The supercardioid is an often misunderstood relative of the well-known cardioid microphone polar pattern. Understanding the supercardioid pattern and when to use it will benefit you greatly in both the studio and the stage.
What is a supercardioid microphone? A supercardioid microphone has a very directional supercardioid polar/pickup pattern. It is most sensitive to on-axis sounds (where the mic “points”) with null points at 127° and 233° and a rear lobe of sensitivity. Supercardioid mics are popular in film due to their high directionality.
In this in-depth article, we'll discuss the supercardioid microphone polar pattern in great detail to answer any questions you may have about supercardioid microphones!
The Supercardioid Polar Pattern
A picture is worth a thousand words. Let's start with a diagram of the cardioid microphone polar pattern:
The supercardioid polar pattern, like the closely related hypercardioid, is known for its increased directionality over the standard cardioid pattern and its rear lobe of sensitivity.
Whereas the cardioid has a wide acceptance angle of about 180° (the mic's sensitivity only drops by 6 dB 90° on either side of the on-axis line), the supercardioid has a tighter angle of about 150° (75° to either side of the on-axis line).
Note that the “acceptance angle” can also be defined as the angle before sensitivity drops by 3 dB. In which case, the standard cardioid would have a 120° angle of acceptance while the supercardioid would exhibit an acceptance angle of roughly 100°.
The rear lobe of sensitivity is typically attenuated enough that it won't over define the sounds entering from the rear of the mic. However, it's critical to note that this lobe exists.
It's especially important when placing supercardioid mics in live sound reinforcement situations. Do not point the mic so that its rear lobe points toward a live monitor or loudspeaker. That is a recipe for feedback.
Because the ideal supercardioid pattern has a rear lobe of sensitivity, it also has null points. These angles of maximum sound rejection are found at 127° and 233° from the on-axis direction. The supercardioid mic will reject (or at least severely attenuate sounds coming from these directions.
Supercardioid Microphone Generalities And Characteristics
- A common base capsule polar pattern (along with hypercardioid) of lobar/shotgun microphones
- Popular choice for close-miking in live, film, and noisy environments
- Null points at 127° & 233°
- Rear cone of silence
- Rear lobe of sensitivity yields -10 dB at 180°
- Roughly 10 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 take the shape of a hypercardioid or lobar/shotgun pattern)
- Becomes less directional at lower frequencies (may take the shape of a cardioid pattern)
- Works on the pressure-gradient principle
- Only achievable with an acoustic labyrinth covering the rear of the diaphragm
- A 5:3 ratio of an omnidirectional and bidirectional pattern (superposition)
A Common Base Capsule Polar Pattern Of Lobar/Shotgun Microphones
Most shotgun mics have either supercardioid or hypercardioid capsules. These extremely directional specialty mics then utilize interference tubes in front of their capsules to narrow the acceptance angle.
Popular Choice For Close-Miking In Live, Film, And Noisy Environments
When close-miking sound sources, a supercardioid microphone will really focus on what it is pointed at. This makes it an excellent choice when recording instruments in close proximity or when trying to isolate a particular source in a loud environment.
Note that the rear lobe of sensitivity makes mic positioning essential for isolating sound sources with supercardioid mics.
Null Points At 127° & 233°
As we've seen in the graph, the ideal supercardioid polar pattern has null points of sensitivity at 127° to either side of its on-axis line (127° and 233°).
Null points represent the directions in which, theoretically, the microphone will not pick up any sound. In reality, it means the sound will be greatly attenuated (especially at high frequencies). The nature of sound, acoustics, and reflections allows sound to enter the mic in other directions, even if it comes directly from a null point direction.
Rear Cone Of Silence
The null points at 127° and 233° show us the angles of maximum sound rejection of a supercardioid mic in 2D. In 3D, this translates to a rear “cone of silence.”
This is important to note because microphones act in 3D space. Understanding the cone of silence and the rear lobe of sensitivity will aid immensely in positioning supercardioid microphones correctly, whether it means increasing gain-before-feedback or minimizing bleed from extraneous noise.
Rear Lobe Of Sensitivity Yields -10 dB At 180°
The ideal supercardioid rear lobe is noticeable, but at -10 dB relative to its on-axis sensitivity, it's not typically overly present in the mic signal.
It's important to be aware of the rear lobe of the supercardioid pattern. Knowing that the rear lobe is 10 dB less sensitive than the on-axis response allows us to make better choices when positioning supercardioid mics.
Note that the nature of the rear lobe typically changes across the frequency response of a microphone. So although the ideal supercardioid mic has a 10 dB difference between 0° (on-axis) sensitivity and 180° (rear lobe) sensitivity, it's not always a perfect 10 dB difference at all frequencies.
Roughly 10 dB Less Sensitive At The Sides (90° & 270°)
Part of the increased directionality of the supercardioid pattern (relative to cardioid) is its rejection of sounds to the sides. In the ideal supercardioid pattern, there is 10 dB of attenuation at the sides (90° and 270°).
For this reason, supercardioid mics are great choices for isolating individual sound sources.
Note that 10 dB is the ideal. At lower frequencies, the side attenuation of a real supercardioid mic will likely be less than 10 dB. By the same token, at higher frequencies, the side attenuation will likely be greater than 10 dB.
Exhibits Proximity Effect
The supercardioid microphone capsule/cartridge has both sides of its diaphragm exposed to external sound pressure. In other words, they work on the pressure-gradient principle and, therefore, exhibit the proximity effect.
The proximity effect is the increase in bass response as a directional microphone gets closer to a sound source.
It's based on the physics of the amplitude and phase differences between the front and rear sides of a diaphragm. Low frequencies have little phase difference, and increasing amplitude difference as the distance between the sound source and microphone shortens.
For a deeper understanding of the microphone proximity effect, please read my article What Is Microphone Proximity Effect And What Causes It?
Sensitive To Vocal Plosives
Supercardioid mics are sensitive to vocal plosives and wind noise, again due to their pressure-gradient capsules/cartridges.
Vocal plosives have the ability to overload supercardioid mics because of their powerful transient nature. A passing vocal plosive will produce a great amount of pressure on one side of the supercardioid diaphragm while creating suction on the other side. The result is fast overloading of the mic capsule that results in a mic signal “pop.”
For more info on the cause of vocal plosives and how to manage them properly, check out my article Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives.
Excellent Sound Isolation
The relatively narrow and unidirectional pattern of the typical supercardioid mic allows it to isolate sound sources effectively.
Superb isolation ties into our next point about the supercardioid mic being great for miking single sound sources.
Great For Miking A Single Source
Due to the excellent isolation and directivity of the supercardioid, it works excellently to capture a single sound source. This is true in studio, broadcast, and live stage environments, whether they are quiet or noisy.
Because of the directionality and null points of their polar patterns, supercardioid microphones have the potential for great amounts of gain before feedback.
For best results, position the mic so that any loudspeakers or monitors that face the microphone do so at an angle of 127° or 233° off-axis.
To read more about microphone feedback, check out 12 Methods To Prevent & Elminate Microphone/Audio Feedback.
Becomes More Directional At Higher Frequencies
In reality, any microphone becomes more directional at high frequencies. This is simply due to the nature of sound and the shorter wavelengths of high-frequency sound waves.
The polar patterns of supercardioid mics will often become more hypercardioid or even lobar-like at higher frequencies.
Becomes Less Directional At Lower Frequencies
Similarly to the above point, microphones tend to become less directional at lower frequencies.
For supercardioid mics, this may mean a transition to a more cardioid or subcardioid-like polar pattern at the low-ends of their frequency responses.
We will see examples of frequency-dependent increasing and decreasing of directionality in our supercardioid microphone examples section.
Works On The Pressure-Gradient Principle
It's worth mentioning again that supercardioid mics (and all directional mics, for that matter) work on the pressure-gradient principle.
This means that both sides of a supercardioid mic's diaphragm are open to external sound pressure. The difference in pressure between the two sides of the diaphragm causes the diaphragm to move, and a coinciding outputted mic signal.
Related article: Pressure Microphones Vs. Pressure-Gradient Microphones.
Only Achievable With An Acoustic Labyrinth Covering The Rear Of The Diaphragm
Supercardioid microphones work on the pressure-gradient principle but require an acoustic labyrinth to manipulate the phase of sound waves before they reach the rear side of the diaphragm.
Carefully crafted acoustic labyrinths are used to offset the timing of sound waves at the rear of the diaphragm. This is effectively what causes the specific supercardioid polar pattern.
A 5:3 Ratio Of An Omnidirectional And Bidirectional Pattern
If a cardioid microphone is a 1:1 superposition of the omnidirectional polar pattern and the bidirectional polar pattern, then the supercardioid can be imagined as a 5:3 ratio of the omnidirectional pattern to the bidirectional pattern.
How Is The Supercardioid Polar Pattern Achieved?
The supercardioid polar pattern is achieved similarly to how the cardioid polar pattern is achieved: via a carefully calculated rear acoustic labyrinth that offsets the timing of the sound waves hitting the rear side of the mic diaphragm.
That's a mouthful, but what does it really mean?
First, it's important to convey that if a microphone diaphragm is experiencing the same sound pressure on its front and rear sides, it will not move. Therefore, if a sound wave from a particular direction happens to hit both diaphragm sides at once, it will cancel itself out, causing no mic signal and a “null point” in the polar pattern.
With that said, the supercardioid capsule works on the pressure-gradient acoustic principle with its diaphragm's front side fully exposed to exterior sound waves. Its diaphragm's rear side, however, has a carefully constructed acoustic labyrinth.
The acoustic labyrinth offsets the timing of the sound waves that pass through it, causing a delay before the sound waves reach the rear of the diaphragm.
In the supercardioid capsule, the null points are ideally at 127° and 233° from the mic's on-axis line (0°).
The sound waves that come at the capsule from 127° and 233° will hit the acoustic labyrinth and take time T to reach the rear of the diaphragm. These sound waves will also take time T to reach the front of the diaphragm from the same point. These sound waves cancel themselves out, creating the null points in the supercardioid polar pattern.
To obtain these null points, the supercardioid pattern will exhibit a rear lobe of sensitivity. Sound waves coming directly from the rear of the mic (180°) will hit the rear diaphragm first before reaching the front. This results in the diaphragm movement.
However, the rear lobe of the supercardioid is attenuated quite a bit due to the phase differences. Typically the rear lobe is 10 dB quieter at 180° when compared to the on-axis pickup at 0°.
The Supercardioid 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.
In the few multi-pattern microphones that offer a supercardioid 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 Supercardioid Microphone?
Every microphone polar pattern has its pros and cons. The supercardioid is no exception, excelling in certain situations and performing poorly in others. Here are the best applications for supercardioid mics:
Best Applications For Supercardioid Microphones
- On the end of a boom pole for film purposes.
- Mounted to the camera for better rejection of off-frame sounds.
- In front of dual foldback monitors (at the pattern null points) in live sound reinforcement situations.
- For a narrow acceptance angle and directional pick up.
- To close-mic/isolate single sound sources in noisy environments.
- To mic individual closely positioned sound sources (like the drums of a drum kit).
As promised, there are also sub-optimal uses for supercardioid mic:
When Shouldn't You Use A Supercardioid 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 Supercardioid Microphones
Here is a list of miking techniques that include supercardioid microphones:
- Close-Miking (mono)
- Olsen Stereo 180 Microphone Technique (stereo)
- OCT-Hamasaki (surround sound)
- OCT-IRT (surround sound)
- OCT Surround (surround sound)
For more information on stereo miking techniques, check out my article Top 8 Best Stereo Miking Techniques (With Recommended Mics).
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Supercardioid Microphone Examples
Let's start the list with a ribbon microphone to show that not all ribbons are bidirectional. The AEA KU4 is a side-address ribbon dynamic mic with a supercardioid polar pattern. This mic is a redesign of RCA’s legendary KU3A and brings the classic ribbon sound to a supercardioid microphone that works extremely well at isolating single sound sources in noisy environments.
The AEA KU4 Polar Response Graph
AEA provides a wonderfully colourful and precise polar response pattern for its KU4 microphone. Because this is a side-address ribbon microphone, the supercardioid polar pattern is only achievable by physical means in the mic's acoustic labyrinth. This yields some peculiarities in the KU4's polar response.
Starting at the highest noted frequency, we see that the polar response at 10,000 Hz (mauve) is not symmetrical. This is not a common occurrence in microphones.
The second peculiarity is that the microphone becomes less directional in the upper-mid frequency range (5-7 kHz / orange and blue). We see greater sensitivity to the rear (roughly -10 dB) with no null points.
However, in the lows and low-mids, the KU4 exhibits a near-textbook supercardioid polar response. It has null points at 127° & 233° and roughly 6-9 dB of side attenuation.
Sennheiser MD 441U
The Sennheiser MD 441U is a top-address moving-coil dynamic microphone with a beautifully consistent supercardioid polar pattern. Marketed as a dynamic mic that sounds like a condenser with the ruggedness of a moving-coil dynamic, the MD 441U sound excellent on vocals and practically any instrument. The MD 441U is the most expensive moving-coil dynamic mic on the market, and for a good reason.
The Sennheiser MD 441U Polar Response Graph
A quick glance at the Sennheiser MD 441U polar response graph shows that this dynamic microphone has a highly directional and consistent polar pattern.
The MD 441U's null points happen around 120° (and 240°) across most of its frequency spectrum. This is pretty much halfway between hypercardioid (null points at 110° and 250°) and supercardioid (null points at 127° and 233°). There's no question this mic is a highly directional cardioid-type pattern. Sennheiser calls it a supercardioid!
Interestingly, the MD 441U seems to exhibit a wider, more supercardioid at higher frequencies, including a wider front image and increased sensitivity in the rear lobe.
The Electro-Voice PL35 is a top-address moving-coil dynamic microphone with a supercardioid polar pattern. This mic is designed for close-miking snare drums, tom drums, and other percussion instruments. Its tight polar pattern works wonders in isolating individual drums within a drum kit, which may increase the clarity of the percussion in a mix when the mics are positioned correctly.
The Electro-Voice PL35 Polar Response Graph
The Electro-Voice PL35 exhibits a textbook supercardioid polar pattern, nicely laid out in 4 separate graphs pictured above.
In the first quadrant, we see the polar response of the PL35 at lower frequencies. At 250 Hz, we have a near-ideal supercardioid pattern. However, an octave below, at 125 Hz, shows that the polar pattern loses its null points and widens its rear response.
Across the first 3 quadrants, we gather that the PL35's frontal pattern is very consistent and gradually decreases in sensitivity to roughly -10 dB at its sides. This fits the description of a supercardioid pattern.
In the fourth quadrant, we see that the pattern becomes much more directional, abandoning its supercardioid pattern at higher frequencies. At 8 kHz, the semblance of the supercardioid remains, though the pattern is very directional. At 16 kHz, the pattern approaches more of a lobar-type pattern.
Microtech Gefell M 940
The Microtech Gefell M 940 is the supercardioid version of the company's M 900 series (the wide cardioid M 950 is featured in my article on subcardioid microphones). The M 940 is a side-address large-diaphragm true condenser microphone. This mic works amazingly well at isolating instruments and voices in studio and broadcasting situations.
The Microtech Gefell M 940 Polar Response Graph
Microtech Gefell offers 3 diagrams with 7 different frequency graphs to denote the polar pattern of its M 940. We see that in each of the 3 diagrams, the polar patterns are referenced against the standard 1 kHz pattern.
At 1 kHz, we see that the M 940 surpasses the typical supercardioid pattern slightly. It has null points closer to 140° and 220° than 127° and 233°. It also has nearly a rear lobe with a nearly 16 dB decrease in sensitivity as opposed to the typical 10 dB.
Whether the M 940 is truly a supercardioid or not, it has a nice and consistent pattern. We see a slight increase in rear sensitivity around 4 kHz and an expected narrowing at 16 kHz, but other than that, the polar pattern is solid.
Beyerdynamic MC 950
The Beyerdynamic MC 950 is a top-address small-diaphragm true condenser microphone with a supercardioid polar pattern. This neutral-sounding mic is marketed as a top performer in miking choirs, pianos or orchestras. The MC 950 works amazingly well for spot-miking the featured instruments in large musical ensembles, allowing for increase flexibility and clarity in the important parts of the music.
The Beyerdynamic MC 950 Polar Response Graph
The Beyerdynamic MC 950 polar response graph is a bit difficult to look at due to the pointer lines but tells us a good amount of information.
Contrary to the usual, the polar pattern of the MC 950 actually loosens up at the upper mid frequencies (shown at 4 kHz and 8 kHz), where the mic seems to become somewhat subcardioid.
At the low and low-mid (125 Hz – 2,000 Hz), the MC 950 exhibits a standard supercardioid polar pattern.
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 is an omnidirectional microphone? An omnidirectional microphone is equally sensitive to sound from all directions. Omni mics work on the pressure principle, which means only one side of their diaphragms is open to sound pressure. Sound pressure is scalar, so it's only the intensity (not the angle) of sound that causes a mic signal.
What are condenser microphones best used for? Condenser microphones are best used when accurate sound capture is required. Condenser mics, when compared to dynamic mics, generally have flatter, more extended frequency responses, more consistent polar responses, and higher sensitivity, resulting in closer representations of sound.
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.