Supercardioid or Cardioid? Understanding Microphone Patterns

cardioid mic

Having the right microphone can make or break your vocal performance, but before you go straight for the most popular mic on the market, have you stopped to consider which microphone polar pattern is right for you?

The polar pickup pattern refers to the way a microphone responds to sound waves coming from different directions. And whilst pattern diagrams can seem a little daunting, understanding the different types of polar patterns will help you choose the best microphone to suit your voice and specific needs.

The 3 Types of Polar Patterns

There are a number of polar patterns to suit just about every situation, but all fall into three basic categories: omnidirectional, unidirectional, and bidirectional. 

Unidirectional Microphones

As a singer, you’ll probably be most familiar with the unidirectional microphone. This type of polar pattern is more sensitive to sound coming from one direction and is often used in solo performances or voiceovers. 

Omnidirectional Mic Patterns

Omnidirectional microphones pick up sound equally from all directions, making them ideal for recording a full band or capturing ambient sound. 

Bidirectional Microphones

Bidirectional microphones pick up sound from both the front and back of the microphone, and are often favoured for duets.

Within these three categories, there are various pickup patterns to choose from, including supercardioid and cardioid, which we’ll go into.

Supercardioid vs Cardioid Mics

Both cardioid and supercardioid microphones are unidirectional, making them ideal for live vocals. However, the two pickup patterns do differ slightly due to the degrees of directionality. But what difference does this make to you as a singer?

A supercardioid microphone has a thinner pickup pattern and is therefore more sensitive to sound directly in front of it, and less sensitive to sounds coming from the sides and rear. This makes it better at isolating your vocals in a noisy or reverberant environment. 

Cardioid mics are more sensitive to sounds coming from the sides, making them more suitable for capturing ambient sounds and having better off-axis rejection. This can potentially cause feedback in some live situations, but there are plenty of methods to prevent feedback if that becomes an issue.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of cardioid and supercardioid microphones:

Cardioid MicrophoneSupercardioid Microphone
ProsHigh level of isolation from sounds coming from the sides and rear of the microphoneHigher level of isolation from sounds coming from the sides than a cardioid microphone
Good for capturing audio in a live settingGood for capturing audio in a live setting, and can be used to isolate a specific sound source from others
Available in a wide range of price pointsAvailable in a wide range of price points
ConsCan be sensitive to wind and breath noiseCan be sensitive to wind and breath noise
Less tolerant of background noise than other microphone polar patternsMore sensitive to handling noise than a cardioid microphone
Sennheiser e965

Looking to upgrade your stage mic? Below are some high-quality supercardioid microphones that are well-regarded in the music industry. You’ll also find a selection of excellent vocal mics here.

Shure SM58:

A classic dynamic supercardioid microphone that’s been the defacto stage mic for decades. It’s rugged, reliable, and reasonably priced.

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Sennheiser e965:

A high-end condenser supercardioid microphone, ideal for live stage use. It offers excellent sound quality and high sensitivity.

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AKG P220:

Another high-quality condenser supercardioid microphone that’s popular for its clarity and detail. A great choice for recording vocals and other instruments in a studio setting.

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shure mv7 Cardioid mic

A cardioid mic can be a great alternative to condenser mics in the studio and some live applications. Here are some top choices to consider:

Shure SM7B:

A dynamic cardioid microphone that’s widely used for broadcasting and podcasting. It has great rejection of off-axis sound and is effective at reducing background noise.

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Rode NT1-A:

A cardioid condenser microphone that provides a good balance of affordability and performance. It delivers a clear and transparent sound, great for a home studio setup.

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Audio-Technica AT2020:

A condenser cardioid microphone, ideal for recording vocals, acoustic instruments, and drums. It offers excellent clarity and transient response.

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Blue Snowball:

A USB condenser cardioid microphone – a popular mic for home studio recording as well as gaming and podcasting. It offers a plug-and-play setup and great sound quality for its price range.

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Neumann TLM 102:

A large-diaphragm condenser cardioid microphone, it’s a high-end option that delivers excellent clarity, detail, and warmth. Perfect for recording vocals and other instruments.

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Choosing the Best Polar Pattern For You

Understanding the differences between omnidirectional, unidirectional, and bidirectional polar patterns can help you choose the best microphone for your needs. Unidirectional microphones, such as cardioid and supercardioid, are particularly useful in live settings, with supercardioid microphones providing greater isolation of the sound source and cardioid mics being more suitable for capturing ambient sounds. However, the choice of microphone is a personal one, and the best microphone for you will depend on the situation, budget and personal preferences.