If you are interested in using dynamic microphones, especially broadcast microphones, I’m sure you have come across the topic of cloudlifters or inline signal boosters before.
Let’s see what they do and if your audio setup needs one.
What is a cloudlifter?
In the simplest terms, a cloudlifter or signal booster is a device that increases the gain of the audio signal. You put it between the microphone and your audio interface (or preamp) to bring the signal to usable levels.
A signal booster, aka. cloudlifter, boosts your signal by adding additional gain.
That’s it. That is the main job of a cloudlifter. It increases the signal strength to get a higher input level on your audio interface or mixer.
Why do you need a cloudlifter?
Some microphones, mainly dynamic and ribbon microphones, have a very low output signal. That means the levels those microphones put out are insufficient on their own, and also the quality of the signal can suffer from a low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).
The logical step would be to increase the gain on your preamp or audio interface. But in some combinations, that is still not enough to get a decently strong signal level.
In these cases, a cloudlifter or inline signal booster is very helpful. With the help of this device, you can get a good level and create great-sounding recordings or broadcasts.
How does a cloudlifter work?
A cloudlifter uses the 48V phantom power provided by the mixer or audio interface and transforms this voltage into a clean boost to the audio signal. Depending on the model, it adds between 15 and 30 dB of gain.
This also means the microphone does not get phantom power anymore. So, most cloudlifters do not work with condenser microphones. They need the 48V phantom power to function.
How do I use a cloudlifter?
Using a cloudlifter is simple and straightforward.
- Connect the output of your microphone to the input of your cloudlifter.
- Then connect the output of your cloudlifter to the input of your audio interface or your mixer.
- Make sure you activate 48V phantom power on the channel. Without it, the cloudlifter won’t get any power and will not work.
- Adjust the gain accordingly until you get the desired levels.
Do I need a cloudlifter?
That depends heavily on your choice of microphone. Dynamic and ribbon microphones have lower sensitivities than studio condenser microphones, so you need a lot of gain to get the audio levels high enough.
Depending on your mixer, preamp, or audio interface, you may need a cloudlifter. If you are using older equipment, chances are they do not have enough gain to drive a low-output microphone.
Let’s take a look at some numbers.
|LCT 440 PURE||Condenser||-31 dBV (27.4 mV/Pa)|
|Rode NT1||Condenser||-29 dBV/Pa (35.5 mV)|
|Neumann TLM 103||Condenser||-33 dBV/Pa (22.4 mV)|
|LEWITT MTP 550 DM||Dynamic||-54 dBV (2 mV/Pa)|
|Shure SM7B||Dynamic||-59 dBV/Pa (1.12 mV)|
|Electro-Voice RE20||Dynamic||-57 dBV (1.5 mV/Pa)|
As you can see, the dynamic microphones all have a much lower output.
Now let’s look at popular audio interface choices and see how much gain they can provide.
|Audio interface||Preamp gain range|
|LEWITT CONNECT 6||-6 dB to +72 dB|
|Focusrite Scarlett 2i2||0 to +56 dB|
|PreSonus AudioBox USB 96||0 to +35 dB|
|M-Audio M-Track Solo||0 to +54 dB|
If your audio interface can not provide more than +50 dB of gain and you’re using a low-output microphone, a cloudlifter will be needed.
So, if you are unsure if you need a cloudlifter, you can check the specs of the equipment and see if you need a cloudlifter.
With a modern interface, like the CONNECT 6, you no longer need a cloudlifter. It provides more than enough crystal-clear gain, so you get great-sounding audio with any microphone! No need for cloudlifters.
Does a cloudlifter improve my sound quality?
That depends on your current setup. If you have low noise preamps (which 90% of modern audio interfaces have), your audio quality will not improve with a cloudlifter.
If you use an interface with high EIN (Equivalent input noise), like a mobile recorder or an older interface, then a cloudlifter could reduce the noise in your signal.
To check if your equipment has a higher noise level, you need to compare the equivalent input noise / self-noise levels between your interface/mixer and the cloudlifter.
If the cloudlifter has significantly lower self-noise, then you will get a cleaner signal while using one.
Check out the great video of the audio interface specialist Julian Krause on YouTube.
Alternatives to cloudlifters
If you are looking for an alternative to a cloudlifter, the best choice is to use an audio interface or mixer with enough gain to get good levels on your microphone.
Then you don’t need anything else. You can connect your microphone to the interface, turn up the gain, and start recording or broadcasting immediately.
Check the specs of different devices and decide what equipment is best for you.
Potential downsides to using a cloudlifter
Other than clutter and cost, there is no downside to using a cloudlifter. It will not harm your audio signal. It will not degrade your audio. It will simply boost it and give it more gain.
Sometimes a cloudlifter can solve your problem easily, and sometimes it’s unnecessary.