Having trouble moving the meters with low-output microphones? Is your preamp tapped out and introducing noise? You might need a Cloudlifter.
What Is a Cloudlifter?
Hooking one of these up between your microphone and preamp helps you get the most out of low-output dynamic and ribbon mics. And luckily, it won’t pass phantom power to the mic, so you don’t have to worry about damaging anything.
How Does a Cloudlifter Work?
It uses Class A discrete JFET circuitry to amplify a quiet signal cleanly. There’s no coloration here; it’s meant to sound natural and preserve the tone of the mic.
You can think of it as an extension of your existing preamp. When you’re trying to drive a super low-output mic, like a passive ribbon or famously the Shure SM7B, sometimes your preamp gain isn’t enough. You might start bringing unwanted noise into the signal when you’re pushing a preamp too hot. However, an inline gain boost like this solves that problem.
Is a Cloudlifter a Preamp?
Yes and no. It does help amplify mic-level signals to line level for recording. Just like your outboard preamp or the preamp on your interface. But while those devices draw power from an external DC supply, the Cloudlifter works on phantom power.
You also can’t control the amount of gain with a knob or dial like you can on regular preamps, and it doesn’t impart any unique characteristics on the signal—it’s super clean and transparent.
It’s perhaps better to think of a Cloudlifter as a “pre-preamp”; it gives your quietest microphones a healthy lift before they reach your real preamp for recording.
When Should You Use a Cloudlifter in the Studio?
Whenever you’re using passive, low-output dynamic and ribbon microphones and your standard preamp isn’t cutting it. Sometimes we really love the sound of running a nice preamp like a 1073 hot. It starts to saturate a bit and the sound takes on a really cool character. But not every preamp sounds great pushed, and sometimes all the gain on tap still isn’t enough for a healthy, clean recording from a very low-output microphone.
Should I Be Using a Cloudlifter?
If all you own is a condenser microphone, you probably don’t need a Cloudlifter. Condensers use phantom power on their own to amplify their voltage. But if you have a certain dynamic or ribbon mic that chews through gain like it’s nothing, inline boosts can be a massive help.
For example, streamers and podcasters often use the broadcast standard SM7B—a notoriously gain-hungry microphone—and a Cloudlifter helps them get adequate signal without burning a hole in their interface.
Your gain staging is great, and you’re ready to track vocals! Check out Empowering Your Voice & Vocal Recording with Chris Liepe!