Microphone Polar Patterns Explained

Just what exactly is a polar pattern? How do they impact the way you record certain sources - be it instruments or vocals? What different kinds are there? Does every microphone use them? We take a look....

Will Brook-Jones

Will Brook-Jones

Polar Patterns

Before you make the joke, no, they’re nothing to do with the arctic. Or bears. Polar patterns are closely linked with microphones and affect how your mic’s capsule picks up sound.

What is a Polar Pattern?

At a basic level, a polar pattern is the term used to describe the directionality of a mic. They outline just how sensitive your mic is to any incoming sound waves that are delivered from different angles/directions. It’s sometimes also referred to as a pickup pattern.

Every microphone you use – be it a condenser, ribbon or dynamic variant etc – has at least one kind (with many now featuring multiple types you can switch between), from budget models, to high-end professional products used in world-class recording facilities. Certain polar patterns are better for vocals, different recording scenarios, or capturing specific instruments.

A microphones polar pattern is usually represented in a circular chart format. This visual data offers a look at just how (and where from) the sound is picked up by your mic. Each polar pattern boasts a unique shape which allows you to identify one from another. You can see a variety of these charts in the section below.

Developing an understanding of polar patterns is therefore extremely important if you record and produce your own/others music, or work in live sound regularly. Once you know enough about them, you’ll be able to select the right polar pattern for the job every single time – and subsequently be able to place your mic in the most effective position too.

What are the Different Types of Polar Pattern?

In this section, we outline the most common types of polar patterns and take a closer look at each of their unique characteristics.

Cardioid

  • The most common directional polar pattern.
  • Most sensitive from the front.
  • Least sensitive from the back. Reduced pick up from the sides.
  • Effectively isolates the mic from annoying room/ambient sound.
  • Increased resistance to feedback (in comparison to omnidirectional microphones).
  • Excellent for loud live environments, or when you need to highlight one sound source – for example, a vocal.
  • Two cardioid mics positioned at a 90 degree angle to each other creates the popular X/Y stereo technique. This delivers dedicated left and right recording of your source.

Cardioid Polar Pattern

Cardioid Microphones

Supercardioid

  • Narrower direction of pickup (in comparison to cardioid microphones) from the front.
  • Enhanced rejection of unwanted background sound.
  • Very dry signal.
  • Smaller amount of pickup at the back and sides (when in close proximity).
  • Extremely resistant to feedback. Delivers extremely high gain before feedback.
  • Perfect for isolating an individual source in a loud live environment.

Supercardioid Polar Pattern

Supercardioid Microphones

Hypercardioid

  • Even narrower direction of pickup (in comparison to supercardioid microphones) from the front.
  • Even better rejection of unwanted background noise.
  • Small amount of pickup at the rear and sides.
  • Equally good at isolating a single source in noisy live environments.
  • The most resistant to feedback.

Hypercardioid Polar Pattern

Hypercardioid Microphones

Omnidirectional

  • Equally sensitive from a 360 degree angle. Captures sound evenly from every direction.
  • Doesn’t have to be pointed in one specific direction.
  • Cannot be aimed away from unwanted sound sources, meaning less headroom for feedback.
  • Delivers the flattest frequency response and best bass response.
  • Least sensitive to both wind sounds and handling noise.
  • Perfect for studio recording. Not very suitable for live shows.
  • Ideal for capturing acoustic instruments or wide sound sources (like a choir or orchestra etc).

Omnidirectional Polar Pattern

Omnidirectional Microphones

Bidirectional (Figure-of-Eight)

  • Captures an equal amount of sound from the front and back of the mic.
  • Doesn’t capture any sound from the sides. Boasts the highest side rejection of every polar pattern.
  • Common among larger diaphragm and ribbon mics.
  • Effectively captures your source, as well as the natural characteristics of your space.
  • Used for both mid side stereo and Blumlein recording techniques.
  • Least bass response.
  • Most sensitive to both handling and wind noise.

Bidirectional (Figure-of-Eight) Polar Pattern

Bidirectional Microphones

Summary

Now you know what a polar pattern is – as well as all of the most common types around – you should be able to apply this knowledge to how you use your microphones (no matter whether you’re working in a studio or live setting).

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Will Brook-Jones
Will Brook-Jones

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