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Weekly Video Tip: Exploring Mic Types

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By Stephen Schweickart

Researching microphones can be a long and frustrating process, so let us help you demystify that world a little further by explaining two different types: omni-direction and cardioid.

We just love throwing big words at you, don’t we? Omni-directional? Cardioid? What in the cockadoodle does that mean?! Chill out, help has arrived. The words omni-directional and cardioid refer to what is called the “pick up pattern” of a microphone, and when you break them down, the names actually make a lot of sense. Omni means “all,” so omni-directional means all directions. This type of mic has a pickup pattern shaped like a large sphere and will gather sound no matter what direction the sound is coming from. You follow?

Now cardioid is just as easy even though it sounds like a word plucked out of some alien language. Again referring to the shape of the pickup pattern, the cardioid mic picks up sound coming only from in front of it, ignoring for the most part the sound waves hitting it from the sides and rear. The pattern bows out towards the rear slightly before curving back around to the front creating a shape that looks a heck of a lot like a heart. Did you figure it out yet? Cardioid is simply the word cardio with an I-D on the end of it, and you know that the word cardio is derived from the Greek word for heart. Well, maybe you don’t know THAT much, but just know that cardio refers to something heart-related pretty much all the time, including here.

So which one do you need for your shoot? Well, as far as lavaliers go, you’ll almost always want to go with omni. When looking for a place to clip a mic onto your subject, you never know which direction it’s going to need to face since that will be dictated by the talent’s wardrobe. These create a natural sound by picking up not only the dialog, but also some of the atmosphere.

The cardioid pattern generally is much more effective on shotgun mics…You remember the difference between lavs and shotguns, right? This video right here? These types of mics can be held farther away from the talent since the pick up pattern can be longer rather than wide like omni mics. The problem is that they virtually negate all sound from behind and from the sides meaning that if that mic is off axis, your primary sound isn’t going to come out very well. When it comes to lavs, being pinned to your talent’s clothes and all, it’s too easy for them to get knocked out of place. Just stick with omni for your lavs and you’ll save yourself a massive headache.

Stephen Schweickart is the co-founder of VScreen. For more information on this topic visit VScreen’s site at http://www.vscreen.com/.

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