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Why Do Microphones Have Foam Windscreens?

Microphones are very sensitive pieces of equipment and are designed to be that way for obvious reasons.

One feature that is often included or can be bought separately is a foam windscreen. But, what is it? What does it do? And why do microphones have foam windscreens? Well, it’s time to find out…

Microphones Have Different Sensitivity Values

Sensitivity Values

Mics are not all designed and built the same way. There are various types of microphones you will come across, but the most common are Dynamic and Condenser mics. And of those two, the condenser is more sensitive.

The way they are designed makes them more sensitive and, therefore, more responsive. Internally, they have a low-mass diaphragm which allows it to follow the pattern changes in the sound waves more accurately. 

A sensitive mic has real benefits in the right environment, but it is not always a good feature, especially anywhere there is lots of ambient noise. The best places to use a condenser microphone are in acoustically controlled spaces, like recording studios.

Sounds You Do Not Want

Have you attempted to make a recording where there has been unwanted noise? Maybe outside on a windy day, where the wind may be gusting around. 

How about recording the voice of an inexperienced person? They are unsure of what needs to be done and get too close to the mic giving off plosives and pops of air.

In The Design

There are quite a few good-quality mics that carry some internal protection in terms of a filter. Neumann, AKG, and Sennheiser are all upmarket microphones with built-in filter protection. But, lower-priced mics, like the popular Shure SM58 and others, also have filters.

However, some of those are mics that are often used in recording studios where potential noise interference is greatly reduced. In many situations, the filter might not be enough. For example, if the mic is used outdoors.

You will need to use something to reduce those noises that will otherwise ruin your recording or filming. One thing you can employ to achieve that is what is known as a windscreen.

What Is A Windscreen?

What Is A Windscreen

Its name might not be a particularly good description of how you will see a windscreen on a microphone. It is made from either usually foam or fur and covers the metal grille at the top of the microphone.

Its job is simple. It is there to remove as much ambient sound as possible without interfering with the sound you want it to collect. These sounds might be wind or breathing or any pops from the speaker or singer.

The windscreen does this by breaking up and dispersing any wind noise before they make any contact with the diaphragm of the mic. However, it will still let sound waves through, so the voice is unaffected.

When Would You Use A Windscreen?

The situations where using a foam windscreen on a microphone is going to help are probably quite obvious. Some, though, are not. Let’s consider the times when you need a microphone windscreen.

Recording Outdoors

There could be plenty of reasons why you are going to be recording outside. It could be for a concert, an interview, or even a film. It could just be a simple video blog or a commentary for a basic travel blog.

Whichever situation, you are at the mercy of the weather. And, in some parts of the world, that can change very quickly. Having a windscreen at hand, even if you are not using it at the time, is always a good idea.

Wind Is The Enemy

It is not unfair to describe it as such. If you are outside and it’s windy, it will inevitably impact the recording. And, because the wind is a sound that is mid to low frequency, it can especially affect a voice recording. It might blur out the sound and make it very hard to hear what is being said.

Even with our “high-tech” equipment these days, it is almost impossible to get rid of it once it is there. Far better to do as much as you can to prevent it from getting there in the first place. 

So, why do microphones have foam windscreens? As you can tell by the information above, and the name itself – wind, dear reader. Even the slightest breeze at the wrong time can ruin a recording.

From Outside To Inside

Noise and interference are not only found in the great outdoors. Sometimes you can encounter them inside in what appears to be a more innocent environment.

Anywhere you might record, especially recording studios, can get hot. The use of air conditioning is not a strange thing to do, but it can cause air currents and extra noise. 

They might not be particularly audible to the human ear, but a quality condenser mic is going to hear them. The same applies to heaters and other appliances. Of course, a fan will be heard. Creating what could be described as an indoor wind.

What Can You Do?

There are going to be situations where either a heater or air-con is essential. In some cases, it might be possible to turn them off whilst the recording is taking place. Turning them on again after.

If that is not possible, then two things might help:

  • Don’t place the mic anywhere near the offending item.
  • Use a good quality windshield.

The latter will help to reduce the risk of the collection of unwanted sounds.

Using A Roaming Microphone

If you are filming using a moving microphone, the risk of unwanted sound becomes greater. I talked about the occurrence of wind passing over a microphone. A microphone passing through still air is the same thing. There is still contact between the microphone and air that is, in effect, moving past it.

As with air moving past a stationary mic, a mic moving through stationary air can be protected by a windscreen. It cannot guarantee 100% reduction, but it will go a long way to protect the mic from the resistance created by motion.

Recording Singers or Narrators

Recording Singers or Narrators

If you are dealing with experienced vocalists or narrators, then they will know exactly how to ‘work’ the mic. Because there are techniques that they will use to ensure that the recording of their voice that you capture is the best it can be.

However, inexperienced people will often suffer from two opposite problems when using the mic:

  • They will stand too far away from it.
  • They will stand far too close.

Standing too far away can often be a manifestation of feeling anxious. That is easily solved by calming them and reassuring them, and gradually getting them where they should be.

Standing too close is another thing, though. A windscreen will remove some of the breathing effects of those standing too close. But, there is another problem.

Plosives

This is a word you may have come across. It is a natural phenomenon that happens when we speak. When speaking certain consonants, there is a sudden rush of air. This creates an impact on the diaphragm of the mic and creates what we call a “plosive.”

The consonants that create plosives are usually b, d, g, k, and t, with the biggest culprit being p. Windscreens do help to alleviate the problem to a certain extent. However, the best way to rectify ‘popping’ is by using a pop filter. 

A pop filter will take the air created by the plosive and diffuse it before it reaches the diaphragm of the mic. They are not expensive items but are extremely useful and often necessary for recording voices. I highly recommend the Auphonix Pop Filter, which has been incredibly useful and effective on a number of my more difficult vocal sessions with singers.

Benefits of a pop filter…

They are easy to use and usually attach to the mic stand. They are flexible, so they can be placed in exactly the right position. There may be a situation where it may not be possible to use a pop filter. In that case, you will need to rely on your windscreen. It will do the job but won’t be as effective.

It is usually not necessary to use a pop filter and windscreen at the same time. What you use will depend on what kind of recording you are making. Studio environments will require a pop filter, whereas, for outside and other environments, a windscreen will be the best option.

So, why do microphones have foam windscreens? As you know by now, it prevents wind and plosives from ruining a recording. But, there are other reasons as well.

As A Protection

There are other benefits of using a foam windscreen with a microphone. One of those is it adds a layer of protection. Its main use is to cut out ambient noise, like wind, of course. But, offering protection is also very useful.

Excessive wind can damage the membrane of the mic if it is particularly strong. The windscreen, besides offering protection from gusting wind, also protects in other ways. It will also add some protection from dirt and the natural accumulation of saliva and sweat.

You will, of course, find some microphones with built-in protective foam liners. These offer some protection against plosives and external noise, but they also protect the capsule and the internals. Shure microphones will often give you this feature.

The Varieties of Windscreens For Microphones

As with most things, there are usually a few options to choose from. Some are designed for specific microphones; others have a ‘fit-for-all’ design. There are, of course, differences in quality. They all have the same job to do, but they are not all the same.

Foam Windscreens

Foam Windscreens

These are probably the most common you can get. They are made from open-cell foam. Some manufacturers include a windscreen specifically designed for the microphone in the box when you purchase it. 

Other manufacturers do not offer that feature, and you will need to buy one. If you do have to buy a windscreen, just ensure it fits reasonably tightly over the mesh head and won’t easily become dislodged when in use. 

You will need to consider what mic you are using. A stage mic will need a different windscreen than a clip-on Lavalier mic. Here are some examples of foam windscreens to fit most mics:

Or, if you prefer to add some color:

For a Lavalier mic:

How Much Protection Do They Give

The open-cell foam windscreens give you some protection by diverting wind sounds or unwanted noise in various directions. They spread out the sound, if you like, before it comes into contact with the mic.

Under normal circumstances, a foam windscreen will reduce wind noise by about 8dB. In doing so, they do not cause a major loss of any of the high frequencies. However, as you will see, some windscreens provide better noise attenuation, improving reduction up to 25dB or even 40dB in some cases. 

But, there is sometimes a ‘trade-off’ in other areas, such as the quality of recording, for such a dramatic reduction in unwanted sound.

Synthetic Fur Windjammers or Windguards

If a standard foam windscreen isn’t quite up to the more extreme conditions, the ‘Windjammer’ is an option. Affectionately known as a “dead cat,” these consist of two layers and are, therefore, more effective at reducing unwanted noise. 

Outside there is a layer of synthetic fur, and inside, an extra layer of foam. They are available in many sizes to fit most microphones.

Baffling

Baffling

The synthetic fur behaves like a form of baffling that redirects the wind. And, because the synthetic fur is softer than foam, it creates less rigid movement and thus reduces the potential of noise.

Here is an example designed for Shotgun microphones:

The Plus Point

This type of windscreen will give you an attenuation of between 25dB and 40dB for wind noise. Used over a standard windscreen that can rise to 50dB of reduction. That is a significant attenuation compared with 8dB of a standard foam windscreen.

The Downside

While there is a significant reduction in noise levels, it can affect the high frequencies. High-frequency attenuation can be a problem with the cheaper windjammers. If you are going to buy one, check the quality of the synthetic fur.

The Blimp or Basket

If you must have the highest level of noise protection available, then the answer is probably the Blimp. Like the windjammer, they have two layers. Inside is thin foam, and the outer layer is a metal or plastic mesh.

They are more expensive than what you might expect to pay for a more standard model. For example, this PROAIM 40cm Blimp Microphone Windshield Shock Mount Mic Suspension System with Free Fur Cover. However, if you are working professionally outside, it will be a good investment.

You will get an attenuation in wind noise of up to 50dB, and there will be a minimal high-frequency loss. 

Looking for a Great Microphone?

We can help with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Live Vocal Mics, the Best Dynamic Microphones, the Best Condenser Microphones, the Best Lavalier Microphones, the Best Interview Microphones, and the Best XLR Microphones you can buy in 2022.

Or, take a look at our detailed reviews of the Best Microphones For Recording Vocals, the Best Wireless Microphones, the Best Computer Microphones, the Best USB Microphones, the Best Shure Microphones, and the Best Cheap Microphone Under $50 currently on the market.

Why Do Microphones Have Foam Windscreens – Conclusion

When it comes to choosing the right microphone foam windscreen, it will all come down to two things.

What sort of mic you are using…

If you haven’t been provided a windscreen by the manufacturer, you will find that there is no shortage of options you can buy. You can find a foam windscreen for every type of microphone

From handheld to Lavalier mics, even today’s USB mics have windscreens available. Just make sure it fits snugly on the top of the mic and prevents any entry points for wind.

Where you are using the mic…

I have already mentioned that in a recording studio environment, you will need a pop filter for the best results. Outside of that, most handheld and Lavalier mics will be provided with a basic level of protection by a foam windscreen. 

Or, if you are working in extreme weather conditions, then a Windjammer or Blimp may be required. Microphones do need some protection from the potential problems we have looked at. But, there are plenty of options out there to give you the protection you need.

Happy recording, whatever the weather conditions.

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About Joseph L. Hollen

Joseph is a session musician, writer, and filmmaker from south Florida. He has recorded a number of albums and made numerous short films, as well as contributing music to shorts and commercials. 

He doesn't get as much time to practice and play as he used to, but still manages (just about!) to fulfill all his session requests. According to Joseph, it just gets harder as you get older; you rely on what you learned decades ago and can play without thinking. Thankfully that's what most producers still want from him.

He is a devout gear heat and has been collecting musical instruments all his life. As his wife, Jill, keeps on saying, "You're very good at buying nice instruments, but terrible at selling them!".

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