Phantom power is available on many audio mixing boards and personal amplification system. If you use condenser microphones, you already know a bit about phantom power–it’s 48 volts of electricity that allows your condenser to work properly. However, there are a number of common misconceptions about phantom power that seem to crop up again and again in my experience, even when I’m dealing with professional sound guys. Here are a few of these misconceptions and why they aren’t true.
1. Phantom power It’s on every mixer out there. If phantom power is important to you, make sure to check that it’s installed on a particular mixer before you buy. Many cheaper mixers don’t provide phantom power or don’t provide it to all of the channels of a mixer or PA system. Know what you’re dealing with ahead of time or you’ll get a few stress headaches while you figure out how to get your microphones to work with your new gear.
2. It can be turned on or off at any time. Many people work with phantom power for years without taking the proper precautions before turning it on or off. If you’re working with cheap microphones, so be it, but you should really be careful before turning phantom power on if you value your gear.
Phantom power can ruin mics if an XLR cable is plugged directly in while phantom power is already on, or if it’s suddenly disconnected while the microphone is still getting power. Before plugging in a mic, you should always make sure that phantom power is off and that it has been off for a few seconds. The same is true for when you’re unplugging a condenser microphone: turn off the power before you disconnect it and let it sit. Believe me, I’ve lost one good microphone by not taking the proper precautions with phantom power, and it’s no fun. Do yourself a favor and think before you act.
3. Phantom power can’t be used with non-condenser microphones. If you send phantom power through a dynamic microphone, it’s not going to make it explode. You might get a little bit of an unpleasant hum if you’re using a microphone cable of particularly poor quality, but in general, you’re not going to see a difference in the quality of your sound–at least not in a live setting. Recording engineers like to avoid sending power to dynamic mics that don’t need it, but again, this is mainly just a precaution to avoid mic buzz, shocks, and things like that. In the vast majority of cases, you’re fine running 48 volts of phantom power through any dynamic or condenser microphone. Therefore, if you’ve got a mixer or PA system that either turns phantom power on or off for multiple channels with no way to choose which channels get the juice, don’t worry about it. You won’t ruin anything.
Do you know of any other common misconceptions about phantom power? Post in the comments section below.