So you’re getting into live streaming (whether for video games, sports live Q+As, or anything else), and you’re worried about audio quality in your vocal mic. A big question the people in the streaming world have is whether they need a pop filter on their vocal mic or not.
Are microphone pop filters needed for live streaming? Although quality pop filters (when positioned correctly) will improve vocal clarity due to plosive reduction, they are certainly not required for live streaming. Pop filters can be bulky and hinder the view of the streamer (and the audience if the streamer is on camera).
In this article, we'll dive deeper into how a pop filter works, the pros and cons of pop filters in the streaming world; and alternative measures to improve the microphone audio quality in your streaming.
How A Pop Filter Works
Let's start by discussing what a pop filter actually does to improve audio.
The term “plosive energy” can be defined as the tiny blasts of air that are released from a person's mouth when they speak, sing, or make similar sounds with their mouths.
Plosives have the potential to hit the diaphragm of a microphone much harder than sound wave vibrations and can cause an overloading of the diaphragm. This overloading is heard as a “pop” in the microphone signal, which helps to explain the name “pop filter.”
In English, plosives happen on the hard consonants of B, D, G (as in “Ga” and not “Gee”), K, P, and T. The blasts of air are emitted from the mouth as parts of the mouth/vocal tract are closed and opened. In English, the plosive closing/opening happens in the following locations:
- B and P: the lips.
- D and T: behind the teeth/top of the palate.
- G and K: back of the mouth/start of the throat.
To test this, try speaking the syllables “Ba,” “Pa,” “Da,” “Ta,” “Ga,” and “Ka” with your hand positioned an inch in front of your mouth. Contrast that with regular speech, and you'll notice a remarkable difference in the air hitting your hand on the plosive syllables.
Try this same exercise with your a bit further from your mouth, and you'll notice that same thing but with weaker plosive energy.
Plosive energy dissipates rather quickly through air. That being said, positioning a microphone a safe distance away is not an overly effective method to avoid plosives. This distancing often results in poorer audio quality, especially when streaming in less-than-ideal (non-soundproof) environments.
A microphone pop filter allows us to eliminate plosive energy and get close to the microphone.
Microphone pop filters act to block, reflect, absorb, and dissipate plosive energy before it gets to the microphone capsule. They do so with a perforated screen (often made of metal or nylon) positioned between the vocalist's mouth and the microphone.
As they block and deflect plosive energy, pop filters (good ones, at least) are designed to allow sound waves to pass through without colouration. Of course, nothing is perfect, and oftentimes the high-end frequencies get slightly dampened by the pop filter.
As plosive energy hits the pop filter, some of it is reflected back toward the vocalist. In nylon filters, some of the plosive energy is absorbed by the pop filter.
Much of the plosive energy does get through the pop filter screen. However, this energy is dissipated by the pop filter, leaving the screen in multiple different directions with much less strength. This lack of general direction and strength greatly reduces the probability that a plosive burst of energy will overload the microphone diaphragm/capsule.
So, to wrap this section up, a pop filter dissipates plosive energy. Pop filters are positioned between a vocalist/speaker and a microphone to eliminate or at least reduce plosives from hitting and overloading the mic diaphragm.
By using a pop filter, we can effectively position the vocalist/speaker closer to the microphone with less chance of plosive pops in the microphone signal.
Now that we know what a pop filter is and its function, we can look at the pros and cons of using a pop filter for streaming.
Pros Of Streaming With A Pop Filter
The obvious pros of streaming with a pop filter are reducing plosives and improving overall audio quality.
The less obvious pro is that a pop filter is generally larger than a microphone and gives the streamer a larger area to focus their speaking toward.
Cons Of Streaming With A Pop Filter
The cons of streaming with a pop filter have more to do with the view than anything else. Having a relatively bulky pop filter can hinder the view of the streamer. This is true if the streamer has to focus on a screen (i.e., video game screens); is commenting on live events (i.e., sports court/field etc.); or is having a conversation (i.e., the guest(s) in the conversation).
Alternative Techniques To Avoid Plosives Without A Pop Filter
Oftentimes the view of the streamer will be too obstructed by a pop filter, but the audio will suffer from plosives. Fortunately, there are alternative techniques to reduce/eliminate mic plosives without a pop filter.
The 3 main tips to reduce vocal plosives in a streaming microphone without a pop filter are:
- Using a windscreen
- Positioning the microphone off-axis and at a distance
- Opting for an omnidirectional microphone
For a detailed read on microphone plosives, check out my article Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives.
Windscreens are not nearly as effective at eliminating vocal plosives as pop filters. However, they do provide some insulation against wind and plosive noise.
For more information on microphone windscreens, please read the My New Microphone article Why Do Microphones Have Screens? (Pop Filter, Grille, Windscreen).
Positioning a microphone slightly off-axis will reduce the plosives' impact on the mic diaphragm, reducing the likelihood of the diaphragm being overloaded by the plosive energy.
Distancing the microphone from the streamer's mouth will also drastically reduce the likelihood of plosive pops in the mic. The extra distance may also benefit the view of the streamer. However, the audio quality will worsen noticeably.
Omnidirectional microphones are immune to vocal plosives and are a decent choice for this reason, particularly with lavalier microphones.
However, omni mics also pick up all the other sounds of the environment with no directionality. So use your judgment if you choose an omni mic. If the environment is noisy, an omnidirectional microphone will likely worsen your audio quality rather than improve it.
For an in-depth discussion of the omnidirectional microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is An Omnidirectional Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
Are condenser mics good for streaming? Condenser microphones, particularly electret condensers, are commonly used as streaming microphones. Although any quality microphone would make a quality streaming mic, condensers are a common and popular choice.
Where should I put the microphone for streaming? Placing the microphone near your mouth is critical for a good signal-to-noise ratio. The exact position doesn't matter as much as the proximity and direction of the mic. Therefore, if you're video streaming your face, you can move the mic out of the direct light of sight.
Choosing the right microphone(s) for your applications and budget can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Microphone Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next microphone purchase.