When considering whether or not to use a microphone isolation shield, there are some specific things about your environment and your recording process to take into account. There are arguments for both sides of this debate, but are microphone isolation shields truly worth investing in and using? Like a great many questions we tackle here, the answer is…it depends.
If you’re recording in a space that already has great sound treatment, then you more than likely will not need the additional measure of fitting your microphone with an isolation shield. However, in less ideal settings, they can be an exceptional tool for making better recordings.
Okay, so we have established that isolation shields can, in fact, benefit you, but to what extent and what sort of factors does one need to consider when purchasing one? We’ve put together a few questions below, which you are probably itching to know the answers to, so let’s take a look.
What do microphone isolation shields do?
What you want from a microphone isolation shield is a filter that will reduce the amount of external noise or room ambiance and decrease any potential wave reflection from bouncing off of surfaces. This device is supposed to improve the overall sound quality and ensure cleaner and crisper sounding vocals by isolating the microphone from the environment in which you are recording.
The surfaces of isolation shields are covered in dense acoustic materials that help to dampen and soak up any potential sound wave reflections. This will ensure that all potential unwanted noise is removed from the equation. So, you’re left with a dry recording that is blemish and color-free.
In essence, microphone isolation shields cut down on sound bouncing around the room you are recording in.
Noise in your environment
You have likely encountered noise problems with your vocal recordings at one time or another. Most of us have. It can be highly frustrating when you’re trying to create the perfect vocal piece.
No matter what bitrate you’re recording at, what DAW you use, or how beefy your computer setup, if you start with bad audio files you’ll end up with a bad result. What’s more frustrating is that sometimes you don’t even realize your files are bad until you start editing and mixing.
For instance, you may find that there’s a certain level of noise accompanying your vocals. Sometimes this may be easy enough to filter out. But, on some occasions, this isn’t the case. A low hiss, for example, can easily be removed with a de-hisser. However, if there are resonances that enter the mic and distort the vocals, then you may need to re-record the track completely.
An isolation shield can come in handy in cases like this. It can combat reflections that may occur where the surrounding surfaces are hard or poorly treated. This can help in eliminating reverb, echoes, and delays from making their way into your audio file.
Are microphone isolation shields worth it?
What are you recording vocals for?
The answer here is mainly going to come down to what you’re recording and what your end result needs to be. For instance, if you’re recording low-fi punk or heavily filtered and processed vocals, it might not be necessary to set up an isolation shield for your vocals.
However, if you’re recording voice-over work or any music where the vocals are at the forefront of your mix, it might make mixing and mastering a lot easier if your vocals are very clean and dry.
As we’ve said, unless you’re working in a soundproof vocal booth, you might benefit from using an isolation shield. When it comes down to it, the vocals for a track can really be the make-or-break factor. Ultimately, if you’re here reading this article, you’re probably not a beginning producer, or if you are, you’re already thinking about how to make professional-sounding music.
What’s your budget?
You may be working on a smaller budget as a home producer, which many of us are. If you don’t have the money to fully kit out your home studio just yet, adding this small accessory to the mix might make a big difference. And, it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg.
There are plenty of good microphone isolation shields on the market that are on the lower end of the price spectrum. Also, lots of home producers create their own DIY isolation shields that work just fine until they’re able to purchase a better one down the road.
An expensive isolation shield is probably not super high on the priority list for a basic home music studio. There are plenty of other more important things to buy that will make your recordings better.
Where are you recording your vocals?
You may well need to record on the go as well as in your home studio. This is where a good, smaller-sized isolation shield can be of great help to you. For instance, you may need to meet up with an artist to get some test vocals, and you want to have decent enough sound quality to work with on a demo track.
Since you don’t know the environmental factors of the place you’re going, a portable isolation shield can make a big difference in the vocal material you have to work with when you get back to your studio.
Other helpful factors
Although we’ve been focusing on the fact that the shield is highly valuable in terms of vocals, it’s also handy for recording certain small instruments you can’t plug into your computer or audio interface.
Instruments such as shakers, tambourines, and other types of percussion instruments are likely to cause audio reflections. By using a shield, you can get a cleaner recording with reduced reverb and external noise.
All in all, microphone isolation shields are incredibly handy tools to have in your sound recording arsenal and are especially useful if you’re recording in a home studio where the acoustics may not be ideal.
Do microphone isolation shields work?
This is a question often argued. However, many artists, producers, and musicians would say that an isolation shield is definitely worth investing in. This is especially true if you’re recording in a non-professional studio that isn’t fully treated.
Most microphone isolation shields do what they say for the most part. So, under the right circumstances, it is worth investing in a good quality shield if you really need one. They do indeed reduce any potential sound reflection and help to alleviate any background or external noise. They also combat against any ambiance that the room naturally creates.
Environmental factors to consider
If you record out of a home studio and your environment is particularly noisy, a microphone isolation shield of some kind could be a game changer.
Obviously, you would benefit even more from having proper soundproofing and acoustic treatment in your studio. However, a good isolation shield is going to take your recordings to the next level when it comes to getting pure and pristine vocals.
Making a DIY microphone isolation shield
If you’re not willing to go out and purchase a microphone isolation shield just yet, there are other options. Perhaps you’re still a bit of a skeptic, or perhaps you just don’t have the budget for it at the moment. Don’t worry. There are plenty of ways that you can test the waters with a microphone isolation shield.
Going with a DIY isolation shield at first can be a great idea, especially if you just want to test out its effectiveness before making a larger purchase. Or, maybe you need a cheaper, more portable one to take with you.
Here’s a list of general items you might need:
- Some kind of foam
- foam core board
- glue sticks and a glue gun (or some sort of adhesive that won’t eat away at the foam)
- some tape
- and an electrical ground clamp.
This should all cost you between $15 and $20. Here’s a super helpful Youtube video that will walk you through the process of building your DIY isolation shield.
What To Consider If You Are Purchasing A Microphone Shield
So, if you’ve been swayed and are considering pickup up a microphone shield, then there are a few key points that you need to consider before making your purchase.
How it is mounted
When choosing the shield, you need to bear in mind how the shield is mounted and where it’s placed. For smaller solutions, you’ll have two options: you can either opt for a desktop or a mic stand mounting design.
The reason you would opt for one over the other would be your recording method. Consider whether you’ll be most often standing by a mic or seated. There are shields that can fit either of these scenarios.
The adjustability and positioning
You want to find a shield where the mounting brackets for the microphone and shield are, in fact, adjustable and not fixed in place. If you purchase one that does not offer this freedom for you to reposition the microphone’s height, depth, and the angle at which it sits, then you will end up wanting to pull your hair out.
Consider the size of the isolation shield
This may seem obvious, but it is something that will be vital in the effectiveness of the shield. When purchasing (or making) your shield, keep in mind the types and sizes of microphones that you’ll be using with it. If the shield is too small, surrounding noise and reflection will remain a problem, rendering your shield pointless.
How heavy the isolation shield is
This is another point that seems trivial. But, the odds are you already own a microphone stand, and this is the one that you’ll be using for your recordings. What you need to be sure of is whether or not the stand will be able to support the weight of the shield. The last thing you want is to fit your stand with the shield, only to have it fall over.
Suppose you’re someone who travels around a lot, and you record in a variety of spaces. In that case, you want to find an isolation shield that not only fits all the above criteria, but one that will also be easy to transport.
Think about size, weight, and everything else when considering this point.
Durability and materials
If you do little to no traveling with your gear, this isn’t as big of a concern. But, if you’re someone who needs to record on the go, and you intend on taking your shield with you, then it’s advisable to find a more durable one.
Since you’re looking for higher quality, realize that the price may well be higher too. But, trust us, you’d rather cough up a bit extra on the initial purchase than realize later that your cheaper shield has broken along the way and you need another one.
Another good reason to consider the material is that thicker shields with a higher density will absorb more sound. Obviously, this will provide better protection for your recordings against reflections and environmental noises.
The price tag
You’ll likely have a budget to stick to, so look for one that fits your needs there. Then see which one in that price range best meets your other requirements. You don’t necessarily have to fork out a great deal of money to get a good quality shield. So, be sure to shop around before making your final purchase.
Microphone isolation shields: Final thoughts
Hopefully, we’ve helped you regardless of your final decision on microphone isolation shields. They are a must-have for some people when recording vocals, whether in a home studio or a professional setting.
There are an array of reasons as to why one ought to invest in or make a DIY version of a shield to aid in creating more pristine vocal or instrumental recordings. Also, shields not only contain the sound being directed at the mic, but they also assist in keeping external noises at bay. They also aid against reflections from the sound source itself bouncing back from hard surfaces in the room.
It’s crucial, though, to do some research into the specific shield you intend to purchase. Consider its weight, size, price, durability, and such. And if you do pick up this new addition to your studio gear, have a blast and record something awesome!