Microphone Directionality

Microphone directionality is the variation in sensitivity 360 degrees around the head of a microphone.

There are a variety of polar patterns found in microphone design including:

Polar Descriptions

Polar response example microphone position
Figure 1 - In polar response diagrams, the microphone position is assumed facing top

Omni Directional: Omni microphones pick up sounds equally in all directions. They are great for recording room ambiance and capturing group vocals.

On the downside, they lack background noise rejection and are prone to monitor feedback, which makes them unsuitable for loud and noisy venues.

Polar pattern omni-directional
Figure 2 - Omni microphones have 360-degree pickup 

Bi-Directional (Figure-Eight): Bi-directional microphones pick up sound in two directions; in front of and behind the microphone, with rejection from both sides.

The front and back sensitivity make them idea for stereo recording and for capturing two or more instruments.

Polar pattern figure eight
Figure 3 - Bi-directional microphones avoid picking up sound from the sides

Cardioid/Uni Directional: Cardioid microphones pick up sound from the front and offer maximum rejection at the rear. They are useful for reducing bleed and leakage between sound sources, making them ideal for live performances and situations where feedback suppression is needed.

Cardioid microphones are extremely common and can be found in most studio cupboards.

Polar pattern cardioid
Figure 4 - Cardioid microphones pick sound up from the front, in a heart-shaped pattern

Hyper Cardioid Directional: Hyper cardioid microphones have a narrow pickup pattern, but also have some rear pickup.

Hyper cardioid mics have better isolation and higher resistance to feedback than cardioids. They are ideal for loud sound situations.

On the downside, as there is some bleed at the rear, you will have to position unwanted sounds on the dead spot sides.

Polar pattern hypercardioid
Figure 5 - Hyper cardioid microphones have some pickup from the rear

Super-Cardioid Directional: Super cardioid microphones have a narrow pickup pattern like a hyper-cardioid, but with a tighter rear pickup.

Polar pattern super cardioid
Figure 6 - Super cardioid microphones are similar to hyper-cardioids' but with a tighter pickup from the rear
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