What Does A Cloudlifter Do (And Do You Need One?)

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  • Cloudlifters and in-line preamps are becoming increasingly popular
  • Is it a preamp, a booster, or an activator?
  • We answer all your burning questions about the Cloudlifter
  • Check out our guide to the best Cloudlifter alternatives here.

Image: Sweetwater.com

So, What Exactly Is A Cloudlifter/Mic Activator?

A Cloudlifter is a microphone booster or activator made by Cloud Microphones.

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.

Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 Mic Activator
$149.00

Place the Cloudlifter in your signal chain, hit it with phantom power and your dynamic mics will shine like never before!

Why We Love It:
  • Noise-free amplification
  • Totally transparent boost
View Price On Amazon View Price On Sweetwater
01/28/2022 11:20 pm GMT

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.

Whether you are contemplating purchasing a Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter or still deciding if you actually need one in the first place, this post has everything you need to know.

How Does A Cloudlifter/Mic Activator Work?

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.

There are primarily three types of Cloudlifters: the single-channel CL-1, dual-channel CL-2, and single-channel CL-Z featuring switches for variable impedance and HPF.

Cloud Microphones CL-2 Cloudlifter + 2 XLR Cables
$259.00

The perfect solution to any situation in which you need to cleanly boost a microphone signal before the preamp.

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01/29/2022 01:35 am GMT

Is The Cloudlifter a Preamp?

Technically, a Cloudlifter is not a preamp.

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.

How to use a Cloudlifter CL-1?

Most podcasters want a simple setup for the lowest price. Plus, they have no use for premium audio interfaces or rack channel strips. In these cases, a modest interface like a Focusrite Scarlet 2i2, an SM7B (or two), and a CL-1 or CL-2 is all your need to get the show running.

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.

(You can also check out my review of the Shure SM7B for more info on this classic mic.)

Do You Need Phantom Power for Cloudlifters?

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.

Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 Mic Activator
$149.00

Place the Cloudlifter in your signal chain, hit it with phantom power and your dynamic mics will shine like never before!

Why We Love It:
  • Noise-free amplification
  • Totally transparent boost
View Price On Amazon View Price On Sweetwater
01/28/2022 11:20 pm GMT

Can You Use a Cloudlifter With Condenser Mics?

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.

What Cloudlifter Alternatives Are There?

Cloudlifters have become an industry standard when it comes to adding clean gain to low-output mics. While its popularity is well deserved, there are other alternatives such as the Triton Audio FetHead and more feature-laden units like the Radial McBoost.

I’ve actually done a whole article on this topic, where I review several substitutes and detail the pros and cons of each. Check out Best Cloudlifter Alternatives (Fethead vs Dynamite vs Durham vs McBoost) next!