Supercardioid mics have a narrower pickup pattern than typical cardioid mics, meaning they only pick up what’s directly in front of them. This makes them great for recording vocals, but bad for capturing audio from a moving source.
If you’re on the market for a new microphone, you may have noticed the term “supercardioid” used to describe some microphones. What does this mean and how are these microphones different from other types of microphones?
Microphone Polar Patterns Explained
Supercardioid microphones get their name from their unique “polar pattern” (also known as their “pickup pattern”). The polar pattern of a microphone determines how much sound it will pick up from any direction. There are many variations of these polar patterns, but the most common are omnidirectional, figure-8, cardioid, supercardioid, and hypercardioid.
As the name suggests, an omnidirectional microphone will theoretically pick up sound from all directions. The body of the mic can interfere with sounds coming from the back of the mic, but these mics essentially pick up sound equally from each direction. A figure-8 microphone picks up sound in front of and behind it, but not on either side.
Cardioid microphones pick up sound in front of the microphone and actively reject sounds from the sides. Imagine that you are speaking into a microphone and then stand to one side. With a cardioid mic, the volume of your voice would drop fairly quickly as you pan to the side.
Due to their designs, cardioid microphones are the most sensitive microphone design. This makes them popular for vocals and other relatively quiet sources. However, supercardioid and hypercardioid microphones go one step further.
cardioid vs. supercardioid microphones
Supercardioid microphones have a narrower pickup pattern than a standard cardioid design, which means they pick up even less sound from the sides. This design focuses even more on what is directly in front of the microphone than a cardioid design.
The angle at which a microphone picks up the most sound is known as the “acceptance angle”. The acceptance angle of a cardioid microphone is usually around 180 degrees, while supercardioid microphones have a narrower angle of about 150 degrees. Another cardioid variety, hypercardioid microphones, have an even narrower acceptance angle.
Going back to the example above, if you were speaking into a supercardioid microphone and stepped to the side, the sound of your voice would fade even more quickly. That said, this increased directionality isn’t the only difference between cardioid and supercardioid microphones.
Supercardioid microphones have tonal differences compared to cardioid microphones. This is not always the case, but supercardioid mics often have a slightly brighter tone than a standard cardioid mic, with more treble content.
If you’ve ever spoken into a microphone, you may have noticed that your voice sounded deeper as you got closer to the microphone. This increase in bass as you get closer is known as proximity effect and is a problem with cardioid microphones, as well as their supercardioid and hypercardioid variants.
Due to the increased directionality, the proximity effect is even more noticeable in supercardioid microphones. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it’s worth noting.
Supercardioid microphones are found in both the standard XLR variety and sometimes USB microphones.
When should you use a supercardioid microphone?
There are numerous cases where you may want to go with a supercardioid mic over a cardioid mic. Specifically, supercardioid microphones make sense anywhere directionality is important.
If you’re a singer or providing sound for a live band, supercardioid microphones are great for making sure only the singer’s voice is picked up. This helps keep other instruments on stage off the vocal microphone. That said, this directionality is also useful if you’re streaming on Twitch and don’t want to listen in on your housemates’ conversations.
Essential Supercardioid Vocal Microphone
Shure Beta 58A
The Shure Beta 58A looks similar to the company’s other iconic live vocal microphone, but the supercardioid capsule means it turns down other instruments on stage even better. It’s also as tough as Shure’s reputation suggests.
Many microphones used in video production are supercardioid for the same reason. These types of microphones are great for picking up a single person’s voice and keeping background noise to a minimum.
When should you avoid supercardioid microphones?
One of the main reasons to avoid supercardioid microphones is the proximity effect mentioned above. Not only can this make your voice sound too low, but sensitivity to vowel stops (think of clicks as words ending with the letter “p”) can be a problem with supercardioid microphones.
Second, directionality means you don’t want to use a supercardioid mic in any situation where the mic is stationary, but the subject is not. A super cardioid microphone will only pick up what is directly in front of it, and any variation in this will make an audible difference.
Finally, supercardioid microphones are noted for many uses, but capturing the ambience of a room is not one of those cases. For any situation where you’re trying to capture the natural reverberation of a room, you’re much better off with an omnidirectional mic like the Electro-Voice 635A or even a pair of cardioid combo mics like the Lewitt LCT 040.