Picking a Microphone: What are polar patterns?

Picking the right microphone can be crucial for audio projects. If you’re interviewing a guest and you only have one microphone, you want to make sure they sound as good as you do. But how can you ensure that when you only have one microphone? The answer is polar patterns.

Polar pattern refers to the directional sensitivity of any given microphone to sound. In other words, how it picks up sounds coming from different directions.

There are six polar patterns advertised on majority of commercial mics, as shown below, but today we’ll only be touching on three.

The six polar patterns

Omnidirectional— Omnidirectional polar patterns pick up sounds coming from every direction. They work well if you’re looking to pick up ambient sound in your audio and are great for maintaining a consistent audio level, but the flip side to this is that they may pick up a lot of unwanted background noise if you’re working in a room that isn’t well suited for recording.

Unidirectional (Cardioid)— Unidirectional polar patterns, sometimes referred to as cardioid, pick up sounds that are coming from directly in front of the microphone. They are optimal for isolating sound. This is useful again if you do not have a space that is well suited for recording.

Bidirectional (Figure 8)— Bidirectional polar patterns are also known as figure 8 patterns, since they pick up audio from the front and rear of recording devices while blocking the sides, giving the diagram the look of the number 8. Since it receives equal sound from the front and the back without picking up audio from either side, bidirectional is best used for conversations or interviews between two people where the microphone can be set between them.

Using this knowledge, you can now research the polar patterns on the mics available to you (many have multiple) at Simmons and beyond, and better select a microphone for your recording endeavors!