What is a pop filter, and what does it do?
A pop filter is a simple filter that is placed between a singer and the microphone. It's that easy.
But why do you need one? The short answer is that it takes strong plosive sounds from the singer and eliminates or reduces them so the microphone will not hear a giant explosion of sound. The long answer is below.
But first, a look at the filter itself.
Normally a pop filter comes in a round disc-like thing that can be mounted on a mic stand and has a flexible boom to place it exactly where needed. Here's a picture:
The material in the middle is one of two materials: mesh/cloth, or metal. In my experience, the cloth or mesh material filters work quite well. To top that off, they are more price economical than a metal one. The metal ones then may be better, but I find that the mesh ones work for what I need them to.
Here is one that I recommend: the On Stage 6" pop filter. It is priced well, and just does the job. The 6" size ensures that the coverage will be appropriate, and it looks nice.
Plosives are those nasty buggers that come out of the singers mouth and make the mic signal go BOOM. Particularly nasty offenders are 't', 'd', 'p', and 'b'. Practice being a microphone, and put your finger about 3 inches away from your lips. Now start talking, and see if you can feel anything on your finger. Finally, practice just speaking the consonants above.
Plosives may be defined as sounds that increase the stream of air coming from your mouth suddenly. When the mic hears it, it feels like an explosion (because of the very small distances). It explodes - hey, that sounds like the word plosive itself, right? Plosive, explode.
The solution is to get the microphone away from the air flow. But that causes problems because the mic needs to be at a specific location relative to the singer to get the desired sound.
Thus, the solution becomes to put something in the path of the air that will direct those plosive blasts elsewhere (or diffuse them), but allow the sound through. This is where the pop filter comes in.
Make your own pop filter
There are many tutorials around on the web about how to make your own equipment, and pop filters are no exception. By all means, check them out. I may even put a how to guide up here someday.
But here's the thing. Whenever I make something like this, the quality is not up to par, and it just doesn't function right. The wire might be bent wrong. The wire might break. It may not stay attached to the mic stand right. It may smell bad. There are a million and one reasons why something I build might come apart. (Unless I put in flooring, because I know how to do that...)
For me, just spending the $20-30 is worth it to make sure I have a functioning unit that looks good. Let's face it, looks are important. Having a professional looking tool makes you feel more professional. It also means you can focus your time and energy on what is important - doing the recording. Prioritize your time and use it wisely.
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