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A lavalier mic, regardless of the model and type, has a specific polar pattern assigned to it in order to achieve the best sound quality possible. The polar patterns or pickup patterns are dependent on the directionality of the microphone and affect the mic’s sensitivity to where it’s picking up the sound source from. With that said, it pays to know what the best pickup pattern is for your lavalier microphone so you can maximize its use and get optimal sound reinforcement.
Lavalier microphones are also known as lapel mics. These hands-free audio equipment are usually “planted” mics hidden on clothes, in-body, or on-stage for those who want a discreet audio recording device. Lavalier mics are popularly used in broadcast studio situations, filmmaking, classes, or onstage as it is known to reduce audience noise and ambiance noise while reproducing a quality natural sound provided that you are able to position it properly and choose the right microphone for the location and setting.
Aside from categorizing lavalier microphones into wired and wireless, we can further categorize them into two microphone types based on the sound it is able to capture.
A lavalier microphone that can enhance and produce close-up sound reinforcement is a proximity lav. These microphones are ideal for voice isolation as it is able to produce a live sound reinforcement and capture quality dialog that is rich in sound despite a noisy background.
Commonly used by radio and television broadcasters, studio television, interviews, and lectures done by a speaker, a proximity lav microphone tends to be positioned near the talent’s mouth since it has less reach.
A lavalier microphone that has more reach and can produce a much more natural sound are transparent lavs. Talents who would like their vocals to sound natural while not minding just a slight increase of room noise pickup would opt for this type of microphone.
To check if you have proximity or transparent lav microphone, check the quality of the sound source pickup in proportion to its distance. A proximity lav mic will have a noticeable drop in volume and “fullness” if the sound source is just a foot or two away. On the other hand, a transparent lav microphone can afford to be placed a few feet away from the sound source while maintaining its tonal quality.
To get the best out of every recording, one must know the varying polar patterns there are and the directionality of the lavalier microphones in discussion. By knowing so, the user can also avoid any unwanted sounds and be able to adjust the proximity effect or frequency response accordingly. Although there are typically 5 directional patterns, a lav microphone is only either unidirectional or omnidirectional.
Also known as cardioid pattern, this is the most commonly used directional pattern used in microphones as it is great for recording vocals and reducing background noise since it only picks up a sound source from a specific area. Lav microphones with this pattern can be condenser mics or directional microphones.
A condenser lav mic with a cardioid pattern gives a more colored sound recording. Cardioid microphones that fall under this category give off a clear recording where you can hear the details of the audio. This is the right microphone to use if you are recording sounds with high frequencies.
A directional lav mic is designed to isolate vocals with a “dry” and “close” effect making it a favorite of broadcasters and lecturers. However, a directional mic is more sensitive since it is positioned near the speaker’s mouth. Avoid wind noise and sound pressure from body movements done by the speaker by positioning the lav mic properly.
Overall, a lav mic following this pattern has a definite front and back so it’s easier to position the microphone diaphragm accordingly. Not to be confused with mics with a hypercardioid pattern, which focuses slightly more on the sound source from behind.
An omni pattern can pick up the same sound pressure and sensitivity from any direction or opposite direction from the omnidirectional lavalier. Omnidirectional mics have the least sensitivity to movement and noise from sound sources thus, they are most commonly used in film and video recordings where the speaker tends to move around.
Omnidirectional microphones tend to have less gain before feedback due to their picking content with low frequencies. Omni mics are also used for live stage performance as it is possible to adjust its gain-to-feedback ratio — helping in solving the common gain before feedback problem encountered in such situations.
Although directional patterns are not the only factors to consider when using a lapel mic, these certainly play a huge role in attaining the desired and best sound for your recording.
Use a cardioid lav mic for recordings wherein vocal isolation and reduced room noise are needed. Put into consideration the distance and position as these mics with a unidirectional polar are sensitive as they pick up sound from one source, front or back, and need to be placed near the mouth or source.
Use an omni lav mic for recordings wherein the sound will be coming from varying sources and movement will be done by the user. Keep in mind that lavs with an omnidirectional pattern are susceptible to noise, but it’s a price to pay for more reach.
Unlike other microphones, a lavalier has only two directional patterns: cardioid or omnidirectional. When deciding which of the two patterns is best for your lapel mic, you will need to consider how and where you are using it as this affects the quality of the recording from the sound source and will help avoid gain before feedback problems.