How To Choose The BEST Pop Filter?
WHY USE A POP FILTER and WHY A GOOD ONE?
A recording engineer’s job is to achieve the impossible - capturing the sound received by something as complex as our ears with a primitive tool like a microphone.
In order to filter out unwanted noise a microphone needs to be closer to the source than our ears need to be, because we can naturally filter unwanted sound, but a mic just captures whatever hits it. This proximity means the mic also captures the rush of breath our mouths emit when creating sound, so we need a filter to remove these plosives without affecting desirable sound qualities.
A quality pop filter has a simple, but crucial job - filter out plosives, without imparting any character of its own on the recording and making your recording sound like someone has put a sock over your mic!
In doing so it also provides an important secondary benefit by keeping moist breath from the singer’s mouth off the microphone. This is notoriously bad for microphones as it causes a build up of sound altering grunge and rust, not ideal especially with your expensive microphones.
In this article we’ll explore what makes a good pop filter for each situation and how to make the right choice, so you don’t lose the magic created by voice and microphone.
POP FILTER INGREDIENTS
It is devilishly hard to engineer a pop filter that only does what it should, without filtering more than we need. Fabric based pop filters are notorious for cutting the delicate high frequencies from vocals. We may try to recover what’s lost using EQ, however the damage is too complex and something is always lost.
Pop filters on the surface are pretty simple things. Usually they consist of the filter itself which is designed to sit between the singer and the mic. To keep the filter in the optimum position an arm of some sort is employed. As important as is the actual filter, a shoddy arm can get on your nerves and might cost you a decent vocal take.
First off let’s look at the types of pop filters available for purchase:
FABRIC MESH-TYPE FILTERS - usually consist of a piece of nylon fabric stretched over a metal or plastic circle. Fabric thickness will dictate how durable the filter will be and how many times you’ll be able to wash it before it falls apart. Effective and affordable, but known for the “sock on a mic” sonic character.
METAL MESH TYPE FILTERS - a woven wire or stamped metal mesh is used to create the filter. These leave less of a sonic footprint on the sound and can be cleaned more easily, however they are more pricey than nylon filters and require sturdier mounting arms or goosenecks as they’re heavier.
FOAM WINDSCREENS - whilst originally intended to shield mics on the field from noisy wind gusts, these foam screens are also effective against plosives. Unfortunately they also cut off high frequencies and so are generally reserved for situations where just getting usable sound trumps the need for overall quality.
WHAT FILTER IS BEST FOR YOU?
This really depends on what you’re trying to achieve and where. We’ve come up with three scenarios where your needs as a recording professional will be completely different and we’ve got multiple solutions for all of them.
I PODCASTING OR RADIO WORK IN A STUDIO
- A DIY pop filter. If a tight budget or availability of a filter are an issue, then break out some scissors and pliers. The frame of your DIY filter can be made from a wire coat hanger and the fabric can be cut out from standard nylon pantyhose (more common fabrics like cotton from a t-shirt are not desirable as they will obliterate the high frequencies). When cutting the coat hanger, be sure to come up with some mounting solution to keep the filter between your mouth and the mic.
- A nylon mesh pop filter. Capturing voice for broadcast will always mean that you’re using limiting and compression, therefore losing some of the magic that’s inherent in your microphone. If you’re having guests over at your studio and intend to share the mic, get a filter that’s big enough for both of you. There is no downside for having a huge pop filter, other than it might obscure your face for video capture. Larger filters will also require a sturdy mounting solution.
II RECORDING OUT IN THE FIELD
- A foam windscreen. These come already bundled in with many omni mics. They’re fairly resistant to wind noise and will take care of plosives as well. A foam sleeve will also protect your mic from moisture and other elements that might be present where you work. Due to their unobtrusive looks foam windshields are a piece of every run and gun TV crew’s kit. Besides the aforementioned dulling of the captured sound, foam can start coming apart due to mechanical damage and prolonged sun exposure. Luckily it’s cheap enough to be easily replaceable.
- A blimp-type foam screen. These are a favourite of on-site boom operators. As there’s really no other way to protect the elongated shells of tight pattern shotgun mic capsules, a blimp will both keep out wind noise. As for plosives? If the mic is close enough to catch them, the blimp will make sure they’re not a problem.
- A dead cat/kitten windscreen. The blimp not cutting it? Enter the dead cat for blimps and the kitten for lavaliers and small camera mics. The bigger version is essentially a fuzzy bag with artificial fur on the outside and it goes over the foam blimp windshield. The fur strands dissipate wind without making any turbulent noise. Plosives are a non issue here. Of course, the sonic impact will be felt however correcting it via EQ is way easier than wrestling with wind noise.
III STUDIO ENVIRONMENT VOCAL RECORDINGS
- A high-quality nylon mesh filter. Studio vocal recording means you’re capturing as much as you can in the maximum possible quality. Chances are you have your best mic, hooked to the finest preamp with the rest of the chain finely tuned. Once you have a good take from the singer, the last thing you want is to feel that you’re listening to the filter. There are some very good nylon mesh filters out there which cost north of 100EUR, however they will have limited longevity. Remember - pop filters catch moisture and will get mucked up in time. Can you be sure that after washing they remain the same?
- A metal mesh pop filter. If you want the best there is, then a metal pop filter is what you want. Plonk it in front of any mic and you’ll hear the mic, not the filter. There are reports of some lower quality metal filters causing a whistling sound probably due to resonance, however a good one will be as silent as a grave. Here at JZ microphones we’ve taken every precaution to make sure that our JZ Pop Filter filter kills all plosives and leaves no trace. If it gunks up with use, just wash it with soapy water and it’ll be as new. We’re microphone experts and the last thing we need is a filter that would somehow obscure the brilliance behind quality mics like ours.
BREAKTHROUGH IN POP FILTER DESIGN
Years of research and audio engineer feedback have been put into designing this:
Wire mesh pop filter LIKE NO OTHER on the market!
“The JZ PF is one such product — the best, most well-designed, and well-built pop filter I’ve ever used.” John Baccigaluppi from TAPEOP
JZ Microphones wire mesh pop filter is the FIRST OF IT'S KIND. It's the only pop filter in the market with the waveform grill.
The compact shape and unique waveform of the mesh reduces unwanted reverberations, and kills pops and blows more effectively than any other pop filter on the market for the price. This industrial design keeps the frequencies unaffected and gives clear and uncoloured sound.
On top of that, JZ Pop Filter has an extra-long 45cm (17") gooseneck for easy positioning and ergonomic attachment to a stand.
“I tested the JZ Microphones Pop Filter… It is amazing to me that as hard as I intentionally p-pop, nothing is heard--at the most, the sound of my lips and mouth are there but no low-frequency thumps at all." Barry Rudolph Grammy-winning engineer/producer