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In many professional recording studios, I always see this attached to their microphone :

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What is the purpose of the thin black sheet separating the source of the voice and the microphone?

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It's called pop filter, pop shield, or anti-pop. It protects the microphone from things like fast moving air and saliva. Its main function is to attenuate the aspirated plosives of the singer, which can produce noise and strong ugly transients.

  • The guy at my local music shop also told me that it's very useful to keep a certain distance while standing close to the mic to prevent the singer from "licking" the microphone (I love that picture) :D – muffin Aug 20 '14 at 12:49
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    Well usually the pop filter keeps enough distance. The rule is that the closer you get to the microphone, the more powerful it sounds... If you get too close you will probably only hear the air coming out of your mouth. If your hand fits between the microphone and your face it should be fine. However, this only counts for the studio microphones (condenser microphone). If you have a dynamic microphone (which doesn't need a pop filter) you can almost swallow it without hearing those noises ;) – muffin Aug 20 '14 at 14:59
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    @muffin Dynamic mics can, and more ofthen than not do, benefit from pop filters. Most of the dynamic mics designed for vocals have a built-in pop filter inside the grid (including the popular SM 58). You can swallow those without hearing those noises because they do, in fact, have a pop filter. – Lyd Aug 20 '14 at 16:22
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    @MarkGabriel There is no constant "best distance" for voice recording. It will depend on what you want to achieve, the singer, the mic, the song, the mix, etc. Different distances and angles yield different results. – Lyd Aug 20 '14 at 16:24
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    @muffin it explains part of the lyrics in Billy Joel - Pianoman: "And the microphone smells like a beer". Nasty microphone lickers :( – MeanGreen Aug 14 at 9:55

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