You don’t need to be a seasoned recording artist to have seen a pop filter at some point. These mesh screens are usually found just in front of recording microphones during recording sessions. However, you may be wondering what exactly they are and why they are used.
Today we will be answering the question, “What is a pop filter used for?” and examining the different types of pop filters available.
What is a Pop Filter Used For? The Details
A pop filter or a pop shield is a small circular mesh made from nylon or metal that is positioned a few inches away from a microphone. These filters are usually sold with goosenecks that allow the user to place them in close proximity to their chosen microphone. They help shield the microphone from certain sounds that would impact the recording or produce unwanted noises.
Most professionals such as singers, music producers, studio recording artists, rappers, dubbing artists, voice over artists use pop filters to improve the quality of their recordings.
Why is a Pop Filter Needed?
A pop filter is a staple in most vocal recording setups. Some people incorrectly believe that these filters help reduce unwanted background noise in recordings. So what is their primary purpose?
As mentioned above, a pop filter shields the microphone from certain sounds. However, a more specific explanation would be that these filters protect the mic capsule from “plosive energies”. So what are “plosives”? The term may sound funny, but it actually refers to the rapid bursts of air that come from your mouth when you utter certain syllables or phrases.
For example, you produce “plosives” when you laugh, as the “ha ha” syllables displace air rapidly. If you were to laugh next to a microphone, the rapid air displacement may overload the instrument and create a popping noise in the recording.
Other “plosives” can also occur when you say words starting with any of the following letters:
Setting up a pop filter is the best way to reduce unwanted plosives. In addition to this, you can position your mouth a good distance away from the microphone. This should prevent the device from capturing any additional air pressure bursts coming from your mouth.
In addition to protecting the microphone from plosives, a pop filter also stops any saliva from entering the microphone. This can be a recurring issue for vocalists who inadvertently spit while delivering high energy vocal performances. Spitting into a microphone repeatedly damages it from prolonged moisture exposure and corrosion. Setting up a pop filter allows vocalists to go all-out without worrying about accidentally spitting into their microphone.
Can You Use Something Other Than a Pop Filter for Vocal Recordings?
Pop filters are necessary for creating high-quality microphone recordings. However, it is possible to get by without using one in extreme circumstances. So what is a suitable alternative to a pop filter?
Believe it or not, the humble sock can perform almost as well as an actual pop filter. So if you’re in the studio at 2am and are in need of a pop filter, consider slipping a thin sock over your microphone. You should note that thinness is the key here. A thick sock will end up blocking out important vocal frequencies and result in a muffled recording. However, if you have the time and money to purchase a proper pop filter, you should probably get one.
Types of Pop Filters
If you are in the market for your first pop filter, you should familiarize yourself with the different types available. There are generally two primary types of pop filters: nylon mesh filters and metal mesh filters.
Nylon Mesh Filters
As their name implies, nylon mesh filters are made from a nylon fabric. They usually consist of two layers of nylon separated by a small space. This helps diffuse air from your mouth as it travels to the microphone, thereby slowing down its speed.
Metal Mesh Filters
Metal mesh filters consist of a single layer of metal mesh. These filters don’t diffuse or offer resistance for the air traveling towards the microphone. Instead, their goal is to redirect the air away from the microphone’s diaphragm.
The metal mesh serves as a physical barrier that deflects the air downwards, greatly reducing the plosives that reach the microphone.
What is the Best Type of Pop Filter?
After learning about the two types of pop filters described above, you may be wondering which is better. Each of the aforementioned filter types offers distinct advantages. So let’s compare how they perform in different areas.
Metal pop filters come out on top when it comes to reducing plosives. As mentioned earlier, they serve as a physical barrier that stops air from reaching the microphone. As a result, very little of the air travelling from your mouth actually reaches the microphone directly.
Nylon pop filters fall short in this area because they only slow down the air reaching the microphone. This means you may still get some plosives in the final recording.
One area where nylon pop filters shine is in recording quality. These filters may be less aggressive in their shielding. However, this equates to more natural sounding recordings.
This is in contrast to the aggressive shielding of metal pop filters, which tends to block out some of the desirable vocal sounds in the recording.
Metal filters are generally more durable than nylon filters. This is due to the delicate nature of the nylon fabric. However, you can make a nylon filter last for many years if you are gentle with it, and know how to store it properly.
Metal pop filters tend to be more expensive than nylon ones. These start at around $30 while nylon pop filters are usually priced at around $20. However, you should avoid choosing a certain type of filter based on price alone, as performance is more important for creating great-sounding vocal recordings.
Are Windscreens the Same as Pop Filters?
You may come across many “windscreens” while searching for a suitable pop filter. So what exactly is a windscreen, and why is it different from a pop filter?
A windscreen is essentially a special type of cover placed over the microphone. This cover may be made from synthetic fur or foam. As their name implies, they block wind from hitting the microphone.
Windscreens are useful for recording audio outdoors, as they do a good job of shielding the microphone from wind. This may lead you to believe that they would also work well as pop filters. You could try using a windscreen as a pop filter in a pinch. However, they aren’t designed to shield the microphone from plosives, and may affect the treble in the final recording.
For this reason, it is best to always use a pop filter for your microphone recordings.
As you can see, a pop filter serves an important role in the audio recording world. So consider consulting this guide before setting out to purchase your first pop filter for your studio. The right pop filter could spell the difference between a good quality recording and a great one, so be sure to do your research before making your choice.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.