded your own voice, you’ve likely seen photos of singers in studios with these big pop filters sitting in front of the microphone. So the main questions are,
What is a pop filter and why in the world would you need one? and,
If you’re recording your own vocals, do you need a pop filter?
To understand why pop filters are so important in the recording process, we must understand why they were created in the first place.
- 1 Vocal Pop
- 2 What Exactly Is This Vocal Pop We’re Talking About and Where Does it Come From?
- 3 Proximity Effect
- 4 So You Mean Only Ribbon Mics Really Need Pop Filters?
- 5 How Do Pop Filters Work?
- 6 Pop Filter Materials
- 7 Mind Your ‘P’s and ‘B’s
If you’ve ever tried recording vocals without a pop filter, you may have noticed a weird popping in your recording upon playback. These popping noises are one of the biggest signs of an amateur recording.
Not all vocal pop is equal though, as some forms can be a bit more subtle while some are more prominent. The cool thing is, all pop filters are meant to tame these popping noises to help make your vocal recordings sound more professional.
What Exactly Is This Vocal Pop We’re Talking About and Where Does it Come From?
Vocal pop, mostly referred to as plosives, are harder consonants such as ‘P’ and ‘B’ in which a sudden release of air follows the closing of the lips. Thanks to the way microphones are designed, they pick these up as thump-like pops.
Essentially, they rattle the diaphragm of the microphone. If loud enough, they can be incredibly annoying for the listener. They also create what we call the proximity effect.
Just about every microphone out there deals with proximity effect.
Plosives, while not necessarily “low frequencies” objectively, they do result in the same “thump” that you get with proximity effect. The closer to the microphone that you get, the stronger these plosives will sound.
Depending on the sensitivity of your microphone, hard popping can actually be pretty dangerous. Old ribbon microphones, for example, have very fragile ribbons on the inside that can be damaged if exposed to plosive sounds sources close up.
So You Mean Only Ribbon Mics Really Need Pop Filters?
That’s not the case at all!
Though old ribbon microphones are the most fragile (by the way, new ribbons are far stronger than they used to be) other microphones are still certainly affected by plosives.
With that said, the effect that plosives have on different types of microphones varies, and some microphones have more of a reaction than others.
Condenser Mics Vs. Dynamic Mics
Condenser microphones are used to record vocals in professional studios more than any other type of microphone. This is because they are extremely sensitive, allowing them to pick up the nuances of the human voice.
That sensitivity also makes them far more vulnerable to plosives, meaning it is pretty necessary to have a pop filter if you’re looking to achieve a professional recording.
Dynamic microphones are a bit less sensitive than condenser microphones and have stronger diaphragms.
They’re meant to be used in high output situations such as live shows, as well as with high output instruments like drums.
Even though they are stronger, they still require pop filters for obtaining a quality sound.
How Do Pop Filters Work?
So by now, we’ve pretty much drilled into you that you need a pop filter if you’re recording vocals. Now it’s time to understand how they work.
At their foundation, pop filters are pretty easy to understand. As a vocal sound is created, it will hit the screen and break the sound particles into smaller, scattered pieces.
A pop filter is to the voice as a sieve is to rice.
Pop filters are not made equal though. There are many different varieties of pop filters that are made for specific reasons. Some are better at dealing with different frequencies than others and some are better at dispersing sound than others.
Let’s check out how different pop filter materials can affect your sound.
Pop Filter Materials
Nylon pop filters are easily the most common type of pop filters out there thanks to the fact that they are inexpensive and easy to work with. You can pretty much make your own with a nylon stocking and a wire hanger, though they’re so cheap that the time spent making one wouldn’t even save you money!
The biggest issue with nylon stockings is that, while only very subtly, they can have a negative impact on high-end frequencies. This is why many engineers have started resorting to different materials like metal.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more money, you might want to check out a perforated metal pop filter. These are typically a bit smaller in size and far more durable than their nylon cousins.
Compared to nylon pop filters, they let in more high frequencies. Some say that this leads to slight whistling noises, though they’re very subtle if any.
Some microphones come with small foam windshields that made to fit atop the grill of the microphone. In terms of doing the same job as a pop filter, they fall far behind and can’t deal with plosives as well.
The other issue is, the thicker the foam, the more high frequencies it will start to absorb. At some point, it becomes something like room treatment that you’d find in a studio.
While they are great for keeping the grill of your microphone safe from spit, we would not recommend them as a substitute for a pop filter.
Mind Your ‘P’s and ‘B’s
At this point, you should have enough knowledge to understand that having a pop filter is a must when recording vocals. If you don’t, you could end up with amateur-sounding recordings or worse, a damaged microphone.
Why go through any of that when you can purchase something so simple and inexpensive to save yourself.
You’ll notice a difference in your recordings right away!