What Does a Pop Filter Do, and Do You Need One?
Updated: October 06,2022
Do you ever notice a weird sound in your recordings and then realize that it's the sound of your own breathing? Don't worry; you're not the only one.
Breathing into a microphone can cause all sorts of unwanted noises in your recordings, from popping to hissing to rumbling. Luckily, there's a simple solution to this problem: a pop filter.
But what is a pop filter, and do you really need one? We’ll answer that, and more, in this article.
What Does a Pop Filter Do?
A pop filter, also known as a “pop shield,” is a circular piece of mesh that goes in front of your microphone. It’s made to spread out the sound of your breath before it gets to the microphone and thus helps avoid popping sounds.
Microphone pop filters come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve the same purpose. Some pop filters are even built into microphone stands, so you don't have to worry about buying one separately.
Why Do Popping Sounds Happen?
Simply put, a popping sound occurs when the air hits the microphone directly. It happens when you say a word with a hard letter like "p" or "b" and produce a small burst of air that then hits the microphone. Such sounds are called plosives, and we’ll get to them in a moment.
To understand why this happens, we need to take a look at the basics, i.e., how sound waves work. Sound is a vibration that travels through the air (or any other medium, such as water or solid ground). When that vibration hits something, it causes that thing to vibrate as well.
Microphones work by turning sound vibrations into electrical signals. The microphone's diaphragm is a thin piece of material that vibrates when sound waves hit it, and the microphone's coils turn the vibration into an electrical signal.
The problem is that, when the air hits the diaphragm directly, it can cause a much bigger vibration than the sound waves. That is why you need a barrier or, in this case, a pop filter for your microphone.
What Are Plosives?
Plosives are consonants that are accompanied by a sudden release of air upon articulation. The popping effect most commonly occurs with the "p" and "b" sounds, but you can also get it from words that start with "d," "g," "t," and "k."
The best way to keep plosives from ruining your recording is to use a mic with a pop filter. This will diffuse the airflow or deflect it, reducing the direct impact on the microphone's diaphragm. The end result is a much cleaner sound with less popping.
Do You Need a Pop Filter?
Now that you know what a pop filter is and what it does, you might be wondering if you need one. The answer is: it depends.
Getting a pop filter is a good idea if you're recording vocals or speaking directly into a microphone. It will help you reduce the effect of plosives during the recording, which will, in turn, make your recordings sound cleaner.
But let's say you're only recording background noise or using a microphone for something other than talking, like showing off your new turntable or other products. In that case, a microphone pop filter isn't likely to be essential.
It also depends on the type of microphone you’re using. For example, if you use a dynamic microphone, you might not need a pop filter because they commonly come with one built-in. On the other hand, if you're using a condenser microphone, then a condenser mic pop filter is probably a good idea.
Types of Pop Filters
Now that we’ve explained what a microphone pop filter is and why it’s useful, we can move on to the types of pop filters.
There are two types of external pop filters: nylon and metallic mesh. You’ll sometimes hear that microphone foam windscreens are a pop filter, but that isn’t entirely correct. Windscreens for microphones are meant to cut down on wind noise and protect the microphone from the weather. However, they do not efficiently disperse plosives like a pop filter does.
Nylon pop filters: These are made from a thin layer of woven nylon stretched over a circular frame. Nylon mesh pop filters work by diffusing the air and breaking it up into smaller sections, all of them going in different directions, so you don’t have one big gust of air hitting the mic. This helps reduce the effect of plosive sounds.
Metal pop filters: These filters are made from a fine mesh metal screen stretched over a circular frame. Metal pop filters work in a similar way to nylon ones. But, instead of distorting the air, they push it downwards, away from the microphone diaphragm, which makes metal pop filters slightly more effective.
Can I Make My Own Pop Filter?
Yes, you can! If you're feeling crafty, make your own nylon mesh pop filters for your microphone out of materials you have around the house. All you need is a piece of nylon, some wire, and a few other household items.
To make your own DIY pop filter, follow these steps:
- Cut a circular piece of nylon. The size of the circle will depend on the size of your microphone.
- Make a frame out of a wire coat hanger or another material that can be bent into a circle or is already shaped like a circle.
- Stretch the fabric over the frame and secure it in place.
- Attach the pop filter to your microphone stand with a piece of wire.
And just like that, you have your very own mic with a pop filter! You can find other DIY tutorials and ideas on how to make pop filters on the internet easily, but keep in mind that you can find solid nylon mesh pop filters for about $10 on Amazon.
How To Use a Pop Filter?
Using a pop filter is actually very simple. Just attach it to your microphone stand and place it in front of the microphone, and it will diffuse the sound of your breath before it reaches the mic.
The general rule of thumb is that the pop filter should be about four inches away from the microphone. This distance will vary depending on the type of microphone you're using and the vocal volume.
You should experiment with the distance to see what sounds best for you. If the pop filter is too close to the mic, it won’t be able to prevent popping sounds. On the other hand, if the pop filter is too far from the microphone, you’ll have to increase the gain, which will increase the room noise.
Tricks To Avoid Popping Sounds
Even if you don’t have or don’t want to use a microphone with a pop filter, you can do a couple of things to reduce popping sounds.
One trick is to speak off-axis, which means positioning the microphone slightly to the side of your mouth. Since the air is not going directly into the microphone, it will drastically reduce the amount of popping sounds.
Another trick is putting a pencil in front of your lips while speaking. This will help to diffuse the air before it hits the microphone.
The easiest trick is just to put a sock over your microphone. The sock will absorb and diffuse the air, similar to how windshield foam protection works, so it won’t work well if you speak directly into the mic. For the best effect, you should combine this method with speaking off-axis.
Hopefully, we’ve provided a satisfactory answer as to what a pop filter is and what it does. The only question we can't answer is whether you need one, but with the information we've provided, you should be able to determine that on your own.
Just remember that some microphones, like one of the best gaming microphones - the HyperX QuadCast - come with their own built-in pop filter. So, always check the specifications before you start shopping for a pop filter for your microphone.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, a pop filter or a pop shield will not make you sound better. However, it will help reduce popping sounds and improve the overall sound quality of your recording.
This is one of the common misconceptions regarding the use of pop filters. The pop filter doesn’t reduce background noise and room noise. It only eliminates popping sounds caused by plosives. To learn more, check out our article: “What Does a Pop Filter Do, and Do You Need One?”
No, it doesn’t. The only thing it can affect is the quality of your audio recording if it’s not properly positioned, but if it is, it will actually improve the sound quality of your voice recordings.
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While Damjan started his career in humanities, his interests quickly moved on to the tech and IT world. VPNs, antiviruses, firewalls, password managers - cybersecurity is what he knows best. When Damjan’s not losing hair over the dwindling of our collective sense of tech safety, you’ll find him looking for solace in 100-hour-long RPGs and rage-inducing MOBAs.