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What is a Cardioid Microphone?

Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Updated May 16, 2024
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Several different microphones have been designed throughout the years to accomplish very different tasks. Some — such as condenser microphones — pick up a great deal of sound from several directions, while others pick up one focused sound only from one direction. Of this latter group, the cardioid microphone is perhaps the most popular, as it picks up almost exclusively the desired sound while ambient noise is hardly noticeable. It gets its name because of its pattern of sensitivity, which is roughly shaped like a heart when drawn out on an axis. This means that most of the sound it picks up comes from the front of the microphone, while minimal noise is picked up from the rear and only marginal noise is picked up from the sides.

This type of sensitivity pattern makes the cardioid microphone useful in many situations, including those in which several mics are being used at one time, live performances, and certain recording purposes. It may be a condenser microphone, which uses a capacitor system to pick up sound, or a dynamic microphone, which uses a coil attached to a diaphragm. When the diaphragm vibrates, it moves the coil, which then creates electromagnetic induction.

As a unidirectional microphone — that is, one that picks up sound from only one direction — this microphone is designed to pick up one sound well, with other ambient noises fading into the background. If this microphone still doesn't do enough to eliminate ambient noise for a user's purposes, the supercardioid microphone eliminates even more noise from directly behind the microphone. The supercardioid mic is often confused with the hypercardioid microphone, which actually does not eliminate as much noise behind the microphone, but eliminates more to the sides. Out of the three types, the hypercardioid is considered the most directional.

For musical purposes, the cardioid microphone is particularly useful for live sound, such as concerts. It can also be used as a vocal mic for presentations, public address, and other situations that require a vocal mic. The style is also a good choice for recording concentrated sounds, such as vocals and certain types of drums.

Other situations in which a cardioid mic may be used include household applications, such as in a telephone. The microphone in the handset picks up primarily the speaker's voice while eliminating other ambient noise, such as background conversation or television chatter.

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Discussion Comments

By anon338526 — On Jun 14, 2013

A cardioid microphone is absolutely not "unidirectional." It favors sound from the front, less from the sides and still less from the rear. If you want a "unidirectional" microphone you need a shotgun mic or a parabolic reflector.

By anon315083 — On Jan 21, 2013

@Curiosity: I have been using the CAD GXL2200 for almost two years now. I absolutely love this mic. I still cannot believe how much my sound quality has improved since I've been using it. I use it to mic my acoustic in the studio, lead vocals in the studio, my vocals in live performances. You can get these on Amazon for less than $100 nowadays. It's a very wise investment. I promise you that you will be impressed by it.

By Curiosity — On Apr 07, 2011

For someone starting off in a local band, are there any inexpensive options to buy as a starter cardiod microphone? My band and I are finally getting to play to some larger crowds, and I'd love to update our equipment. Does anybody have any tips?

By krisl — On Sep 14, 2010

A lot of modern microphones give a number of different directional options. For instance, my modestly priced condenser microphone, an MXL 4000, offers both a highly directional cardioid setting, a slightly more open figure 8 setting, and a directionally unbiased omni setting. Each have their own set of uses. the full cardioid setting is great for isolating one sound, where as the omni setting is awesome for recording numerous sounds all once and creating a sense of spaciousness in a recording.

It's always interesting to see what kinds of effects these settings will have on a recording. When I'm micing a snare drum, for instance, I like to use the omni setting so that the unique resonant quality of the drum is present in the recording. When I'm micing a hi-hat however, i prefer to use the cardioid setting so that it sounds extra crisp.

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