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Microphones are essential tools in capturing audio, and their effectiveness largely depends on their polar patterns. These patterns describe how a microphone picks up sound from different directions. Knowing the various polar patterns can help you choose the right microphone for your needs, whether you’re recording in a studio, capturing live performances, or conducting interviews.

Understanding polar patterns can be challenging due to lengthy explanations and technical jargon. To simplify this, we’ve created a visual guide that breaks down each polar pattern with clear diagrams and straightforward explanations.


Omnidirectional Polar Pattern

Visual Guides to Understanding Polar Patterns

The omnidirectional polar pattern is one the most common patterns along with cardioid and figure-8. The Omni pickup pattern captures the sound equally from all directions. Imagine a sphere surrounding the microphone where sound sensitivity is uniform throughout. This pattern is ideal for recording ambient sounds or group discussions where the source of sound may come from multiple directions.

One notable advantage is the natural sound quality, as it doesn’t emphasize or attenuate any particular direction. However, it also means that omnidirectional microphones are more susceptible to picking up unwanted background noise.


Cardioid Polar Pattern

The cardioid polar pattern is heart-shaped, focusing on sound from the front while rejecting noise from the sides and rear. This makes cardioid microphones highly suitable for live performances and vocal recordings where the primary sound source is directly in front of the microphone.

The reduced sensitivity to off-axis sounds helps minimize feedback and isolates the desired audio source, providing a cleaner and more focused sound.


Wide Cardioid Polar Pattern

Visual Guides to Understanding Polar Patterns

The wide cardioid polar pattern, also known as subcardioid, offers a middle ground between omnidirectional and cardioid patterns. It captures sound predominantly from the front but with a broader angle, allowing more ambient sound than a standard cardioid while still providing some rejection of noise from the sides and rear.

This pattern is excellent for recording solo vocal performances and acoustic instruments, providing a natural sound with a slight focus on the front. The wide cardioid pattern is beneficial in situations where you want a more open sound without the extensive pickup of an omnidirectional microphone.


Supercardioid and Hypercardioid Polar Patterns

Visual Guides to Understanding Polar Patterns

Supercardioid and hypercardioid polar patterns are more directional than the standard cardioid pattern. Supercardioid microphones have a narrower pickup angle at the front and slightly more sensitivity to sound from the rear. Hypercardioid microphones, on the other hand, have an even tighter front pickup angle and a more pronounced rear lobe.

These patterns are ideal for isolating specific sounds in noisy environments or capturing distant sound sources. The trade-off is that they can pick up more background noise from directly behind the microphone.


Figure-8 or Bidirectional Polar Pattern

The figure-8 or bidirectional polar pattern picks up sound equally from the front and rear while rejecting noise from the sides. This pattern resembles a figure eight when visualized, with two distinct lobes of sensitivity.

Figure-8 microphones are often used in studio settings for recording duets or interviews where two sound sources are positioned opposite each other. The side rejection is beneficial in reducing ambient noise and room reflections.


Shotgun Polar Pattern

Visual Guides to Understanding Polar Patterns

The shotgun polar pattern is highly directional, designed to capture sound from a narrow front angle while rejecting noise from the sides and rear. This pattern is achieved through the use of an interference tube, which enhances directionality.

Shotgun microphones are commonly used in film and television production to capture dialogue from a distance. Their focused pickup makes them excellent for isolating sound in outdoor environments or large spaces.


Final Note

Visual Guides to Understanding Polar Patterns

Understanding polar patterns is crucial for selecting the right microphone for your specific audio recording needs. Each pattern has its strengths and weaknesses, making certain microphones more suitable for particular applications.

Whether you’re aiming to capture the ambient sound of a room, isolate a single voice in a noisy environment, or record a conversation between two people (i.e. podcasting), knowing the characteristics of these polar patterns will help you achieve the best possible audio quality.

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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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