When choosing voice over microphones, consider the kinds of voice overs work you’ll be recording, as well as the space you’ll be working in. Ideally, you’ll pick a microphone that’s suited to that type of work and space.

Polar Patterns of Microphones

Microphones capture sounds on different areas. The areas from which they capture sound are emphasized by their shape.

For instance, shotgun microphones (the long and thin ones) have a tiny surface on the front; they’re designed to pick up sound (mostly) from that very small surface.

More traditional looking studio microphones have larger areas to capture sounds from. They can pick up sounds on the sides and on the back as well.

The direction from which a microphone captures sound is called a polar pattern.

Here are the main polar patterns and what they’re typically used for:

  • Omnidirectional: This type of microphone (like the traditional one pictured directly above) picks up sound all around it. The pick up pattern looks like as a sphere. Omni’s are ideal to record orchestra’s, but less than ideal for recording in home studios where there can be all kinds of ambient noises in every direction (hello fans, refrigerators and AC!) That said, many omni mics offer other polar patterns like Figure 8 and Cardioid;
  • Bi-directional/Figure 8: This pattern captures sound from the front and rear of the mic (nothing on the sides). This can be used when singers must sing a duet, but only one microphone is available. They’ll face each other and sound amazing.
  • Unidirectional: This pattern only captures sound from one direction (the front) which is helpful in the context of a home studio where you’re trying to focus only on the voice (rather than all the ambient sounds in the space). Within this general pattern there are two shapes:
    • Cardioid: The point of capture here is only on the front, but the surface of capture is rather large (in microphone terms). You can typically move your head up and down the surface of the mic and it will capture everything. Commercial voice over studios typically use this pattern for voice over recordings. Most studio microphones I recommend offer this polar pattern;
    • Supercardioid/Hypercardioid: This is basically an extreme version of the cardioid. This is the polar pattern of shotgun microphones. The point of sound capture is mostly on the front and is small. This can be helpful in spaces where room tone is not ideal (though no microphone will really make up for a noisy space).

The Proximity Effect on your Voice Over Microphone

As you speak closer on cardioids microphones, the bass may get louder. This is why intimate reads in studios have more bass in them. This effect is most pronounced on bi-directional (figure 8) microphones. Omni’s don’t have this effect.

What Kind of Voice Overs Will You Record?

Since microphones pick up sound in specific directions, your movements in front of the microphone should impact the type of mic you’ll get. Typically, announcers who always speak straight on can work with a shotgun mic. Voice actors who record animation and video games, along with those who record many different types of voice overs (most people) or beginners who move around more will need a larger surface to work from. Otherwise part of their performances could end up off mic. This would make their recordings unusable.

Where Will your Voice Over Microphone Be?

As we’ve seen, shotgun mics pick up less sound, so we could say that noisier spaces are more suited to shotgun mics. In truth, they’re no solution for a noisy space, so if you choose a shotgun mic to deal with noise issues, be prepared for the trade off: you won’t be able to move around as much (in exchange for a teensy tiny bit less noise capture).

If you want to be on the safe side, go for an omni that has a cardioid pattern, or a cardioid. Working on making your space quieter is always a good investment anyway.

My name is Lili Wexu. I’m an actress, a voice talent and an author. To learn about acting professionally, read my e-book about Voice Acting & Announcing