Knowing which mic works best for your video often comes down to the pickup pattern of the mic. Knowing this one simple fact about microphones will help you get the best sound from your videos all the time.
So, I really want to start with some kind of joke about a mic walking into a bar and trying to pick up another mic, but I just couldn’t make it work. When someone talks about a mic’s pickup pattern or polar pattern, they’re not hitting on you. They’re really just talking about how close you need to be to a mic to make it work best.
WHY MIC PICKUP PATTERNS?
You might be asking yourself, why would anyone want a mic that you have to be really close to for it to work? Good question!
Have you ever heard a mic squeal or hum? That comes from feedback when the speaker and the mic magic this magic loop and the speaker makes a noise the mic hears the noise then the speaker makes the noise louder. It’s not a pleasant thing.
So mic geniuses starting making microphones that weren’t so sensitive. They found that they could make mics that would only hear sounds that were very close to them. This is the pickup pattern.
TYPES OF PICKUP PATTERNS
There are basically three types of pickup patterns: omni, cardioid, and bipolar. Omni directional mics don’t listen in any particular direction. The closer you get to one of these mics, the louder it will sound. Cardioid mics have a pickup pattern that looks like a mushroom growing out of the top of it. They hear sounds really well when they are less than a foot from the mic. They’re especially great when the sound is only six to eight inches from the mic. Bipolar mics listen in two directions at once. If you have two singers facing each other, this might be useful for a bipolar mic.
But there’s a lot more to this whole cardioid mic thing. There are levels of cardioid mic goodness. Hyper cardioid mics only hear sounds that are very close to the mic, like six inches or less. Then you have super cardioid mics. These are usually very long and they can listen from farther away from your source, but the don’t hear sounds beside them.
These are the mics you see on video sets. They are perfect for video because it’s like using a telescope for sound. In other words, it only picks up the sound that the mic is pointed at. Everything else, room noise, street noise, other people, are all a lot quieter. Super cardioid mics are great for video because they can control the sound much better than other mic with bigger pickup patterns.
CHOOSING THE BEST PICKUP PATTERN
So, you would think that you should just get a shotgun mic and be done with it, right? Well… not necessarily. There are times when you would want to hear more than a limited area of that pickup pattern. But…
Here’s my quick, down and dirty way the pick the best mic:
– If you have one subject or need one thing to be louder than everything else and have more than $100 budgeted, start with a shotgun mic. Get the longest, best rated one you can.
– If you have one subject and don’t have the scratch to afford a shotgun mic, get a lapel mic and learn how to mic it the right way.
– If you have more than one subject or want to capture more room noise or ambient noise, get an omni directional mic like the Audio Technica 2020.
Easy enough, right?! Here’s a video that might help you understand it a little better.
If you’re really trying to make some killer videos, check out my guide to evaluating your video. You’ll find some useful tools to see your videos from a fresh perspective, and you’ll also get some great tips for fixing any problems you might uncover.