Using the correct polar pattern for your recording will help you create better-sounding albums and live events.
The properties and applications of each polar pattern will be broken down and discussed in this tutorial to assist you level-up your output.
What Is A Mic Polar Pattern?
When looking for a new studio condenser mic or live vocal mic, you’ll come across a specification known as ‘polar pattern’ (also see, ‘Best Condenser Mic‘)
This will be accompanied by common polar patterns terms like ‘cardioid,’ ‘omnidirectional,’ or ‘bidirectional,’ to name a few.
The sensitivity of a microphone to sounds originating from varying angles from the central axis is referred to as its polar pattern.
Simply explained, the polar pattern controls the angle at which sound may be caught up from the microphone capsule and is shown in the typical circular chart style.
Each polar pattern has a distinct use – both live and in the studio – that allows you to capture your sound source with the best possible pattern based on the scenario.
Understanding how these polar patterns function is thus vital for getting the most out of your sessions.
Certain polar patterns are more suited to capturing vocals, percussion, guitar, or even live performances.
You might save a lot of time in the mixing stage of your projects if you use the proper pattern for the job.
When you get it right at the source, you can record the sound of the room when needed, eliminate undesired bleed, and control how much the proximity effect is heard in your songs.
Different Polar Patterns
Cardioid Polar Pattern
The cardioid polar pattern is the most frequent directional microphones pattern.
Cardioid mics are often used when there is a requirement to focus on a single sound source while simultaneously minimizing pick-up from the sides and rear. It is so named because the frequency response resembles a heart shape (thus, cardio).
A basic example of a cardioid mic would be a vocalist on stage performing live using a handheld microphone.
A cardioid polar pattern would capture the singer’s voice very well, but it would also filter out other sounds from the fold back monitors and other artists on stage.
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Bidirectional Polar Pattern
Bidirectional microphones, also referred to as figure-of-eight devices, pick up the same amount of sound from the back and front, but sound coming from the sides is filtered out, thus a figure 8 polar pattern.
Because you’re catching more of the ambient atmosphere of the recording environment alongside the sound source, these microphones will provide very realistic sound duplication.
These ribbon microphones are often used in recording studios to capture two instruments or voices at the same time, such as a duet. They can also be used for acoustic guitar recordings and stereo miking of drums.
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Omnidirectional Polar Pattern
Omnidirectional mics collect sound from all directions in a complete sphere, producing an extraordinarily lifelike and realistic audio recording.
These multi pattern mics offer more flexibility, as they allow the user to choose from different pick-up patterns depending on the situation. An omni polar pattern microphone is the most versatile option and allows you to record sound from any direction.
Omnidirectional polar pattern can often be found in lavalier microphones or headset types, as they allow the artist to move their head organically without changing the overall sound of the recording.
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Unidirectional Polar Pattern
The sound coming from one specific direction is what unidirectional microphones are most sensitive to. A cardioid (heart-shaped) response is the most typical form.
At 0 degrees (on-axis), this polar pattern is fully responsive, and at 180 degrees, it is least sensitive (off-axis).
The desirable on-axis sound is separated from the undesired off-axis sound using unidirectional microphones.
The cardioid microphone picks up around one-third as much background noise as an Omni, which serves to emphasize this point even more.
It is possible to greatly decrease bleed by directing the microphone away from the undesirable room or background noise and directly at your preferred sound source.
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Shotgun Polar Pattern
The shotgun microphone polar pattern is the most directional of the microphone polar patterns. Shotgun microphones are frequently utilized in cinema sound to capture actor talk.
They are long, thin microphones that are meant to be targeted at a sound source from a distance.
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Subcardioid Polar Pattern
This is another cardioid pattern variant. It appears to be a hybrid between a cardioid and an omnidirectional antenna.
The subcardioid polar pattern is more suited to picking up a sound source that moves around a lot while remaining in front of the microphone.
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Hypercardioid and Supercardioid Polar Pattern
These two polar patterns are variants of the conventional cardioid form, but with a tighter front directionality.
They also take up lower levels of sound from the capsule’s back and sides if they are close enough. If one of these cardioid polar patterns is present, this trait must be considered.
Because of this though, you’ll now have a more sensitive sound region behind the mic.
Hypercardioid microphones also have good off-axis rejection, meaning they are less sensitive to sound coming from the rear.
This makes them great for recording in noisy environments, as they can reject some of the unwanted noise coming from behind the microphone. They are also effective when recording drums and other instruments that need to be isolated in a mix.
Supercardioids are equally sensitive as hypercardioid patterns, but with a slightly more focused pickup and greater rear rejection.
A supercardioid polar pattern is great to capture sound recording in environments where there is a lot of ambient noise or multiple sound sources from the rear and side.
They are also excellent at rejecting reverberation and other sonic artifacts that can occur when using omnidirectional microphones in reverberant environments.
Switching from supercardioid to hypercardioid polar patterns narrows the region of sensitivity at the front while increasing the area of sensitivity at the back.
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Knowing What Polar Pattern to Use
The majority of the microphones you’ll come across are cardioid. Cardioid microphones are inappropriate in just a few instances.
They’re perfect for people who want to record solo/monologue podcasts or do internet interviews. You may even use them to record local discussions if each participant has their own microphone.
If you’re on a low budget, try employing an omnidirectional microphone to gather people around a table for a talk.
Similarly, you might record a chat with one additional person using a bi-directional microphone.
Sharing a microphone will significantly reduce your audio quality. But if it gets you by in the beginning, go for it.
Longer term, you should think about buying a digital recorder or audio interface so you can mic each individual separately.
Understanding Your Microphone’s Polar Pattern Diagrams
Imagine a 360-degree field all around the microphone. The microphone’s front and the angle at which it is most sensitive are both at 0°.
The circle’s scale is made up of smaller circles, each of which represents a 5 dB reduction in sensitivity.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, a decibel (dB) is a logarithmic measure used to compare two numbers.
When a cardioid pattern microphone’s specifications claim that it has a rear rejection of 25 dB, they are comparing the microphone’s most sensitive section (0°) and least sensitive part (180°).
For a cardioid pattern, the usual rear rejection is around -20 dB. In comparison to the front signal, sound behind the microphone is picked up with 1/10th the sensitivity.
That is excellent if you simply want to record the sound coming from the microphone’s front.
Once you’ve mastered mic polar patterns, you’ll be able to quickly and simply see the directionality of any particular recording microphone.
As a result, you’ll be able to use this information to assist you to select the best microphone for your next audio session.
Remember that even though a microphone sounds fantastic in practice, if the polar pattern does not complement the required sound source or recording setting, it may not be the best choice for you.