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An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns

An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns
October 17, 2023
Getting to grips with microphone polar patterns is vital when it comes to choosing a suitable mic for your music. Whichever polar pattern you go for needs to match up with your recording requirements, the sound you want to capture, and what background noise you're trying to cancel out.

Luckily for you, we’ve built out a beginner's guide to the different microphone polar patterns to help you better understand how and where your mic is picking up your sounds. We'll also cover which polar patterns are best for recording and performing and which ones you should consider using.


What are microphone polar patterns?

We’ve previously covered what type of microphone you need to be using for your music, and whether you’re after a mic for performing live or recording vocals at home. So what are microphone polar patterns and how do they impact your music? 

An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns - singer performing on stage

Well, microphone polar - or pickup - patterns are used to determine the sensitivity of a microphone and explain how it captures sounds coming from different directions. 

Try to think of a mic's polar pattern as its listening zone - where it best hears or catches your sounds. Different mics have different listening zones, which affect when and how you should use them. 


What are the different types of microphone polar patterns?

Looking at the different polar pattern types on a graph may seem a little confusing if you aren’t quite sure where to start. No need to stress though, we’ve broken down everything you need to know below.

An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns  - Polar Patterns Visual Chart


Omni-directional microphones

Best for: Recording multiple instruments

Omni-directional microphones pick up sounds from all directions and distribute things evenly, creating a fully circular polar pattern as shown on the graph above. 

This polar pattern is best suited to capturing multiple sound sources in a natural and raw way, leading to omni-directional mics often being used to record acoustic set-ups, classical orchestras, and even spoken interviews. They're an excellent option for recording full band performances too where there are multiple instruments set up in different areas.

An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns - Neumann u87

A potential downside to using omni-directional microphones however is their tendency to pick up every little sound from within your space. If you're not wanting to catch any rattle from your drummers snare, maybe go for a bi-directional or cardioid mic that offers a little more isolation.

On the other hand, if you do want to record the overall sound of your space with various sounds coming from different parts of the room, you should definitely consider using an omni-directional microphone.

The best omni-directional microphones

- Neumann U87

- Sennheiser MD42

- AKG C414


Bi-directional microphones

Best for: Isolating individual sounds 

As we touched upon above, microphones with bi-directional or figure-8 polar patterns grab sound from both their fronts and rears, ignoring any sounds coming from their sides. As the name suggests, this results in a figure-8 graph pattern. These mics offer a bit more sound isolation that omni-directionals, while still projecting any instruments that are close to your mic.

Because of this, figure-8 patterns are popular amongst musicians wanting to isolate a couple of instruments that are close together. They're particularly handy for recording two sound sources as they capture sound from both ends of the microphone simultaneously and cancel out noise from the sides.

An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns - MXL R144

You’ll want to use this polar pattern if your band has more than one singer or if you want to record your drums and vocals together. 

The best bi-directional microphones

- MXL R144

- Coles 4038

- AKG P420


Cardioid microphones

Best for: Recording vocals and solo instruments

The heart-shaped pattern you’re seeing is one of a cardioid microphone. This shape is caused by cardioids only picking up sounds from the front, rejecting any sounds from the sides and rear and is arguably the type you'll come across the most - with many condenser and dynamic microphones having cardioid polar patterns.

These mics are excellent at isolating different sound sources and minimising any background noise, making them perfect microphones for recording vocals in the studio, solo instruments, and for podcasting.

An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns - AT2020

Cardioid mics are also popular on-stage, with their excellent isolation capability preventing feedback coming from the crowds. 

The best cardioid microphones

- Audio-Technica AT2020


- Shure SM57


Super-cardioid microphones

Best for: Live festival performances

We’ve looked at cardioid, now let’s turn to super-cardioid. Unsurprisingly, these 'super' microphones are even more directional than cardioid, with a narrower front pickup area and even higher sound sensitivity. 

An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns - AKG D5

Super-cardioids are commonly used in live environments and excel in isolating vocals on extremely noisy music festival stages and venues. They're great for minimising any potential instrument sound bleeding too, so a super-cardioid might be the way to go to block out any unwanted noise created by your band mate's instruments.

The best super-cardioid microphones

- AKG D5

- Shure Beta 58A

- Samson C01


Hyper-cardioid microphones

Best for: Live acoustic performances

The other member of the cardioid family you might come across is hyper-cardioid. You’ll get a pretty similar level of sound isolation here, but you will have to be a little more careful with your mic set-up. 

An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns - Shure KSM9HS

Because hyper-cardioid microphones are extremely directional, they require intricate microphone set-up techniques and can be knocked off by the smallest of positional movements. If you’re performing a chilled out acoustic gig, then this is for you. If you’re planning on shaking your stuff and getting involved with the crowd, maybe not. If you move off centre, your sound quality will be impacted. Just a tip.

The best hyper-cardioid microphones

- Shure KSM9HS

- AKG AE6100

- Beyerdynamic M160


Shotgun microphones

Best for: Noisy environments

The final polar pattern shown on our chart is a shotgun microphone. Despite being less commonly used by musicians than the other polar patterns, these mics can still be useful to you due to their narrow and focused pickup pattern, which is superb for live events or performing in busy environments, such as busking in a busy city centre.

An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns - Neumann KMR 81i

Usually used in film and television production, shotgun mics capture your music from a specific direction while rejecting the majority of noise coming from other directions. These mics normally get paired with boom poles to record dialogue or sound effects in outdoor or noisy environments.

The best shotgun microphones

- Neumann KMR 81 i

- Sennheiser MKE 600

- Audio-Technica AT897


Multi-pattern microphones

Best for: All sorts!

Last on our list of microphone polar patterns is the jack-of-all-trades multi-pattern option. 

If you’ve managed to save up some extra pennies or have gotten hold of some music funding, you can also look into investing in a microphone with multi-pattern or switchable polar patterns.

An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns - Aston Spirit

Often found at the higher end of the price scale, multi-pattern mics offer multiple switchable polar patterns - letting you switch between cardioid, omnidirectional, figure-8, and sometimes other patterns like super-cardioid. 

As you’d expect, multi-pattern mics are ideal for a whole range of recording duties and are well worth the investment if you need to regularly record different instruments in different environments.

The best multi-pattern microphones

- Aston Spirit

- Logitech Yeti

- IK iRig Stream Mic Pro

Now you’ve got a solid grasp of how the different polar patterns pick up your sounds, you’ll be able to choose the most appropriate for your musical requirements and give your live and recorded performances the best platform for success possible!

An Artist’s Guide to Microphone Polar Patterns

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