Cardioid vs Supercardioid- Understanding Pickup Patterns for Better Sound Quality

A microphone’s polar pattern is an important aspect to consider when selecting the right mic for your recording needs. The polar pattern indicates the microphone’s ability to pick up sound from different directions and the degree to which it rejects sound from other directions. Choosing the right polar pattern for your recording needs is important, as it can greatly affect the quality of your recording as well as live performances.

Cardioid and supercardioid are two common microphone polar patterns that are often used in live performances, recording studios, and other applications. While both patterns are designed to isolate the sound source and reduce background noise, there are some key differences between them that are worth considering.

Today we’ll learn about the characteristics and applications of cardioid vs supercardioid polar patterns, and determine which one is the best fit for your recording or performance needs.

Cardioid Polar Pattern

A cardioid microphone is a type of unidirectional microphone that is commonly used in recording studios, live sound reinforcement, and broadcasting. The term ‘unidirectional’ refers to a directional pickup pattern that captures sound from one specific direction while minimizing sound from other directions.

This type of microphone is designed to be highly sensitive to sound waves arriving from a single direction while attenuating or rejecting sound waves coming from other directions. The most common unidirectional microphone polar patterns are the cardioid, supercardioid, and hypercardioid patterns.

The cardioid pattern is so named because it is shaped like a cardioid or heart-shaped curve. This pattern is more sensitive to sounds coming from the front of the microphone and less sensitive to sounds coming from the sides and rear. This allows the microphone to capture sound from a specific source while minimizing background noise and feedback.

In technical terms, the cardioid polar pattern has a 131-degree angle of acceptance and a null or dead spot at the rear of the microphone, with the sensitivity decreasing gradually as the sound source moves towards the sides. This means that a cardioid microphone will pick up sound primarily from the front of the microphone, making it ideal for capturing a single sound source such as a singer, an instrument, or a speaker.

Cardioid microphones are often used for vocal recordings because they allow the singer to move around without affecting the quality of the recording too much. They are also useful in live sound reinforcement situations where feedback can be a problem. Additionally, cardioid microphones are commonly used in podcasting and broadcasting because they help to isolate the sound of the speaker’s voice from the surrounding environment.

Advantages of Cardioid Microphones

  • Directionality – Cardioid microphones are highly directional, meaning they pick up sound primarily from the front and reject sound from the sides and rear. This makes them ideal for isolating sound sources and reducing background noise.
  • Reduced feedback- Cardioid microphones have a polar pattern that reduces the risk of feedback in live sound reinforcement situations, which can be a common problem with omnidirectional microphones.
  • Easy to use- Because cardioid microphones are so common, they are readily available and easy to use. They can be used in a wide range of settings, from recording studios to live events.
  • Versatile- Cardioid microphones can be used for a variety of applications, from recording vocals and instruments to capturing audio for podcasts and broadcasting.

Disadvantages of Cardioid Microphones

  • Limited pickup range- Cardioid microphones have a limited pickup range and are less effective at capturing sound from a distance or in a large room. This can be a disadvantage in some situations, such as recording an entire ensemble.
  • Off-axis coloration- Cardioid microphones can exhibit off-axis coloration, meaning that the frequency response of the microphone may change depending on the direction of the sound source. This can result in a change in tone or timbre that may not be desirable.
  • Positioning issues-Because cardioid microphones are highly directional, they need to be positioned correctly to capture the desired sound source. This can be a challenge, especially if the sound source is moving or if there are multiple sound sources in the same area.
  • Pronounced proximity effect- Cardioid microphones can exhibit a proximity effect, which means that the bass response of the microphone is boosted when the sound source is close to the microphone. This can be a desirable effect in some cases, but it can also lead to an unbalanced sound if not used correctly.

What is a Supercardioid Microphone?

A supercardioid microphone is a variation of a cardioid microphone, but it exhibits a more narrow and directional polar pattern than the latter. The term supercardioid refers to the polar pattern of the microphone, which is shaped like a narrower and more elongated heart shape than its cardioid counterpart.

Supercardioid microphones are highly directional and provide even greater isolation and rejection of sound from the sides and rear than cardioid microphones. They also have a tighter pickup angle and a more pronounced rear lobe or null, which makes them ideal for capturing sound from a single source and rejecting ambient noise and feedback.

Supercardioid microphones are commonly used in live sound reinforcement, broadcasting, and recording applications where there is a need for a high level of directionality and isolation. They are often used for vocal and instrument recordings where the sound source needs to be isolated from other sound sources or ambient noise.

Advantages of Supercardioid Microphones

  • Better isolation- Supercardioid microphones are highly directional and have a narrow pickup pattern. This means that they can capture sound from a specific direction while rejecting sounds coming from other directions. This makes them ideal for recording vocals and instruments in noisy environments.
  • Good off-axis rejection- Supercardioid microphones have a rear lobe that is highly sensitive to sound, but they still have good off-axis rejection compared to other cardioid microphones. This makes them ideal for capturing sound from the front while rejecting sound from the sides and rear.
  • Low/resistant to feedback- Supercardioid microphones are also less prone to feedback than cardioid microphones. This is because their narrow pickup pattern reduces the amount of sound that is picked up from the monitor speakers, which can cause feedback.

Disadvantages of Supercardioid Microphones

  • Sensitive to handling noise- Supercardioid microphones are sensitive to handling noise and vibrations, which can be picked up by the microphone and result in unwanted noise in the recording.
  • Narrow pickup angle – Supercardioid microphones have a narrower pickup angle, which means that they may not be suitable for capturing sound from a larger group of performers or multiple instruments in close proximity.
  • Requires consistent placement in front of the mic- Supercardioid microphones require the user to maintain a more consistent position directly in front of the microphone in order to achieve the best sound quality and maximize the directionality of the microphone.
  • The need for additional equipment- If the user moves off-axis or rotates the microphone away from the sound source, there may be a significant reduction in the volume and clarity of the recorded sound. This may require the use of a microphone stand or a shock mount to reduce handling noise and ensure that the microphone stays in the desired position.
Cardioid vs Supercardioid

Supercardioid vs Cardioid Microphones

Both cardioid and supercardioid microphones are unidirectional, which means they are designed to pick up sound from specific directions while rejecting sound from other directions. The primary difference between the two polar patterns is the degree of directionality and the shape of the pickup pattern.

A cardioid microphone has a heart-shaped pattern, with maximum sensitivity in the front and decreasing sensitivity as you move toward the back of the microphone. The back of the microphone has a null point, which means it is less sensitive to sound from that direction.

Cardioid microphones are commonly used in both live sound reinforcement and studio recording applications. This is because provide good isolation of the sound source and reject ambient noise from the sides and rear.

On the other hand, a supercardioid microphone is similar to a cardioid microphone, but with a narrower pickup pattern. It has a tighter, more directional response and a smaller null point at the back of the microphone.

Supercardioid microphones are often used in applications where there is a lot of ambient noise or when you need to isolate the sound source from nearby sources or reflections. They are also commonly used for film and TV production, as they allow the microphone to be positioned just out of the camera’s field of view while still capturing the dialogue clearly.

Overall, the main difference between a cardioid and a supercardioid microphone is the width of their pickup pattern. Cardioid microphones are a good choice for general-purpose recording and live sound reinforcement, while supercardioid microphones are better suited for more challenging environments where there is a lot of ambient noise and the sound source needs to be isolated more tightly.

When it comes to the debate of cardioid vs super cardioid for live vocals, we’re glad to note that both microphone patterns can be used for live vocals. Generally, the choice between the two will depend on the specific needs and preferences of the performer.

For instance, Cardioid microphones are a good choice for vocalists who prefer to move around on stage or who want a more natural and balanced sound with less sensitivity to handling noise. Cardioid microphones are also less sensitive to handling noise than supercardioid microphones, which can be beneficial if the performer tends to move around a lot on stage.

On the other hand, supercardioid microphones are a good choice for vocalists who like to maintain a consistent position in front of the microphone and who want a more focused and detailed sound. Ideally, supercardioid microphones help provide a more focused and detailed sound for vocals, which can be a desirable effect for most genres of music.

The Parting Shot!

A good microphone pattern allows your microphone to capture clear and accurate sound with minimal background noise and distortion. That said, the quality of a microphone is not solely determined by its polar pattern. Other factors, such as the microphone’s frequency response, sensitivity, and noise level, also play a significant role in determining its overall performance. So it’s important to consider all of these factors when evaluating a microphone’s quality and suitability for a particular application.

Avatar for Jamie K. Martin

Jamie K. Martin holds a degree in Audio engineering from Husson University, Bangor. Martin spends most of his time testing and trying the technology he writes about to ensure that he provides first-hand information to our customers from all walks of life.

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