• Performance & Production

What is Phantom Power & Why Do I Need It?

Phantom power…what a strange name!? If you're new to home recording, this term can be confusing. If this is the case, we can help...

Phantom power, sounds funny, doesn't it? If you're new to home recording, this term can be confusing. Thankfully, we can help...  

Shure Beta 181

Phantom Power is a term given to the process of delivering DC (Direct Current) to microphones requiring electric power to drive active circuitry. Condenser microphones such as Shure's KSM range all have active circuitry and require phantom power.  

How Does Phantom Power Work?

The power can be provided by a battery located inside of the mic; an example is the Shure PG81 (now discontinued) that operates from a single AA battery. Alternatively (and most commonly) the DC power is provided by the pre-amp/mixer and delivered to the condenser microphone via the mic cable. This method is referred to as phantom power. The worldwide standard for phantom power is 11 to 52 volts of DC (typical studio mics run on 48v). Your preamp will typically have a button labelled 48v, which allows you to turn this on/off. However, some older mixers and cheaper audio interfaces may not have phantom power. In this case, an external phantom power supply can be added between the condenser mic and the preamp.  

Will Phantom Power Damage My Dynamic Mics?

A dynamic microphone, like the SM58 , does not require phantom power because it does not have active electronics inside. Nonetheless, applying phantom power will not damage other microphones in the vast majority of cases. The reason is that modern dynamic  microphones are designed to accept phantom power without issues, but we advise checking your manual or consulting with the manufacturer first before connecting; particularly if you have a ribbon microphone. Additionally, it's a good idea to turn phantom power off while plugging and unplugging microphones to prevent any potential power surge and general pops and loud noises, which could damage your speakers/headphones over time.  

Why Is It Called Phantom Power?

Condenser microphones made in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s required a special power supply to operate. This power supply would often be located quite near the microphone and was usually large, heavy, and cumbersome. In the 1960s, work began on a new powering concept that would eliminate the need for a separate power supply. Schoeps and Neumann (German microphone manufacturers) were leaders in this development. Eventually, a new condenser mic powering standard emerged. The DC power to operate the condenser mic was provided by the mixing board and delivered via the mic cable; eliminating the need for an external power supply. And what does one call a power supply that is working, but invisible? It is a phantom power supply! - Source Shure Inc Applications Engineering

Marc Henshall

Marc forms part of our Pro Audio team at Shure UK and specialises in Digital Marketing. He also holds a BSc First Class Hons Degree in Music Technology. When not at work he enjoys playing the guitar, producing music, and dabbling in DIY (preferably with a good craft beer or two).

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How-To Geek

What is phantom power, and does your microphone need it.

And do you need it to power your microphone?

Quick Links

What is phantom power, do condenser mics need phantom power, do dynamic mics need phantom power, can phantom power cause damage, key takeaways.

Phantom power is a way of carrying electric current to power microphones without using a separate power supply. It's typically used to power condenser microphones and the 48V DC power itself is supplied by most mixers, audio interfaces, and preamps.

If you're shopping for a microphone or audio interface, you've probably seen the term phantom power. But what exactly is phantom power, where does it come from, and do you need it to power your microphone?

Phantom power is a method of providing power to a microphone without an external power supply or battery. While some microphones don't require phantom power, other, more sensitive microphones do.

Phantom power works by carrying DC electric current over an XLR cable that plugs into your microphone. This way, a single cable carries power to the microphone as well as the audio signal from it.

The official standard for phantom power specifies that it can carry anywhere from 11 to 52 volts of DC power. Studio microphones most often run at 48 volts, so you'll see phantom power referred to as +48v.

The power needs to come from somewhere, and in most cases it comes from a mixer or audio interface . While most audio interfaces feature phantom power, not all of them do. You can tell by looking for buttons labeled +48v or similar, usually near the gain controls.

Phantom power isn't the only way to provide power to a microphone. Lavaliere mics, for example, typically rely on internal batteries for power. Larger vacuum tube microphones also require more power, so they use their own bespoke power supplies.

Every condenser microphone requires power, due to the way this type of microphone operates. In the majority of cases, this is phantom power. There are only two cases where condenser microphones use other power sources, which we'll look at in a moment.

Condenser microphones are very sensitive, with a conductive diaphragm next to a solid metal plate. As the diaphragm vibrates, the distance between it and the metal plate creates changes in capacitance.

This signal requires a built-in preamp to lower the impedance and amplify it. This is why condenser microphones require power, and, in most cases, this is phantom power.

The first of the two exceptions is tube condenser mics, which, as mentioned above, use their own power supplies, so they don't require phantom power. The other exception is USB microphones , which get their power from the USB connection.

Dynamic microphones don't require phantom power because they work differently from condenser microphones.

A dynamic mic essentially works like a speaker in reverse. Instead of sending a sound through a speaker, which vibrates and makes noise, dynamic microphones vibrate from noise in the air. This signal then travels through a circuit in the mic and to your XLR cables.

These signals are high enough in volume that the signal can go directly to your mixer, preamp, or audio interface. The only issue is that some dynamic microphones, like the Shure SM7B , have very low output.

For these mics, you can use an inline preamp to boost the signal. These inline preamps sometimes use phantom power instead of an external power supply. In this case, it's the preamp that is using phantom power, not the microphone.

While it's possible to damage microphones with phantom power, it's not common or likely.

One type of mic more prone to damage from phantom power than others are ribbon microphones. There are two types: active ribbon microphones, which actually require phantom power, and passive ribbon microphones.

Passive ribbon microphones used to be more prone to damage from phantom power running to them. These days, these microphones have circuitry built in to avoid this type of damage. The only way you'll likely damage a ribbon microphone with phantom power these days is from an XLR cable with faulty wiring.

The only other way to damage a ribbon microphone is a mistake you should avoid with any type of microphone when using phantom power, and that's forgetting to ensure it's off before plugging or unplugging cables. Never plug in a microphone with phantom power enabled. Switch it off, make the connection, then switch it on.

Follow the above, and you shouldn't ever have to worry about damaging anything with phantom power.

Related: What Is Audio Distortion, and What Causes It?


Phantom Power And Pre Amps- Whats The Difference? (Explained!)

Categories Phantom Power And Microphones

Those of us who are into music-making and recording hear these terms all the time: phantom power and preamp.

So, what is the difference between phantom power and a preamp?

The difference between phantom power and a preamp is that Phantom power is an electrical current traveling through an XLR microphone cable to power up a condenser microphone. A preamp amplifies the signal once it arrives back.

It’s time to clear the mist and separate the terms once and for all.

Let me share my years of experience on a mixing desk and go a little further sharing some knowledge about the difference between phantom power and preamps.

Phantom powe r is for electrostatic microphones AKA condenser, the preamp on a mixing board might be 90% of the reason to buy it because it adds a particular color to each microphone differently.

It sounds great, but do you already know how to use it to get your microphone set up and the mixers in the studio? Let’s take a look and explain a few things in simple terms.

what is phantom power preamp

Phantom Power And Preamp Sources

Getting phantom power for your equipment is usually a very simple endeavor. Most of the gear you can get today at a random music store will grant you a source of phantom power. For example, most sound interfaces have that option as well as 90% of the mixers out there.

Take a look at the incredible Scarlett range. All of these audio interfaces have phantom power built-in.

Now, the question is: do you also need a preamp to go with them and where can you get that preamp? Well, the good news is that nowadays most phantom power sources you find will also come with a built-in pre-amp so you can have a complete microphone set up.

In fact, most mixers can accommodate more than one phantom-powered microphone with a preamp for each. Here are some options:

  •  Mixers – Most mixers in the market will solve both needs for you with built-in preamp and phantom power. Depending on the price of the mixer and the quality of the preamp you’ll get a warmer, more natural sound or a smaller, more digitally-sounding recording. Phantom power sources are mostly the same everywhere.
  • Sound Interfaces – Also known as DAC, these are the external units that usually have the ability to provide your condenser microphone with some phantom power and have a built-in generic preamp.
  • USB Condenser microphones – Some condenser microphones come equipped with a built-in preamp and DAC and have USB connection straight to your computer. Buying one of these will completely solve the need for a preamp and phantom power (they get the voltage through the USB cable). The Audio Tecnica AT2020 is an amazing Condenser Microhone
  • . Check it out here on Amazon.

This being said, it is true that the more you invest in your preamp, the better the audio quality you’ll get.

I have written a separate article called “Can you record vocals without a preamp” You can check it out here.

In fact, sound quality is the result of a chain of elements that is only as strong as its weakest link. This means that if you have a NEVE console with some of the best preamps in the world, a very expensive microphone set up and mixers but buy a very cheap DAC and phantom power external units, you will degrade the sound quality you invested so much money into.

Here’s an easy to understand video on what Phantom Power is.

Do You Need Phantom Power And A Preamp?

So, the question that follows to what is each and where to find them is if you need to pair phantom power with a preamp.

Well, your microphone set up will differ depending on what you are trying to do with it. Most high-end mixers provide both, but not all of them.

The signal you’ll get from the instrument (microphones, acoustic-electric instruments) is going to have a certain amount of volume straight from the source. You’ll very likely need to amplify that sound so that you won’t get any extra, unwanted noise in the signal. Also, preamps can help you shape the sound when they have a built-in equalizer like in big consoles. Let’s take a look at the main possible scenarios.

Check out another article I have written called ” Can you record vocals without an audio interface” You can find it here.

Condenser Microphones (Need Phantom Power)

Condenser microphones need phantom power to operate.

It is not optional to sound better, they won’t generate signal unless you feed them electricity.

The 48V going through the XLR cable comes back in the form of balanced audio waves through the same cable. This is the way condenser microphones create those warm-sounding mid-lows that we all love so much.

Some condenser microphones have a built-in preamp as well and this way the sound comes out of the microphone with a higher volume than it would otherwise.

Will this replace the need for an external preamp? Surely will, but it doesn’t replace the better sound you can get when plugging it to an amazing preamp.

Take a look at the video from the Stamp Sound Youtube Channel that accompanies this article.

You Can Subscribe To The Channel Here. It’s Free!

The entire microphone set up along with the mixers shall be what determines your final sound. The same way a built-in DAC on a USB microphone will get the job done, the built-in preamp on your condenser will, but adding better components to the chain will always improve sound quality .

The MXL Mic 770 is a great choice of condenser microphone. Take a look at it here.

Dynamic Microphones ( Do not Need Phantom Power)

To set things straight from the beginning, dynamic microphones do not need phantom power.

What they do need, more in fact than condensers, is a good preamp. Since dynamic microphones do not need electrical current to work, they do benefit hugely from a good preamp when in the studio.

The key to understanding this difference with the condenser family is that they are microphones created for different situations . Dynamic microphones are meant to be on a stage and that way usually also plugged to the preamp of a powered mixer.

The microphone set up in live situations is usually a microphone (either wireless or with an XLR cable) a mixer, its internal power amplifiers or out to a power amp and then to the speakers.

In this scenario, the preamp that you will likely use will be the mixer’s built-in with the EQ . Condenser microphones are not suitable for live situations (with the exception of the lavalier for conferences) because they are too sensitive to handle loud stage noises. On the other hand, and for the same reason, dynamic microphones need the preamp because they are less sensitive.

The most popular Dynamic microphone that you will find in every studio is the Shure SM-58. Take a look at this microphone here.

Here’s a great video explaining what a preamp is.

Instruments And Phantom Power

Can phantom power be applied to instruments?

Well, the general answer is no. That being said, few things make an acoustic guitar sound better than a condenser microphone.

Those instruments that can be plugged in using the line-in of mixers usually have a pre-amp built-in. Whenever you pick up an acoustic-electric and see the volume and tone knobs or even a graphic equalizer, you are seeing a built-in preamp. There are very few guitars out there that are passive acoustic-electric (some Gibsons especially).

Where do they get the power for the preamp? Well, you need to set them up with a 9-volt battery that powers the entire system so it can operate.

Without a built-in preamp, you would have to plug it into an external one like the Fishman Aura and other floor units. There is also a chance of having an active direct box to use as a preamp as well before hitting the mixer.

what is phantom power preamp

Mixers Vs Standalone Units

So, when in the need of phantom power and a preamp, which is the best choice to complete your microphone set up? I would say that there are pros and cons to them, let’s take a look.

  • Mixer – A mixer or a sound interface with built-in preamps and phantom power can be a great solution. Depending on how much you spend on a mixer, will determine the results you will get. For example, buying a $99 mixer with preamps and phantom power can tell you a thing or two about the quality of the components used in it, right? With a mixer, you definitely get what you pay for.
  •   Standalone Units – Buying an external phantom power or preamp source is great because you can take it anywhere and always have a consistent sound with your microphone. On the other hand, if you already have a mixer and need to buy these external sources it can mean extra money and taking something else with you everywhere you go.

Both scenarios have pros and cons. You will very likely have to face them both as your musical/production career goes on.

Conclusion. Do You Need Phantom Power And A Preamp?

To make a final statement about phantom power and preamps:

  •  Do you need both? In the case of a condenser microphone yes, for dynamic ones only a preamp. Whether they are built-in or not, it’s the way to make the most out of your vocal takes.

Each artist and microphone set up is radically different and the tone of your voice or the taste in your productions will tell you which suits you the best.

Perhaps you want to create a warm vocal take to match wooden instruments and condensers are your thing. Maybe you are producing a podcast with dynamic radio-oriented microphones (like the legendary Shure SM7B ) and need to focus on the mid-range with no phantom power needed, you check out the SM7B here on Amazon. 

Most mixers in the world will solve this for you, it will just be a matter of taste and ear refinement until you find the one you love the most.

My advice to cover all aspects would be to purchase a good quality mixer and have the flexibility of all options available.

Whatever you decide enjoy creating your music.

Home Recordio

Preamp vs Phantom Power – What’s The Difference?

Juan Stansbury

Power is a significant element when it comes to operating microphones.

Different types of mics exist, and these require varying powering techniques for them to function optimally.

Some of these microphones come with inbuilt amplifiers, while others need an external one for them to work.

So, the powering options you select will depend on this feature. Preamp and phantom power work differently, and in most cases, you cannot use both options to fuel your microphone without ruining it.

Let’s look at each of these options and learn more about how they work to bring mics to life.

Behringer TUBE ULTRAGAIN MIC100 Audiophile Vacuum Tube Preamplifier with Limiter

Last update on 2023-10-11 at 13:07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Table of Contents

What is a Preamp, and How Does it Work?

Video: “What Is A Preamp, And Do I Need One?”

A preamplifier is a gadget that boosts a weak microphone signal. The final product is strong enough to send to a loudspeaker but not distorted.

This device essentially increases the volume of the signal it receives from the mic so that this sound is useful to the next gadget in line.

You have to plug the microphone into the line inputs to ensure that you receive clear sound and no distortion. Depending on the type of microphones you have, you can choose between clean and colored mic preamps.

Clean mic preamplifiers dramatically boost the signal without introducing any distortion. These gadgets can increase the sound up to 75dB effortlessly. Colored mic preamps, on the other hand, tweak the signal through the introduction of some harmonic distortion.

And while these pre-harmonic colorations will limit your processing options along the chain, they create a distinct sound and reduce the amount of time you spend mixing the audio.

If you’re still battling whether or not to get a preamplifier, here are the top reasons for getting one.

  • Dramatic sound boost
  • Clear, undistorted sound
  • Unlimited choices for mics and guitars
  • More gain unlike when you don’t use a preamplifier
  • On the flip side, preamps, especially the inbuilt ones, limit your gain range when you do not have supporting equipment to sustain the link.
  • You cannot use them in conjunction with phantom power

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

What is Phantom Power, and How Does it Work?

Video: “What Is Phantom Power And Why Do You Need It?”

When it comes to phantom power, you do not need a go-between gadget to help stabilize the signal. Phantom power is a direct connection circuit that travels through the cables to power up your microphone.

This powering option is commonly used in conjunction with condenser microphones. You only have to press the 48V button for the mic to begin functioning. Plugin the mics into the mixer and connect the loudspeakers.

Before turning your power source on, ensure that the volume controls are set on low. This way, you avoid damaging the speakers when the power comes up.

Finally, hit the 48v button on your mic and start recording. Some notable perks of using phantom power include:

  • Smooth, effortless connectivity process
  • It is less expensive
  • Provides a stable power supply
  • Unfortunately, phantom power is mostly suitable for condenser and ribbon mics

Preamp vs Phantom Power Differences

Preamplifiers differ from phantom power in several ways. Some of the most significant differences between the two options include:

Preamps work as a switch between the power source and your microphone. Without it, none of these two entities would function as they should. Phantom power, however, is the main circuit breaker in this chain.

A preamplifier has plenty of control knobs that you use to equalize the sound at the end of the chain. You can increase the bass, volume, texture, and other essentials that’ll produce a smooth and balanced sound.

A phantom power supply box, on the other hand, only has mic output and input plugs and an on and off switch. You’ll plug in the microphones and switch the box on, and you’re good to go. If you want to alter the sound controls, you have to rely on the mixer.

More so, you can control each of these gadgets separately, thanks to the independent control knobs on the preamplifier. The phantom power supply only supports the mics.

A preamplifier’s most significant task is to increase the volume of a weak signal to benefit the speakers or gadget that’s next in line. Its counterpart, however, only functions as a power source for the microphones plugged into it.

The phantom power box   is an external gear that helps to power up microphones. When it comes to preamps, you can find two types; the built-in and external ones. Some mixers and turntables have this built-in preamp, while others don’t.

Using some types of preamps, such as the colored mic variants, can limit your sound mixing process later on in the chain, unlike phantom power supplies, enabling you to edit the sound as you wish. Colored microphone preamplifiers alter the sound by incorporating a sweet distortion.

This feature gives your audio a distinct texture that’s sweet. However, the same characteristic will make it hard for you to edit the sound at a later stage. Phantom power sound is easy to edit since the box powers up the mic.

So, there you have it. Each of these devices has a specific function that they play to ensure that the microphones work optimally.

Do I Need a Preamp and Phantom Power?

Newbies usually wonder whether it is necessary to get a preamp and phantom power box. And while this is a valid concern, you need to ask yourself a few questions to determine whether you need both gadgets. For instance:

What type of microphones do I have?

Will, I focus on live events or studio recordings alone?

Does my preamplifier have a built-in phantom power supply?

These questions will help you rule out the unnecessary baggage, thereby choosing the best option.

Let’s analyze these three possibilities for a clearer understanding.

  • Microphone types

What type of microphones dominates your collection? Do you own more condensers than dynamics and ribbons? Or is it the other way around?

If you have more condenser microphones, it means that you want to specify in sound production. As such, you require a phantom power supply to support your devices.

The opposite is true. If your microphones collection has more dynamics , it is only sensible to buy a preamp to boost their sound.

  • Where is your focus? Live events or studio recordings?

Preamplifiers are more common in live events than studios because of microphones that rule this realm. Most performers prefer to use dynamic mics because they are less sensitive than other options in the market.

As such, they can withstand higher sound levels and can take a fall without damaging the core. However, these mics work using a coil and magnet that vibrate when you strum a guitar or sing into the mic.

The signal from these mics is not a strong one, which is why you need a preamp to boost it to audible levels.

  • Do you have a built-in power supply?

If you have a preamplifier, one of the top reasons that will make you consider getting a phantom power supply is the lack of a built-in phantom power supply. If your preamp lacks this circuit controller, it will not work.

You have to get an external one to power the preamp for you to gain your desired results. However, if you have a built-in phantom power circuit, it eliminates the need to get an external one.

Some microphones also require both a preamp and phantom power supply, such as the low output dynamic mics. One such microphone is the Shure SM7b, which has an output of -69dBv. Normal mixers and preamps have gains that stretch up to 40 or 50 dB.

Therefore, you have to find a way to hit the missing decibels. In this case, you will connect the mic to an amplifier for elevated signals, then add a phantom power supply into the mix to help increase the gain even higher.

You can do this if you cannot get your hands on an amplifier that can go all the way and boost the mic over 70dB.

Whether or not you need both devices depends on several variables that regard your specialty and gadget capabilities.

Final Words

The preamp Vs. Phantom power battle is a tough one to conclude. The reason for this is that these devices all serve a purpose in sound creation. More so, singers and studio producers use these items in different scenes, meaning that I cannot downplay their importance.

While a phantom power supply is easy to operate, it does not offer many sound regulation options as the preamplifier. These same preamps offer dynamic sound variables but may limit your editing process, more so if you opt for colorant preamps.

However, a few things stand out in my observation. If you have a preamplifier built for dynamic and ribbon mics, you have to get additional cables and other supplies to make the preamp compatible with the condenser mic.

Juan Stansbury

I'm Juan Stansbury, author and owner of Homerecordio – your ultimate destination for everything about homerecording. With hands-on experience, courses, workshops, and industry research, I offer tips on selecting the best equipment, and mixing and mastering your recordings to achieve professional-quality results at home. Join me on this journey to explore the world of homerecording and music production.

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Phantom power: what it is, when you need it and how to use it

Phantom power: what it is, when you need it and how to use it

What is phantom power?

48v phantom power, sometimes referred to as 48v, is a means of sending direct current (DC) from an audio interface , mixing desk or pre amp to a piece of equipment which requires power to operate. The most common piece of equipment that we use in home studios which requires phantom power is a condenser microphone . There are also some DI boxes which require 48v. Phantom power is sent to the device from the interface via a balanced XLR cable, the same one used to send the audio signal from the device to the interface. Your interface will usually have a button labelled 48v which is used to switch phantom power on and off.

Phantom power and mics:

As we’ve already established, condenser mics require phantom to function. That’s because they contain active circuitry. The same is true of active ribbon mics which also require phantom power to operate. Because dynamic mics and passive ribbon mics do not contain active electronics, they do not require 48v.

So, what do you do if, like most of us, your audio interface only allows you to turn on 48v globally. In this case, you can either switch it on for all connections, or none at all. But how does this work if you want to use a combination of condensers, dynamics and/or ribbons at once? Let’s establish a few guidelines.

Old/vintage mics:

When it comes to old/vintage ribbon mics and even some older dynamic mics , sending phantom power to them could very likely cause damage. As such, it’s important to do some research into a specific vintage mic. Make sure it’s absolutely safe to use that mic with 48v switched on before connecting it. If you are in any doubt, don’t connect it, as the risk for damage is high, particularly with ribbon mics.

Modern mics:

With newer dynamic and ribbon mics, the vast majority are designed to accept 48v despite not requiring it to function. Their ability to handle 48v will usually be stated in their manual. So double check there if you have any concerns.

That said, there are a few instances when even a modern ribbon could be damaged if presented with 48v . Connections made through mis-wired cables, damaged/worn out cables, or damaged/worn out cable connectors are one cause. Additionally, a mic could be damaged if you connect or disconnect it from your interface with phantom power already switched on, rather than connecting/disconnecting the mic before switching phantom on or off. Also, making connections between mics and your interface/desk/preamp via a patch bay with phantom power switched on can cause damage. That’s because, when TRS cables are inserted or removed from the patch bay in order to route signals, power can momentarily be shorted (i.e. routed along an unintended path) to the ribbon mic’s element.

48v best practices:

With the above in mind, there are a few codes of best practice to follow to protect your mics when working with phantom power… Be sure that your cables are properly wired and in a good state of repair. Make sure that you turn phantom off before connecting or disconnecting mics. Not just ribbons, but condensers too. This will protect not only your mics, but also your speakers and your ears as well. Also, be sure that phantom power is switched off before you do any routing on a patch bay. Finally, when it comes to vintage ribbon mics or dynamic mics, do some research before connecting them to an interface which is outputting 48v to be absolutely sure that the mic can handle it. If in any doubt, don’t connect it.


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What Is Phantom Power and Why Do You Need It?

What Is Phantom Power and Why Do You Need It?

Phantom power is required for some microphones to work. It’s a feature you’ll find on many mic preamps , mixers and audio interfaces .

But what is it exactly and why is it necessary? Which mics need it and how do you supply it?

In this article I’ll explain everything you need to know about phantom power.

Let’s get started.

What is phantom power?

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Phantom power is electricity used to power active electronics in microphones or other gear with XLR connectivity .

It’s typically supplied from the preamp, mixer channel or audio interface that you connect to the mic.

Phantom is required for condenser mics as well as some studio utility gear like active DIs and inline preamps.

Why do you need phantom power?

Phantom power is most commonly used with condenser mics because they use electrical circuitry to convert vibrations in the air into audio signals.

In the past, this microphone type used bulky external power supplies to supply current to the electronics.

Phantom power is electricity used to power active electronics in microphones or other gear with XLR connectivity.

But when FET transistors replaced vacuum tubes in audio gear, microphones no longer needed high voltage power to run.

Instead, engineers realized the electricity could come from the console itself using a clever design.

They called it phantom power because the mics were able to work with no power supply visible—it must have seemed spooky at the time!

Now wherever you see a +48 option on your gear, you can easily supply the 48 volts of electricity needed to power condenser mics.

When should you avoid phantom power?

While some microphones need phantom power to work, it can be damaging if supplied to certain mic types. The main mic style this affects is ribbon mics .

Ribbon microphones are some of the oldest sound capture technology around. They rely on a thin, fragile metal ribbon that moves back and forth with the sound waves.

Ribbon mics were invented long before phantom power and can be vulnerable to surges of electricity.

If the powerful 48v electricity reaches the microphone’s ribbon, it can cause severe damage and even tear the ribbon.

Modern ribbon microphones are less sensitive to this issue, but the best advice is to avoid sending them 48v phantom power at all times.

Hot tip : The same rule applies for any microphone that doesn’t have a transformer coupled output. This isn’t common, but some vintage mics and certain DIY mods for dynamic mics can also be damaged by phantom power.

What else needs phantom power?

Phantom power is traditionally used to power active microphones, but creative manufacturers have found innovative uses for it in other gear.

For example, some popular large diaphragm dynamic mics like the Shure SM7B require more gain than many audio interface preamps can supply without introducing noise.

To fix it you can use an inline preamp or mic activator box to add gain and clarity. These small boxes go between your mic and audio interface. They’re powered by 48v phantom power.

They help bring the signal up so it’s strong enough to sound clean and clear even when the preamp has limited gain on tap.

Here are some of the best mic activators and inline preamps out there right now:

  • Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1
  • Triton Audio FetHead
  • sE Electronics Dynamite
  • Radial McBoost

Another type of gear that requires phantom power is active DI boxes .

A DI is a pro audio tool that lets you plug instrument level equipment like guitars or keyboards directly into a mic preamp.

Some DIs are completely passive and don’t require any electricity to work. Others use active circuitry to help condition the signal.

Active DIs are often powered with the 48v phantom power supplied by the mixer.

How do you send phantom power?

To use phantom power with your condenser mics, all you have to do is engage the +48 or  48V button on your audio interface, mixer channel or preamp.

To use phantom power with your condenser mics, all you have to do is engage the +48 or 48V button on your audio interface, mixer channel or preamp.

With some interfaces, these options will be found in the software control panel app if there’s no button on the device itself.

Most preamps and interfaces give you the option to engage phantom power per channel, but some small mixers have global phantom power.

In that case, engaging phantom power means you’ll be sending 48v on all channels, so you’ll have to watch out for sensitive gear.

If for some reason your preamp does not include phantom power you can still send it using an external supply.

Here are some options for external phantom power supplies:

  • ART Phantom II Pro
  • Behringer PS400

Proper power supply

Phantom power is something you’ll need to understand to get the most out of your gear.

From condenser mics to active DIs and cloudlifters, there’s plenty of essential equipment that needs it to work.

If you’ve made it through this article you’ll have a great start for working with phantom power.

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

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Audio Solutions Question of the Week: What Is Phantom Power and Why Do I Need It?

Question: What is phantom power and why do I need it?

Answer: So often we receive a frantic call from a church sound tech or a parent at a school play, both of whom once got caught standing too close to the mixing console and are now the “the sound person,” advising that their new, upgraded microphone is not working. The old mic works, but the new one does not, so what’s wrong with the new mic? This would seem like a legitimate and logical question, and you cannot fault them for coming to the conclusion that the microphone is broken. But the Audio Solutions team has found that 999 times out of 1,000 the problem is phantom power.

Phantom Power

Before jumping into the discussion of phantom power, let’s talk about a couple of the many types of microphones. One of the most common types is the dynamic microphone . A dynamic microphone does not need any type of external power to operate. Another type of microphone is the condenser microphone . A condenser microphone needs external DC power to operate. Depending upon the design of the microphone, this power may be supplied by a battery, bus power from a computer, as well as several other methods, but quite commonly it is supplied by phantom power.

Phantom power is DC voltage sent down the microphone cable to power the preamplifier of a condenser mic capsule and/or to provide a polarization charge to the back plate of the element. Most modern mixing consoles provide phantom power, as do external audio interfaces, certain audio recorders and video cameras. Please note, though, that not all of these devices are guaranteed to provide phantom power. You will need to consult the owner’s manual for your device to determine if it does. On most devices, phantom power can be turned on or off via switch, button or software. You may find this labeled as “+48V” instead of “phantom power.”

In order for phantom power to work, a balanced microphone cable must be used. A balanced mic cable has three conductors: Pin 1 is ground, Pin 2 is audio positive, and Pin 3 is audio negative. Most microphones produce a positive voltage on Pin 2 when sound pressure is applied to the diaphragm.

Phantom power is 9–52V DC applied across Pin 1 and Pin 2, and at the same time applied across Pin 1 and Pin 3. The term “phantom power” was assigned because taking a measurement across the two audio lines – Pin 2 and Pin 3 – you find 0 Volts DC. Also, even though this voltage is present on the same pins as the audio signal, it does not affect the mic signal.

It is important to note that every condenser microphone has its own power requirement, while each audio input device provides different levels of phantom power.

If you have any additional questions about powering microphones, please feel free to contact our Audio Solutions Department .

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Phantom Power: The Definitive A-Z Guide

Here's everything you need to know about phantom power in music production and audio work in one detailed q&a guide..

A 8 minute read by REVERBLXND

#phantompower #condensormicrophone

Here's everything you need to know about phantom power in music production and audio work in one detailed Q&A guide.

Today we are going to talk about phantom power — what it is, what it is used for, where to get it, how it works... everything.

If you've ever come across an audio interface, or mic preamp that has a little button that says 48v on it, you might be wondering what the heck it does.

Well, you probably know that you have to switch it to use condenser or other powered microphones.

Phantom powering is a very important technique to understand so that you don't damage mics.

Let's jump right in.

What is Phantom Power?

Phantom power is a term used in the professional audio industry, particularly in the context of microphones.

Phantom power is an industry-standard method of transmitting DC voltage over an audio cable to provide power to professional audio equipment. It's called phantom power because it works by transmitting power using the same cable carrying the audio signal.

It provides simultaneous transmission of both the audio signal and power to the microphone or audio device over a single cable.

Phantom power is used to power the electronics within a microphone as well as for the small preamp found in electric microphone capsules.

Other low power audio devices, such as DI boxes and preamps can also be powered by phantom power.

How Phantom Power Works

You probably also know that most audio interfaces come with a 48v phantom power switch. It's very simple, v is for volts , so that would be a 48-volt phantom power switch.

If you have a closer look at the XLR 3-pin connector, on an audio interface or console channel, with a voltmeter, pin 1 is the ground (the earth connection). That connects the (-)ve or black meter lead.

When you connect pin 2 with the phantom power switched off, you'll get a zero reading on the voltmeter. Same with the bottom pin (pin 3).

When you switch the 48v phantom power on, you should get a reading of ~48v on the voltmeter, on either pin 2 or pin 3.

When you hit the phantom power switch, power comes off the microphone preamp or audio interface, up the mic cable, into the mic, and it charges the capacitor inside so that the condenser mic can work.

On some older designs and some very expensive microphones, there will be a transformer inside in place of a capacitor but the concept is the same.

That is what it is, it's just power to your mic.

Which Mics Need Phantom Power?

In 4 types of microphones , we saw that moving-coil or dynamic microphones don't need phantom power because they generate their tiny audio current by simple mechanical means, whereas condenser or capacitor microphones do.

In dynamic mics, a coil vibrates in a magnetic field generating the audio signal. That's just the way the technology is for these types of microphones.

They don't require any kind of additional power, you plug-in your typical XLR 3-prong mic cable, plug it into the preamp or console, or your audio interface, and you're hot.

But when we come to the more complicated compressor mics, there's a problem. When you pick up a condenser microphone and plug it in, turn up the preamp gain, you're not going to get any signal. It will be muted until you hit the phantom power button.

You need phantom power to use a condenser microphone. That's because they have an amplifier inside them. The amplifier has to be supplied with some sort of power to make it work.

There are two ways to supply this power—

  • Some microphones have batteries inside them to supply the power. Batteries go flat, they leak and can wreck your mic, they can go down in the middle of a recording, they need to be replaced ever so often, and so on.
  • Phantom power.

There are microphones available on the market which can be powered by both internal batteries and phantom power. It always recommended removing these batteries if you're going to use phantom power.

This avoids damaging your batteries, mic, or both.

You need phantom power if you're going to use a condenser mic. And you probably are going to use a condenser mic in your studio.

A large-diaphragm condenser mic is the type of microphone I would recommend if you could only get one mic for recording in your home studio.

It's great for vocals, it's great for guitars, drum overheads, it's great for recording almost anything.

Where to Get Phantom Power

Phantom power supplies are frequently built into microphone preamps, commercial mixer amps, and mixing consoles.

The good news is just about every audio interface in every budget (even the ultra-budget interfaces in the $50 - 100 range) comes with phantom power as a switch or button you can click either physically or in a piece of software that comes with the interface.

You're not out of luck, it a simple normal thing you have to turn on and off to use a condenser mic.

Separate phantom power supplies are also available if your mixer, audio interface, or preamp doesn't have one.

Why is Phantom Power 48v

The most common phantom power supplies will typically supply voltage within the range of 12 to 48 volts and will be present on a balanced 3-pin XLR connector.

When a mic requires a supply outside this range, they will typically use a Jack plug rather than an XLR connector.

Professional mics that require phantom power, should show their required voltage range within the product specifications. This should be checked to ensure your phantom power supply is compatible.

Can Phantom Power Damage a Dynamic or Ribbon Mic?

Remember the XLR connector pins we were checking with our voltmeter earlier.

Now, you might think that this phantom power voltage will damage a moving-coil or dynamic mic connected across pins 2 and 3. But if you check the voltage across pins 2 and 3, there won't be any.

The voltage is only between pins 2 and 3 and the ground (pin 1). No voltage exists across the signal path. That is why it's called phantom power.

What does that mean?

That means that if there isn't a direct connection between the signal path and the ground, then the phantom power will only where it's supposed to go, which is to power the capacitor.

The capacitor will block the direct current (DC) from getting to the wrong part of the microphone.

Pins 2 and 3, of course, carry the audio signal.

When you are using microphones with phantom power, make sure that the cables you're using are properly balanced ones with a standard two inner conductors and the outer screen.

If you use, even accidentally, an unbalanced cable with one inner conductor, your microphone won't work and your risk damaging both the microphone and the mixer or audio interface.

You also need to check that your cable is in good condition. Faulty cables can wreak havoc with phantom power .

Another thing you need to pay attention to when working with phantom power is whether it's on or off. When you're plugging a microphone in or out, you want phantom power to be off .

You always want to plug a microphone into a preamp that doesn't have phantom power on. Then you apply phantom power with the volume down and give it a minute or so.

It's best to have the mic fully powered, you might not necessarily damage it if you don't, but that's a good habit.

When you're done using the mic, shut off the phantom power, wait a minute or two to make sure the phantom power drains out (it takes a few minutes to drain the power you supplied to the mic).

If you don't wait, know that that cable is carrying a little bit of power still.

Passive ribbon mics don't like phantom power. Turn it off when you use them. It's possible to damage them with phantom power.

If you don't turn phantom power off, you might not necessarily damage the passive ribbon mic but it can happen if you're careful. A bad mic cable is perhaps a bigger culprit than this though.

Best just to leave it off and wait for phantom power to drain. Remember it takes a minute to drain. Knock the habit of plugging mics hot, just to be safe.

Does Phantom Power Affect Sound Quality?

You may wonder whether if sending power over the same cable as the audio signal is going to affect sound quality.

Phantom power won't affect your audio signal quality at all. However, it is important to make sure that you don't use a phantom power supply on a microphone which doesn't require it such a dynamic microphone to avoid any incompatibility issues.

In Conclusion

Now you should a pretty good idea of how to properly power down phantom-powered microphones.

Phantom power can be a pretty big issue in AV if done wrong. It can mean that you're damaging gear.

For dynamic mics, there is no use for phantom power. You might not damage a dynamic mic with phantom power but you don't need it.

For passive ribbon mics which are very fragile, they don't like phantom power.

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Find An Answer

What is phantom power, apr 14, 2021 • knowledge.

Phantom power is used with condenser microphones. It is called phantom power because there is no obvious external power supply for the condenser mic; the power supply is invisible and therefore a "phantom." The mixer sends voltage up the same wires that the audio is traveling down. Thus, the microphone is receiving the power remotely from the mixer. Phantom power is a DC voltage (usually 12-48 volts) used to power the electronics of a condenser microphone. For some (non-electret) condensers it may also be used to provide the polarizing voltage for the element itself. This voltage is supplied through the microphone cable by a mixer equipped with phantom power or by some type of in-line external source. The voltage is equal on Pin 2 and Pin 3 of a typical balanced, XLR-type connector. For a 48 volt phantom source, for example, Pin 2 is 48 VDC and Pin 3 is 48 VDC, both with respect to Pin 1 which is ground (shield). Because the voltage is exactly the same on Pin 2 and Pin 3, phantom power will have no effect on balanced dynamic microphones: no current will flow since there is no voltage difference across the output. In fact, phantom power supplies have current limiting which will prevent damage to a dynamic microphone even if it is shorted or miswired. In general, balanced dynamic microphones can be connected to phantom powered mixer inputs with no problem.  


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PHANTOM POWER BASICS: Microphones/Preamps

Phantom Power: What Is It and How Does It Work?

If you have an XLR condenser microphone, you need phantom power to use it. But what is phantom power, and where does it come from?

With streaming, podcasting, ASMR, and home recording becoming a thing, many aspiring content creators have started to look for XLR condenser microphones. The thing about many condenser microphones is that you'll need a phantom power supply to power the large diaphragm inside the microphone.

Some condenser microphones use batteries or USB to power their active electronics. But if you have an XLR condenser microphone, your only way of powering it is through phantom power.

So what is phantom power exactly? How does it work? And where can you get one?

What Is Phantom Power?

Phantom power is the mode of supplying DC voltage through a balanced audio connector to power a condenser microphone. To apply phantom power, you'll need a phantom power supply to produce the correct power and a balanced XLR connector to transmit this power to the microphone.

A phantom power supply is not a pre-amp, although it may sound like it. A pre-amp boosts frequencies by amplifying the audio signals coming from a microphone, whereas a phantom power supply provides the needed voltage your microphone requires to operate. Many recording setups use both devices for clear and audible audio outputs.

So why is it even called phantom power in the first place?

The term "phantom power" was coined in the 1960s after a successful attempt to fuse data and power lines in one cable. Before that, condenser microphones had a large separate power supply to provide the needed power for the device. This meant that operating a condenser microphone before the 60s meant having two separate cables, one for power and one for data output.

Since both cables were combined, it seemed like a hidden power source was powering the microphone. Thus, the industry started calling it phantom power.

How Phantom Power Works

Two components are needed for phantom power, a phantom power supply, and an XLR connector. First, let's start with how a phantom power supply works, then move to the XLR connector.

A condenser microphone uses active circuitry to function. This circuit must be supplied with the proper amount of power to work. Plugging your condenser mic straight from an electrical outlet will destroy the delicate circuitry within your microphone and likely trip your electrical service panel. For this reason, a dedicated phantom power supply must be used to power your condenser microphone.

Most condenser microphones usually require a smooth and steady 48V DC power. However, the power from an electrical outlet is likely 110V or 220V AC (depending on your country), and the task of a phantom power supply is to transform the electricity from your outlet into usable power for your microphone.

A phantom power supply might sound complicated, but it's just like any other power supply. And just like any other power supply, a phantom power supply is composed of a transformer, a rectifier, and filters. These components are arranged in a way that the incoming high voltage AC input becomes a smooth low voltage DC output. In general, this is a three-step process.

  • Step 1: Lower the 110V/220V AC to 48V AC using a transformer.
  • Step 2: Convert the 48V AC into pulsating 48V DC using a full-bridge rectifier.
  • Step 3 : Smoothen the pulsating 48V DC through a series of filters composed of capacitors and inductors.

Now you have the correct voltage and current needed to power your microphone. Next, it's time to transmit this power to the condenser microphone. And with that, let's talk about XLR power delivery and data transmission.

An XLR's balanced pins allow for power plus data transmission and common-mode rejection (CMR) capabilities. These functionalities are a big reason why an XLR cable is the best match for microphones, even with all the audio cables available .

An XLR connector is a three-prong audio connector that uses two of its pins to deliver power to active microphones and transmit data to audio processing devices.

An XLR connector uses pin-2 as a positive terminal, pin-3 as a negative terminal, and pin-1 as ground/shielding. Connecting your condenser microphone to the phantom power supply creates a bridge between the positive and negative XLR terminals, allowing current to flow, which then powers your microphone.

With power flowing through the active components of your microphone, sounds detected by your mic are converted into digital data. This data is transmitted to your audio recording device through the same pin-2 and pin-3 connections that power your microphone.

Aside from power delivery and data transmission using the same cable, balanced connectors like XLR also ensure a better audio output by utilizing its two pins to transmit two out-of-phase signals. These signals are then automatically stacked together when it reaches your audio processing device. This final audio output combines all the differences between both signals and cancels/rejects all the common signals resulting in one clean audio wave.

Awesome, now you know how phantom power works! But where can we get a phantom power supply?

Where to Source Phantom Power

Phantom power can be sourced in several devices. Finding the correct device that matches the content you want to create is an important consideration. Here are three of the most common devices where you can source phantom power.

1. Audio Mixer

These devices take microphone/instrument inputs and output audio signals through USB. Mixers also have pre-amps and various controls for mixing audio and adding various effects on the fly. A mixer is a great option if you're planning to go busking, streaming, or any other activity where you perform live, and audio needs to be pre-processed.

2. Audio Interface

An audio interface also takes microphone/instrument inputs and outputs them through USB. Having only a few controls, such as a gain knob and a phantom power button, audio interfaces are devices streamlined for audio recording. An audio interface will benefit you best if you do podcasts, voice-overs, general home studio recordings, or any instances where the audio will be post-processed for content.

Phantom Power Adaptors

The sole purpose of these devices is to provide phantom power to your microphone. They usually come as single or dual-channel adaptors. No extra features or controls make adaptors cheap, pocket-sized, and uncomplicated. It is an excellent option for those who only want to power their condenser microphones and nothing more.

Phantom Power Converts AC to DC

That's a lot of info to take in if you're new to audio recording.

To solidify what you've just learned: a phantom power supply is a step-down AC to DC converter commonly configured to produce 12V to 48V DC. Powering a condenser microphone on a single balanced cable is known as phantom power, and it's known as phantom power because the data wires of an XLR cable are the same wires that power the microphone.

You can apply phantom power to your condenser microphone through various phantom power supply devices such as a mixer, an audio interface, and a dedicated phantom power supply.

Now that you know what phantom power is, how it works, and what devices can act as phantom power supplies, you are now a step closer to producing better audio. Don't forget to buy a suitable phantom power supply for your needs and learn to use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to maximize your microphone's potential!

what is phantom power preamp

What is Phantom Power: All You Need to Know

What is Phantom Power: All You Need to Know

Alrighty folks - it's tech time once again! You may have heard of phantom power, and even use it regularly. But do you know what it is, and how it works?

In this article we're going to look at everything phantom-y. By the time you're done reading you'll be able to hold your own next time the formidable microphone conversation strikes up in the pub.

What Is Phantom Power Exactly?

In a nutshell, phantom power is a direct current (DC) signal sent to microphones in order to power the active circuitry inside.

While the accepted standard for phantom power around the world is 11 - 52 volts dc, most studio mics run on 48V.

It's called phantom power because it's discreet - the current is sent along an XLR cable from the microphone input.

Do All Microphones Need Phantom Power?

Not all microphones work in the same way; some are passive, and some are active, and it's the active microphones that need phantom power.

You may have heard the general rule that condenser microphones require phantom power, and dynamic mics don't. For the most part this is the case, but there are exceptions to the rule; some condenser microphones don't need phantom power, and some dynamic microphones do. More on that later.

Can Phantom Power Damage Mics?

Most modern dynamic microphones are designed to accept phantom power even if they don't need it to work. So it's (generally) considered safe to use a mixture of dynamic and condenser mics on a console or interface supplying phantom power universally to all mic inputs.

On the other hand, an active ribbon microphone requires phantom power, but can be damaged if you 'hot plug' it - connecting it to the mic input with the phantom power switched on.

If you're using TRS connections on a patch bay damage can also be done to any microphone when hot switching connections. Because the connections on a TRS cable are designed sequentially, electrical shorts happen when plugging or unplugging the cable. If the phantom power is on this can wreak havoc with your mic collection.

This is all quite sciencey, so if it's a bit hard to digest a good safety measure is to turn off the phantom power supply before plugging/unplugging any microphone.

Can Phantom Power Damage Other Equipment?

Since phantom power is only routed through the mic signal the DC current isn't going to affect anything else connected to your interface or console. Wireless mic receivers are balanced and can handle the DC voltage safely.

However when you connect or disconnect XLR cables leaving the phantom power on can result in clicks or pops, which could in time damage your speakers or headphones. So it's generally a good idea to disable phantom power when plugging or unplugging your mics.

Can Phantom Power Damage Me?

Unless you're particularly sensitive to DC power, the answer is no.

How Do You Send Phantom Power

There's three main sources of phantom power supplies:

Audio interfaces

Mixing consoles.

  • Microphone Preamplifiers

Most audio interfaces come with the option of turning phantom power on or off. This can be a switch or a button located on the front or back panel of the interface. Often this will send power to all the mic inputs and channels can't be isolated individually.

what is phantom power preamp

Smaller mixers may also have a single button to provide phantom power for all the channels

On larger mixing consoles you'll find that each channel has a dedicated phantom power button, allowing you to chose which mics make use of it.

what is phantom power preamp

Microphone preamplifiers

Mic preamps will also have dedicated phantom power switches. Depending on how fancy it is you may have individual control over each channel, or have a 'one button to rule them all' phantom power option.

what is phantom power preamp

Sorted, right?

Not necessarily. On some lower-end models the voltage supplied by phantom power may not be up to scratch, and deliver less than the 48V needed. While some condenser microphones can operate on less voltage, others need the full 48V to work the active electronics in the mic.

Enter the external power supply.

what is phantom power preamp

If your interface isn't cranking out the necessary voltage you can always use an external power supply to get that electric power to drive your active circuitry. Shazzam!

To add to this conundrum, some mics need more than 48V to work properly - pretty much all tube microphones for instance. In situations like these you'll need an external phantom power supply, often shipped with the mic itself.

what is phantom power preamp

Take a deep breath, because things are about to get technical...

The Super-Nerdy Tech Stuff

The aim of this section is to furnish you with a detailed understanding of how phantom power works, and why we need it.

First off, let's take a look at how sound is captured in condenser microphones.

Why Do Condenser Microphones Need Phantom Power?

Condenser mics work on what's called 'variable capacitance'. A variable capacitor is one that can be changed repeatedly, either mechanically or electronically. In condenser microphones this is what turns physical sound waves into audio signals.

A condenser microphone's transducer element - capacitor - is made up of a diaphragm and a fixed plate. Sound waves hit the diaphragm, causing it to vibrate, changing the distance between the diaphragm and the fixed plate (also known as the backplate). This change in distance creates a change in voltage maintained between the two, and this is the electrical signal that gets sent down your balanced XLR cable and turned into a glorious audio signal at the other end.

In addition to powering the capacitor, phantom power also provides the juice to a teeny tiny preamp inside the condenser mic. This preamp is used to magnify the small electrical changes from the capacitor before the signal leaves the mic.

You may already know that condenser mics are commonly more sensitive than dynamic microphones. It's the capacitor that makes them so acute to sound, and without a phantom power supply there as useful as a fish on a bicycle.

How Does Phantom Power Work?

Standard phantom power is generally 48 volts dc (direct current). This is usually provided by a mixer or interface, and sent via balanced audio cables.

In a balanced XLR cable, the 48 volts is sent through pins 2 and 3 (the positive and negative audio audio), and referenced to pin 1 - the return, which is also the ground pin.

In a balanced TRS audio cable the 48V is sent through the tip and ring relative to the sleeve.

Since the voltage is sent through a balanced audio cable it doesn't interfere with the audio signal.

what is phantom power preamp

Once the voltage reaches the microphone it's sent where it needs to go to power the active electronics.

Balanced microphones that aren't phantom powered - for instance a dynamic microphone - are designed to ignore this voltage, and will generally not be damaged if 48 volts is being sent through the XLR cable.

But if you have unbalanced microphones like ribbon mics do not even talk about phantom power when they're out of their box.

OK, Cool. So Which Microphones Actually Need Phantom Power?

So now you know that active microphones need power to do their jobbo I'm going to throw a spanner in the works and say that while most microphones in this category use phantom power, not all do.

But let's keep this short and sweet. The following types of microphones need a phantom power supply to function:

  • True condenser microphones
  • Electret FET condenser microphones
  • Active FET ribbon dynamic microphones

And the following microphones don't need phantom power:

  • Moving coil dynamic microphones
  • Passive ribbon dynamic microphones
  • DC-biased electret miniature microphones
  • Tube microphones

Confusing, right?

The most prudent thing to do is RTFM to see if your microphone needs, and more importantly, can handle phantom power.

Do All Microphones Use 48V Phantom Power?

Although the universal standard for phantom power is 11-52 volts DC, most studio mics run on 48 volts, hence the +48 button on your audio interface. However different microphones sometimes need more or less than this to operate.

In the cases where a condenser microphone needs less phantom powering than 48V it'll just take what it needs, and discard the remaining volts in a feat of engineering magic that I don't fully understand.

When microphones need more than 48V phantom power they'll need an external supply. This is normally distributed with the mic itself, so not something you need to worry about. Unless of course you lose it.

Again, if in doubt, read the manufacturer's instructions regarding how many volts your mic needs to work.

Other Sources of Power

Sometimes folks refer to phantom power when in fact they mean one of the following sources of power. Don't get them confused; it's all a lie.

Phantom power is not the only source of voltage for microphones. Some condenser microphone models on the market make use of a battery to power the circuitry inside. It's always a good idea to remove batteries when not in use to prevent corrosion and damage to the internal workings of the mic.

Plug-In Power

Plug-in power (PiP) is a low current supply that's found on some consumer-grade gear like portable recorders and computer sound cards. This is an unbalanced, low voltage interface and as such very different from phantom power. Never use 48V phantom power with a microphone that's designed for PiP.

DC Bias Voltage

The term phantom power is sometimes used to describe the small electric current that powers aviation microphones. While technically it is 'phantom' (it can't be seen), it runs on a much lower current - 1.5-9 volts. In audio engineering situations it's generally used to power microphones like miniature lav mics.

Other Uses For Phantom Power

Since we're going deep, phantom power is used in other areas, not just in microphones. These include:

  • Active antennas
  • Low noise block downconverters (the thingummy on satellite dishes that takes the signal and converts it)
  • Power over ethernet cables

A Brief History of Phantom Power

Photo by Claus Grünstäudl on Unsplash

Phantom powering was first used in landline telephone systems based on copper wire in the early part of the 20th century. It's still used in this capacity today, although how long landlines will be around is another topic of discussion.

Tube microphones came on to the market in the 20s (1920s that is), followed by a breakthrough in the 40s from Bell Labs in the form of transistors.

This in turn led to the release in 1964 of the Schoeps Model CMT20, the first commercially available phantom powered microphone. Back in those days however these kinds of microphones came with bulky external power supplies which had to be located close to the microphone itself.

A combination of Norwegian desires and German smarts led to the development of what we know as phantom power today. NRK - the Norwegian broadcasting corporation - had requested phantom powering microphones that didn't need a separate power supply, since they already had a 48 volt power supply running in their studios for emergency lighting.

Neumann stepped up to this task, and developed a mic that would on the 48 volts of DC power already in place in the NRK studios.

This was the first methods to power condenser microphones through an audio cable, and thus was born the modern day phantom powered microphone.

So there you have it - everything you need to know about phantom power, and some extra tidbbits to boot.

Choosing the right microphone for the job is important, regardless of whether it uses phantom power or not. Check out our article on microphones types to help you work out which one(s) are right for you.

Now go forth and capture those sounds!

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What Is Phantom Power: Everything You Need to Know

Nick Webster

  • Updated September 19, 2023

What Is Phantom Power Everything You Need to Know

Ever wondered what the numbers on condenser microphones mean?

Well, you’re in for a treat!

This article will answer the question, “What is phantom power?”, understanding the concept of phantom power more and what it does for the sound of the microphone.

Are you ready? Let’s dive right in!

What Is Phantom Power?

Phantom power is a method of providing power to microphones, more specifically condenser microphones. Phantom powering is in the form of DC voltage.

Phantom power provides DC power to the active components within certain active condenser microphones.

You can think of it as a way to send DC voltage through an XLR cable.

There is no power cable to show how the phantom power is supplied, which is how it got its name, “phantom,” meaning “ghost” or “invisible.”

What sets phantom power apart from other methods of providing power supply is it travels from the source through the same cable that carries the audio signal.

Through the XLR-3 connector and balanced cables, the power supply is delivered to condenser microphones.

Remember that Pin 2 and Pin 3 carry 48 V and 4 V DC, while Pin 1 is 0 V.

It is usually labeled as 48 V on most audio equipment such as audio interfaces, preamps, mixing consoles, and converters. However, it can also be labeled as 12V, 15 V, 18 V, and 24 V.

Phantom powering will result in identical voltage measurements between pin-2 and pin-1 and pin-3 and pin-1.

What Does Phantom Power Do?

What Does Phantom Power Do--

Now that we understand phantom power, let’s discuss what it does next. First, we’ll tell you a little bit about how condenser microphones work.

The phantom power supply is commonly found in condenser microphones, as they have active electronics .

The distance between the diaphragm and the backplate changes as sound waves travel through the diaphragm.

This changes the capacitance of the condenser microphone.

The microphone input will not be translated into an audio signal without a proper power supply. Essentially, the condenser microphone is mute .

Condenser mics require phantom power to polarize the microphone’s transducer element, a.k.a, the capsule.

Once the phantom power supplies the needed voltage, the condenser microphone can translate the sound waves to the audio signal that audio software can read.

Phantom power supplies the needed voltage where you require it.

However, phantom power will not affect balanced dynamic microphones as there is no voltage difference.

How Does Phantom Power Work?

How Does Phantom Power Work--

Since we understand the function of phantom power, let’s dive into the mechanics of the process.

Here, we’ll explain how phantom power is generated and supplied to the microphones. Let’s go!

Step 1: Production of Phantom Power

Phantom power is produced from electricity from the power mains or batteries that power the phantom power source.

This includes the following:

  • Standalone phantom power supply units
  • Microphone preamplifiers
  • Audio interfaces
  • Audio mixing consoles

What makes these sources possible of supplying phantom power is their active units that convert battery power into phantom power.

Step 2: Flowing Through Audio Cables

The Audio Engineering Society would agree that the positive voltage produced by phantom power sources will then pass through balanced audio cables.

XLR cables are wired with the following wires:

  • Pin 1 = Ground/shield wire
  • Pin 2 = Positive wire
  • Pin 3 = Negative wire

Audio signals are sent down through Pins 2 and 3, with Pin 2 carrying the positive polarity mic signal and Pin 3 carrying the negative polarity version of the same signal.

With the two signals canceling each other out, noise or electromagnetic interference will affect both equally.

This means that the sound quality of the audio will not be affected.

Step 3: Voltage Travels to the Mic’s Output Connector

The voltage the phantom power will supply travels through the cable and towards the microphone’s connector to be prepared for use.

Passive microphones block the phantom power through an output transformer, such as in the case of some types of ribbon microphones.

Dynamic mics that have moving coils do not have an output transformer , but this will not be affected by phantom power damage.

Don’t worry, though!

Sending phantom power to a microphone that needs it is okay, even when you are not using the mic yet.

These microphones are designed to block the DC power voltage from entering circuits where it is not required or from reaching parts of the microphone that it may damage.

Step 4: Doing What the Mic Requires

Phantom power usually performs the following functions:

  • Powering the impedance converter
  • Powering the active circuit board components
  • Polarizing the externally-polarized capsules

You can think of phantom power as the right amount of power supplied to the right components at the right time!

Of course, your condenser mic might not even require +48 V, but don’t worry! Your microphone is designed to adjust the phantom power depending on its needs.

If you want to find the true voltage output of your phantom power source, you can always check the specifications sheet of the device.

Alternatively, a voltmeter can be used to check the voltage across Pin 2 and Pin 1 and across Pin 3 and Pin 1.

Step 5: Turn the Phantom Power Off

Yes, you must turn phantom power sources off and on depending on your use.

Some equipment, such as audio interfaces and consoles, have their own phantom power switches for each channel.

Some older models of mixing consoles may have phantom power buttons.

Let’s Look Back: History of Phantom Power

Before the concept of phantom power, vacuum tubes powered microphones. This type of microphone can still be seen today in wired microphones.

Bell Labs invented the transistor in 1947, and scientists have found that they are smaller and require less power.

In the 1960s, manufacturers began using transistors in place of vacuum tubes, and they discovered that power could be supplied through the XLR cable carrying the mic audio.

In 1965, the CMT20 was produced by Schoeps, considered the first solid-state microphone.

In 1966, Neumann GmbH, an audio technology company, visited the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK). They collaborated on the idea of a microphone running on Pins 2 and 3.

That same year, Neumann produced the CMV3, which is hailed as the first phantom-powered microphone in the world.

Does Phantom Power Make the Sound Better?

Does Phantom Power Make the Sound Better-

The phantom power supplies the needed DC voltage for the condenser microphone to work. It also powers up the preamp inside the mic.

Condenser microphones need phantom power to work, but this method DOES NOT affect your microphone’s sound quality .

Phantom powering is simply a method to power microphones through the XLR mic cable . To understand the question, “What is phantom power?” we must also know what it is not .

It is a type of power supply for microphones that require phantom power. However, phantom powering does not include noise reduction.

The mic signal will not be affected when your microphone needs an external power supply like phantom power unless the XLR cable malfunctions and the phantom power is affected too.

Do All Mics Need Phantom Power?

No, not all mics require phantom power to work . Passive microphones that do not have active electronics do not need it.

One example is a dynamic microphone. A dynamic microphone does not have any active circuitry like a condenser mic.

Dynamic mics use a different principle to generate sound. A dynamic microphone contains a mechanical moving coil that sends an electrical signal for recording.

Furthermore, dynamic microphones don’t need the +48V power like condenser microphones.

Another type of mic is ribbon mics . A ribbon microphone is a sub-category of dynamic microphones.

But, instead of a moving coil vibrating within a magnetic field, a ribbon microphone has an extremely thin strip of metal suspended in a strong magnetic field.

Some contemporary ribbon mics require an external power supply like condenser microphones.

However, be careful as some do not require +48V.

Frequently Asked Questions [Q&A]

Frequently Asked Questions [Q_A]-

Here are all the questions related to phantom power and other phantom-powered devices!

Is Phantom Power an External Power Supply?

An external phantom power supply rides on the same microphone cable that balances audio signals.

In that sense, phantom power voltage is a type of external power supply.

This is because a microphone has no batteries or will work independently. Phantom power is a powering method that does not involve batteries or any tangible source.

The volts DC are not sent through a physical mic cable that is required for tube microphones.

A phantom power supply is for devices that do not have their own microphone preamplifiers.

A plug-in-powered microphone or those that require DC bias voltage need a separate conductor from the cable carrying the audio output. This is usually the case for a dynamic mic.

Tube microphones require a separate power supply, such as being plugged into sockets or an audio interface.

Some true condenser microphones that get power from the tube require separate conductors for bias and audio.

Do Digital Microphones Require Phantom Power?

The analog-to-digital converters effectively convert the analog output into audio information, which is why they DO NOT need to apply phantom power to their process.

ADCs are found in USB microphones and other professional microphones used by YouTubers and other musically-inclined individuals.

Will Phantom Power Damage Dynamic Mics?

If your device is not a phantom-powered microphone and you accidentally send phantom power to it, there is no need to worry as it will not be damaged!

Most microphones nowadays are designed to accept phantom power without sustaining damage, even if they are not designed to be powered by it.

Even then, we recommend you read the manual properly, especially if the phantom powered input is of a high volts DC, such as +48 V.

Active microphones also risk sustaining phantom power damage if the DC power is inappropriate.

That’s why we recommend you check the voltage recommended for a microphone or equipment before plugging it in. A sudden overload may still cause some damage.

Turning phantom power off while plugging and unplugging microphones will prevent a sudden urge for electric power.

This will save your speakers, headphones, and audio interfaces from long-term damage over time!

Are Microphones Balanced or Unbalanced?

Unbalanced microphones consist of only two connectors containing two conductors for each connector.

These audio lines are used to connect instruments to amplifiers or portable recorders. These are not to be confused with the signal conductors in devices requiring phantom power.

On the other hand, balanced microphones are those that have three conductors containing three wires.

You may be curious, “ What’s the difference, then ?”

A balanced microphone uses the extra signal wire to filter noise through polarity inversion. They also have a longer cable length compared to unbalanced ones.

Balanced audio cables come in two connectors known as External Line Return (XLR) and Tip-Ring Sleeve (TRS) cables.

Analog and digital devices that require phantom power are equipped with XLR cables since this type of power runs through the same cable to power up the device.

Do I Need to Have a Preamp for Phantom Power?

Not necessarily.

Yes, microphone preamplifiers are one of the main phantom power sources, but you don’t have to buy one to use a condenser mic.

There is also another type of source called standalone phantom power supply units .

These are usually required if you want to plug in a mic to an input that does NOT supply phantom power .

You can find a wall plug and battery-powered standalone phantom power units.

Is Phantom Power Dangerous?

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the topic of phantom power and its safety. Phantom power is NOT DANGEROUS to humans.

It is called phantom power because it uses an existing cable inside a microphone to transfer power, which means that causing bodily harm to humans is out of the question .

What you need to know, however, is that phantom power can cause damage to microphones.

There are multiple situations wherein phantom power can cause damage.

  • Firstly, electrical shorting. This can happen when the voltage is sent up on only one audio conductor rather than both. The voltage can enter the wrong components and cause damage.
  • Another way is through power surges . The sudden spike in the electrical current after a brownout or a blackout can fry certain wires or active components in the mics.
  • Lastly, unbalanced microphones may cause overload and have irreversible damage . Phantom power needs a balanced connection to work properly.

Again, it is NOT dangerous for humans, but microphones and other devices that utilize this powering method have a possibility of being damaged due to various circumstances.

What Can I Do to Avoid Power Surge?

If you are in a place where power shortages are common due to circumstances, it would be advisable to invest in power conditioners.

Power conditioners are devices used to protect sensitive loads, such as microphone wires.

They work by smoothing out voltage fluctuations such as spikes, transients, and electrical noise.

If an electrical outage happens and it immediately comes back, the sudden spike in the current will be smoothened out. This is important for phantom-powered devices.

Investing in power conditioners will not only be SAFER for your musical equipment but also ensure that they continue to function properly with their appropriate powering method.

What Is Digital Phantom Power?

To understand digital phantom power, we must first understand the concept of a digital microphone.

A digital wireless microphone transmits digitally-modulated waves towards a digital wireless receiver.

Instead of the usual analogue interfaces, a digital wireless microphone creates a waveform with only two values. The digital receiver understands this simple language.

Digital phantom power is not much different from regular phantom power, just that the power is sent via the XLR or the XLD connector .

The XLD cable is a variant of the XLR, but it has a different groove for connection , preventing the interchange of digital and analog devices.

Should I Use Phantom Power?

If you use a condenser microphone that requires phantom powering, the ONLY WAY for you to use the microphone is through phantom power.

However, if your microphone is not designed to receive phantom power, there are many other ways of powering up a mic.

These are some of the powering methods for microphones:

  • T-power (A-B power)
  • Plug-in-power
  • External PSUs

DC-biasing is a powering method for an unbalanced microphone usually supplied by wireless lavalier transmitters.

One of the methods for powering through audio cables, T-power uses resistors between the positive wire and negative wire pin.

Phantom power replaced this as it is safer for the mic.

Another type is plug-in power. These are mostly used for microphones that connect to audio equipment such as computer sound cards . It is a low-current source with a supply of +5 V DC.

External power units are for tube microphones. They act as converters and amplifiers for signals.

Battery-powered microphones can also be charged through one of the techniques above.

Do Miniature Microphones Require Phantom Power?

It is possible, but not necessarily.

The thing is, most miniature microphones are designed to connect with wireless transmitters.

These transmitters provide less than 10 V, which is not compatible with the voltage provided by most phantom-powered devices.

NOT ALL miniature microphones have XLR cables , which is crucial for transferring the current. However, adaptors are available to convert.

These conversion adapters change P48 to a relevant voltage that will power the miniature microphone.

For example, DPA miniature microphones work in the range of 12-48 volts.

Therefore, most miniature microphones do not require it, but there is a way for a miniature microphone to be a phantom-powered device .

My Condenser Mic Is Not Working. How Do I Fix This?

If your condenser mic is not functioning properly, there are multiple possible causes.

It may be true that one or more active component in your mic is not receiving the proper voltage that it requires or is simply dysfunctional .

If it is the first cause, the best thing to do is check the condenser microphone for the voltage and plug it properly .

If it is the second cause, then the best thing to do is to have it checked by professionals.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts-

We hope you learned something from this article about phantom powering, how it works, and how it helps different types of microphones.

Phantom power might be a confusing concept to grasp at first, but it is important to understand how it works if you are in the music production industry .

Good luck and happy producing!

About the author


After becoming obsessed with the beats that were the soundtrack to his youth, Nick became a student of hip hop, digging for vinyl records, looking for the perfect break. Before he got his hands on an MPC sampler, he would mash these records, beats, and breaks into mixtapes and live DJ sets.

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