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Why Do Microphones Have Screens? (Pop Filter, Grille, Windscreen)

My New Microphone Why Do Microphones Have Screens? (Pop Filter, Grille, Windscreen)

When looking at any microphone, we notice a screen covering the microphone diaphragm and capsule. This screen is typically a mic grille/cap mesh but can also be a windscreen and/or an additional pop screen/filter.

Why do microphones have screens? Mics have screens (grilles/caps) to protect their sensitive diaphragms physically. Screens also protect against plosives (pop filters) and work to minimize wind noise (windscreens). Perforated screens provide the protection mentioned above while still allowing sound waves to reach the diaphragm.

In this article, we'll run through the reasons microphones utilize grilles/caps, windscreens, and pop filters.

Why Do Microphones Have Grilles/Caps

The grilles/caps on microphones are designed primarily as a protective shield for the microphone capsule and diaphragm. Of course, these grilles/caps need to be perforated in order to allow sound to actually travel through them and reach the microphone diaphragm.

Microphone diaphragms are sensitive. They need to be in order to pick up the tiny air vibrations caused by sound effectively.

However, this sensitivity also puts microphone diaphragms at risk of physical damage. Ribbon diaphragms, which are the most fragile, have been known to snap simply from dust particles that hit the diaphragm as the mic is being transported.

The grille or cap of a microphone effectively protects the microphone capsule/diaphragm from most external solids, like instruments, lips, the floor, etc.

| My New Microphone
The Grille of a Shure SM58

However, the grille can also help against vocal plosives.

Some microphones, like the Heil PR40, have multiple offset screens in their grilles that act to reduce the effects of vocal plosives.

Grilles are also used effectively in the design of microphone polar patterns.

In top-address directional microphones, acoustic labyrinths (complete with external grilles) are often used to the rear of the microphone capsule to allow sound to reach the rear of the diaphragm.

The Shure Unidyne III capsule was the first to feature this grille design and was brought to market in 1959.

Grilles and slits are also used in the long interference tubes of shotgun microphones. These slits are carefully calculated along the length of the tube to cause the cancellation of sound waves that enter the tube off-axis.

The first time this interference tube technology entered the market was in 1956. It was introduced in the Lab W (Sennheiser) MD 82 microphone.

The Sennheiser MD 82 and Shure Unidyne III are both featured as “microphone firsts” in my article Mic History: Who Invented Each Type Of Microphone And When?

Grilles and acoustic labyrinths can also be positioned in such a way that a directional microphone does not experience the proximity effect, as is the case with the Electro-Voice RE20 and other E-V mics with Variable-D technology.

The Electro-Voice RE20 and the aforementioned Heil PR 40 (as well as the Shure SM58 and Neumann U 87) are featured in my article 50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones).

Many microphone grilles have acoustic foam in their interior. This helps to further protect the microphone from plosives and other gusts of air.

| My New Microphone
The Grille of a Neumann U 87

For more information on microphone grilles/caps, check out my article What Are Microphone Grilles And Why Are They Important?

Why Do Microphones Use Windscreens

As the name suggests, microphones use windscreens to protect themselves from the wind.

The typical sound of wind happens when the wind causes tiny vortexes on solid surfaces. A microphone grille/cap, by itself, will not serve to protect a microphone from wind noise. However, as mentioned before, many grilles have interior acoustic foam, which acts sort of like a windscreen.

Related article: Do Microphones Wear Out? And If So, How?

A windscreen works by having a soft perforated material that:

  • Reduces the amount of wind noise due to its softness.
  • Absorbs plosive and wind energy.
  • Acoustic permeability allows sound waves to pass through with very little affect on frequency.
  • Further separate any unavoidable wind noise from the mic capsule.

Microphone windscreens are essential when using microphones outdoors but also play a role in the studio.

Windscreens can help to further reduce plosives in the microphone by absorbing wind energy. This helps the microphone capture clean vocals (though pop filters are more effective, which we'll talk about later).

By the same mechanics, windscreens also work to reduce “wind noise” caused by moving sources.

If we were to wave our hand vigorously near the mic, we would likely overload it. Perhaps we won't hear the sound of our waving hand, but the disturbance of the air caused by the waving hand has the potential to overload the mic capsule.

So windscreens help minimize the air movement at the mic capsule, which drastically reduces the amount of noise in the mic signal (if the windscreen is of good quality, of course).

Windscreens are often simple spongy foams that slip directly over a microphone grille/cap. For example, the On-Stage windscreen pictured below slips over the grille of microphones like the Shure SM58.

mnm mic ball type windscreen | My New Microphone
On-Stage Foam Ball-Type Mic Windscreen

However, these windscreens can also be positioned away from the microphone body. To be effective in this case, the windscreen must encompass the entire microphone rather than just the grille/cap and acoustic openings.

Perhaps the most famous windscreen of this type is the Rode Blimp, which is pictured below and also features an internal shock-mount for boom microphones:

mnm windscreen Rode Blimp | My New Microphone
Rode Blimp Mic Windscreen

For more info on external microphone windscreens, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
What Are Dead Cats And Why Are Outdoor Microphones Furry?
What Is A Microphone Blimp/Windshield Kit?

Click here to check out my recommended microphone windscreens.

Why Do Microphones Use Pop Filters

Pop filters are generally used on vocal microphones in the studio.

mnm popfilter Auphonix MPF 1 | My New Microphone
Auphonix Nylon Mesh Mic Pop Filter

Microphone pop filters eliminate vocal pops and plosives in the microphone signal by dissipating plosive energy before it reaches the microphone.

Though grilles, caps, and windscreens will definitely help with plosive protection, it's often necessary to use a pop filter in professional studio recording to further reduce the likelihood of plosive-induced microphone overloading.

Vocal plosives are caused when any part of the vocal tract is closed off momentarily and then opened back up abruptly. This action causes a blast of air to emit from the speaker's mouth. Plosives, in English, happen on the hard consonants of the following letters:

  • B: closing and opening of the lips
  • P: closing and opening of the lips
  • D: closing of the tongue and top of mouth near teeth
  • T: closing of the tongue and top of mouth near teeth
  • G: closing of the tongue and back of mouth/start of throat
  • K: closing of the tongue and back of mouth/start of throat

Pop filters are made of thin perforated screen-like material. The two main materials are perforated steel mesh and nylon.

As plosive energy hits the pop filter screen, it is dissipated. The strong and direct plosive at the front side of the pop filter screen becomes scattered in many different directions and much weaker once it passes through the screen.

Pop filters are positioned some distance away from the microphone body (unlike the typical grille or windscreen). The distance allows the plosive energies to dissipate fully before they have a chance to reach the mic diaphragm.

Check out the following photo to see the Rode NT1-A‘s pop-filter position in front of the microphone. This pop filter is actually built into the design of the NT1-A's basket-style shock mount.

mnm What Is Microphone Self Noise Equivalent Noise Level small | My New Microphone

Note that pop filters do take up space and are not typically used in live sound reinforcement, where it's often critical that the singer/speaker be as close to the microphone as possible (for gain-before-feedback reasons).

For more information on microphone pop filters and plosives, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
What Is A Microphone Pop Filter And When Should You Use One?

Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives

Click here to check out my recommended microphone pop filters.

Do I need a pop filter for my dynamic microphone? Unless you're recording vocals with your dynamic microphone, chances are a pop filter will not improve the audio signal by any significant amount. However, when using your dynamic mic for vocals in a relatively quiet environment, a pop filter will improve sound quality by protecting the mic from plosive pops.

For more info on dynamic microphones, check out my article Moving-Coil Dynamic Microphones: The In-Depth Guide.

Why do singers sing so close to the microphone? Singers sing closely to a microphone to get the best signal-to-noise ratio they can. By singing in close proximity, a singer's voice is louder relative to the other, more distant, sounds that the mic also picks up. Singing close also has the added benefit of the proximity effect in directional mics.

For more information on microphone signal-to-noise ratio and the proximity effect, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
What Is A Good Signal-To-Noise Ratio For A Microphone?
In-Depth Guide To Microphone Proximity Effect

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.

Leave A Comment!

Have any thoughts, questions or concerns? I invite you to add them to the comment section at the bottom of the page! I'd love to hear your insights and inquiries and will do my best to add to the conversation. Thanks!

This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

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