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What Is A Dead Cat And Why Is An Outdoor Mic Furry?

No, we haven’t suddenly decided to become animal-hating monsters here at New Music World and we can promise you that no actual cats were harmed during the making of this article.

In fact, a dead cat has nothing to do with felines at all, it is, of course, a term relating to microphones. 

What Is A Dead Cat?

Dead cat is a slang term for the furry and fluffy windscreen used to envelop a microphone and while it may be colloquial, it’s the accepted term in the movie and music business too.

The fur is meant to break up the sound wave generated by the wind and to shield the microphone from this wave. 

They tend to be used outdoors, though you can use one indoors too – it just won’t have much wind to reduce. 

The Traditional Dead Cat “The Boom Microphone”

Traditionally, before the era of miniaturization arrived, a dead cat was about the size of an actual cat. 

It was added to a microphone that was already shielded by a zeppelin windscreen and acted as an extra layer of protection from the wind when outdoors.

Indoors, the dead cat would quickly be removed and just the zeppelin (or sometimes, blimp) windshield would be left in place.

However, while this zeppelin shield works very well with light breezes such as those caused by a draft in your home, they suck when it comes to large amounts of air turbulence.

Why? Well, the hard surface allows wind to build up and create actual air movement on the surface, which, in turn, creates extra sonic distortion.

The dead cat, on the other hand, provides no such surface and any individual turbulence is quickly broken up. 

The Modern Dead Cat/Dead Kitten “Lavalier and Shotgun Microphones”

The modern tiny microphones used in YouTube recording, for example, don’t use a zeppelin sleeve and resort just to the use of a dead cat.

These microphones are mainly lavalier and shotgun style microphones, though in theory, they could also be mini-boom mics. 

However, it’s worth noting that the proper term for this windshielding is a “dead kitten” not a “dead cat”, though everyone would know what you were talking about if you said “dead cat”.

We think YouTubers tend to avoid this term because, well, dead kittens are not a very cheerful picture to conjure up in the minds of their viewers.

It’s worth noting, at this point, that Rode (the microphone company) calls its dead cats, dead wombats. We figure that this is because they’re Australian. 

However, if you say “dead wombat”, most people won’t have a clue what the heck you’re talking about. 

What Does The Wind Do To Require The Use Of A Dead Cat?

There are two reasons that wind can interfere with the sound quality produced by a microphone:

  • Stimulation of the diaphragm. When you speak or sing (or make any other noise) into a microphone, then you stimulate the diaphragm. The soundwave changes the pressure on the diaphragm and it records a sound. Unfortunately, wind also changes the air pressure around the diaphragm and it starts to record unwanted sounds. In a recording studio, the only wind (of any significance) a mic will encounter is generated by your lungs, and thus a “pop shield” is the best solution (this prevents gusts of air from your mouth reaching the mic). But outdoors? The wind can come from any direction and thus a dead cat is a better choice of windshield as it covers the whole mic.
  • Turbulence on the mic surface. When the wind strikes a hard surface, such as the exterior of a microphone, it creates more turbulence and this creates more interference with the diaphragm. When you use a dead cat, the fur moves and absorbs the sound waves that would otherwise hit the hard surface. 

It’s worth noting that dead cats need to be dry and fluffy to work effectively. If they start falling to pieces or get super wet – they won’t break up turbulence. 

As promised, you now know what a dead cat is and why outdoor microphones are furry and we’ve done no damage to Tiddles or Mog in the process. 

If you’ve enjoyed learning about dead cats, you might also appreciate an exciting history of headphones, the history of the walkman or even our guide to the best field-recording headphones