If you’ve recorded vocals and wondered why you heard loud bursts of air when the singer hits certain consonants, then you already understand the use of a pop filter. While it isn’t the most earth-shattering piece of studio equipment we use, it serves a valuable purpose for recording vocals.
What Does a Pop Filter Do?
A pop filter very simply disperses the air coming out of a singer’s mouth. Plosives are specific speech sounds we get when pronouncing consonants like b, d, g, t, k, and p. Because a microphone can be sensitive, plosive sounds become amplified, and usually they distract and detract from an otherwise clean recording.
Filters serve to break up plosive bursts of air and disperse the acoustic energy so that it doesn’t hit the microphone in such a pronounced way that causes a popping or clicking sound.
Why Would You Want a Pop Filter for Recording Vocals?
Plosives are a natural part of human speech and vocalization. There’s really no way to mitigate them other than using a specific device made for reducing their impact on a mic capsule. A vocalist could potentially learn microphone technique, adjusting their position relative to the capsule when performing certain words/phrases, but we can’t always rely on that. There’s also the argument that you’d prefer a singer going all in and emoting on a performance versus worrying about controlling their own plosives.
Luckily, pop filters are a really easy way to — at the very least — help us do due diligence as recording engineers. There isn’t much of an excuse to not have a filter given their affordability and simplicity.
Does Having a Pop Filter Make That Big of a Difference?
You could most definitely A/B a plosive phrase with and without a filter and come to your own conclusions about how well a filter works. Realistically, erring on the side of caution and always having a filter up for vocals isn’t doing any harm.
For one, you have that additional layer of protection between the vocalist and the microphone capsule. For two, you have the ability to keep the vocalist a consistent distance from the microphone just by having that filter in place. They can’t swallow the mic if there’s a barrier there!
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Personally, that’s my favorite use of a filter, especially when working with vocalists who may not have the recording experience to guide their own relationship to the mic. I’ve recorded artists on an SM7B (which has a built-in foam filter) and still used a traditional pop filter to give me the consistency I’m looking for. Also, in that case running a dynamic microphone, I could mitigate proximity effect as an added bonus.
So, does it make a difference? In short, absolutely.
Types of Pop Filters: Nylon vs Metal Screens
The two types of pop filters you’ll encounter are nylon and metal screens. Nylon tend to be the most frequently used, as they’re relatively cheap and get the job done. Metal screens are pricier, but they do have some notable advantages over nylon. Not only are they virtually indestructible, but they’re also easier to clean. In a post-pandemic world, that’s actually a huge advantage and just helps with overall studio cleanliness.
The 7 Best Pop Filter Options for Recording Vocals
This high-end metal pop filter by JZ Microphones is a studio essential. The perfect accompaniment to any microphone, it has a unique, compact footprint and an extra long 17″ gooseneck that helps you get it right on the microphone capsule. Not only that, but next to JZ’s own mics, it’s actually one of their best-selling products overall. It’s just a fantastic metal filter with an innovative mesh waveform that truly eliminates pops.
The Stedman Proscreen is a professional pop filter made of metal with a 6″ diameter and a 13″ gooseneck for adjustability. The specially designed metal screen has angled holes which actually direct plosive energy down and away from the microphone capsule. If you had to purchase one filter for the rest of your life, this would make an obvious choice.
3. Nady MPF-6
The Nady MPF-6 is a straightforward 6″ nylon filter with 13″ gooseneck. There honestly isn’t too much to it apart from that, as it’s a totally standard pop filter for recording vocals and voiceover. The price is attractive and available to everyone, so it would make the perfect first filter for anyone shopping around.
This piece of kit by On-Stage is a 6″ dual layer nylon filter with an 11.5″ gooseneck. The air gap between each nylon screen helps disperse plosive energy to a greater extent than a regular single-layer filter. Do a bit of investigating and check the reviews, as unfortunately some users have criticized the construction of these. However, it’s still a relatively affordable dual-layer pop filter.
Aokeo Professional’s pop filter is as affordable as it gets, and this is a direct competitor to the On-Stage filter mentioned above. It has two-layer nylon construction that helps trap plosives before they get to the microphone and create those dreaded popping sounds. Considering its price, it’s definitely worth giving a shot.
Similar to the Aoeko Professional is the Auphonix pop filter. Even though these aren’t household names in pro audio and recording, a device as simple as a pop filter doesn’t need to have iconic branding to be useful. Here we have a standard 6″ dual-layer nylon screen for right around $10. Get one, or even two, and clean up your vocal recordings instantly.
Shure’s Popper Stopper is a 6″ micro-weave nylon filter with a 14″ gooseneck. It utilizes a unique four-layer design that’s equally effective against plosives as it is transparent, so you can get crystal clear recordings without coloring your mic’s sound. Certain users have noted it’s also effective to help tame a bit of sibilance — win-win!