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How Polar Patterns Affect Sound Capture in Microphones


One of the key aspects that determine how microphones capture sound is their polar patterns. These polar patterns describe how a microphone responds to sounds coming from different directions, significantly affecting the sound quality and directionality. Understanding these patterns is crucial for anyone looking to optimize their audio recording and capturing experiences.

Cardioid Polar Pattern

How Polar Patterns Affect Sound Capture in Microphones

The cardioid polar pattern is one of the most common and versatile microphone patterns. Named for its heart-shaped response, a cardioid microphone is most sensitive to sound coming from directly in front of the microphone, while it effectively rejects sound from the sides and rear.

This pattern is highly beneficial in environments where ambient noise needs to be minimized, such as in a studio or during live performances. By focusing on the sound source and reducing background noise, cardioid microphones help produce a clean and clear recording, making them ideal for vocal and instrument recordings.

However, the directional nature of cardioid microphones can also be a drawback in certain situations. Because they are less sensitive to sounds from the sides and rear, they may not capture the full ambiance of a space, which can be desirable in some recordings. For instance, when recording a live concert, using only cardioid microphones might result in a less immersive sound.

Thus, while cardioid microphones excel in isolating sound sources and minimizing feedback, they may require careful placement and possibly additional microphones to capture the desired sound environment fully.

Super-cardioid and Hypercardioid Polar Patterns

How Polar Patterns Affect Sound Capture in Microphones

Supercardioid and hypercardioid microphones offer an even narrower field of sensitivity compared to standard cardioid microphones. The super-cardioid pattern has a tighter pickup area in the front and slightly more sensitivity to sound from the rear. This makes super-cardioid microphones excellent for isolating a sound source in a noisy environment, such as on a film set or a crowded stage.

The increased directionality helps to focus on the intended sound source while rejecting off-axis noise more effectively than a standard cardioid microphone.

Hypercardioid microphones take this a step further, with an even narrower front pickup angle and more sensitivity to sound directly behind the microphone. This increased directionality can be both a benefit and a challenge. On the positive side, hypercardioid microphones are unmatched in their ability to isolate sound sources in very noisy environments, making them ideal for recording dialogue in outdoor or uncontrolled environments.

However, their rear sensitivity can sometimes capture unwanted noise if not carefully managed. Users must be aware of the microphone’s positioning relative to noise sources to maximize the benefits of hypercardioid patterns.

Omnidirectional Polar Pattern

How Polar Patterns Affect Sound Capture in Microphones

Omnidirectional microphones capture sound equally from all directions. This pattern is advantageous in situations where the goal is to capture the entire sound environment, such as in field recordings, choir performances, or conferences. Omnidirectional microphones are less sensitive to handling noise and do not exhibit the proximity effect, which is the increase in bass frequencies when the sound source is very close to the microphone. This makes them ideal for capturing natural, uncolored sound without emphasizing any particular direction.

The major downside of omnidirectional microphones is their inability to reject noise from unwanted directions. In a noisy environment, this can lead to recordings that are cluttered with ambient sounds, making it challenging to isolate the primary sound source. Therefore, while omnidirectional microphones offer a broad and natural sound capture, they are best used in controlled environments where extraneous noise is minimal, or in applications where capturing the complete sound environment is more important than isolating a single source.

Bidirectional Polar Pattern

How Polar Patterns Affect Sound Capture in Microphones

Bidirectional, or figure-eight, polar patterns are sensitive to sounds from the front and rear of the microphone while rejecting sounds from the sides. This pattern is particularly useful in specific recording scenarios, such as when recording two vocalists facing each other or capturing the interaction between a singer and an instrument simultaneously. The bidirectional pattern provides a unique sound quality by capturing the direct sound from two sources while minimizing ambient noise from the sides.

Despite its usefulness, the bidirectional pattern also comes with challenges. The rear sensitivity means that any noise behind the microphone can be picked up, which might not always be desirable. This requires careful placement and consideration of the recording environment to ensure that unwanted sounds are minimized.

Additionally, the figure-eight pattern can exhibit a more pronounced proximity effect compared to cardioid patterns, potentially altering the tonal balance of the recorded sound if the source is too close to the microphone.

Final Note

How Polar Patterns Affect Sound Capture in Microphones

Polar patterns play a crucial role in determining how microphones capture sound, affecting both the quality and directionality of recordings. Whether choosing a cardioid, supercardioid, hypercardioid, omnidirectional, or bidirectional microphone, understanding the unique characteristics and applications of each pattern helps in selecting the right microphone for any given situation.

Ash Burnett

Hailing from Chicago, IL - Ash made his break into journalism at the age of 23 writing music reviews for a local website. Now in his late 30's and after being pulled closer towards the technical side of the music and live gig industry, he founded Shout4Music to write thorough microphone reviews.

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