Microphone Polar Patterns Demonstrated — Use Your Ears!

Understanding microphone polar patterns is easy, right? We’ve all seen the circular diagrams with beach balls (omni), hearts (cardioid), mushrooms (supercardioid) and a snowman (figure-8), but have you ever really explored the differences and listened to the on-axis versus off-axis sounds? Seems a little geeky, I know (well, maybe more than a little), but when I demonstrated this for my colleagues here at Sweetwater, the reactions were surprising. So, I decided to share these demonstration sound clips with you. Here’s what we’ll discuss:

While the flat diagram on paper is accurate, it doesn’t really communicate how microphones behave in a 3-dimensional space. Take an omni mic, for example. Its pickup pattern really does resemble a beach ball, and ideally it hears everything uniformly all the way around the mic, regardless of the plane (left-right, up-down). In the real world, though, that may not be the case, depending on the mic. That’s why we need to listen to truly understand polar patterns. Let me start with a quick explanation of polar patterns.

Polar Pattern Fundamentals

There are several basic polar patterns, with their various sensitivities expressed in degrees.

  • Omnidirectional
  • Figure-8
  • Cardioid
  • Supercardioid
  • Hypercardioid
  • Subcardioid
  • Lobar (shotgun)

What Do We Mean by Degrees?

The degrees we reference in this article mean the angle of incidence of the mic to the sound source. If you are standing in front of the mic, then you are at 0˚, which is directly “on-axis.” If you move directly to the side of the mic, that is 90˚. Then if you move directly behind the mic, that is 180˚, as the image below shows.