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Microphone FAQ: what is phantom power?

Microphone FAQ: what is phantom power?

Phantom power,  +48V, it might be labelled as all sorts (well, probably one of those to be honest…) on your audio interface, mixer etc, but what is is for and do you need to worry about it? Short answer: no. Unlike plenty of other things in the home recordist’s world, it really is wonderfully straightforward.

It’s called ‘phantom’ because of exactly that: most things that don’t need to see it, can’t see it. It passes through most things – whoosh – like a mysterious electronic spector. And when I say ‘most things’ I mean ‘microphones’.

Microphone preamp with phantom power

If you’ve been around the audio block once or twice, you’ll have heard of ‘dynamic’ and ‘condenser/capacitor’ microphones. You may even have read an informative blog post about them. These are the two most common types of microphone design you’re likely to come across. One needs phantom power, the other doesn’t.

First thing’s first: if you’re using a condenser mic, you’re going to need phantom power, so hit the switch and turn it on, or you’re not going to hear too much. The phantom power supply is there to provide the juice that makes your prized condenser mic sound so good on those oud recordings you made on your latest progressive dub folk tune.

“But” – I hear you say – “my interface has two mic inputs and only one switch to turn the phantom power on – for both! – and the other mic has a dynamic mic plugged in. Not a problem: phantom remember! Assuming you’re using [reasonably] modern, well-maintained equipment that hasn’t shorted out anywhere, that dynamic microphone isn’t going to even know that the phantom power is there. This is thanks to how those three ins are connected inside the circuitry of the microphone.

Neumann U87If you are using any form of quality, non-vintage microphone with good quality cables – dynamics, even the majority of ribbon microphones – ‘seeing’ phantom power won’t hurt it. Of course, if in doubt, seek further information on your specific mic from the manufacturer.

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