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What are microphone polar patterns, and how do they work?

Understanding the different types of microphone polar patterns and how to apply them is crucial when choosing the right microphone, whether you’re recording vocals, guitars, or a full orchestra.

About the author

Brandon is a producer, engineer, and songwriter with a decade’s worth of experience with a wide range of gear and recording techniques. He has worked with a huge variety of microphones, from Shure to Electro-Voice, Neumann to AKG, etc.

What is a polar pattern?

Your microphone’s polar pattern determines how much of a signal your microphone will capture from different directions.

There are a handful of types, namely:

  • cardioid,
  • supercardioid,
  • hypercardioid,
  • omnidirectional,
  • figure-8.

Each type of polar pattern has its own set of unique characteristics and will yield different results depending on how they are applied.

How to read a polar pattern diagram?

Picture a 360° field around the microphone; 0° refers to the front of the microphone, while 180° refers to the rear.

microphone polar pattern diagram
Image: The Production Academy

Embedded within the 360° circle surrounding the microphone are progressively smaller circles, each indicating a decrease in sensitivity by 5 decibels (dB).

Polar pattern types explained

Cardioid polar pattern

A microphone with a cardioid polar pattern will primarily pick up sound coming from the front and sides of the mic, while mostly rejecting sound emanating from behind.

This is usually the go-to polar pattern when recording vocals or individual instruments such as guitars, brass, and drums.

cardioid polar pattern chart
Image: The Production Academy

Having its directionality focused in the front allows the microphone to focus solely on the performer and reject any unwanted background noise.

Cardioid mics are also often used in live applications since they are good for rejecting feedback and crowd noise.

Supercardioid and hypercardioid polar patterns

As you might be able to infer from their names, the supercardioid and hypercardioid patterns are extremely similar to cardioid. The difference is the narrowness by which they pick up sound from the front and sides, while gradually picking up more from behind.

supercardioid polar pattern chart
Image: The Production Academy

The supercardioid pattern is slightly narrower than cardioid, picking some sound from the rear.

hypercardioid polar pattern chart
Image: The Production Academy

The hypercardioid pattern is the most narrow and picks up the most from the rear, so that its polar pattern begins to resemble that of a figure-8 polar pattern.

Figure-8 (bidirectional) polar pattern

This pattern is the logical conclusion of the evolution of cardioid to hypercardioid. Bidirectional, as the name suggests, doesn’t pick up any sound from the sides, and only captures sound from the front and rear of the microphone.

This polar pattern can be ideal when recording duets or interviews, where just one microphone can be used for two performers.

bidirectional (figure-8) polar pattern chart
Image: The Production Academy

Bidirectional microphones are also useful for recording ambience, as the front can be positioned towards the sound source and the rear can be turned away.

However, beyond focusing on what you’re trying to capture, figure-8 patterns can be extremely beneficial in moments where you have something you’re specifically trying to reject.

This polar pattern showcases the highest amount of side rejection above all other patterns.

Omnidirectional polar pattern

Omnidirectional microphones pick up sound equally from all directions (Omnis, Latin for ‘all’). This sort of pattern is ideal for ambience, room sounds, or recording a group of several performers.

It is important to note, however, that the omnidirectional microphone’s sensitivity is not uniform along the entire frequency spectrum.

An omni mic will become more directional with higher frequencies (> 15 kHz), making it more sensitive to sounds coming from the front and rear, and rejecting sound from the sides.

This can be just as useful as it can be troublesome, because while it can eliminate a good amount of unwanted noise, it can also lead the mic to pick up far too much of the ambient noise.

In that case, you’ll be left with a washed-out recording that doesn’t sound very good.


Hopefully, you can walk away from this article and have a better sense of what polar patterns are, and what each of them can offer in the recording process.

While not all microphones are created equally (always take time to look through the specifications), having a basic idea of how the microphone should function is far better than not knowing anything at all.