The hypercardioid is an often misunderstood relative of the well-known cardioid microphone polar pattern and is often confused with the supercardioid pattern. Understanding hypercardioid polar patterns and their ideal applications will improve your efficiency both on stage and in the studio.
What is a hypercardioid microphone? A hypercardioid microphone has a very directional hypercardioid polar/pickup pattern. It is most sensitive to on-axis sounds (where the mic “points”) with null points at 110° and 250° and a rear lobe of sensitivity. Hypercardioid mics are popular in film due to their high directionality.
In this in-depth article, we'll discuss the hypercardioid microphone polar pattern in great detail to answer any questions you may have about hypercardioid microphones!
The Hypercardioid Polar Pattern
A picture is worth a thousand words. Let's start with a diagram of the cardioid microphone polar pattern:
The hypercardioid polar pattern (like the closely related supercardioid) is a more directional version of the standard cardioid pattern.
Hypercardioids obtain this increased directionality and side rejection at the expense of a rather large rear lobe of sensitivity, as we see in the graph above.
I like to think of the hypercardioid pattern as a cross between the standard cardioid and the bidirectional polar pattern. When thinking of it as a superposition, we essentially have a bidirectional pattern with a smaller rear lobe and pushed back null points due to the overlaying of a cardioid sensitivity pattern.
Though not perfect, the above “equation” helps us to visualize the hypercardioid pattern.
The cardioid has an entirely positive pickup polarity, whereas the bidirectional is positive to the front and negative to the back.
Superimposing the two rids of the cardioid's rear null point, replacing it with a lobe of sensitivity. It also moves the side null points of the bidirectional pattern toward the rear (at 110° and 250°). The result would be something like the hypercardioid pattern!
The hypercardioid acceptance angle is about 150° if we measure a drop of 6 dB relative to the on-axis response. It's about 90° if we measure a 3 dB difference. Compared to a cardioid microphone, the hypercardioid is very directional.
Hypercardioid Microphone Generalities And Characteristics
- A common base capsule polar pattern (along with supercardioid) of lobar/shotgun microphones
- Popular choice for close-miking in live, film, and noisy environments
- Null points at 110° & 250°
- Rear cone of silence
- Rear lobe of sensitivity yields -6 dB at 180°
- Roughly 12 dB less sensitive at the sides (90° & 270°)
- Exhibits proximity effect
- Sensitive to vocal plosives
- Excellent sound isolation
- Great for miking a single source
- High gain-before-feedback
- Becomes more directional at higher frequencies (may even take the shape of a lobar/shotgun pattern)
- Becomes less directional at lower frequencies (may take the shape of a supercardioid or cardioid pattern)
- Works on the pressure-gradient principle
- Only achievable with an acoustic labyrinth covering the rear of the diaphragm
- A 3:1 ratio of an omnidirectional and bidirectional pattern (superposition)
A Common Base Capsule Polar Pattern Of Lobar/Shotgun Microphones
The high directionality of the hypercardioid polar pattern makes it a great starting point for the extreme directionality of a shotgun mic.
For the shotgun mic to achieve its highly directional lobar-type pattern, an interference tube is fastened in front of the already directional hypercardioid or supercardioid capsule to narrow the polar pattern.
Popular Choice For Close-Miking In Live, Film, And Noisy Environments
The highly directional hypercardioid mic really “focuses” on the sound source it points at. For this reason, it works well and is a popular choice for miking instruments in close proximity and for close-miking isolation purposes in loud environments.
When using hypercardioid mics, pay special attention to the rear lobe of sensitivity, which could very well pick up unwanted sound from the rear.
When close-miking, you have the advantage of a short distance between the mic and the intended sound source, so that mic should pick up mostly the intended source. However, the rear lobe could potentially capture too much of what you don't want in the mic signal.
Null Points At 110° & 250°
The ideal hypercardioid microphone polar pattern has null points at 110° and 250°. These null points represent the direction in which, ideally, the microphone will completely reject sound.
In reality, the null points are actually just points of maximal attenuation and off-axis colouration. Sounds that emanate from these angles will not be picked up nearly as clearly or with as much level as on-axis sounds.
Rear Cone Of Silence
The aforementioned null points in the hypercardioid polar pattern are simple 2D angles.
In reality, microphones operate in 3D space. So the null points of the hypercardioid actually represent a 3-dimensional “cone of silence” or cone of maximal rejection to the rear of each hypercardioid mic.
Rear Lobe Of Sensitivity Yields -6 dB At 180°
The relatively narrow on-axis acceptance angle (directionality) or the hypercardioid pattern comes at the cost of a rather large rear lobe of sensitivity.
The hypercardioid's rear lobe starts just to the rear of both null points (110° and 250°). From these two points, the lobe increases in sensitivity until it reaches roughly -6 dB (relative to 0° on-axis) at the very rear of the microphone polar pattern (180°).
The rear lobe of the hypercardioid mic is a potential hazard in live sound reinforcement situations, where it can pick up loudspeaker sound and cause feedback. It also may not provide enough isolation of sound sources in particular microphone placements.
Roughly 12 dB Less Sensitive At The Sides (90° & 270°)
The attenuation of the sides is a great indicator of a unidirectional microphone's directionality. Ideal hypercardioid patterns boast an impressive -12 dB attenuation at the sides.
This is part of the hypercardioid's directionality. In fact, the typical hypercardioid microphone is less sensitive to the sides than it is to the direct rear (see rear lobe of sensitivity above).
Exhibits Proximity Effect
Hypercardioid microphones naturally exhibit the proximity effect, a physical occurrence that boosts the microphone's bass response as the microphone becomes closer to a sound source.
The reason behind this is the pressure-gradient principle: the hypercardioid pattern is only achievable by having both sides of the mic diaphragm open to sound pressure.
With the pressure-gradient principle comes the proximity effect.
For further reading on the microphone proximity effect, check out my article What Is Microphone Proximity Effect And What Causes It?
Sensitive To Vocal Plosives
Another issue inherent in the pressure-gradient capsule is sensitivity to vocal plosives and wind noise.
Vocal plosives are the transient consonant sounds that come from our mouths during speech. In English, they happen on hard P's, B's, T's, D's, G's, and K's.
As vocal plosive energy passes around a hypercardioid capsule, it applies tremendous pressure on one side of the mic diaphragm while creating a sort of vacuum on the other side. This all happens very quickly, but it is enough to overload the mic momentarily and cause the infamous “vocal pop” in the mic signal.
For a better explanation of vocal plosives and how to eliminate them in your microphone recordings, check out my article Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives.
Excellent Sound Isolation
Hypercardioid mics are highly directional. When positioned correctly, they may provide excellent isolation of a particular sound source. This is especially true when other sound sources are happening at the sides or at the null points of the microphone.
Great For Miking A Single Source
The relative ability to isolate a sound source makes the hypercardioid pattern great for miking single sound sources.
This is true in less-than-ideal recording environments, quiet studio spaces, and everywhere in between.
Once again, pay special attention to the relatively large rear lobe of sensitivity when positioning a hypercardioid mic.
So long as a loudspeaker, monitor, or other potential feedback source is not directly in front of or in the rear of a hypercardioid mic, that mic will likely yield high gain-before-feedback.
The directionality and attenuation to the sides of a hypercardioid mic make it a strong choice in situations when good gain-before-feedback is necessary.
As always, be cautious of the hypercardioid's rear lobe.
To read more about microphone feedback, check out 12 Methods To Prevent & Elminate Microphone/Audio Feedback.
Becomes More Directional At Higher Frequencies
As with all microphones, real hypercardioid microphones become more directional at higher frequencies.
As we'll see, some mics even begin taking on the form of a lobar pattern at the upper end of their frequency responses.
Becomes Less Directional At Lower Frequencies
The flip side of the above point is that hypercardioid mics will generally become less directional at lower frequencies, perhaps even portraying a more cardioid or subcardioid polar pattern at the lower ends of their frequency responses.
Works On The Pressure-Gradient Principle
All directional microphones work on the pressure-gradient principle. The hypercardioid polar pattern is no exception.
It's the pressure difference between the front and back of the diaphragm that causes a mic signal. The hypercardioid mic's directionality depends on having both sides of its diaphragm open to sound pressure, with the backside encompassed in a specially designed acoustic labyrinth.
Related article: Pressure Microphones Vs. Pressure-Gradient Microphones.
Only Achievable With An Acoustic Labyrinth Covering The Rear Of The Diaphragm
To achieve the highly specific hypercardioid pattern, there must be a specific timing delay for sound waves before they reach the rear of the diaphragm. This is only obtainable with a specially designed acoustic labyrinth to the rear of the hypercardioid capsule/cartridge.
A 3:1 Ratio Of An Omnidirectional And Bidirectional Pattern
The cardioid polar pattern is often described as a 1:1 superposition of the omnidirectional and bidirectional polar patterns.
The hypercardioid, by the same token, can be imagined as a 3:1 omnidirectional to bidirectional superposition.
How Is The Hypercardioid Polar Pattern Achieved?
The hypercardioid polar pattern is achieved similarly to the other unidirectional cardioid-type polar pattern (cardioid and supercardioid). This is done with a carefully crafted rear acoustic labyrinth that offsets the timing of the sound waves hitting the rear side of the mic diaphragm.
Let's break this down.
It's critical to note that if a microphone diaphragm experiences the same sound pressure on its front and rear sides, it will not move and, therefore, not output a microphone signal. This is where “null points” in the polar patterns come from.
The acoustic labyrinths of typical hypercardioid capsules put null points at 110° and 250°.
Sound waves that approach the hypercardioid capsule from 110° and 250° hit the acoustic labyrinth and take time T to reach both the rear of the diaphragm (through the labyrinth) and the front of the diaphragm (around the exterior of the capsule). These sound waves cancel themselves out, creating the null points in the hypercardioid polar pattern.
Along with the null points, the hypercardioid pattern exhibits a rear lobe of sensitivity. Sound waves coming directly from the rear of the mic (180°) will hit the rear of the diaphragm first before reaching the front. This results in diaphragm movement and rear sensitivity.
However, the rear lobe of the hypercardioid is attenuated by about 6 dB at 180° when compared to the on-axis pickup at 0° due to the timing differences.
The Hypercardioid Polar Pattern Option In Multi-Pattern Microphones
Most multi-pattern microphones utilize a dual-membrane capsule with back-to-back diaphragms with cardioid polar patterns.
Note that the vast majority of multi-pattern mics only offer omnidirectional, bidirectional, and cardioid options. The CK 12 (originally invented by AKG) is the most famous multi-pattern capsule that offers a hypercardioid option.
In the few multi-pattern microphones that offer a hypercardioid option, the pattern is achieved by mixing the two mic signals. The front diaphragm signal is mixed with positive polarity and greater amplitude. The rear diaphragm signal is mixed in negative polarity and less amplitude.
When Should You Use A Hypercardioid Microphone?
The high directionality of hypercardioid mics makes them ideal in certain situations while subpar in others. Let's talk about the times when it's best to use a hypercardioid mic and the times when it's not the greatest idea:
Best Applications For Hypercardioid Microphones
- In film as a boom mic or camera-mounted mic (a movable microphone).
- In front of dual foldback monitoring systems for live sound reinforcement (ensuring the monitors are at the hypercardioid null points).
- For capturing specific sounds in an environment.
- To close-mic/isolate individual sounds sources in noisy environments.
- To mic individual closely positioned sound sources (like the drums of a drum kit).
And now for the less-than-ideal situations:
When Shouldn't You Use A Hypercardioid Microphone?
- Directly in front of foldback monitors in live performances.
- As a stationary microphone for moving targets.
- To record natural room sound and ambience.
List Of Miking Techniques With Hypercardioid Microphones
Here is a list of miking techniques that include hypercardioid microphones:
- Close-Miking (mono)
- Olsen Stereo 180 Microphone Technique (stereo)
- OCT-Hamasaki (surround sound)
- OCT-IRT (surround sound)
- OCT Surround (surround sound)
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Hypercardioid Microphone Examples
Neumann KM 185
The Neumann KM 185 is the hypercardioid mic in Neumann's KM 180 line of pencil microphones. It's a top-address small-diaphragm true condenser microphone with an incredibly consistent hypercardioid polar pattern. The KM 185 as a pair or by itself is an amazing addition to any professional mic locker.
The Neumann KM 185 Polar Response Graph
The Neumann KM 185 is a beautiful representation of the hypercardioid polar pattern. We see all the idealities of the pattern in a split response graph that shows consistency across the mic's frequency response.
The KM 185 has null points at the expected 110° and 250° points; its side sensitivity is attenuated by nearly 10 dB across the frequency spectrum, and the rear lobe of sensitivity is also roughly 10 dB quieter at 180°.
Beyerdynamic M 160
The Beyerdynamic M 160 is a unique microphone. It features a double-ribbon diaphragm but is unlike any standard ribbon mic. Instead of being bidirectional and side-address, the M 160 is a top-address ribbon mic with a hypercardioid polar pattern.
The Beyerdynamic M 160 Polar Response Graph
The Beyerdynamic M 160 polar response looks cool but is a bit difficult to read. Follow the arrows to find the polar response lines of each frequency in this split diagram.
The above graph tells us that the M 160 is very much a hypercardioid pattern. From 250 Hz to 4,000 Hz, the polar pattern shows null points at 110° and 250° with excellent rejection at the sides and in its rear lobe of sensitivity.
The polar pattern loses its null points at lower frequencies (125 Hz). It also loosens up a bit and begins looking a bit subcardioid at 8,000 Hz.
The Audix D4 is a top-address moving-coil dynamic mic with a very-low-mass diaphragm and a hypercardioid polar response pattern. It excels at isolating instruments with solid low-end frequencies, whether in a live studio room or on stage. The D4 excels on percussion instruments and drum kits, bass guitar cabinets, and many other instruments.
The Audix D4 Polar Response Graph
This dual-diagram polar response graph shows the low-end frequencies on the left and the high-end frequencies on the right.
On the low-end, the D4 appears to exhibit a subcardioid pattern from 125 Hz to about 1,000 Hz. As the frequencies get higher, the microphone begins developing what would be null points between 120° to 150° on either side of the on-axis. This also means a rear lobe of sensitivity begins developing.
At the high-end, the D4 becomes almost hemispherical rather than truly hypercardioid. The rear lobe of sensitivity is nearly negligible, though technically there. In the upper-frequency range, noted by 16,000 Hz, the D4 becomes extremely directional.
The Audio-Technica AT4053B is a top-address externally polarized (DC bias) small-diaphragm condenser microphone with a hypercardioid polar response pattern. This high-quality transformer microphone is a go-to for any professional application that requires the isolation of a single sound source.
The Audio-Technica AT4053B Polar Response Pattern
Audio-Technica gives us 4 frequencies in their measurement of the AT4053B polar pattern.
As the frequencies increase, the hypercardioid pattern tightens up. This is what we would expect from a microphone.
Earthworks SR40V (Discontinued)
The Earthworks SR40V is a top-address handheld condenser microphone, marketed as having a hypercardioid polar response pattern. This microphone is intended to capture and reinforce live vocal performances, providing superb clarity and presence along with excellent off-axis rejection of extraneous stage noise and monitor projections.
The Earthworks SR40V Polar Response Pattern
Immediately, the null points stand out to me when looking at the polar response graph of the SR40V. AT 150° and 210°, the null points and cone of rear rejection do not fit the standard hypercardioid mould of 110° and 250°. On top of that, the side attenuation is around 5-6 dB across the frequency spectrum, whereas typical hypercardioids are more directional with -12 dB of side attenuation.
So the SR40V looks like a modified supercardioid or hypercardioid polar pattern. That being said, the microphone acts very similar to both these patterns and is perhaps labelled “hypercardioid” for simplicity's sake.
As we see above, the Earthworks SR40V loses its null points at lower frequencies (500 Hz and lower). Interestingly enough, the mic's polar pattern loosens up rather than becoming tighter in the upper-frequency range (noted by 16 kHz).
All The Different Microphone Polar Patterns
Here's a list of all the different polar patterns you'll likely encounter when using microphones:
By clicking the links of each polar pattern title, you'll be brought to a My New Microphone article that focuses on that specific polar pattern.
- Omnidirectional: picks up sound equally in all directions.
- Bidirectional: picks up sound symmetrically in the front (0°) and back (180°) with equal sensitivity but opposite polarity. Bidirectional patterns have null points at their sides (90° & 270°), which yields a “ring of silence” in 3D space. Their polar pattern looks like a figure-8 in 2D.
- Cardioid: unidirectional pattern with a null point at the rear (180°) and roughly 6 dB decrease in sensitivity at its sides (90° & 270°) compared to on-axis (0°).
- Supercardioid: unidirectional pattern with a narrower on-axis response than “regular” cardioid. Null points at 127° & 233°, which yields a “cone of silence.” There's roughly a 10 dB decrease in sensitivity at its sides (90° & 270°) and a rear lobe of sensitivity with 10 dB less sensitivity (at 180°) compared to on-axis (0°).
- Hypercardioid: unidirectional pattern similar to supercardioid with a narrower on-axis response than “regular” cardioid. Null points at 110° & 250°, which yields a “cone of silence.” There's roughly a 12 dB decrease in sensitivity at its sides (90° & 270°) and a rear lobe of sensitivity with 6 dB less sensitivity (at 180°) compared to on-axis (0°).
- Subcardioid/Wide Cardioid: A unidirectional pattern with a wider response than “regular” cardioid. Subcardioid can be thought of as a midway point between cardioid and omnidirectional.
- Shotgun/Lobar: An extension on the supercardioid and hypercardioid polar patterns. The use of an interference tube in front of an already highly directional capsule yields the extremely directional shotgun/lobar pattern. These patterns generally have a rear lobe of sensitivity and sometimes even have small side lobes of sensitivity.
- Boundary/PZM (Hemispherical): The hemispherical polar pattern found on boundary and pressure zone microphones. These patterns are achieved by placing the mic capsule flush to a flat surface and then placing the microphone itself at a surface/boundary within an acoustic space. The capsules themselves can be any polar pattern, though omnidirectional capsules are often preferred.
For an in-depth definition of all the polar response patterns listed above (and much more), check out my article The Complete Guide To Microphone Polar Patterns.
What are cardioid microphones best used for? Cardioid microphones are often ideal any time a single sound source must be captured. They are unidirectional and provide excellent isolation and gain-before-feedback. Handheld, vocal, broadcast, and spot/close mics most often have a cardioid polar pattern.
What is the function of a microphone? A microphone is a transducer of energy. Its function is to convert mechanical wave energy (sound waves) into coinciding electrical energy (audio signals). In other words, mics turn sound into audio. There are various methods to achieve this conversion, but all have some sort of vibrating diaphragm.
For more information: What Is A Microphone? (Mic Types, Examples, And Pictures)
Choosing the right microphone(s) for your applications and budget can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Microphone Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next microphone purchase.