It’s a plug ‘n play unit with an inline format to boost the gain of non-phantom-powered microphones. It is placed between a low-output dynamic, ribbon, or tube microphone and the mixing console to add 20-25dB of clean, transparent gain.
For example, the Royer R-10 ribbon mic has a sensitivity of 2.0mV/Pa. Its big brother, the R-121, is rated at 3.9mV/Pa. Pit that against a condenser like the MXL 990 (a budget workhorse) that has a sensitivity rating of 15mV/Pa. That’s some serious deficit.
You might be wondering why I’m discussing passive ribbon mics in a post about Cloudlifters. Well, this wayward trivia alludes to the fact that Stephen Sank designed the Cloudlifter to put passive ribbon mics back on the map.
Passive ribbon mics are notorious for having a low output. They need some form of preamp gain to pump them up to a usable signal level. This became the clarion call for the mic activators like Cloudlifter and the alternatives that followed suit.
That is, of course, before podcasters jumped onto the bandwagon. After all, it just so happens that the sensitivity rating of Shure SM7B is 1.12mV at open voltage.
Dynamic and ribbon microphones output mic-level signals, which is a clever way of saying that they are grossly lacking in gain. A CL-1, or any mic activator, can be placed between the mic and mixing console to boost such a microphone’s output.
Armed with active FETs and/or bi-polar junction transistors (BJTs), mic activators act as an extension of the preamp on an interface/mixer and draw phantom power from it. Based on the preamp’s input impedance, they provide a gain boost ranging from 20 to 27dB.
Driving that preamp would raise the noise floor, especially in the last 20% as you approach maximum gain. But adding a Cloudlifter to the chain gives you better gain-staging without raising the noise floor too much. We are talking clean, transparent gain that has made these devices so popular.
It is usually referred to as a mic booster, mic activator, inline preamp, or a ‘pre-preamp’. It performs the same volume boosting function that a preamp does, but it achieves this by drawing power from a preamp – specifically phantom power.
If your preamps don’t provide phantom power, you can still get an external phantom power supply for your Cloudlifter device.
I’ll presume that this question is coming from a podcasting point of view. The SM7B is a staple in most podcasting setups. You’ll often hear that the SM7B does fine without a mic booster, but in my experience it is tremendously gain hungry and needs some legwork to get a decent signal level.
Cloudlifters can only operate using 48v phatom power and have no features to use an adapter or batteries. It can be powered by a mixer, mic preamp, audio interface, or external phantom power unit. It is safe to use with dynamic and ribbon microphones as it won’t pass the phatom power to the mic.
Condensers, or capacitor microphones, don’t need a gain boost unless there is something terribly lacking with your preamp. You can use Cloudlifters in the chain but it will only use the phantom power from the preamp to power itself and won’t pass on anything to the condenser mic.
For this reason, I would not recommend using a Cloudlifter with a condenser mic.