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What is a Pop Filter? – For Cleaner Vocals!

Do you find it difficult to get clean vocal recordings at home? A lot of times when we speak into a microphone, there will be some unwanted “side effects” that is just unavoidable. Well, the good news is that these undesirable occurrences can be avoided or eliminated. Want to know how? Then you need to find out what is a Pop Filter!

To many recording enthusiasts and engineers, this handy little instrument may seem very simple and straightforward in terms of its application. However, there is actually much more to the design and function of the pop filter than most people might think. Hence, in this article, we will uncover more of its secrets!

Pop Filter – Is It Really Necessary?

Also known as “pop shield”, a pop filter is typically used together with a microphone to serve as an anti-pop noise protection filter. It is designed to reduce or eliminate ‘popping’ sounds during vocal recordings, which is caused by the mechanical impact of fast moving air on the microphone. Additionally, it also prevents mold growth on the microphone by keeping moisture off.

Rode Pop Filter

A typical pop filter / Photo by Tim Sheerman-Chase / CC BY 2.0

Pop filters can also protect against the accumulation of saliva on the microphone element. Human saliva contains salts that are corrosive and may cause damage to the most sensitive parts of the microphone. Thus, by using a pop filter, the life of the microphone can be greatly extended.

Here are the topics that we’ll be looking at:

  • Components
  • Vocal response
  • Windscreen

    Pop Filter Design

    Photo by Sloggerbum at en.wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Components

Most pop filters usually have one or more layers of acoustically semi-transparent material such as woven nylon stretched over a circular frame. They will often be designed to include a clamp and a flexible mounting bracket to allow for easy attachment to microphone stands. On the other hand, metal pop filters use a fine mesh metal screen instead of nylon.

There are also “home-made” pop shields, that are similar in function to professional ones, but are made from materials such as tights or stockings. An embroidery hoop or a loop of wire such as a bent coat hanger, can be used as the circular frame. Pop shields should never be attached directly to the microphone as vibrations will be transmitted from the shield to the mic.

Vocal Response

During vocal performances, popping sounds will usually occur especially when the performer has to pronounce aspirated plosives such as the first ‘p’ in the English word “popping”. This is why pop filters are needed because they attenuate the energy of the plosive, which if not controlled, may exceed the design input capacity of the microphone, resulting in “clipping“.

Vocal Recording

Photo by midiman / CC BY 2.0

What actually happens is that the strands of the filter material will intercept and break up the plosive’s discrete envelope of sound energy, before it can impinge on, and momentarily distort, the sensitive diaphragm of the microphone’s element. Do take note that pop filters are not effective against hissing sounds or sibilance, for which de-essing is used.

Windscreen

A microphone windscreen is not exactly the same as a pop filter. Windscreens are typically used in outdoor environments, while pop filters are generally used in recording studios. Vocalists may also use windscreens while performing on stage in order to reduce plosives and saliva, but they might not be as acoustically transparent as a studio pop filter.

Digital Audio Recorder

Windscreen used on a digital audio recorder / Photo by LA2 / CC BY-SA 3.0

There are also some models of condenser microphones available in the market, that are designed to have a built-in pop filter, which functions to prevent sound distortion due to clipping.

We have come to the end of this article. Do you think pop filters are important for your recording projects?

Let me know your thoughts down below, and do share this article!

Farhan

When I'm not rocking out to great music, I'd prefer to be sleeping on a field on a windy day =)

4 Comments

  1. When recording at home with a pop shield does the shield muffle the sound? Where does the moisture and mold come from on the microphone? Do they offer choices of pop shields? Can you buy a pop shield at a retail store? Can you buy a pop shield online? Are their different brands and companies that offer pop shields? What is the cost of a pop shield? Are pop shields different prices? Are the condenser microphones with the built in pop shield expensive? The pop shield looks like a good product for recording.

    • Hi Larry!

      Yes you can get pop shields from your nearest music store, and most of the different brands should be around the same price. Moisture could come from your saliva, which can cause corrosion. There are many different models of condenser microphones, and they are sold at different prices.

      Cheers!

  2. Hi Farhan

    I was just on your site. It’s odd how one can be looking for information to solve a problem, and solutions just show up. I learned some things about speakers and sound.

    I am in a band and the most difficult part of a gig is the soundcheck. I am taking some valuable tips from your article on this. The idea about recording certain songs is something we will try.

    I also happen to be in the market for a vocal microphone so the post about the Shure microphone was very helpful.

    • Hi there!

      Happy to hear that you have learnt a lot from my articles. Do come back for more!

      Cheers!

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