Manufactured by Cloud Microphones, the Cloudlifter is a popular device for recording engineers, musicians, and content creators. It is commonly used with low-gain dynamic or ribbon microphones.
What does a Cloudlifter do?
The main purpose of a Cloudlifter is to boost the gain of microphones that don’t use phantom power by between 20-25dB.
The device is positioned between a low-output microphone, most commonly a dynamic, tube, or ribbon mic, and the audio interface or recording device.
In its relatively short history, the Cloudlifter:
- has quickly emerged as one of the most popular inline microphone devices on the market.
- is renowned for its clean, transparent gain, and its compatibility with a wide range of low-gain microphones, particularly the Shure SM7B dynamic mic.
To decide whether you would benefit from adding a Cloudlifter to your recording setup, you need to understand exactly what the device does.
In this guide, we’ll cover all of the information on this subject.
How Does a Cloudlifter Work?
To understand how the Cloudlifter works, we must first discuss the gain levels of certain microphones. Most dynamic and ribbon microphones output microphone-level signals.
This essentially means that they produce low amounts of gain, compared to condenser mics.
Even with the gain turned all the way up on your audio interface, many low-gain microphones will still record audio at low volumes. A Cloudlifter provides a reliable solution to this issue boosting the gain by 20-25dB.
The signal is transmitted from the low-gain microphone into the Cloudlifter via XLR. Then, the output is taken from the Cloudlifter and is sent to the input on an audio interface or another recording device.
This causes the signal gain to be boosted before it is captured by the recording device.
The additional gain is supplied by +48v phantom power, which is received by the Cloudlifter from an audio interface or another external recording unit. The Cloudlifter has a small inbuilt microphone, which is used to create an additional gain.
Once the signal has been amplified, it is applied to the microphone through the XLR cable. This means that you don’t need to crank up the input gain on your audio interface or mixer to hear the recordings from the microphone.
Another standout capability of the Cloudlifter is that it boosts the gain in a clean, transparent way.
This is preferable to the noisy gain that is added when the input levels are turned up high on a recording device, as it preserves the clarity and quality of the recordings through the microphone.
For a Cloudliter to work, it must be used with a low gain microphone and a recording device that can supply the +48v phantom power. If phantom power is not available, the Cloudlifter will be incapable of increasing the gain of the microphone’s signal.
Can You Use A Cloudlifter on Condenser Mics?
The Cloudlifter is most commonly used with low-gain microphones like dynamic, ribbon, or tube mics.
However, you might be wondering whether this attenuator device could also be beneficial to the recordings you make with a condenser microphone.
The main difference between condenser and dynamic microphones is that the former requires +48v phantom power to work.
This is because the condenser needs the additional voltage supplied by the phantom power so that the diaphragm can be charged and the inbuilt preamp can successfully be powered.
Dynamic microphones, on the other hand, don’t require phantom power because they have no internal active circuitry.
This is relevant to a Cloudlifter’s compatibility with condenser microphones because the device uses phantom power to boost the level of the microphone.
Condenser mics are already receiving the phantom power, therefore the Cloudlifter would not have any effect on the mic’s recordings.
Compared to dynamic, ribbon, and tube microphones, standard condenser mics are significantly louder. They pick up many of the sound source’s details and record at an audible, clear level.
As a result, there would be no benefit to boosting the gain of a condenser microphone using a Cloudlifter or similar device. Adding a boost to the signal would likely cause it to overdrive, resulting in muddy, saturated recordings.
For more information about Cloudlifter take a look at this YouTube video.
Is Cloudlifter A Preamp?
Preamps are highly useful devices when recording instruments, vocals, or any other sounds.
Their purpose is to boost low-level signals by amplifying them to line level before they reach an audio interface or mixer.
Technically, the Cloudlifter is a preamp. However, it is slightly different from many conventional preamps used with microphones, as it uses phantom power to provide the boost to the low-level signal.
The Cloudlifter comes before the audio interface, which could be described as an amplifier, amongst other things. This is where the word preamp comes from – it means prior to the amplifier.
One of the reasons that there is some confusion surrounding whether the Cloudlifter is a preamp, is because the device provides a set amount of gain that cannot be adjusted.
Most preamps allow you to alter the amount of gain that is added to the signal, but the Cloudlifter’s gain is predetermined.
Nevertheless, the basic function of the Cloudlifter is the same as any other preamp. It prepares the signal to be received by the amplifier, or in this case, the audio interface.
Another aspect that adds some confusion to this topic is that most audio interfaces have built-in mic preamps. It may therefore seem unnecessary to use a Cloudlifter when the inputs already add gain to the signal.
The mic preamps on the audio interface don’t offer the same amount of gain that a Cloudlifter does, and therefore they aren’t as effective at boosting low-gain microphones, like the SM7B, to an optimal level.
Cranking up the gain on an audio interface will likely lead to noise issues which will then be present in the recordings.
How Much Gain Does A Cloudlifter Add?
A Cloudlifter adds +25dB of clean gain to the microphone signal. Many people get confused by decibels, as they think they are directly linked to volume.
Decibels are indeed used to indicate how loud a sound is, but the way they represent this isn’t so straightforward.
For illustration, imagine we are comparing the Cloudlifter to another inline mic preamp that adds +15dB to the signal. The Cloudlifter adds +25dB to the signal, and therefore one may assume that it is 10dB louder.
On the contrary, what this means is that the gain increase of the Clouflifter is ten times the level of the other device. An increase of 10dB means that the sound is 10 times more powerful.
The +25dB of gain that is provided by the Cloudlifer is important because it is used with low-gain microphones. Condenser mics generally don’t require this level of gain increase, but some dynamic or ribbon microphones need it to reach an optimal level.
The ideal volume for recording is somewhere between -20dB and -5dB. This is because even when the audio reaches its loudest point, there is still enough headroom for mixing and processing.
When you use a low-gain microphone to record, it may, by default, only be capable of reaching around -40dB.
A Cloudlifter is used to increase the gain so that it falls within the aforementioned optimal range of -250dB to -5dB.
By adding +25dB of gain to the microphones signal, the Cloudlifter would raise it from -40dB to -15dB, which is within the optimal range. This would make the recordings sound clearer, and make it easier to mix them retrospectively.
In the table below, you can see the level of some popular microphones.
If the Cloudlifter could only add 10dB of gain to the signal, the low-gain microphone would still be too quiet. This is why having adequate gain for the microphone you’re using is essential.
Audio interface mic preamps don’t typically provide enough gain to get low-gain microphones within the suggested dB range, and therefore an inline preamp is required to perform this function.
Does the Cloudlifter need phantom power?
In order to operate, the Cloudlifter requires +48v phantom power. The phantom power doesn’t get transmitted to the microphone, so there’s no risk of it being damaged.
The phantom power is most commonly provided by the audio interface or other recording device.
Does the Cloudlifter add noise to the signal?
Although the Cloudlifter increases gain by +25dB by boosting the noise floor, the device is designed to reduce noise. There may be a slight increase in noise, but the clean boost should ensure that this is kept to a minimum and won’t adversely affect your recording.
Does Cloudlifter only work with dynamic mics?
Cloudlifters, and all other inline mic preamps for that matter, work with dynamic and ribbon mics. They do not work with condenser microphones.
Condenser mics don’t require any additional gain, and therefore the Cloudlifter will make no difference to the recordings you make with this type of mic.