Understanding Microphone Pickup Patterns: A Comprehensive Guide

Affiliate disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying Amazon.com purchases

Dive into the world of microphone pickup patterns. Discover the definition, characteristics, and applications of cardioid, omnidirectional, supercardioid, and figure-8 patterns. Learn how to choose the right pattern for your specific needs and environment.

Definition of Microphone Pickup Patterns

Microphone pickup patterns are a crucial aspect of understanding how a microphone captures sound from different directions. These patterns determine the microphone’s sensitivity and directionality, making them an essential consideration when selecting a microphone for specific applications.

Cardioid Pickup Pattern

One commonly used pickup pattern is the cardioid pattern, named for its heart-shaped response pattern. A cardioid microphone is most sensitive to sound coming from the front, making it ideal for capturing audio directly in front of the microphone while minimizing background noise from the sides and rear. This makes it a popular choice for vocal recordings, podcasting, and live performances.

Omnidirectional Pickup Pattern

In contrast to the cardioid pattern, an omnidirectional pickup pattern captures sound equally from all directions. This type of microphone is not as focused on a specific area, allowing it to pick up ambient sounds and create a more natural and spacious recording. Omnidirectional microphones are commonly used for capturing room ambience, recording choirs, orchestras, or even environmental sounds.

Supercardioid Pickup Pattern

The supercardioid pickup pattern is similar to the cardioid pattern but with a narrower angle of sensitivity. It offers a more focused pickup range, reducing off-axis sounds and providing better isolation for the main sound source. This makes it suitable for live instrument amplification, where the microphone needs to pick up sound from a specific instrument while rejecting unwanted noise from other instruments or the audience.

Figure-8 Pickup Pattern

The figure-8 pickup pattern, also known as a bidirectional pattern, captures sound from the front and rear of the microphone while rejecting sound from the sides. This creates a unique polar pattern resembling the number 8, hence the name. Figure-8 microphones are commonly used in stereo recording setups, where two microphones are positioned in a coincident or near-coincident arrangement to capture a wide stereo image. They are also popular for recording interviews or duets, where the microphone can capture two sources facing each other.

By understanding these different microphone pickup patterns, you can choose the right microphone for your specific recording needs. Whether you need a microphone that focuses on capturing sound from a single direction, captures sound from all directions, provides better isolation, or captures sound from multiple sources simultaneously, there is a pickup pattern suited for every application.

In the next section, we will delve deeper into the characteristics of microphone pickup patterns, exploring concepts such as directional sensitivity, off-axis rejection, frequency response, and proximity effect. Stay tuned to gain a comprehensive understanding of how these characteristics influence microphone performance and recording quality.


Characteristics of Microphone Pickup Patterns

Directional Sensitivity

When it comes to microphones, one of the most important characteristics to consider is their directional sensitivity. This refers to how well a microphone can pick up sound from different directions. Different pickup patterns have varying degrees of directional sensitivity, which can greatly impact the quality and clarity of the recorded audio.

One commonly used pickup pattern is the cardioid pattern. This pattern is named after its heart-shaped polar response, and it is highly sensitive to sounds coming from the front while rejecting sounds from the sides and rear. This makes cardioid microphones ideal for situations where you want to focus on a specific sound source, such as vocal recording or podcasting. The cardioid pattern helps to minimize background noise and unwanted sounds, ensuring that the captured audio is clear and crisp.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have omnidirectional microphones. As the name suggests, these microphones have a pickup pattern that captures sound equally from all directions. This makes them perfect for capturing room ambience or for situations where you want to capture a wide range of sound sources. Omnidirectional microphones are commonly used in recording studios and for capturing live performances, as they provide a natural and immersive sound experience.

Supercardioid microphones offer a narrower pickup pattern compared to cardioid microphones. They have a more pronounced sensitivity to sounds coming from the front, but they also have some pickup from the sides. This pickup pattern is popular for live instrument amplification, as it allows for more precise capturing of specific instruments while still providing some rejection of ambient noise. With a supercardioid microphone, you can isolate the sound of a guitar or a drum without picking up too much of the surrounding noise.

Lastly, we have the figure-8 pickup pattern, also known as the bidirectional pattern. This pattern is characterized by equal sensitivity to sound sources coming from the front and rear, while rejecting sounds from the sides. Figure-8 microphones are often used for stereo recording or for capturing two sound sources simultaneously, such as an interview between two people. They are also useful for recording in a controlled environment where you want to capture sound from opposite directions while minimizing unwanted noise from the sides.

In summary, the directional sensitivity of a microphone plays a crucial role in determining its usability in different recording scenarios. Whether you need a focused pickup pattern like cardioid or supercardioid, or a more encompassing pattern like omnidirectional or figure-8, understanding the characteristics of each pickup pattern will help you choose the right microphone for your specific needs.

Off-Axis Rejection

Apart from directional sensitivity, another important characteristic of microphone pickup patterns is off-axis rejection. Off-axis rejection refers to a microphone’s ability to minimize or reject sound coming from angles other than the intended sound source. This is particularly important in situations where there are multiple sound sources or high levels of ambient noise.

Cardioid microphones excel in off-axis rejection, as they are designed to reject sounds coming from the sides and rear. This means that even if there are loud sounds or distractions in the environment, a cardioid microphone will focus primarily on the sound source directly in front of it. This is why they are widely used in vocal recording, broadcasting, and podcasting, where the clarity and isolation of the intended sound source are crucial.

Omnidirectional microphones, on the other hand, have limited off-axis rejection. Since they capture sound equally from all directions, they are more susceptible to picking up unwanted noise and ambient sounds. This is why omnidirectional microphones are often used in controlled environments, where background noise can be minimized, or when capturing room ambience is desired.

Supercardioid microphones offer a balance between off-axis rejection and sensitivity. While they have a narrower pickup pattern than cardioid microphones, they still provide some rejection of sounds from the sides. This makes them suitable for live instrument amplification, where the focus is on capturing the sound of a specific instrument while minimizing the pickup of other instruments or ambient noise.

Figure-8 microphones have a unique off-axis rejection characteristic. They reject sounds coming from the sides, but they are equally sensitive to sounds coming from the front and rear. This means that they are not ideal for situations where there is significant ambient noise or multiple sound sources. However, in controlled environments and stereo recording setups, where capturing sound from opposite directions is desired, figure-8 microphones can deliver exceptional results.

Frequency Response

Another important characteristic of microphone pickup patterns is their frequency response. Frequency response refers to the range of frequencies that a microphone can accurately capture and reproduce. Different microphones have varying frequency responses, and this can greatly impact the tonal quality and fidelity of the recorded audio.

Cardioid microphones typically have a flat frequency response, meaning that they capture frequencies evenly across the audible spectrum. This makes them versatile and suitable for a wide range of applications, from vocal recording to instrument amplification. With a flat frequency response, the captured audio will closely resemble the original sound source, providing a natural and accurate representation.

Omnidirectional microphones also tend to have a flat frequency response. Since they capture sound equally from all directions, it is important for them to accurately reproduce the entire frequency range. This makes them ideal for capturing room ambience or for situations where capturing a wide range of sound sources is desired.

Supercardioid microphones may have a slight variation in their frequency response compared to cardioid microphones. This variation can be intentional, designed to enhance or attenuate certain frequencies to suit specific applications. For example, a supercardioid microphone designed for live instrument amplification may provide a slight boost to certain frequencies to enhance the sound of the instrument being amplified.

Figure-8 microphones, like cardioid and omnidirectional microphones, generally have a flat frequency response. This allows them to accurately capture sound from both the front and rear, ensuring a balanced representation of the recorded audio. However, it is important to note that the frequency response of figure-8 microphones can vary depending on the specific model and manufacturer.

In summary, the frequency response of a microphone pickup pattern determines its ability to accurately capture and reproduce the full range of audible frequencies. Whether you need a flat frequency response for versatile recording or a tailored frequency response for specific applications, understanding the characteristics of different pickup patterns will help you choose the right microphone to achieve the desired tonal quality and fidelity in your recordings.

Proximity Effect

One unique characteristic of some microphone pickup patterns is the proximity effect. The proximity effect refers to the increase in bass or low-frequency response when a sound source is brought closer to the microphone. This effect can be desirable in certain recording scenarios, as it adds warmth and richness to the captured audio.

Cardioid microphones are known for their pronounced proximity effect. When a sound source is brought closer to a cardioid microphone, there is a noticeable increase in bass frequencies. This effect can be used creatively to enhance the low-end response of vocals or instruments, adding depth and intimacy to the recorded sound. However, it is important to note that excessive proximity effect can lead to boomy or muddy recordings, so it should be used judiciously and in consideration of the desired sound.

Omnidirectional microphones, on the other hand, have a minimal proximity effect. This is because they capture sound equally from all directions, regardless of the distance between the sound source and the microphone. While this may limit their ability to provide the same level of warmth and richness as microphones, it also ensures a more consistent frequency response regardless of the proximity to the sound source.

Supercardioid and figure-8 microphones exhibit proximity effect characteristics similar to cardioid microphones. When used in close proximity to a sound source, they can also produce a noticeable increase in bass frequencies. This can be advantageous in certain recording scenarios, such as capturing the deep resonance of a singer’s voice or emphasizing the low-end response of an instrument.


Applications of Different Pickup Patterns

When it comes to recording audio, choosing the right microphone pickup pattern is crucial. Each pickup pattern has its own unique characteristics and is suited for different applications. In this section, we will explore the various applications of different pickup patterns and how they can enhance your recordings.

Vocal Recording with Cardioid Microphones

Cardioid microphones are widely used in vocal recording due to their focused pickup pattern. The term “cardioid” comes from the heart-shaped pattern that these microphones create. This pattern is highly sensitive to sound coming from the front of the microphone, while minimizing pickup from the sides and rear.

One of the main advantages of using cardioid microphones for vocal recording is their ability to isolate the intended sound source and reject unwanted background noise. This makes them ideal for capturing clear and crisp vocals without any interference. Whether you are recording vocals in a studio or in a live setting, a cardioid microphone can deliver excellent results.

Room Capture with Omnidirectional Microphones

Omnidirectional microphones, as the name suggests, have a pickup pattern that captures sound equally from all directions. This makes them perfect for capturing the overall ambiance and natural reverb of a room.

When recording in a spacious environment such as a concert hall or a cathedral, using an omnidirectional microphone can provide a more immersive and realistic sound. It allows the listener to feel as if they are actually present in the room. Additionally, omnidirectional microphones are also commonly used for capturing group performances or interviews, where multiple sound sources need to be captured simultaneously.

Live Instrument Amplification with Supercardioid Microphones

Supercardioid microphones are a variant of the cardioid pattern and offer a narrower pickup angle. This makes them ideal for live instrument amplification, especially in situations where there may be multiple instruments on stage or where feedback rejection is important.

Supercardioid microphones have a tighter pickup pattern compared to cardioid microphones, which allows for more precise capturing of individual instruments. They excel at isolating the desired sound source while rejecting sound from other directions. This helps to minimize bleed from other instruments on stage and ensures that each instrument is heard clearly in the mix.

Stereo Recording with Figure-8 Microphones

Figure-8 microphones, also known as bidirectional microphones, have a pickup pattern that captures sound equally from the front and rear while rejecting sound from the sides. This creates a unique stereo recording capability that can capture sound from two opposite directions.

When recording in stereo, figure-8 microphones are often used as a pair, with one microphone capturing sound from the left and the other from the right. This setup allows for a more immersive and spacious sound experience. Figure-8 microphones are commonly used in recording studios for capturing instruments such as pianos, string sections, or vocal duets.


Understanding Polar Patterns

Polar Patterns Explained

When it comes to microphones, understanding polar patterns is crucial. A polar pattern refers to the microphone’s sensitivity to sound from different directions. It determines how well a microphone can pick up sound from various angles. There are several polar patterns to consider, each with its own unique characteristics and applications.

One of the most common polar patterns is the cardioid pattern. This pattern is named after its heart-shaped pickup pattern, which is why it is often referred to as a cardioid microphone. The cardioid pattern is highly directional, meaning it primarily picks up sound from the front and rejects sound from the sides and rear. This makes it ideal for capturing vocals in a studio recording or live performance setting. The cardioid pattern is also great for reducing background noise and feedback.

Another popular polar pattern is the omnidirectional pattern. Unlike the pattern, an omnidirectional microphone picks up sound equally from all directions. This makes it suitable for capturing ambient sounds or recording in a room where you want to capture the overall atmosphere. Omnidirectional microphones are commonly used in podcasting, field recording, and capturing live performances.

The supercardioid pattern is a more focused version of the cardioid pattern. It has a narrower pickup angle and provides better off-axis rejection. This means it is more effective at capturing sound from the front while minimizing noise from the sides and rear. Supercardioid microphones are often used in live sound reinforcement, where isolating the desired sound source is essential. They are also commonly used for capturing instruments in a live setting.

Lastly, we have the figure-8 pattern, also known as a bidirectional pattern. This pattern picks up sound equally from the front and rear while rejecting sound from the sides. It is called figure-8 because the pickup pattern resembles the number 8. Figure-8 microphones are great for capturing sound from two sources facing each other, such as a duet or interview setting. They can also be used for stereo recording techniques, where one microphone captures the left channel and another captures the right channel.

Polar Pattern Graphs

To better understand , it’s helpful to visualize them through polar pattern graphs. These graphs display the sensitivity of the microphone at different angles. They provide a visual representation of how the microphone picks up sound from various directions.

Here is an example of a polar pattern graph for a cardioid microphone:

Cardioid Polar Pattern Graph

As you can see, the cardioid pattern is most sensitive at the front and least sensitive at the sides and rear. The graph helps illustrate the directionality of the microphone and how it captures sound.

Similarly, here is an example of a polar pattern graph for an omnidirectional microphone:

Omnidirectional Polar Pattern Graph

The graph shows that an omnidirectional microphone has an equal sensitivity to sound from all directions. There is no directional bias, making it suitable for capturing sound in a 360-degree range.

Polar Pattern Terminology

When discussing polar patterns, it’s important to understand the terminology associated with them. Here are a few key terms to familiarize yourself with:

  • On-axis: This refers to the direction directly in front of the microphone, where it is most sensitive.
  • Off-axis: This refers to the directions other than the on-axis direction, where the microphone’s sensitivity decreases.
  • Frontal lobe: The frontal lobe of a polar pattern graph represents the area directly in front of the microphone where it is most sensitive.
  • Rear lobe: The rear lobe represents the area directly behind the microphone where it is also sensitive, especially in figure-8 patterns.
  • Null points: These are the angles at which a microphone has the least sensitivity or complete rejection of sound.

Understanding these terms helps in positioning the microphone correctly and maximizing its performance based on the desired pickup pattern.


Choosing the Right Pickup Pattern

When it comes to choosing the right pickup pattern for your microphone, there are several important factors to consider. In this section, we will explore the considerations for different environments, matching the microphone to the source, the influences of room acoustics, and the experimental use of unconventional patterns.

Considerations for Different Environments

Different environments call for different pickup patterns in order to achieve optimal sound capture. Let’s take a look at some common scenarios and the pickup patterns that work best for each:

  • In a noisy environment: If you’re recording in a noisy environment, such as a live concert or a bustling street, it’s important to choose a microphone with good off-axis rejection. This means that the microphone will primarily pick up sound from the front and reject sound coming from the sides and back. A cardioid pickup pattern is ideal for this situation as it focuses on capturing sound from the front while minimizing unwanted noise from the surroundings.
  • In a reverberant room: When recording in a room with a lot of natural reverb, such as a church or a large hall, an omnidirectional pickup pattern is often the best choice. This pattern captures sound equally from all directions, allowing the natural reverberation of the room to be captured along with the source. This can create a sense of space and depth in the recording.
  • In a controlled studio environment: If you’re recording in a controlled studio environment where external noise is minimized, you have more flexibility in choosing the pickup pattern. In this case, it’s important to consider the specific characteristics of the sound source you’re recording. For vocals, a cardioid pickup pattern is commonly used to focus on the singer’s voice and minimize any background noise. For instruments, different patterns can be employed depending on the desired sound and the placement of the microphone.

Matching the Microphone to the Source

Matching the microphone to the source is crucial for capturing the true essence and characteristics of the sound. Each pickup pattern has its own strengths and weaknesses, and understanding these can help you choose the right microphone for the job.

  • For vocals: If you’re recording vocals, a cardioid pickup pattern is often the go-to choice. This pattern focuses on capturing sound from the front and rejects sound from the sides and back, allowing for clear and direct vocal recording. The proximity effect, which enhances the low-frequency response when the sound source is close to the microphone, can also be utilized to add warmth and depth to the vocals.
  • For instruments: When recording instruments, the choice of pickup pattern depends on the specific instrument and the desired sound. In general, cardioid and supercardioid patterns are commonly used for close-miking instruments to isolate the desired sound source and minimize unwanted ambient noise. However, omnidirectional and figure-8 patterns can also be used to capture the natural acoustics of the instrument and the room.

Influences of Room Acoustics

Room acoustics play a significant role in the overall sound quality of a recording. The characteristics of a room, such as its size, shape, and materials, can influence the way sound waves behave and interact with the microphone. Here are some considerations when it comes to room acoustics and pickup patterns:

  • Reflections and reverberations: In a room with reflective surfaces, such as hardwood floors or bare walls, reflections can cause unwanted echoes and reverberations in the recording. In this case, using a directional pickup pattern like cardioid or supercardioid can help minimize the impact of reflections by focusing on the sound source and reducing pickup from the surrounding surfaces.
  • Room modes and resonances: Every room has its own resonant frequencies and standing waves, known as room modes. These can cause certain frequencies to be amplified or attenuated, resulting in an uneven frequency response in the recording. Understanding the room’s resonant frequencies can help in selecting the right pickup pattern and microphone placement to mitigate any unwanted resonances.

Experimental Use of Unconventional Patterns

While the standard pickup patterns like cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8 are widely used, there are also unconventional patterns that can be experimented with for creative purposes. These patterns may not have a specific heading in the reference provided but are worth exploring for unique recording techniques. Some examples include:

  • Shotgun pattern: This highly directional pattern is often used in film and TV production to capture sound from a distance while rejecting ambient noise. It can be useful for recording outdoor scenes or capturing sound in a crowded area.
  • Blumlein pair: The Blumlein pair consists of two figure-8 microphones arranged in a coincident configuration, capturing sound from the front and back. This technique is commonly used for stereo recording and can create a spacious and immersive sound image.

In conclusion, choosing the right pickup pattern for your microphone is essential for achieving optimal sound capture. Consider the specific environment, the characteristics of the sound source, the influences of room acoustics, and the potential for experimental use of unconventional patterns. By understanding these factors and making informed choices, you can ensure that your recordings sound their best in any situation.

Leave a Comment