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What is Phantom Power?

wavmonopoly June 8, 2022

It’s been almost a century since the first commercial audio recordings were made, and in that time, there have been many advances in technology. One of the most important developments in audio is phantom power.

However, before we get into what phantom power is, let’s first understand the basics of electricity.

  • Electricity is the flow of electrons through a conductor, such as a metal wire. The flow rate is measured in amperes (amps), and the pressure that drives the electrons is measured in volts.
  • The amount of power (measured in watts) that an electrical circuit generates equals the voltage multiplied by the current (amps).

Now that we understand the basics of electricity, let’s talk about phantom power, it’s working, why we need it, sources, and more.

What Is Phantom Power?

Phantom power is an invisible DC voltage that provides the active components within certain microphones with the necessary energy. This electric current travels through the same balanced audio cables to reach your speakers, so you never notice it’s there. 

The term “phantom” comes from not having any obvious sign of being present – just like something hidden in fog or mist.

Moreover, the sound would be noticeably poorer in quality without this power. You might not hear the subtle highs and lows clearly, or worse – experience crackling and popping noises. Many times it can be too much for even a noise gate to get rid of it. 

How Does Phantom Power Work?

There are two ways to power your microphone. You can either use the battery inside it or have DC power delivered from an external source before being sent through a preamp and into these microphones via cable(s). 

Phantom Power refers specifically to these latter methods where we’re taking advantage so that our voice will always sound great no matter what!

Phantom power is typically 48 volts of DC, but it can be turned on or off at the discretion of your preamp. Some mixers and cheaper audio interfaces don’t have this feature, so you’ll need an external supply for condenser mics if needed.

Phantom Power Circuit

The Benefits of Using Phantom Power

While batteries can also be used to power microphones, they have disadvantages. Batteries eventually die, and you have to replace them when they do. This can be a pain, especially if you’re in the middle of a recording session and your battery dies.

Here are some other advantages of phantom power:

  • Phantom power is a type of voltage that’s designed to activate Microphones without the need for an external power source. It’s commonly known as ‘+48V’ or P-48, and it usually comes with all condenser microphones but can be bought separately.
  • Phantom power is the DC electrical current required to send through an XLR cable. The diaphragm and mic’s internal amp require this voltage to work properly, so we must have phantom powering done right.
  • Phantom power is what you need to turn on when powering up your mic. It sends the DC current through an XLR cable. It delivers that necessary voltage for microphones with active electronics like condenser models, requiring this energy source instead of relying solely upon their built-in batteries or solar cells.

History Of Phantom Power

Phantom power is what you need to make your mic work the way it should. It came about in the 1960s when manufacturers were started using transistors instead of vacuum tubes, so they could pack more features into smaller spaces and save on costs with each new generation; however, this meant that now Mic consumables like capsules needed another source of energy – powering them through a cable rather than having an external supply (like traditional tube microphones).

Norway’s NRK had to use auxiliary lighting in their studios in the winter months. This was powered by a 48 volts DC power supply fed from an outlet on stage where presenters would give presentations during breaks between filming or recording programming for broadcast later that day—a necessary luxury because there wasn’t enough natural daylight available.

In 1966, Neumann GmbH introduced its new transistor technology to Norway. The company visited the NRK intending to bring these microphones into Norwegian homes, which they eventually did.

With the introduction of new solid-state microphones, it was possible to power them without an external supply. This meant that instead of having a separate cable for powering your microphone and audio signal strands like before with tube-based models where you would need two cables (one each) leading out from behind stage or recording session location–only one could now do both jobs.

It was decided that Neumann would design microphones for use with the studio’s +48 volts DC power supply. The signal is fed into two pins on a 3-pin XLR connector, which provides Phantom Power according to DIN 45596 standards. Since then, +48 V voltage has become known as “standard” (according to German law) across all phantom-powered devices.

Phantom Power Sources

Phantom power is an often overlooked but vital part of any recording process. The three most common devices where you can source phantom juice are audio mixer, audio interface, and phantom power adaptors. Each with their pros and cons depending on what type of material it will be used for.

1. Audio Mixer

Mixers are a great option if you plan to go busking, streaming, or any other activity where your performance needs pre-processing. Microphones and instruments are connected to these devices, which generate audio signals via USB. They can also help with mixing audio and adding effects on the fly – making them perfect for live performances like gigs.

2. Audio Interface

An audio interface is a device that takes microphone/instrument inputs and outputs them through USB. It has only the most basic controls, such as gain knobs or power buttons for your mic signal; this makes it perfect if you’re looking to record podcasts or voice-overs in-home studio situations where post-production won’t happen on-site (like when doing radio spots).

3. Phantom Power Adaptors

A phantom power adaptor is a convenient way to provide power without buying an audio interface or mixer. They are also great for when you want to use an XLR microphone with a device that only has 3.5mm inputs – such as a DSLR camera.

What Types Of Microphones Require Phantom Power?

Phantom power is used to operate microphones and other devices that require a regulated electric current. Microphones are not the only ones that use them, so what types of sound-making equipment require this?

Mics that do Not Require Phantom Power

1. DC-Biased Electret Miniature Microphones

These microphones are designed to work without the need for phantom power instead of using a DC-biasing voltage. They typically have unbalanced cables and can be powered by 5 volts from your camera’s barrel plug or another source like an adaptor cable.

2. Passive Ribbon Dynamic Microphones

While ribbon microphone does not require any power to operate, they can only be used with certain equipment that has been designed for this type of mic. The passive principle means there are no active components. Thus makes it different from other types like condenser or dynamic ones where you need an external battery source.

3. Moving-Coil Dynamic Microphones

The electromagnetic induction process in moving-coil dynamic microphones does not require any phantom power, making them environmentally friendly. They also have a natural sound with little distortion for clear communication. Whether, its interviews or speech applications such as conferences where you need to be able to hear what’s being said clearly without having an assistant.

4. Tube Microphones

Tube microphones are also active microphones but require more power than phantom power. Furthermore, tube microphones require external power supply units to properly power their active components (tubes and capsules).

Mics That Requires Phantom Power

1. True Condenser Microphones (Externally Polarized) 

Phantom powering is a necessary evil for any true condenser mic. Studio-grade microphones are typically powered by it, so it’s usually available in more situations where you’ll find yourself using one of these high-end pieces of equipment.

The condenser microphone has a special design to work with phantom power. This means you need two pieces of equipment, one for your voice and another which provides the 48 voltage necessary so this type can be used properly.

2. Active Ribbon Dynamic Microphones

Active Ribbon Microphones convert sound to audio via electromagnetic induction, but they do so in a more sophisticated way than traditional microphones. The low-level mic signal from an active ribbon may first pass through amplifiers and then be amplified further by passive components before being output as heard on your speakers or headphones.

3. Electret Fet Condenser Microphones

A special type of microphone called an “electret” (or DC-biased) FET mic requires no power source. Of course, other than its internal battery. This means it can be used on stage or in the studio without any added carts or stands. This making them perfect for all kinds of applications.

They also have benefits such as being super lightweight. This being so you won’t strain yourself when lugging around heavy equipment during long sets. They also sound great even at lower volumes because their design reduces feedback problems caused by louder sounds reflecting off nearby surfaces.

FAQs on Phantom Power 

How do I know if my mic needs phantom power? 

You can determine if your microphone needs phantom power by checking whether it’s a condenser type or another kind. For example, dynamic mics don’t require any extra energy because they’re powered internally. When they turn on the device that plugs into their jack to work properly.

Do I need phantom power for my guitar?

Phantom power is not typically used with guitars. If you want to amplify your acoustic guitar, you can use a piezo pickup or an under-saddle transducer. These are both passive and doesn’t need any extra energy beyond what’s provided by your amplifier. You can also find active pickups that require batteries, but these are less common.

Do I need phantom power for a dynamic microphone?

No, dynamic microphones don’t require phantom power because they’re powered internally. This is in contrast to condenser microphones, which need an external or separate power supply to work properly.

Final Thoughts on Phantom Power

With the vast majority of digital audio equipment today, phantom power is built in as standard. Whether you are using a digital audio interface, USB microphone, or mixer, the chances are that your device can provide an external power supply.

However, if you are unsure whether your device has this feature or not, it is always best to check the manual or contact the manufacturer to be sure.

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