Microphone Pick Up Patterns and Positioning

80% of your audio quality is determined by your choice of microphone and how you use it. So it is crucial to first think about your options and test what works best for your setup. It’s amazing how much of a difference you will get by having the ideal microphone position and the right pick-up pattern (also called polar pattern) for your recording.

We will look into two distinct pick-up patterns, Unidirectional and Omnidirectional, and the ideal positioning for each of them.

Unidirectional

This pick-up pattern is also known as a cardioid pattern because it tends to be heart-shaped (see figure below).

Unidirectional microphones record sound coming from one direction and usually cover a field of 120⁰.  The area within 120⁰ is described as on-axis. Everything outside this frame is referred to as off-axis.

You can use the unidirectional pick-up pattern to place a sound source you don’t want off-axis, for example, your keyboard or mouse. Make sure to test where the on- and off-axis is on your microphone. Some products will look similar, but the diaphragm might be in a different place (for example, side-address instead of top-address).

Omnidirectional

This pick-up pattern records sound with equal sensibility in all directions. An omnidirectional microphone is ideal for when you want to record the sound of your environment.

 

It also can be useful if you capture the audio of a group of people, such as a choir or an orchestra. Lastly, omnidirectional mics are ideal for recording a target that moves through the room. These mics still have an on- and off-axis. However, the pick-up pattern is 360⁰, and the off-axis is usually below the mic.

Positioning

Condenser and dynamic microphones have many differences, but to keep things short, we only look at how they vary when it comes to the proper positioning in your recording setup.

Condenser Microphone

To get the most accurate sound with your condenser, you will want to follow the general rule of thumb of placing the microphone ca. 15 to 20 cm away from your mouth and direct it slightly above your lips (to avoid smacking sounds).

 

It is OK to stand closer or further away from the mic. Depending on whether you record by yourself or in a group, or whether you want to create a more bass-heavy sound, you can try out different positions to achieve your goal. In the end, you have to be happy with your sound, which is why it is essential that you test different settings to find your gold standard.

Dynamic Microphone

ATR1500x Unidirectional Dynamic Vocal/Instrument Microphone

If you have a dynamic microphone, you want to be as close as possible for the most realistic results (some experts recommend ca. 5 to 7. 5cm). This way, you will be able to capture the lower sound frequencies more accurately. Keep in mind that the mic’s closer distance means that your viewers might see less of your face if you are streaming. In comparison, the condenser mic can be kept at a further distance but will pick up more ambient noise.

AT-BP40 Large-Diaphragm Dynamic Broadcast Microphone

The dynamic microphone is ideal for recording one sound source at a time while mercilessly blocking out anything coming from its off-axis field. This kind of mic is an excellent choice if you are recording in a room where you occasionally have to deal with outside noise, neighbours, family and housemates.

Final Thoughts

ATEBIT podcast at PAX 2019

Podcast and radio hosts might be happiest with a few dynamic mics positioned right in front of them. The narrow and small polar-pattern blocks out the other speakers or ambient sound while only recording the person closest to it. And by close, we mean very close.

Condenser microphones are the bread and butter for music professionals and, by now, to some extent also for streamers. This kind of microphone is more sensitive and creates a full-range studio sound. But with great power comes great responsibility. If you want the best results with this microphone, you will have to think about soundproofing. The good news is that this might be easier and cheaper than you think. Adding heavy curtains, a mattress leaning against the wall, carpets, a big comfy couch or recording in your closet are all simple methods to help your condenser mic achieve greatness

AT2035 Large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone

You can find all of this information and more in video format below, where Audio-Technica’s Matt and Gary teamed up with Brendan from the Atebit podcast collective for PAX 2020 and gave an in-depth talk about what to consider before you go live.

PRODUCTS RELATED TO THIS ARTICLE

AT2020

The new standard for affordable side-address studio condensers

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AT2035

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AT-BP40

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Creator Pack

ATR2500x-USB + ATH-M20x + Boom Arm

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Creator Pack Pro

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ATR1500x

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