When you think mic activators, two names spring to mind. The TritonAudio FetHead and Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter series are by far the most popular products on the market, yet they are worlds apart in both price and design. How did these two products come to be the go-to for anyone looking to boost the mic level, and why do some people pay more for the Cloudlifter?
Today we will be answering both of these questions in our head to head comparison of the FetHead and Cloudlifter. We will be helping you decide which is best for you by comparing: design, unique features, and testing how both hold up in practical application.
If you’re in a rush, here’s our findings at a glance. For the detail of our full tests, keep reading.
Table of Contents
If you have read our previous articles, you will know a bunch about the Cloudlifter already, however with a product this popular, its specs bear repeating.
The Cloudlifter is an inline mic activator, meaning it simply plugs into an XLR in-between the microphone and mixing desk and boosts signal level. It runs on phantom power, meaning no external power, and is a quick fix for low output passive microphones.
The CL-1 (used in our comparison tests) has a footprint of 4.9 x 4.9 x 12 cm, making it ultra-portable for mobile podcasts. The all-metal casing is sturdy, and no buttons or dials means that the CL-1 is more than equipped for a life on the road.
Offering 20 – 25dB of low noise transparent gain, the CL-1 has the ability to adapt to the output of your microphone of choice. This two-stage gain boosting, along with tailor-made impedance loading, makes this a catchall mic activator that can adapt to get the most out of your microphone.
While it does have a bigger footprint than the FetHead, the Cloudlifter is cram-packed full of functionality and is at home in a home studio environment, or in the bottom of a bag.
The FetHead offers a fixed 27dB of gain when plugged inline. While the circuity doesn’t account for the microphone like the Cloudlifter, the FetHead makes up for this in its absolutely tiny footprint. At a minuscule 2 x 2 x 7.5 cm and weighing in at 0.175 lb, this device manages to pack a big boost in a tiny product. When attached to an XLR it is barely noticeable, and with a push to release XLR latch, the cables are sure to stay firmly in place while recording.
Much like the CL-1, the FetHead circuitry relies on phantom power to work. The amplification provided is super low noise, and with a frequency range from 10Hz – 100kHz, the boost received is incredibly transparent. The low noise amplification means that when using a sensitive microphone, the usable dynamic range is extended ensuring any quiet vocals retain high audio quality.
Unlike the CL-1 the FetHead can be plugged in at any stage of the signal flow. This is a major advantage as this means you can use the device with just one XLR.
As of writing, the FetHead is significantly cheaper than the CL-1. The lower price point doesn’t mean the device is any less rugged, however, as the metal shielded enclosure is sturdy and of a premium build quality.
Testing the Two
But how do these two mic activators hold up in practical application? Well, we have run some tests to determine the noise floor and frequency response of each device.
For the sake of a fair experiment, the variable element will be the activator, and the controls will be the interface (Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2nd gen) and our microphone of choice (Rode Procaster which does really benefit from the boost of a device like these).
The frequency response test will be carried out by playing pink noise into the Procaster and measuring the results using Room EQ Wizard (For a full tutorial see How to Test Microphone Frequency Response).
The noise floor will be measured by recording a 20-second room tone with both activators attached and plotting a frequency analysis graph using Audacity (For a full tutorial see How to Check the Noise Floor in Audacity).
So how does the Cloudlifter CL-1 do in our tests? Let’s take a closer look.
First, we will be looking at the noise floor results. It is important to note that for the noise floor test results, the audio has been increased by 50dB in order for Audacity to plot the lower registers. That being said, the need to bring the audio up at all serves as a testament to the low noise of both devices.
The most obvious thing to note is the loudness of the low end. This is much more pronounced than the rest of the spectrum, however, the bottom end caps out at -64dB which is an impressive feat for a microphone situated in an untreated environment.
As for the frequency response, there is a noticeable dip in the low end. In the low mids from 60-250Hz, there is a marked boost, potentially increasing the boominess of vocal recordings. The response is relatively flat in the mids section, then once in the highs, there is some drop-off in dB. This may be a blessing or a curse, as the highs are where both sibilance and presence resides, however with the right EQ this is a relatively quick fix if needs be.
Next we take a look at how the FetHead fared in both tests.
Once again, the output was increased by 50dB in order for ease of viewing. What we find is that in line with the increased level of boost with the FetHead, the overall volume (and therefore noise floor) is slightly higher, with the lows capping at -58dB. Compared to the CL-1, this product has a similar if not slightly higher noise floor overall.
From the frequency response test, we can see some differences in the performance of the FetHead vs the CL-1. The FetHead has a more pronounced low end followed by a slight trough before the lower mids. The low mids have a more pronounced boost than the CL-1, from 40-300Hz region, meaning that some coloration may be audible in this area.
The FetHead also sees a slight boost in the upper mids. That being said, the response in the highs is better than the Cloudlifter, with drop off only occurring after 3kHz.
The reason for analyzing the frequency response in this way is to determine the level of coloration to the mic signal when using the activator. While there is no doubt that external factors also play a part in the frequency response (the microphone, speaker, room acoustics, etc) the differences between the two when used in the same test conditions still serves as a good indication of signal coloration.
Side by side spec comparison
Now we know a bit more about the products and have analyzed how they work in a variety of tests, what have we learned? Well, the noise floor on the FetHead is higher than that of the Cloudlifter, however, that is to be expected as the FetHead provides a higher boost overall.
The frequency response range of the FetHead is larger than the CL-1. The FetHead is also, by and large, the flatter of the two responses, meaning that although this additional gain does bring up the noise floor somewhat, the gain is more transparent overall.
In case you are still unsure of just what is on offer with each product, we have compiled the most important specs into two convenient lists for you to come to compare further.
|Dimensions:||2 x 2 x 7.5 cm|
|Amplifier:||Low noise Class A JFET|
|Frequency Response:||10Hz – 100kHz|
|Dimensions:||4.9 x 4.9 x 12 cm|
|Boost (dB):||20 – 25dB|
|Amplifiers:||Discreet JFET Class A|
|Frequency Response:||50Hz – 20kHz|
This has been our head to head for the two most popular products in the mic activation market. As you can tell, there are pros and cons to both devices. If you can handle a little extra noise in your recordings then the FetHead is the obvious choice, with its ultra-transparent high gain signal boost. If you are less concerned about coloration and are looking for a product that can prescribe gain based on what your mic needs, then the CL-1 is the activator for you.
But what Cloudlifter alternatives are out there? Is a Cloudlifter a preamp? And if so, why does a Cloudlifter need phantom power? you may wonder is a Cloudlifter even necessary? If any of these questions have crossed your mind then luckily for you, The Seasoned Podcaster has you covered, and you can find the answer to these questions by clicking on any of the links above.