If you’ve seen singers recording vocals in a studio, you may be wondering why they put a screen between the singer and the microphone. Here’s to why:
The screen put between a singer and a microphone is called a pop filter. Using a pop filter has the following advantages:
- Eliminates plosives (mainly “P”s and “B”s)
- Cuts down sibilance
- Keeps moisture out of the microphone
- Prevents the singer’s mouth from touching the microphone
Now let’s look at why we put a screen between the singer and the microphone in more detail!
Why put a screen between the singer and the microphone?
Recording vocals may seem like a relatively straightforward task: You get a microphone, and sing into it, right?
Well, not quite. You see, when a singer sings, not all sounds are of equal volume, nor do they produce the same amount of air.
This becomes much more noticeable when we’re using a sensitive microphone in a recording studio.
By using a screen, we can eliminate this undesirable effect, called plosives.
What are plosives?
Plosives are bursts of air created in certain words. Here’s a list of common plosives:
- “P” & “B”: Made with lips, e.g. Peace, ball.
- “T” & “D”: Made with tongue tip, e.g. Time, dream.
- “K” & “G”: Made with tongue body, e.g. Keen, grow.
Out of the above, the “P”s and “B”s are by far the most problematic.
If we’re singing right into a microphone, the microphone will record a huge burst of air, resulting in an unnaturally high volume for those syllables.
How to eliminate plosives?
To eliminate plosives, we need to use a pop filter.
A pop filter between the singer and the microphone acts as a barrier that stops the huge surge of air created in plosives.
thus, the recording will sound much more clean and natural.
You can also eliminate plosives in your digital audio workstation (daw) software after you’ve recorded the vocals. However this approach is not recommended as it takes too much time to reduce each plosive, and the resulting audio may not be perfect.
What is a pop filter?
The screen you see between a singer and the microphone is a pop filter.
Although they come in different shapes and sizes, the most common design is black, round, and just big enough to cover the diaphragm of the microphone.
There are mainly 2 types of pop filters, one being nylon mesh and the other metallic mesh. Nylon mesh is much cheaper and therefore more commonly used in recording studios.
Most pop filters are attached to the microphone stand using a clamp. But there are also designs that attach to the shock mount of the microphone.
The overall design of a pop filter is relatively simple. So if you want to you can actually DIY your own pop filter using some fabric at home.
Why use a pop filter?
The main reason for using a pop filter is to eliminate plosives. However, we will also discuss additional benefits that come with using it.
As mentioned above in this article, plosives are bursts of air created in certain syllables when we speak or sing.
A pop filter essentially blocks the fast-moving air from reaching the microphone, thus eliminating this undesirable effect.
Cuts down sibilance
Other than plosives, a pop filter can actually cut down sibilance. Sibilance is the hissing noise we make when pronouncing “S”, e.g. Sing, Same.
But reducing sibilance, we get a more flat and natural sounding vocal.
Note that the difference can be quite subtle, so using a De-Esser in post-production is often still needed. A De-Esser is a software that detects sibilance and reduces the volume at those points.
Keeps moisture out of microphone
The truth is, when we speak or sing, moisture comes out of mouth. When that happens, the microphone may pick up lots of moisture over time.
This may not damage the microphone per se, but can be unhygienic.
By using a pop filter, the moisture will land on the mesh, thus preventing it from ever reaching the microphone, keeping it clean.
Prevents the singer’s mouth from touching the microphone
Some singers love to “kiss” the microphone. Whether it’s a habit or it actually helps the singer with expression.
However, not only can this be really unhygienic, but touching the microphone directly can ruin takes due to the sensitivity of the microphone.
By placing a pop filter in front of the microphone, even if the singer’s mouth is touching the pop filter, there is still a gap between the pop filter and the microphone. Hence you can be sure nothing is touching the microphone during the recording session.
Should you use a pop filter?
In most cases, you should use a pop filter when recording vocals. It is simple, cheap, and very effective at eliminating plosives.
However, if for whatever reason you don’t want to use a pop filter, you can ask the singer to sing into the microphone at an angle.
That will avoid the large amounts of air going directly into the microphone, while still being able to record the singer’s performance.
Although this technique works, it may affect the singer’s performance because it may be awkward to sing into the microphone at an angle instead of singing straight on.
The most common argument against using a pop filter is aesthetics. For some people putting a screen in front of singers look ugly.
In that case, instead of not using a pop filter, maybe you could consider getting a pop filter that has your favorite color, or by choosing a metallic mesh pop filter.
There are also pop filters in much smaller sizes, although they’re not as effective in eliminating the plosives.
How to record without a pop filter?
So if you don’t have a pop filter or you choose not to use one, there are still ways to record great vocals.
First, place the microphone at an angle to the singer’s mouth. By not recording directly into the microphone, the bursts of air from plosives will not be picked up by the microphone.
Secondly, you can choose to use a dynamic microphone instead of the much more sensitive condenser microphone. Usually, a dynamic microphone already has a built in pop filter of some sort.
The third way is to simply stand further away from the microphone. This will reduce the plosives immediately. But this approach will introduce room and background noise.