When it comes to removing pops and plosives from your audio, it usually boils down to one of two options – either you can use a pop filter in front of the microphone, or you can place a windscreen over it.
While both of these will do the job of eliminating plosives, each is best suited for specific tasks.
Therefore, which should you use?
In this article, we’ll compare both windscreens and pop filters together, talk about how each differs, and when you’d want to use a pop filter vs a windscreen.
What Is A Pop Filter?
Starting out, let’s talk about pop filters.
Pop filters are screens – usually circular in shape, and made out of nylon fabric, thin, metal or form. Pop filters are placed in front of a microphone and usually clamp onto the microphone stand, or the microphone itself.
The singer or speaker will direct their voice through the pop filter, towards the microphone. The pop filter works to either slow down the burst of air (that causes the plosive) so it’s not hitting the microphone capsule all at once, or redirect that air other directions.
Pop filters aim to do this in the most effective manner possible, without affecting the sound of the vocalist in any way. This is referred to as ‘acoustic transparency’ – we want to achieve a sound that is as close to the original as possible, without taking anything away from it or coloring it in any way.
What Is A Windscreen?
Windscreens are another way to eliminate pops or plosives from your recordings.
These small pieces of foam go over the capsule of a microphone, covering it entirely. Alternatively, there are furry looking windscreens that are commonly referred to as dead cats, windguards, or windjammers.
Both types of windscreens were designed to do effectively the same thing – block out wind noise, primarily in outdoor settings. This made them very important for film work, live performance, and any recording environment where attaching a pop filter was impractical.
Because plosives are caused by bursts of air – similar to wind, they are also effective at eliminating plosives.
The benefit of a windscreen is that it blocks sound from all directions – not just the angle that you’re speaking into it. This is important as wind can hit the microphone from any angle, making pop filters useless in windy environments.
So, why not just use a windscreen all of the time? Unfortunately, windscreens are much harsher with what they remove – they were designed to be used in windy weather, after all.
This means that your audio recording is affected, particularly losing some of the high frequencies that help the vocal sound clear and natural.
Unless you’re a professional, the difference may not be significant enough to matter to you. Still, pop filters and windscreens are best suited for different jobs.
Pop Filters Vs Windscreens – When To Use Each
Now that we know the differences between pop filters and windscreens, let’s discuss when you want to use each of them.
If you are recording a vocal performance indoors in a controlled environment – such as for singing, voiceover work, or podcasting, it usually makes more sense to record with a pop filter.
In these instances, you have a lot of control over the recording environment. The microphone typically isn’t going to move during the recording, and everything should stay perfectly in place.
By the same token, this work is audio only – nobody is going to see you, so there isn’t really any problems if there’s a bulky pop filter in front of the microphone.
One exception to this may be if you are recording in an environment where you’ll be on camera – such as for YouTube or indoor film work. If your microphone is on a boom arm and is out of shot, a windscreen is your only practical option (though even that might not be necessary.)
This one is a little tricky, and it depends on the style of your stream.
With livestreams, audio quality isn’t necessarily the most important factor. Twitch streamers for example prioritize their voice being heard clearly, with minimum background noise – if these two things are taken care of, the frequency loss introduced by a windscreen may not be that big of a deal.
Therefore, many may choose to opt for a windscreen because it’s more convenient, cheaper, and takes up less room on the screen (if using a webcam with your stream.) Additionally, it is less likely to block your view, which is important if you’re playing video games.
Ultimately, this one is a personal choice.
Practicality aside, you’re going to want to be using windscreens when recording audio outdoors.
The reason is simple – you can’t control the weather. Even on clear days, wind can suddenly pick up and when it does, ruin your recording.
Even small amounts of wind can have a very large impact on the recording, and some microphones are more sensitive than others.
Remember that with wind, it can come through at any directions. While pop filters block air coming from one direction – your voice, wind can hit the microphone at any angle. This is why windscreens cover the entire thing – they want to block unwanted air regardless of where it’s coming from.
Because windscreens can affect the sound, it also isn’t ideal to simply take them off and on during the recording process. You may EQ the audio in post production, but if it’s not consistent throughout and you boost the higher frequencies to account for the windscreen, they will be too high in the areas where the windscreen was removed. Yes, you can split these into separate tracks, but it’s more work.
Long story short, use a windscreen, even if it’s sunny outside.
If you are a performer or you’re playing live at any sort of concert, it usually makes the most sense to opt for a windscreen.
For one thing, a large pop filter blocks audience members from seeing your face. For another, it prevents you from moving freely, harming your stage performance.
Even if you were able to grab your microphone and walk with it, this presents many of the same issues that using it outdoor does. It really makes no difference whether air is hitting your microphone through something like wind, or you’re moving it through the air yourself – air is still hitting and passing through it.
Therefore, a windscreen is necessary to protect it from all sides.
One small additional benefit of using a windscreen is that it can help protect the microphone if it is dropped or accidentally thrown during a performance (we’ve seen it happen!)
The capsule of the microphone is typically the heaviest part, so microphones often fall capsule-first on their way towards the ground. The windscreen can provide a little bit of a cushion, which is nice.
A Few Extra Tips
Regardless of what you choose to use, there are a few extra tips when it comes to making a purchase.
The biggest factor here is the material you use for your pop filter.
Most cheap pop filters will do the job of eliminating plosives just fine. Cheaper pop filters however may remove more high-end frequencies than more expensive pop filters.
The two most popular materials are a nylon fabric, and metal.
Metal offers the advantage of redirecting the excess air towards the ground (preserving audio quality), while also being more durable and easier to clean. However, they may run you $20-30 more.
Make sure you are getting the right tool for the job.
Typically, the small foam windscreens that go over the top of your microphone are fine for any sort of indoor use. Deadcats offer more protection, but may also affect your sound more as well. Unless there is a lot of wind, they are not necessary
Finally, make sure you’re purchasing one that actually fits your microphone, and always buy extras.
Not only are windscreens easy to lose, but they naturally rip and tear over time as you take them on and off the microphone.
Although they both serve the same purpose, there are quite a few differences between windscreens and pop filters.
Thankfully both are pretty cheap, so you may wish to simply buy both, and swap them out as necessary.
I hope that this helped you choose between the two. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them using the comment form below!