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What is a Directional Microphone?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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A directional microphone is one that picks up sound from a certain direction, or a number of directions, depending on the model involved. In truth, all microphones could be considered directional to a certain degree. However, a directional microphone is often broken down into one of two major types, an omnidirectional microphone or a more limited version.

The omnidirectional microphone is a type that picks up sound from every direction. This is a very good all-purpose microphone used when there is no need to discriminate where the sound is coming from. This type of microphone is very common in recording studios and even on stages where all sound is trying to be captured. Such a microphone can also pick up ambient sounds, which may also be desired, depending on the type of recording or broadcast being done.

Cardioid microphones are a little more selective in the sounds they pick up and turn into electrical signals. This type of directional microphone will pick up some sounds from the sides, but its best use is when the user is directly in front of the microphone. Sounds off the sides, while they may be picked up, will often come in very low and may not be able to to heard clearly by other users. Therefore, this type of microphone may be good to use in situations where noises from other directions are not desired. This includes in applications such as telephone headsets. This is one of the most popular types of microphones, quite possibly making up the majority of handheld microphones on the market.

There is another type of directional microphone called the hypercardioid directional microphone. Like the cardioid, the purpose of this microphone is to mainly pick up sounds from the front. While it will pick up some sounds from the side as well, this microphone is even more selective than the cardioid. Therefore, it makes it an even better choice when outside sound is not truly desired.

The other type of microphone is the bidirectional microphone. This type of directional microphone works by picking up sounds directly in front of it and directly behind it. In fact, it may be impossible to identify, on such microphones, which is the front and which is the back. This type of microphone has some benefit especially for those who are doing interviews or perhaps doing a duet in a recording studio. However, this microphone may not have very many cases where its use is practical.

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Discussion Comments
By anon352246 — On Oct 21, 2013

Thank you for the clear answer regarding the uni directional microphones vs parabolas. Now I understand why my Telinga parabola is far superior on distances. I just need to point well!

By nony — On May 21, 2011

@David09 - A uni directional microphone does not amplify sound. It just minimizes side sounds. In the ad you saw, the parabola acts to collect the sounds and pool them all in one location, so it sounds amplified in the end—but the shotgun microphone itself doesn’t amplify anything.

By David09 — On May 19, 2011

Do shotgun microphones amplify distant sound? I saw an ad in an electronics catalog for a directional stereo microphone that was mounted on a parabola. The ad claimed the microphone could “zoom” in and amplify bird sounds from hundreds of feet away. Is that the way these things work?

By Charred — On May 17, 2011

In the world of directional microphones, there is nothing more directional than a shotgun microphone. Of course, because of its design it is meant only to be mounted on a pole and pointed down toward the speaker, or mounted on top of a camera facing front toward the speaker. But you can’t beat the sound quality.

I bought a shotgun microphone for my digital camcorder and was amazed at how it sounded. Sound in front of the camera was crystal clear. Sounds from around the microphone and behind it sounded distant, as if the noises were far away, when actually they were close by. The “front” sound seemed amplified and focused by contrast. I will never again go back to my camcorder’s built in microphone.

By SkyWhisperer — On May 16, 2011

@AlphaMale - You didn’t mention what kind of microphone he was using, but a cardioid might be the answer. Usually with feedback issues the volume needs to be turned down somewhat. He might consider using a headset microphone if he’s not already using that. That brings the microphone element really close to the speaker’s mouth while avoiding the static ruffling that usually comes with lavalier microphones.

By AlphaMale — On May 16, 2011

This is very interesting to me. I just took over in the sound booth at my church. Some people may not know it but churches do have sound booths. When the reverend is up on the stage delivering the weekly message we tend to have some issues.

You see, he walks around and sometimes he gets right in front of a speaker and the sounds from the speaker carries into the microphone causing feedback. I wonder if one of those cardoid microphones would help prevent that from happening. There is just so much more to this than I thought there was going to be. But it's still fun.

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