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The 16 Best Overhead Drum Mics – Make Your Drums Heard Loud & Clear

19/04/2023

For any kind of drum recording, overhead microphones are pretty much essential. No matter what shells you have mics on, overheads will reinforce and add space and depth to your kit’s sound, bringing punch and presence.

Some famous recordings have almost exclusively used overheads, so how do you get a good sound out of them and what do you need to capture your drums effectively? We cover 16 of the best overhead drum mics across all kinds of budgets, so whether you’re doing some home recording, running a project studio, or using them for live sound, you can be sure your drums will sound exceptional.

Our top picks

In a hurry? Here are our top 5 overhead drum mics. 

Lewitt LCT040 MPMatched pair of small diaphragm condensers with excellent value. Check the current price
Rode NT5Adaptable small diaphragm condensers with pad and high-pass filters.Check the current price
Aston SpiritVersatile large diaphragm condenser with variable polar pattern and characterful sound.Check the current price
Shure KSM137Pair of small diaphragm condensers with incredible headroom for live sound.Check the current price
Neumann U87aiPremium large diaphragm condenser for incredible studio recording.Check the current price

Best overhead drum mics

1. Behringer C-2

Best budget option

Key features:

  • Pair of factory-matched small diaphragm condensers
  • Cardioid polar pattern rejects off-axis noise for punchier sound
  • Switchable high-pass filter and -10 dB pad

The Behringer C-2 matched pair is a set of small-diaphragm condensers that are a great start for capturing drums.

Ideal for home recording or small venues, their compact pencil microphone housing is extremely common in mics of their kind due to its flexibility in setup. These cardioid condenser microphones provide a focused pickup that reduces reflections and room tone for an accurate, punchy sound.

The C-2 provide control options like a high-pass filter, which cuts low-end mud for extra clarity to enhance your drum sound, and a -10 dB pad to prevent distortion, which is great for louder drummers and live performances.

Their light, low-mass diaphragm then delivers a good, snappy transient response, making it great for picking up the percussive sound of drums.

A highly affordable pair of microphones that can also shine on other sources like acoustic guitars and string instruments, the C-2 are a great entry-level option.

Included in the set is a stereo spacing bar for spaced setup, windshields, microphone clips, and a hard travel case. Paired with their durable die-cast metal housing, the C-2 are tough enough to hold up on stages or intensive studio use.

Shop now | Behringer C-2


2. SubZero SZC-100

Key features:

  • Pair of small diaphragm condensers
  • Cardioid polar pattern prevents feedback
  • Transformerless FET circuitry delivers pure, accurate sound

The SubZero SZC-100 pair is another set of pencil condenser microphones. As this list continues, you’ll see plenty more with a similar design.

The pencil style of condensers works wonders on stereo sources.

It’s also ideal for overheads because of its flat, accurate frequency response, with some boosts in the high-end on the brighter mics and gentle high-end roll-offs on the darker ones. This makes them adaptable to all kinds of kits, cymbals, and musical styles; brighter cymbals might need a darker-sounding overhead mic to balance them out, whereas darker cymbals might need a brighter mic for clarity.

Their accurate frequency response combined with their thin diaphragm offers a great transient response that picks up drum hits smoothly and naturally. Plus, the SZC-100 condensers offer high performance at a low price.

These condenser mics feature transformerless FET circuitry to offer a clear, transparent sound that doesn’t colour your recordings.

The SZC-100 pair comes complete with two windshields, two microphone clips, and a leatherette pouch for portability. These microphones are great for fitting into tight spaces and capturing a range of acoustic or stringed instruments, far beyond just drums!

Shop now | SubZero SZC-100


3. Shure PGA181

Key features:

  • Extremely versatile condenser microphone for instrument recordings
  • Durable build quality from Shure ensures reliability on stage
  • Smooth, detailed sound softens harsh cymbals

Shure PGA181The Shure PGA181 is a cardioid condenser microphone that’s extremely versatile. Its detailed sound not only excels on drum overheads, but on everything from vocals and strings to guitar amps and horns.

Often the best drum overhead microphones are the detailed condensers that work well on a variety of sources – there’s just no beating a mic with great tuning and a detailed transient response.

Like all Shure microphones, the PGA181’s rugged build and extensive testing ensure it can stand up to just about anything.

The PGA181 features a focused cardioid polar pattern to prevent feedback, and despite its larger construction than typical pencil mics, it’s still discrete enough to be placed wherever you need it, perfect for cluttered stages or compact drum rooms.

The PGA181 comes complete with an XLR cable, microphone clip, and a carrying pouch for portability.

Shop now | Shure PGA181


4. Lewitt LCT 040MP

Best for home and project studios

Key features:

  • Ultra-compact small diaphragm condenser pair
  • Presence boost for helping your kit cut through the mix
  • Bright, extended high-frequencies without harshness

The Lewitt LCT 040MP is a pair of extremely compact small-diaphragm microphones for stereo recording.

Even by the standards of the highly space-effective microphones we’ve covered, the LCT 040 may just be some of the smallest around. This offers a great deal of flexibility for setup and positioning so you can fine-tune your sound.

Once again offering versatility, drum overheads aren’t the only things the LCT 040 excel at, their transparent sound and clear, smooth high-end are great for acoustic guitars, strings, and even choirs.

A well-tuned frequency response, presence boost, and cardioid polar pattern will also ensure your drum kit sounds full and record-ready, whether it’s live or recorded.

The LCT 040MP comes as a factory-matched pair for an utterly accurate and consistent stereo image and sound. They include windscreens, microphone clips, and a transport bag for easy setup.

Shop now | Lewitt LCT 040MP


5. Sennheiser e614

Key features:

  • Pencil microphone designed specifically for overheads
  • Durable metal design and high SPL handling ideal for live sound
  • Full, natural sound with gentle high-frequency roll-off for smoothness

Sennheiser e614The Sennheiser e614 is a singular pencil condenser microphone with a flat, natural response that makes for excellent drum overheads.

Flat, balanced mids, smooth low-end, and a gentle high-frequency roll-off prevent harsh or brittle cymbals whilst remaining full and natural. And even though the e614 was specially designed for overheads, the e614 is also highly recommended for orchestral instruments like woodwinds, strings, and percussion.

The e614 features a supercardioid pickup pattern, giving it an even more focused and upfront sound that’s great for small stages. Its high SPL handling is great for live performances or loud, aggressive drummers as it prevents clipping.

Sensitive and responsive, this microphone’s small capsule and thin diaphragm responds incredibly well to transients.

The Sennheiser e614 is built for travel and is great for touring bands and engineers thanks to its durable metal housing. The e614 includes a microphone pouch and clip.

Shop now | Sennheiser e614


6. Rode M5

Key features:

  • Factory-matched pair of small diaphragm condensers
  • Balanced sensitivity for consistent recordings
  • Extremely thin diaphragm for excellent transient response

Rode M5The Rode M5 is a matched pair of cardioid small-diaphragm condenser microphones.

Built for stereo recording, the M5 are great for clean, atmospheric recordings. In fact, each unit is specified to have matching sensitivities for utter consistency.

The M5 are perfect for recording orchestras, choirs, and drum overheads alike, blending room tone with any instrument you might want.

The M5’s full frequency response is great for capturing details from your drums, with a thin, gold-sputtered capsule that responds well to the percussive crack of each hit. As a more affordable and entry-level version of the famed NT5, the M5 provide a great sound that’s ideal for location recording and project studios.

The Rode M5 come complete with two microphone clips for easy setup on stands and two windshields for reducing harshness and plosives.

Shop now | Rode M5


7. sE Electronics sE7

Best budget small diaphragm pair

Key features:

  • Affordable and high-performance pair of small diaphragm condensers
  • Discrete circuitry with transformerless design for utter transparency
  • Switchable high-pass filter and pad for controlling your sound

The sE Electronics sE7 is another set of small-diaphragm condensers with a cardioid polar pattern. sE Electronics offer affordable but great-sounding microphones of all stripes, from workhorse condensers to ribbon microphones, dynamic instrument microphones, and live vocal microphones alike.

The sE7 provides discrete internal circuitry that’s totally transformerless, giving a totally transparent and accurate sound that puts the listener in the room.

The sE7’s flat, accurate sound absolutely excels on drum overheads, reinforcing the rest of your kit mics with a thunderous, punchy drum sound that’s great to push into the mix.

These mics have a switchable high-pass filter fixed at 80 Hz, cutting low-frequency rumble that might muddy your sound and reduce the punch from kicks and toms.

They also provide a -20 dB pad, making it easy to manage aggressive drummers and noisy stages, prevent clipping, and really dig in with compression for a punchier sound.

The sE7 pair includes two microphones, two clips, two windshields, and two thread adapters for an easy and versatile setup.

Shop now | sE Electronics sE7


8. AKG P170

Key features:

  • Matched pair of pencil condensers with legendary AKG sound
  • Extended treble brings out details in cymbals without sounding brittle
  • 20 dB pad adds extra headroom to prevent clipping

The AKG P170 is a matched pair of small-diaphragm condenser microphones that brings AKG’s classically neutral sound to an affordable set of pencil mics. The P170 offer a clear pickup with an extended treble for detail to let cymbals come through clearly.

A full frequency response from 20 Hz to 20 kHz captures all the nuances of any drum performance, with a cardioid polar pattern to keep things focused.

The P170 are equipped with a -20 dB pad for preventing clipping, and paired with the high headroom, these microphones offer total clarity.

Great for high-pressure stages, intense performers, and other loud sources, the AKG P170 excel in live sound and studio recording contexts. But as they’re built for durability and portability, they’re great for pretty much any scenario where you might need to rely on your microphones.

The P170 come complete with a pair of boom stands for an easy raised setup, microphone clips, and two XLR cables for running signals.

Shop now | AKG P170


9. Audix ADX51

Key features:

  • Single small diaphragm condenser designed specifically for drums
  • High-frequency roll-off smooths out brighter cymbals
  • Maximum SPL of 132 dB and 10 dB pad for excellent headroom

The Audix ADX51 is a pencil condenser microphone with a precise, neutral sound. Its custom frequency response from 40 Hz to 18 kHz gives this mic a darker sound that’s great for brighter kits as it prevents brittle-sounding or harsh cymbals and adds weight to kick drums and toms.

Perfect for not just drums, but percussion and other acoustic instruments too, the ADX51 is a great choice if you’re after a small diaphragm condenser.

The ADX51 has a -10 dB pad, which prevents clipping and is especially great for close-mic’ing sources, and a low-cut filter at 150 Hz for reducing its low-end thump if you need more clarity in the midrange.

This small-diaphragm condenser also has a huge sound pressure handling – up to 132 dB, making it great at managing noisy stages even without engaging the pad.

Tough brass housing provides an extremely sturdy casing for touring, travel, and rigorous studio use. It offers the same lightweight diaphragm as many of the other great microphones for a fast and reactive pickup, with a cardioid polar pattern to keep things focused.

Shop now | Audix ADX51


10. Rode NT5

Key features:

  • Matched pair of pencil condensers with consistent phase
  • Maximum SPL of 143 dB for extremely clean sound
  • Dual-power system accepts 24V and 48V phantom power

The Rode NT5 are a standard choice for both studios and live music venues due to their affordability and quality. Building on the sound and features of the M5, the NT5 excel on drums and acoustic instruments.

Carefully matched to provide consistent sensitivity and phase performance, these microphones produce a reliable stereo recording that’s great for overheads.

The NT5 set not only offers consistency but also warmth and character from their externally biased condenser capsules, with a breadth of response that captures the full detail of the drum kit.

Their cardioid polar pattern allows you to add a great deal of gain before causing feedback, while their SPL handling of up to 143 dB prevents clipping and distortion.

The NT5 also provide dual power options, with compatibility for 48-volt phantom power as well as 24-volt phantom power.

This set includes carrying bags for each mic in the set, as well as thread adapters, microphone clips, and windshields.

Shop now | Rode NT5


11. Aston Spirit

Best value for money

Key features:

  • Large-diaphragm condenser with character and versatility
  • Three polar patterns with cardioid, omnidirectional, or figure eight settings
  • Three position pad with 0, 10 dB and 20 dB options and 138 dB maximum SPL

The Aston Spirit is an extremely adaptable large-diaphragm condenser with a wealth of features that aren’t available on their smaller counterparts.

Sacrificing flatness for character, the Spirit features a transformer-balanced circuit to add a little personality to your drum overheads.

A popular studio and live microphone for vocals, guitars, amplifiers, and snares, as well as overheads, the Spirit is a newer mic that has proven itself amongst microphones with far longer-standing reputations.

The Spirit provides switchable polar patterns that add many more options to its sound and setup, so you can choose between cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-eight.

Its switchable pad offers two settings, -10 dB and -20 dB, for attenuating signals, preventing clipping, and extending headroom. This studio workhorse also has a low-cut filter fixed at 80 Hz.

Better still, sound pressure handling of 138 dB and low noise make this mic ideal for overheads in any setting.

And if that’s not enough, the Aston Spirit is also built for utter sturdiness, showcasing a stainless steel chassis and built-in mesh-knit pop filter that can take quite a beating on stages or in studios before giving out.

Shop now | Aston Spirit


12. Shure KSM32

Key features:

  • Large-diaphragm condenser from Shure that’s built to withstand anything
  • Transformerless preamp circuitry and thin diaphragm for clean, clear transient response
  • 15 dB pad and high-pass filter with two fixed slope and cutoff settings

Shure KSM32The Shure KSM32 is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone from Shure’s premium studio-focused KSM range. Whilst it’s built primarily for studio use, this condenser is robust enough to hold up on stages too.

Offering a smooth, even sound with transformerless preamp circuitry and incredible sound pressure handling of up to 154 dB, the KSM32 proves itself under the most challenging circumstances. It wouldn’t be a Shure microphone if it wasn’t built like a tank, either.

The KSM32 offers a -15 dB pad to avoid clipping, adding even more to its incredible headroom. It also features a high-pass filter with adjustable cutoff and slopes: -6 dB per octave below 115 Hz or -18 dB per octave below 80 Hz.

What makes the KSM32 great for overheads, however, and not just the usual instrument sources like vocals, guitars, and snare drums, is its extremely thin diaphragm that provides a clear, transient response.

This large-diaphragm condenser also has a built-in shock mount and pop filter, reducing vibration and handling noise as well as plosives. And finally, the KSM32 is packaged with the ShureLock stand mount, a padded bag, and a protective pouch for easy setup and portability.

Shop now | Shure KSM32


13. AKG C214

Key features:

  • Large-diaphragm condenser that takes its design from the legendary C414
  • Famously accurate and neutral sound with the additional detail afforded by large diaphragm
  • 20 dB pad and 156 dB maximum SPL ideal for live applications

The AKG C214 is another large-diaphragm condenser with a really detailed and natural sound.

Taking its heritage from the legendary C414, but this time with a fixed cardioid polar pattern rather than five, the C214 provides the same sound quality and fidelity as the C414 at the cost of some versatility.

That said, cardioid is ideal for a huge range of sources, and the C214 is a great studio workhorse with all the premium components and the design of the C414.

The C214 has a fantastic dynamic range for recordings and some solid SPL handling for high-impact sources up to 156 dB without clipping.

Its true-to-life sound and -20 dB pad are perfect for drum overheads, especially in a pair, as well as guitars, amplifiers, snare drums, and vocals. Whilst its reputation in studios is hard to argue with, the C214 is also great for live sound thanks to its ability to handle intense sources so easily.

The C214 includes a sturdy spider-design shockmount for a secure fit and a metal carrying case for completely safe portability.

Shop now | AKG C214


14. Shure KSM137

Best for live sound

Key features:

  • Premium pair of small diaphragm condensers with exceptionally clean sound
  • Three polar patterns with cardioid, omnidirectional, or figure eight settings
  • Huge SPL of 170 dB and 15 dB and 25 dB pad settings

Shure KSM137The Shure KSM137 is a set of more premium pencil condenser microphones. Building on the sound of Shure’s studio range in the KSM series, this pair offers the neutrality expected of small-diaphragm condensers, with some innovations to achieve a more detailed sound.

Their extremely thin Mylar diaphragm is layered with gold for a lightweight and responsive capsule that picks up transients and dynamics incredibly well.

The KSM137 feature a built-in transformerless preamp which prevents crossover distortion and harmonic distortion.

The three-position high-pass filter takes its slopes from the KSM32, with a gentle slope at a higher cutoff or a sharper slope at a lower cutoff for a smoother, more natural low-frequency roll-off that doesn’t remove the weight of your kit.

These pencil microphones also have a three-position pad with -15 dB and -25 dB settings to improve headroom and avoid distortion, giving these microphones some of the cleanest and broadest dynamic range you could ask for.

While a more expensive option, their incredible SPL handling of up to 170 dB makes the KSM137 perfect for high-end live venues. Not even the most aggressive drummers could make these distort!

They come with two clips, two windshields, and a stereo adapter bar to ensure phase coherence, as well as a plastic travel case.

Shop now | Shure KSM137


15. Neumann KM184

Key features:

  • Small-diaphragm condensers with a legendary reputation for recording
  • Clean, smooth sound with a gentle rise in response at 9 kHz for airy, rich detail
  • Great SPL handling of 138 dB

Neumann’s KM184 set has long been a premium choice for engineers the world over and for good reason. The KM184 delivers a smooth sound with clean, clear high frequencies thanks to a rise at about 9 kHz, adding airiness to darker drum kits and bringing out the richness and expression in orchestral instruments.

You can rely on the KM184 for intimate recordings or big, booming drum rooms. Its low noise and a cardioid polar pattern make sure of it, preventing feedback on live stages or studios.

Great off-axis rejection then helps minimise instrument spill in live settings and in the studio where bleed can often ruin the impact of your overheads.

Once again, broad dynamic range is the name of the game with these mics. With their maximum SPL handling of 138 dB, they can handle just about anything.

Transformerless, noiseless, and clear, with a subtle yet desirable frequency response typical of modern Neumann designs, the KM184 don’t need much in the way of extras, but they do include windshields, clips, and an extremely sturdy wooden case.

Shop now | Neumann KM184


16. Neumann U87ai

Best for professionals

Key features:

  • The gold-standard large-diaphragm condenser for studio recording
  • Naturalistic, sought-after character with presence boost in mids
  • Sensitive 117 dB SPL handling brings out details in every source

The Neumann U87ai truly needs no introduction. Even with its formidable heritage of legendary Neumann mics throughout history to compete with, the U87ai is one of the most sought-after large-diaphragm condensers on the planet.

It’s the same capsule that has been a studio standard for decades, heard on records by legendary artists like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Nina Simone, and Tame Impala.

Whilst obviously great on vocals, guitar amps, pianos, and brass, the U87 is also responsible for a number of incredible drum sounds when used as an overhead or room mic. In particular, the sound of Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks” drum intro was captured by a U87.

This microphone offers three polar patterns: cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure eight, letting you adjust the room tone in your capture.

The U87 also provides a -10 dB pad to improve its headroom because, despite its detail and great sound, you’re going to need some distance from the kit to avoid clipping with its 117 dB maximum sound pressure.

While this sensitivity might be seen as a drawback, it’s absolutely key to the rich, detailed sound that’s made it so desirable for artists and producers.

The U87 Studio Set comes with a shock mount and wooden box to reduce vibrations and protect the microphone when not in use.

Shop now | Neumann U87ai

What to consider in an overhead drum mic

Dynamic mics vs. condenser mics

Dynamic microphones and condenser microphones are definitely distinct from one another, which is important to understand when mic’ing up any sound source.

Dynamic microphones tend to have a more robust diaphragm which means they can handle higher sound pressures, although their sound tends to be less detailed.

Condensers tend to be more expensive and sensitive to sound pressures, but far more detailed and usually transparent.

In short, dynamic microphones are durable and great for non-ideal settings like live stages, whereas condensers have more detail and sensitivity, making them great in the studio. However, it’s not always that simple these days; condensers have improved in sound pressure and dynamic mics have advanced in sound, but, generally, condensers are seen as the go-to for overheads.


Polar pattern

Polar patterns dictate the directions from which the mic picks up sound.

Omnidirectional picks up sound from all directions, cardioid picks up from the front, rejecting the back and sides, and figure eight accepts the front and back equally, but rejects the sides completely.

Omnidirectional isn’t always great for overheads as it can easily pick up too much bleed from other instruments in a live setting, but it’s excellent on a room mic and could work in a controlled and well-treated studio room.

Cardioid is focused and detailed, which makes it a great all-rounder.

Figure eight delivers a nice, controlled room tone that adds a little weight and space for overheads, especially in studio recording where nothing else will interfere with it.

In the studio, you have more space to experiment with polar patterns and find what you like. Different patterns might sound better on different sessions – no two recordings are the same – but for live, it’s best to stick to cardioid to avoid spill and feedback.


Sound pressure levels

Another key for overheads is sound pressure levels. At the very least, this dictates the setting they’d be best suited to.

Lower maximum sound pressures mean the mic is more sensitive and likely to clip when the performance exceeds this level.

Higher SPLs are great for live sound and aggressive players – if you’re a rock or metal drummer or work with bands in these genres, you probably want something with the highest SPL handling you can get.

However, some microphones with lower SPL handling have desirable characteristics like sound quality or detail that you might want in your recordings due to their sensitivity, which means it’s probably best saved for the studio.


Weight and size

You’ll usually want something lightweight and compact for overheads because they’re easier to position correctly and are more secure on mic stands.

Something you can easily move around usually means you can quickly get your kit sounding right. You want your overhead microphones high up and equally distant from the centre of the kit, over the cymbals. In an uncontrolled space, like a live venue or home studio, you might want them pointed at the centre or just a mono mic over the whole kit.


Brands

The brand of your mic is an important thing to keep in mind as it dictates not only quality but also sound.

Most brands go about microphone design in their own unique way. Behringer make durable and affordable mics, which are ideal for live venues and project studios, for example. Shure are well-known for their incredible build quality and signature sound profile, which is beloved in live venues and studios alike. Audix and sE Electronics also make versatile and affordable mics that are great all-rounders.

Meanwhile, brands like Neumann create highly specialist, premium microphones best used in studios.

Overhead drum mic

FAQs

What mic should I use for overheads?

The right microphone for overheads is down to context and the sound you prefer, however, condenser microphones are the most advisable as they pick up the high-end details of your kit. Whether you need small-diaphragm condensers or large-diaphragm condensers is up to personal choice and available space.


What is the 3-to-1 rule in drum overheads?

The 3-to-1 rule means that for every measure of distance from the source the microphones are, they should also be three times that distance apart from one another. It’s a good way of ensuring your microphones remain in phase for a fuller sound when recording anything stereo. So, if your overheads are two feet above the kit, for example, they should also be six feet apart from one another.


How far should overhead mics be from drums?

Overhead microphones should be positioned about two or three feet above the kit, with one above the snare and one above the floor tom. If you’re using a mono overhead, you’ll want the single microphone in the exact centre of the whole kit at this same height. This is a good guideline, but not a hard rule.

Final thoughts

Good drum overheads can be dictated by a range of things like good sound pressure handling, transient response, a neutral and accurate sound, or a recognisable character that suits your music.

Whatever style of overhead microphones you prefer, our list of the best overhead drum mics is sure to have something for you.

 

Content Writer - Live Sound

Callum is a former audio and music technology student who has a love of punk, rock, metal, and electronic music. In his spare time, he produces music, and DJs occasionally. He's also a freelance engineer when possible, helping local bands make their noise even noisier.

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