Phantom power is a beneficial source that you can find on almost any interface. With it, musicians have the freedom to create professional, crisp-sounding music with their voices or instruments. Without it, certain XLR microphones will be useless.
Not all XLR mics need phantom power. The three most commonly used XLR mics in music are dynamic, condenser, and ribbon mics. Of the three, only the condenser microphone requires phantom power. Although the others can use phantom power, it’s unnecessary and may result in adverse effects.
In this article, we’ll look at what phantom power is and how to use it. We’ll also touch on the different XLR mics that are most commonly used in music, which of them rely on phantom power, and which don’t. Let’s check them out.
What Is Phantom Power?
Phantom power is extra electrical voltage that sends power to an active microphone through an XLR cable. It’s built into most interfaces and can be used simply by pushing the “on” button. They’re typically 48v on most interfaces or microphone hubs.
In addition, phantom power works by providing the direct current to the mic through the same cable that carries the audio. It’s useful because it runs along the XLR cable and eliminates extra cords from getting in the way. It’s a great leap forward from how we used this power back in the day when it came from a separate power supply completely!
Although most interfaces have phantom power built into them, some don’t. If yours doesn’t, you can rectify this by plugging an external phantom power supply into your mic and interface. I recommend the Aokeo 1-Channel 48V Phantom Power Supply from Amazon.com as it’s easy to use and gives you excellent quality without having to use a lot of equipment.
- Delivers reliable 48V phantom power for condenser microphones and transfer sound signal to sound...
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Last update on 2023-03-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
For more information, check out which is better for recording studios between XLR and TRS mics.
Can Phantom Power Damage My Equipment?
Phantom power wouldn’t damage your equipment if appropriately used. Most microphones, such as dynamic mics, don’t need phantom power, nor will they get damaged by the power if it runs through it. The only result may be a noticeable humming sound present when in use.
Although, a passive ribbon microphone may be damaged by phantom power. However, whether or not your ribbon mike is damaged by phantom power typically depends on the model, as some older ones don’t have output transformers. Damage to your mic also has a lot to do with how the phantom power is applied.
I suggest that when you use a ribbon microphone, you may want to turn the phantom power off instead so as not to affect your microphone. Rather be safe than sorry.
Instead of worrying about whether your microphone may get damaged by phantom power or not, read through your manual and find out what’s best for that particular mic.
An essential tip to remember is to make sure that your phantom power button (usually labeled as 48v) is off when you plug in your microphone, as well as when you unplug it. If you’re not aware of this or you forgot, you’ll hear a pop sound, and it may cause damage to your equipment, including your speakers.
Dynamic vs. Condenser Microphones
Dynamic and condenser microphones have two things in common: you can typically use both in music, and they’re mostly XLR microphones.
The dynamic and condenser mics differ in that the dynamic mic is intended for only one sound source, whereas the condenser is designed to pick up a wider range of sound, therefore needing more power.
If we take the example of vocals into account, a single vocalist will use a dynamic mic for amplification. In contrast, a condenser mic would be used for multiple vocalists singing at once. The same goes for a studio recording.
Another example would be a drum kit. Drums are so varied that you need a few mics to pick up all the sounds. However, placing two condenser mics as overheads would give you a clear picture of the kit. Adding dynamic mics to the individual drums would add more depth as they pick the sounds up more directly.
A drummer would need phantom power for the overhead mics but wouldn’t need it for the individual mics on each drum.
The crazy thing about microphones is that they have an extensive range when it comes to pricing. You could get an inexpensive microphone for under $100, or you could get a luxury one for well over $1000.
However, dynamic microphones are typically cheaper than condenser mics. Condenser mics are more expensive because they have a more in-depth construction quality. You can find the Shure SM58 Handheld Dynamic Vocal Microphone on Amazon.com. This dynamic mic is one of the most popular mics on the market for vocals.
The Shure PGA81-XLR Cardioid Condenser on Amazon.com is an excellent condenser alternative to the dynamic SM58. As you can see, it’s slightly more expensive.
Also, remember that condensers need phantom power. Your current audio setup may not have a phantom power option, meaning you’d need to spend even more money to get a condenser mic to work.
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Condenser mics have a more intricate design. Therefore, they’re usually more fragile than dynamic microphones. Dynamic mics are durable and more commonly seen in live stage settings as they can be passed around without too much damage.
Drummers commonly hit the dynamic mics on their kit, and they tend to survive years of accidental stick hits.
Since condensers are more expensive and less durable, you’ll see them more commonly used in studio settings. Studio settings are controlled environments where the owners of the condenser mics need to worry less about them getting damaged.
Troubleshooting Mics That Aren’t Working
It’s really frustrating and quite embarrassing when you’re trying to get ready for a live event or studio recording, but your mic isn’t working. Here are a few things to check if you find yourself in this predicament.
- Before troubleshooting the mic, make sure you’ve tested other mics to see that they work with your interface or mixer.
- If you have an XLR condenser mic, ensure that you’ve turned on the phantom power button on the interface or mixer.
- If you’ve switched on your phantom power button and it’s still not working, you may have a faulty cable. Having a faulty XLR cable is the most common problem when it comes to mics not working. It’s always good to have multiple XLR cables on hand when you’re working with microphones.
- If you have an older interface or mixer, the phantom power signal may not be strong, even if it says it’s a 48 voltage. An old interface can result in poor performance, and it may be time to buy a new one.
You’ll probably need to take your microphone to be checked out at your local music store if none of these troubleshooting points work for you. There could be something internally wrong with the mic, or it could simply be the end of its lifespan.
In conclusion, not all XLR microphones need phantom power. The only ones that require phantom power are condenser mics. They need more voltage pumped through the XLR cable to work.
Between dynamic and condenser microphones, you’ll undoubtedly find good uses in both. All audio engineers have a mic locker filled with both types of mics. So, I recommend you have an interface that has a phantom power option, allowing it to work with both types of microphones without needing an external phantom power source.
For more information, check out my article about whether XLR cable length is important.
- Sage Audio: The Basics of Phantom Power for Microphones
- Shure: What is Phantom Power & Why Do I Need It?
- Production Expert: Phantom Power And Ribbon Microphones – The Myth Busted!
- Gearank: The Different Types Of Mics And Their Uses
- Sweetwater: What is Phantom Power and why do I need it?
- Musician’s HQ: Do Dynamic Microphones Need Phantom Power?
- Musician’s HQ: What’s the Difference Between Dynamic and Condenser Microphones?
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