What is Phantom Power and Do You Need It?

phantom power button

Phantom power. You’ve seen it on your mixing desk and heard sound engineers talk about it, but what exactly is Phantom power?

Phantom power is a 48-volt power supply used to power condenser microphones. By supplying a small amount of power through the microphone cable, condenser microphones can operate without the need for a separate power source. This is made possible by the use of phantom power, which is supplied by the mixing desk or audio interface.

In this article, we’ll look into phantom power in more detail, how it works, and whether you need it for your audio setup.

Do You Need Phantom Power?

The answer to this question depends on what type of microphone you’re using. Condenser microphones have active circuitry and therefore need Phantom power to work. But, if you’re using a dynamic microphone, you won’t need phantom power as a dynamic microphone is powered by the movement of the diaphragm and doesn’t require an external power source.

Find out more about whether using phantom power with a dynamic microphone is safe.

Phantom Facts!

Still have a questions about phantom power? Check out some of the most popular queries we receive about phantom power below:

Why is it called Phantom power?

The term “Phantom power” comes from the fact that the voltage is not a separate power source, but instead runs through the audio cable. Without a visible power cable, it is of course, a phantom power source!

What voltage is Phantom power?

Modern phantom power is generally 48 volts (DC). You’ll often find a button on mixing desks and audio interfaces with a ’48v’ button. When this is pressed down, the interface turns on phantom power and sends 48 volts through the XLR cable.

If your interface, pre-amp or desk doesn’t include the option to use phantom power, you can add phantom power supply to your setup with an external device.

Neumann microphone

A Brief History of Phantom Power

Phantom power was first used in copper wire-based telephone systems in the early 20th century to provide a DC signaling path around transformer-connected amplifiers. The first commercially available phantom-powered microphone, the Schoeps model CMT 20, was released in 1964 with 9-12 volt DC Phantom power. However, it was the introduction of the Neumann GmbH transistorised microphone in 1966 when 48 volts became the industry standard.

Why is Phantom power 48 volts?

In 1966, a Neumann engineer visited the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) to showcase their latest and greatest Solid State microphones. NRK was impressed, but they pointed out that the microphones needed Phantom Power.

In Norway, the lack of daylight meant their studios were equipped with auxiliary lighting, powered by a 48v supply. And wouldn’t you know it, that 48v supply was the perfect fit for the Phantom Power design.

So Neumann, along with other microphone manufacturers, adopted 48v as the standard for Phantom Power, and it’s been that way ever since. 

Will phantom power damage my Dynamic microphone?

Although Dynamic microphones don’t require phantom power, it shouldn’t do your microphone any harm. This is because there are no active components used in a dynamic microphone. 

Will phantom power damage my Ribbon microphone?

Beware when using phantom power for older mics such as Ribbon microphones. Ribbon mics can be extremely fragile and so it’s best to turn phantom power off to avoid any nasty surprises.

Does a USB condenser microphone need phantom power?

All USB microphones are condenser microphones and require power to operate. However, USB condensers get their power source directly through the USB cable and therefore don’t require power from an external source. 

Looking for the best microphones for vocals? Check out our rundown featuring the best budget mics, home recording mics and high-end mics.