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What is Polar Pattern in Microphone?


When it comes to choosing a microphone, one of the most important factors to consider is its polar pattern. Microphone polar patterns determine how a microphone captures sound from different directions, making it a crucial element in achieving high-quality audio recordings or broadcasts.

In this article, we will delve into the concept of pickup patterns, explore the three main types, and discuss which polar patterns are best suited for different applications, such as vocals and streaming.

What is a Polar Pattern? 

Microphone polar patterns, also known as pickup patterns, describe the microphone’s sensitivity to sound from different angles. It illustrates the microphone’s response to sound waves from various angles relative to its diaphragm.

A microphone’s polar pattern is typically represented graphically, showing its sensitivity in a 360-degree circle around the microphone’s axis.

Types of Microphone Pickup Patterns

There are five main polar patterns for microphones. These different polar patterns can determine which microphone will be the best for you. Read further to find the right polar pattern for your content.

Cardioid Polar Pattern 

Cardioid polar patterns resemble a heart shape when graphically depicted. It is highly sensitive to sound from the front of the microphone and gradually decreases sensitivity to the sides and rear. Cardioid mics are ideal for isolating sound directly in front of them while rejecting unwanted noise from other directions. This makes them a popular choice for vocals and live performances. 

The cardioid polar pattern stands as one of the most prevalent configurations found in modern microphones, offering a blend of both omnidirectional and bidirectional microphone characteristics. When graphed on a 360-degree sphere, the fusion of these two patterns forms a distinctive heart-shaped design, hence the term ‘cardio’ derived from this shape. 

In the realm of the cardioid polar pattern, its primary sensitivity lies squarely in front of the microphone in what’s referred to as the on-axis position. It exhibits a diminishing sensitivity as one moves towards the microphone’s sides and culminates in a null point at the rear. 

As mentioned earlier, a cardioid polar pattern microphone is exceedingly common across various microphone types, encompassing small-diaphragm condensers, large-diaphragm condensers, dynamic microphones, lavalier microphones, and even USB microphones. In most cases, microphones tailored for vocal applications, whether for live performances or studio recordings, opt for a cardioid microphone. 

This choice allows for the direct capture of sound positioned directly in front of the microphone while simultaneously mitigating sensitivity to rearward sound and reducing side sensitivity. This distinctive feature effectively eliminates the risk of feedback from other instruments or equipment. 

Due to their heightened sensitivity in the on-axis position, accompanied by a null point at the 180-degree angle, A cardioid microphone excels in gain control. In studio environments, these patterns enable the adjustment of gain settings to amplify sound without fear of feedback, making them particularly well-suited for instruments with wide dynamic ranges. 

There are several benefits of cardioid mics: 

  • Versatility: Suitable for a wide range of recording scenarios. 
  • Rear Rejection: Offers strong rejection at the rear, minimizing interference from sources situated behind the microphone. 
  • Ambient Noise Isolation: Effectively isolates the microphone from unwanted ambient sounds. 
  • Focused Sound: Positions the primary sound source at the forefront, resulting in a focused sound capture. 
  • On-Stage Use: Ideal for on-stage sound reinforcement, reducing bleed and feedback. 
  • Stereo Recordings: Can be employed in pairs to create stereo X/Y recordings, enhancing spatial audio capture.

The cardioid mic polar pattern branches into two more polar patterns: Hypercardioid and Supercardioid. These two polar patterns are, of course, variations of the classic cardioid shape, but with a tighter directionality at the front.

Hypercardioid Polar Pattern 

The hypercardioid polar pattern closely resembles the supercardioid pattern, characterized by an even narrower scope of on-axis directivity and heightened insensitivity to sounds originating from the sides at 90 and 270 degrees. 

Notably, hypercardioid polar patterns null off-axis sounds, occurring at 110 and 250 degrees. It’s essential to recognize that hypercardioid microphones, in contrast to supercardioid ones, exhibit a rear lobe of increased sensitivity at 180 degrees.

When visualized in a sensitivity diagram encompassing the microphone, hypercardioid polar patterns roughly combine elements of bidirectional and omnidirectional polar patterns in a ratio of approximately 3:1. Similar to supercardioid microphones, hypercardioid microphones are frequently employed for specialized purposes, particularly in drum miking setups. 

They excel at isolating the desired sound source while minimizing interference from adjacent instruments, thus reducing bleed. It’s worth noting that many large-diaphragm condenser microphones offer a selectable hypercardioid pattern, achieved by employing two pressure-gradient capsules that capture audio from both sides of the diaphragm. 

There are several benefits to the hypercardioid polar pattern: 

  • Precise Recording: Hypercardioid microphones are highly sensitive to microphone placement, allowing for precise and controlled audio recordings. 
  • Exceptional Directivity: They feature an extremely narrow capturing pattern, effectively nullifying sounds coming from the sides, resulting in a cleaner recording. 
  • Feedback Resistance: Hypercardioid microphones are the most resistant to on-stage feedback, making them suitable for live performances. 
  • Enhanced Depth: They capture a more substantial amount of rear information, adding depth and ambiance to recordings that may sound overly dry with other polar patterns.

Supercardioid Polar Pattern

Supercardioid polar patterns represent a refined version of the cardioid pattern, characterized by even more precise directionality. In the supercardioid pattern, on-axis directionality is enhanced, resulting in reduced side sensitivity and lower volume levels at 90 and 270 degrees. 

However, this heightened front-facing directivity comes at the cost of increased sensitivity towards the microphone’s rear, notably at 180 degrees. In essence, the supercardioid pattern combines elements of omni and bidirectional patterns in a ratio of approximately 5:3. The presence of a rear lobe in the polar pattern at 180 degrees sets supercardioid mics apart from cardioid counterparts. 

Consequently, supercardioid polar patterns capture a minor amount of sound from the rear of the microphone. This aspect is particularly relevant when using multiple microphones in a studio environment, such as when miking large sounds like a drum kit. Typically, supercardioid microphone polar patterns are found on microphones specifically designed for drums or vocal recordings, effectively isolating the primary sound source from external noise and ambiance. 

This isolation results in a focused tone, while concurrently rejecting bleed from neighboring instruments. However, it’s essential to note that due to their pronounced directivity, supercardioid microphone polar patterns may be vulnerable to vocal plosives and the proximity effect. The latter phenomenon causes ‘b’ and ‘p’ sounds to become more pronounced and louder as the microphone approaches the sound origin. 

Supercardioid mics boast the following benefits:  

  • Ideal for Live Singers: Suited for live vocalists, as they provide increased gain sensitivity with reduced feedback risk. 
  • Dry Recording: Supercardioid microphones excel in creating dry recordings, making them excellent for post-production mixing with effects. 
  • Effective Side Rejection: They efficiently eliminate side-facing sound sources, enhancing sound isolation. 
  • Enhanced Depth: While primarily front-focused, supercardioid mics capture a minimal amount of sound from the rear, adding depth to the audio recording.

Omnidirectional Polar Pattern

An omnidirectional polar pattern, often abbreviated as omni, boasts a unique sensitivity profile, picking up sound with equal responsiveness from any distance factor. This describes how far away a directional microphone can be placed in comparison to an omnidirectional microphone while preserving the same ratio of direct and reflected sound.

This results in uniform sound capture spanning a complete 360-degree sphere, making it both conceptually straightforward and graphically easy to depict. 

This distinctive characteristic of omnidirectional patterns means that there is no requirement to orient the microphone’s front toward the sound source. In theory, the microphone maintains consistent gain levels even when placed at an angle relative to the sound source. An omni pattern provides the best bass response and flattest frequency response, and is the least sensitive to handling or wind noise in comparison to all other polar patterns.

An omnidirectional polar pattern is commonly employed in clip-on lavalier and headset microphones for on-stage performers. This choice ensures that, regardless of head movement away from the microphone, the volume level remains constant, yielding a uniform sound. However, omni patterns are not limited to these microphone types and can also be found in large diaphragm condenser microphones equipped with pattern-switching capabilities.

In a studio setting, utilizing an omni pickup pattern proves highly functional, as it avoids proximity effects, eliminating issues such as pronounced ‘p’ or ‘b’ sounds, resulting in smoother recordings. 

It’s worth noting that the 360-degree sensitivity of multi-pattern microphones means that they capture everything in close proximity to the sound source. This can encompass unwanted noises like background AC fan systems or mechanical computer sounds. 

An omni polar pattern offers a lot of benefits:

  • Efficiency in Capturing Large Sound Sources: An omni mic can effectively capture large sound sources.
  • Optimal Bass Response and Flat Frequency Response: They excel in providing the best bass and frequency response across the microphone capsule. 
  • Balanced High-Frequency Capture: Omnidirectional mics offer more directivity in picking up high frequencies, ensuring even response around the microphone. 
  • Elimination of Proximity Effect: They do not suffer from the proximity effect, resulting in distortion-free recording of vocals, especially during ‘p’ and ‘b’ articulations. 
  • Reduced Handling Noise Sensitivity: Omnidirectional microphones are less prone to capturing handling noise during recording. 
  • Natural Ambient Sound: They capture ambient audio and room sound authentically, preserving important environmental information. This is helpful when recording instruments that require a large amount of room ambience to add depth and realism such as pianos or acoustic guitars
  • Versatility for Interviews and Podcasts: Ideal for capturing two sources simultaneously, making them well-suited for interviews, podcasts, or meetings. 
  • Perfect for Theatre Performers: Clip-on lavalier and headset microphones with omni patterns allow performers to move their heads naturally without affecting sound quality or volume.

Bidirectional (Figure-8) Microphone Polar Pattern

A figure-of-8 microphone, often referred to as bidirectional, possesses the unique ability to capture sound with equal sensitivity from both the front and back of the microphone, while effectively rejecting sounds arriving from the sides. These microphones employ a ‘pressure-gradient’ capsule design, responding to variations in air pressure between the front and back of the microphone.

The figure-8 pattern has the same sensitivity at 0° and 180°, consequently, sound originating from lateral angles, specifically at 90 degrees and 270 degrees relative to the front, exerts equal pressure on both sides, resulting in cancellation or nullification of these sounds, effectively rejecting them.

The Figure 8 polar pattern is most commonly encountered in ribbon microphones, owing to their utilization of the ‘pressure-gradient’ capsule design, which exposes both sides of the microphone to sound pressure. Figure-of-8 polar patterns prove highly advantageous in studio recording scenarios. 

When two Figure 8 polar pattern microphones are paired, they can be harnessed for stereo recording techniques, such as Mid/Side recording and Blumlein recording. In the context of the Mid/Side recording technique, a more symmetrical distribution of sound pressure is observed, creating a ‘true bidirectional’ polar pattern where both sides of the microphone capture audio with more evenness. 

Several benefits of a bidirectional polar pattern microphone include:

  • Ideal for Two-Person Recording: Figure-of-8 microphones are perfect for capturing broadcasts, podcasts, or interviews involving two individuals sharing a single microphone. 
  • Stereo Recording Techniques: When used together, they facilitate advanced stereo recording methods like Mid/Side and Blumlein, offering nuanced and spacious audio recordings. 
  • Effective Sound Rejection: These microphones nullify sounds emanating from the sides, making them ideal for rejecting unwanted bleed from adjacent sounds. 
  • Natural Ambiance: They excel at capturing room ambiance, contributing to more authentic and natural-sounding recordings. This pickup pattern is perfect for recording singer-songwriters who perform acoustic guitar and sing as if positioned correctly, can maximize the sound captured whilst minimizing spill.
  • Reduced Proximity Effect: Figure-of-8 patterns exhibit less proximity effect than cardioid patterns, resulting in a more balanced response when the sound is close to the microphone.

What is the Best Polar Pattern for a Microphone?

When it comes to capturing sound accurately and achieving professional audio quality, selecting the right polar pattern for your microphone is crucial. Polar patterns determine how a microphone captures sound from different directions, and each pattern has its own strengths and weaknesses. Your microphone’s polar pattern will determine its use for your content.

  • Cardioid pickup pattern: Cardioid polar patterns are heart-shaped and are highly sensitive to sound from the front while rejecting sound from the sides and rear. Cardioid mics are versatile and ideal for isolating a single sound source. 
  • Omnidirectional polar pattern: Omnidirectional mics capture sound equally from all directions, creating a 360-degree sensitivity. They are perfect for recording ambient sounds or capturing an overall room atmosphere. 
  • Figure 8 polar pattern: Bidirectional microphones are sensitive to sound from the front and rear while rejecting sound from the sides. They are often used for interviews and recording two sound sources facing each other. 
  • Supercardioid mics: A more focused version of the cardioid pattern, supercardioid mics have a narrower front sensitivity and some sensitivity at the rear. They are great for isolating sound in noisy environments. 
  • Hypercardioid mics: Hypercardioid mics further narrow the sensitivity range of supercardioids, offering even better isolation in challenging conditions.

What Polar Pattern is Best for Vocals?

The best polar pattern for vocals depends on the specific recording environment and your desired sound. Here are some considerations to help you make the right choice: 

  • Studio vs. Live Performance: In a controlled studio environment, cardioid microphones are often the preferred choice for vocals. They provide excellent isolation, reducing unwanted background noise. For live performances, supercardioid or hypercardioid microphones may be better suited to reject stage noise. 
  • Ambiance and Natural Sound: If you want to capture the natural sound and room ambiance along with the vocals, consider using an omnidirectional microphone. This can be especially effective for acoustic or classical music recordings. 
  • Multiple Vocalists: If you are recording multiple vocalists simultaneously or an interview with two participants facing each other, a bidirectional microphone may be the best option. 
  • Background Noise: Consider the level of background noise in your recording environment. In noisy settings, supercardioid or hypercardioid microphones can help reduce unwanted sounds. 
  • Personal Preference: Ultimately, the choice of polar pattern may come down to personal preference and the sound you wish to achieve. Experimentation with different patterns can lead to unique and creative vocal recordings.

What is the Best Polar Pattern For Streaming Microphones?

Selecting the best polar pattern for your streaming microphone depends on several factors: 

  • Streaming Environment: Consider your streaming environment. If you’re in a quiet, controlled space, a cardioid microphone will provide excellent voice isolation. In contrast, noisy environments may benefit from a supercardioid or hypercardioid microphone to reduce background noise. 
  • Microphone Placement: Think about your microphone placement. A cardioid microphone requires you to speak directly into the front, which may be suitable for solo streaming. If you have multiple speakers or a dynamic setup, supercardioid or hypercardioid polar patterns can help reject unwanted sounds. 
  • Collaborative Streams: If you frequently collaborate with others or have multiple speakers on your stream, a figure-8 microphone can be an excellent choice. It captures sound from the front and rear while rejecting side noise, ensuring all speakers are heard clearly. 
  • Ambiance: If you want to capture the ambiance of your environment, such as gaming sounds or background music, an omnidirectional microphone can be used effectively. This can add depth and realism to your stream. 
  • Budget and Microphone Quality: Consider your budget and the quality of the microphone. High-end microphones may offer switchable polar patterns, allowing you to adapt to different streaming scenarios.
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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