When you read about polar patterns, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Perhaps the migratory roamings of Ursus maritimus? Zoology jokes aside, microphone polar patterns are often misunderstood—and the information you can find online is mildly confusing at best. In fact, we get a lot of questions about polar patterns from the Blue community.
Today, we’re going to clear up the confusion once and for all and give you a straightforward explanation that will help you choose the right polar pattern for the right application. So let’s dive in!
Need a quick primer before diving in? Check out our podcasting home page for everything you need to start your podcast.
In a nutshell, a microphone’s polar pattern is its directionality—or how well the microphone picks up sound from different angles or directions. Why does this matter? Well, if you use a microphone for speaking applications like podcasting or gaming, you want your mic to pick up sound from the direction it’s pointed—not the entire room with a buzzing fridge or air conditioner. On the other hand, if you’re recording a vocal choir in a cathedral with a single mic, you want to capture the entire room. So choosing a microphone with the right polar pattern for your needs can make a world of difference.
The most common polar patterns are Omnidirectional, Cardioid, Supercardioid, and Figure of 8. Let’s explore how each one works, and what they’re best suited for.
Cardioid Polar Pattern
Cardioid is the most common polar pattern, and is useful for the widest range of applications. Cardioid mics pick up the most sound in the front of the capsule, and very little in the back. This isolates the signal you’re recording from unwanted ambient noise, making it a great choice for a wide range of recording environments.
In the studio, cardioid mics are excellent for isolating individual sounds or instruments like drums, guitar and vocals. And since they are highly directional, cardioid mics reduce signal bleed from other instruments in the room. The cardioid pattern is also resistant to feedback, which makes them an excellent choice for performing on loud stages.
Supercardioid mics have a narrower angle of pickup than cardioids, and therefore reject even more ambient sound. They also have some sensitivity directly in the rear, so they can also pick up unwanted sources like monitors if placed incorrectly.
A Supercardioid mic would be best if you need to capture a single voice or isolate an instrument in a really loud environment. Yeti, Yeti Pro, and Kiwi offer Supercardioid mode.
Omnidirectional Polar Pattern
Omnidirectional or Omni mics are equally sensitive in all directions and angles. They’re useful when you want to capture the sound of an entire room or space. In music recording, Omni is useful for recording a wide sound source like an orchestra, choir or multiple performers in an ensemble.
Omni mics are also useful for recording multiple speakers in different locations in a room, during a video conference for example. An Omni mic isn’t a great choice for live performances, since it can’t be aimed away from unwanted sources like amps or PA speakers.
Figure 8 Polar Pattern
The Figure 8 polar pattern picks up equal amounts of sound from the front and back of the mic capsule in a 90-degree angle. Mics with a Figure 8 pattern capture a wide stereo image and deliver a very full and natural sound.
This is useful for recording vocal duets, or even a single vocal with a wide stereo image. Figure 8 mics are also useful for drum overheads—or even for recording orchestral performances.
Now that you’re a polar pattern pro, you can choose the mic that’s best for the job. After all, you wouldn’t use a flamethrower to light a candle (or maybe you would, you rebel). Similarly, you probably don’t need to use an omni pattern mic on a loud stage. If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments section and we’ll help you in any way we can. OK, class dismissed—grab a mic and go record something!