DIY Mic Zeppelin Windscreen on the Cheap

Cut wind noise for a fraction of the price of professional models.

by

Joel Greenberg
Friends Talking Podcast

March 20, 2006

jg mic zeppelin

 

I like interviewing people outdoors for my podcast, getting them out of the office and maybe walking around the block.  Something about moving about loosens people up and lets me, and my audience, get to know them better.  The problem is, Texas is windy and wind noise can become a problem, especially with the sensitive AT815B shot gun mic I like to use for interviews.

I found a web page on how to build your own zeppelin, or mic windscreen...one of those grey furry things  you sometimes see at the end of poles.  I only read it once, but could never seem to find it again.  The real innovation from that website was that you could make a zeppelin from PVC pipe and fake fur.  I thank that website for the basic idea and would cite it, if I could ever find it again, but, I never could  So, I made a mic zeppelin from memory.  Consider the pictures on this website my first prototype.  I didn't measure anything; I did everything by eyeballing it.

Zeppelins cost around $200 to $300 from websites such as http://www.bhphotovideo.com, but I built one for around $40 and could probably build it cheaper if I were patient enough to scrounge around for more of the raw materials, or had them lying around.  By attaching a half-inch PVC cap to the bottom of the Zeppelin, I created a short handle that I use to point the zeppelin to the person I'm interviewing. 

So, how does it sound?

Before getting into the details of how to make your own mic zeppelin, here's a comparison of how it sounds in wind.

Sample  Movie with Mic Windscreen Sample Movie without Mic Windscreen

Special thanks to Glenn Thomas and Pierce Portocarrero who are producing a documentary on Second Life titled Ideal World.  They were in town for SXSW Interactive 2006 and saw my gizmo.  When they had arranged for an outdoor interview, they asked if they could use it.  These clips are from them.

 

Advantages of a DIY mic zeppelin:

- Much cheaper than professional versions.
- Easy to experiment with different furs for different wind conditions.
- Can build to spec for your specific mic
- Using mainly plastic, there's little chance of strange electrical goings on affecting your recording.

Disadvantages of DIY zeppelin:


-  Universal mounts are harder to find than PVC caps, which means you can't use this zeppelin on the end of a pole until you find one.
-  Possible derision if you pick a colorful fur like I did.  Although, this was really an advantage for me as people seemed to really love it.  Many suggested putting eyes on the tip of the mic zeppelin so interviewers would see something staring at them.  Don't use the toy eyes that have the pupil rolling around, you'll pick up the noise.
-  The mic might not be held as securely as professional, purpose built retaining rings.  However, given the design, even if the mic slips, it's still caught by the rubber bands, so I have little concern about damage to my mic using this design.  Still, don't drop or bang the zeppelin, otherwise you could damage your mic.

Building your own mic Zeppelin:

jg mic zeppelin parts
Figure 1: Parts that make up the mic Zeppelin

In Fig. 1, above, you see from left to right:
- shotgun mic with foam windscreen
- PVC zeppelin with leaf guard around it.
- 1/2" threaded PVC pipe with a bicycle handlebar grip.  This handle screws into the PVC cap attached to the underside of the zeppelin.  It's nice to be able to break it down for easy storage.
- Fake fur which is cut to go around the zeppelin and does the hard work of cutting down the wind noise; it's the actual windscreen.

JG - mic Zeppelin - Mic Mounted, no Fur
Figure 2:  Picture of mic Zeppelin & mic /w/ out fur.

Tools Needed:


- Jig saw to cut PVC quickly (you can use a PVC saw, which is simply a flexible, stranded wire with handles, but it'll take longer.)
- Drill, to pre drill holes for screw-eyes and bolts.
- screw driver and wrenche to tight nuts and bolts
- (Optional) rotary tool with cut-off, which you can use to cut off protruding bolts.
- Sand paper, to smooth the edges of freshly cut PVC.  200 grit worked well for me, but use what you have.

(Almost Complete) Bill of Materials

- 4" inside diameter PVC pipe.  Long enough to mount your mic.  I found mine in a dump at a construction site.  Be sure to wash it thoroughly!  You never know what it was used for.  Or, buy your own.
- 1/2" threaded PVC cap, for mounting the handle
- 1/2" threaded PVC pipe, 5" - 8" long for the handle (the shorter the better, but at least long enough for the width of your hand).
- Bicycle handle bar grip (to go over the 1/2" PVC pipe).
- Rubber bands for shock mounts.  (I used long, black rubber bands from the office supply store).
-  Six screw eyes,  the smaller the better
-  two retainers for the mic.  I used "3/4 Inch Metal Stud Grommet Pipe Eye" from Lowes.  They're plastic rings in the plumbing supply section.  Lots of interesting things there, use your imagination.
- electrical tape to wrap the mic retainers.
- Leaf guard, which I used for protection on the sides.  I think you can get 20' of the stuff from Lowes for $2.50.
- Small bolts with washers and lock washers to bolt the thing together.
- Cable ties, to attach the leaf guard to the PVC pipe; feel free to use whatever's lying around that strikes your fancy.  I had lots of cable ties lying around.
- Enough fake fur to wrap around the PVC pipe and extend pass the pipe a few inches.  You need enough to wrap the front end around the front so that the seam is on the side.  If you're handy with a needle, then you can figure out how much you need to make a nicer looking front end of fur.  I purchased my fur at Michael's, the hobby store, but many fabric stores should carry it.  Oddly, I couldn't find long haired fake fur at Wal-mart.
- Velcro, to attach the fur to itself once it's wrapped around the PVC pipe.
 

(Almost) Step by Step Instructions on How to Build Your Own Mic Zeppelin

1)  Mark the pipe with a magic marker so that it has two supports for the mic in the back, one support for the leaf guard up front.  The goal is to cut as much of the PVC away in order to keep the Zeppelin light (PVC is heavy), while retaining the necessary structures for attaching things. Make sure the length of the pipe from the rear most support to the front end completely encases your mic.  It's OK if it sticks out a little out front; you actually want it to stick out a little bit in the back; it makes it easier to attach the XLR cable if it does.

2) Cut the PVC Pipe so that only the supports are remaining. I used a jig saw to make a quick job of it.  This is the basic skeleton of your mic zeppelin.

3) Sand the rough edges of the PVC.

4) Create two half circle strips of PVC by cutting them out of scrap.  These become the "dome" part at the front end of the zeppelin.  The goal is to have a nice "half dome".

5)  Drill a hole in the two "dome supports" at the top of the dome.  This is where your bolt will go to hold it together.

6)  Drill many small holes at the top of the "dome supports." I did this to let the sound pass through.  Because I'm using a highly directional shotgun mic pointing directly at these two PVC pieces, I didn't want them to completely block the sound, so I drilled holes in them.

7)  Attach the two dome pieces together using a bolt, washer, and lock washer.

8)  Drill holes and attach "half dome" PVC pieces to the front, inside of the main PVC pipe with bolts.  Cut off the part of the bolt that extends past the lock washer, if you like.  Doing so minimizes damage as the mic zeppelin gets swung around.  While the shock mounting minimizes noise from motion, it doesn't eliminate the motion and the mic will move about inside the mic zeppelin.  You don't want it running into these pointing things.

JG - mic Zeppelin - Front Detail
Detail of front "half dome" PVC slices attached to mic Zeppelin.  Note holes to allow sound through.

9)  Drill three holes, one  every 120 degrees, in the rear mic supports.  Screw the screw-eyes into these holes.

10)  Using electrical tape, wrap each of the mic retainers.  This does two things:  smooths out any pointy plastic pieces and makes a somewhat flexible ring that helps grip the mic.

11)  Loop the rubber bands through the screw eyes and around the retainer ring, which is split.  The longer the rubber band, the more screw eyes you can loop through.  The goal is to have the retaining ring suspended between all three screw-eyes at the same distance and that there is enough distance for the rubber bands to act as shock absorbers.  Do not let any part of the ring touch a screw-eye or wall.  This is the most critical part of the mic zeppelin so spend the time to make sure you have the right length.  I haven't figured out an easy way to do this, yet.

JG - mic Zeppelin - Rear
Rear view of mic zeppelin showing retaining rings & rubber band shock absorbers.  Not pretty, but functional.

12) Drill a hole through the top of the threaded PVC cap.

13)  Put your mic into the mic zeppelin.  Find the point where the mic zeppelin balances.  This is crucial.  The goal is to get it to balance at your handle so your hand doesn't get tired holding it. IIf you forget this step, or miscalculate, you can always add weights at the appropriate end so that the mic zeppelin balances at your handle. 

14)  Remove your mic.Drill a hole at the balance point and attach the threaded PVC cap to the mic zeppelin with a bolt.

15)  Cut the 1/2" threaded PVC pipe to length, if needed.  Place the bicycle handle bar grip over it.  I found that the grip was so snug, I could only get the pipe halfway in it.  So, I slit it halfway, slipped it on the pipe, and taped it up towards the top. 

16)  Attach the leaf guard to the mic zeppelin.  It's there for protection.  I used cable ties.

17)  Lay out your fake fur so that goes past the ends of the mic zeppelin.  Cut it so that it overlaps when it's wrapped around.  You only need enough overlap to accommodate the velcro.

18)  Determine where you're going to put the velcro on the lengthwise portion of the mic zeppelin.  Cut away the fur on one edge, so it's easier to attach the velcro.  I simply used scissors laying flat on a table.

19)  Attach the velcro with hot glue and then staples.  You may be able to get away with using only staples.  I wasn't able to get away with using only hot glue :(

20)  Slip the fur over the zeppelin and attach the velcro.  Cut out the portion where the handlebar attaches to the underside of the mic zeppelin.  I simply made two slits, one on each side of the PVC cap and it worked fine.

21)  You should have enough fur up front to fold over the fur so that the seam ends up on the bottom, side.  Figure out where to put velcro so the fur stays folded over.  This is quick and dirty.  If you're handy with a fabric, you could probably figure out a better solution to make the fur look nicer as it goes over the front of the mic zeppelin. 

JG - mic Zeppelin - Slipping on Fur
Slipping fur onto mic zeppelin.

JG - mic Zeppelin - Front View /w/ Fur
Front view of mic zeppelin with fur folded over and attached to bottom.  This is what the interviewee sees.

22)  Attach velcro at the back end so that you can close the back end, yet have the XLR cable extend out.

JG - mic Zeppelin - Rear with velcro
Rear view of mic zeppelin with velcro.

You should be done.  Take off the fur, put in the mic, replace the fur, and screw in the handle.  You're ready to record!

Construction tips:


-  You can cut the PVC easily with a jig saw.  I held the pipe against the jigsaw blade and once it cut through, I rotated the pipe to make the cut, instead of moving the jig saw.  Pieces of PVC will fly around.  You can also cut the PVC with a wire moving back and forth, but I found this to be more difficult.
-  Pre-drill holes for the screw-eyes; you won't be able to screw them into PVC by hand like you can with wood.
-  I cut the fur down to the backing with scissors where I wanted the velcro to adhere.  I had originally attached the velcro with hot glue, but it didn't hold.  So, I would attach it with hot glue and then staple it down. 

 

What I'd do differently.


- I would not use the leaf guard unless I could secure it tightly on all four sides.  Securing it on three sides like in the prototype allows it to stretch, which defeats its purpose as a guard.  Doing it again, I'd leave PVC on the top, to which I would attach the leaf guard.  Using something other than cable to ties to fasten the leaf guard to the PVC may help as well.  I would NOT use chicken wire, or anything metal, in order to avoid weird electrical problems.
- I'd experiment with nylon over the front part of the zeppelin (at least), as a pop filter.
- I'd experiment with other furs to see which provides the most wind resistance, although my hunch is that the longer and finer the fur, the better because there would be more places for the wind to get trapped.
- The mic zeppelin works surprisingly well as a hand-held windscreen device.  If I wanted to use it on the end of a pole, it'd probably need some kind of pivot so that it could be angled appropriately.  I don't have much of an idea of what to use as the pivot, although this should be a solvable problem.  Here's one idea: I believe there are threaded PVC connectors at a 45 degree angle, which may be the easiest solution.  Screw a short (1"? 2"?) PVC pipe into the PVC cap on the zeppelin and then into one end of the 45 degree connector.  Rotate the connector on the pole to get the angle you want.   If you drilled a hole for a thumb screw, you could use it as locking mechanism to make sure the connector stayed put on the pole.  Not sure how well this would work, but it's a start.
- I may also consider an easier way to install the mic.  I could envision a system where you could slide the shock mount mechanism out of the zeppelin using a smaller diameter PVC tube, if they exist, and then slide the mic and shockmount assembly back into the zeppelin.  It may work as a friction fit, or it may need to snap in somehow.  Don't know, but have been thinking about it.
- Finally, this:  I was on a shoot with a friend doing a documentary and he had rented a Sony camera with a Sony shotgun mic mounted in a shock mount.  The ring surrounding the mic had slits; the rubber band simply snaked through the slits.  Very simple and easy.  I'd consider using slits on my next version and do away with the screw eyes.  They take up space and I like the idea of getting rid of us much metal as I can.

If you like what you hear, please let me know.  I'll post your comments.  You can reach me at friendstalking (at) joelandkaren (dot) com.

Friends Talking Podcast

But Wait, There's More!

hand held mic shock mount

Now that you've obtained all the pieces for the mic zeppelin and have some scrap PVC lying around, you probably have enough material to create a mic shock mount at no extra charge!

I use this mic shockmount for indoor interviews.  It eliminates mic noise, but doesn't need the windscreen.  And best of all, if you've already made the mic zeppelin, you already know how to make this mic shockmount!  Make sure you put the handle at the balance point of the shock mount with your mic installed.  The balance point is much more critical with this indoor shock mount than it is with the mic zeppelin because there's no good place to attach weights for leverage if you get it wrong. 

mic shock mount - rear view
mic shockmount from rear view. 

Note that I'm holding the XLR cable in my hand.  I've also put an RF choke on the cable near the connector, to help eliminate any electrical problems.  I've used a rubber band to attach it to the XLR connector.  I've done both of these things so as not to hear anything bang around when I move the mic.  If you let the wire dangle, it'll flap against the shock mount when you use it.

I've found this shock mount works great with handheld interviews indoors and eliminates all noise from moving the mic.

An added bonus of using a shock mount and/or a mic zeppelin is that I can hold the mic at a comfortable distance from the interviewee.  This allows me to use "high mic sensitivity" on my recorder.  (Previously, when I was holding the mic during interviews, I had to use "Low mic sensitivity" on my recorder because high mic sensitivity really picked up mic noise when I moved the mic.)  This added benefit makes the mic more sensitive, which is the whole point of a shotgun mic.  I can now pick up ambient sounds much easier than before.  Using the recorder's Automatic Gain Control (AGC), I just point the mic at the interviewee at a comfortable, close distance and get great sound.  Then, if something is going on near us, I can point the mic at that and be reasonably sure to capture that audio as well.  I've got a Sony HD minidisc recorder and the AGC is pretty good, although I do know professional sound guys cringe at the thought of using AGC.

Let me know how yours turns out!  Email me friendstalking (at) joelandkaren (dot) com.

Reader Comments!

The following are comments sent to me about this web page.

Hat tip to Julian Summers for sending these links (3/29/06):

- http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/archive/index.php/t-23651.html   - a forum
where people were discussing just this sort of thing.  The next two
links come from that forum:

http://www.gettreel.com/The%20Cheapest%20Blimp%20PART%201.wmv   -   cool
and very helpful video about a guy making a zeppelin out of a "cricket
cage"  You should definitely check this one out!

Below is one of the posts from the forum:  (her work can be seen at:
http://home.insightbb.com/~copplemoose/blimp.jpg )