Being a drummer means that microphones are probably the last thing on your mind, mainly because drums are always loud enough. There comes a time for every drummer, however, when you should start thinking about the mics you use.
You’ve spent time perfecting your technique, and you’ve got your drum kit sounding amazing, but how do you capture that sound? How do you make sure all the characteristics of your playing come across in the recording?
There’s a wide range of drum microphones out there, ranging from budget-friendly to premium quality. In this guide, we’ll help you understand drum mics for both stage and studio. We’ll look at the best offerings from brands such as Shure, Sennheiser, Behringer, and AKG.
Where to start?
Some microphones are tailored towards studio recording, and some for live settings.
You can use most microphones for both environments, but usually, for live settings, you should look at “close-miking” your drum kit.
Sometimes, you’ll get away with using fewer microphones, depending on the size of the venue. For example, if you’re playing for 150 people, you won’t need “overhead” microphones as the cymbals will be loud enough. In the studio, you’ll have time to focus entirely on your drum sound, using multiple microphones and capturing the “room” sound to add depth to your kit.
Before we start looking at our recommendations, keep in mind that the mics will only sound as good as the drum you are recording. If you’re using old drum heads and broken cymbals, they’ll still sound bad.
Take the time to make sure your drum kit sounds great on its own first. Once it does, it’ll help these microphones stand out and work to their potential. This will allow you, or a sound engineer, more control while mixing.
Which microphone for which drum?
We’ll break this guide down by giving you a couple of recommendations for each drum and why they’re suited.
Let’s start with kick drum microphones and work our way around the kit.
Kick drum microphones
The kick drum is one of the most important elements of a drum kit. It provides the drive and pulse of the song. Whether it’s a recording or a live gig, you want to be able to hear and feel the thumping of a kick drum in your chest.
Shure Beta 91A
The Shure Beta 91A may look different to others out there as it’s a boundary microphone. Its flat shape makes it easy to place inside any kick drum, and it can capture more attack from the beater. This gives your kick a punchy low end with brilliant detail in the higher frequencies.
The Beta 91A is a condenser microphone that provides a frequency response of 20Hz – 20kHz, meaning you’ll get the most natural kick sound possible. The underside has a switch that can cut frequencies around 400hz to help remove any unwanted low-mids, making it super easy to get your desired drum sound.
Having the microphone inside the kick makes it perfect for minimising bleed from other drums and cymbals – which is great for recording. It doesn’t need to be placed on a stand, helping you maximise and declutter space on stage. And like all Shure microphones, this is built to last and can afford to be (ab)used on tour.
The Sennheiser e902 is more of a traditional-looking kick drum microphone. It’s a dynamic mic that can capture low frequencies in incredible detail. The cardioid polar pattern offers excellent off-axis sound rejection which minimises bleed from other instruments.
With a frequency response of 20hz to 16khz, this microphone is perfect for capturing the boom from a kick drum. Not only will it help your kick cut through the mix, but it also offers a warm and round sound.
Plus, its all-metal construction makes it perfect for touring – it’ll be able to survive most knocks and drops.
Shure BETA 52A
Shure’s Beta range offers a wider frequency range and higher output than other microphones. When positioned in front of the kick drum’s sound hole, it provides a full low end. Its super-cardioid polar pattern then combats any unwanted bleed from other instruments, drums, or cymbals.
All Beta microphones from Shure are made with a reinforced steel grille that is dent-resistant, making this microphone (almost) indestructible.
The Beta 52A has been perfectly tailored for bass-heavy instruments, with a frequency range of 20Hz to 10Khz. As a pair, the Beta 52A and 91A are unstoppable. They produce an incredible kick sound, providing a great mix of attack from the inside mic and low-end weight from the Beta 52A on the outside.
Shop now | Shure Beta 52A Bass Drum Microphone
Snare drum microphones
Drummers are always looking for the perfect snare sound. You want something that’s going to capture the detail of the high frequencies and the punch of the low mids.
Snare drum mics are usually dynamic, and they can handle sound pressure levels (SPL) much better. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and use condenser mics on snares as they also provide amazing detail.
Arguably one of the best microphones out there for a snare, the SM57 is the industry standard. It’s hard to find a drummer that hasn’t used an SM57 to mic up a snare at some point in their career.
The SM57 gives weight and body to your snare, as well as enough high-end presence that perfectly cuts through the mix.
As snares are relatively loud, a good snare mic needs to be able to withstand the SPL for prolonged periods of time. The SM57 can take hours of snare recording; it’s a reliable workhorse that can cope with the harshest of conditions, making it perfect for live gigs and touring too.
There’s a reason so many drummers and sound engineers rely on the SM57.
The quality and robust build of the microphone means that, even if it is hit with a stick, it will continue to keep working. Its flat grille allows you to place the microphone as close to the sound source as possible, guaranteeing full control of the proximity effect. So, you can get the snare sound you want.
Shop now | Shure SM57 Dynamic Instrument Microphone
Perfect for capturing the sound of snares, the Sennheiser e604 has an integrated clip that easily attaches to a snare, making your set-up super quick and easy. You won’t need any additional microphone stands.
This microphone provides crisp, clear sounds with exceptionally high detail, especially for a dynamic microphone. It excels when it comes to mid and high-frequency sounds but can still deliver clear lows.
Your snare will have depth and clarity when it’s paired with the e604, and there’s no need to worry about distortion due to it being able to withstand high SPL. The interesting thing about this microphone is that it’s not very sensitive to any sudden impacts, meaning if you accidentally hit it with your stick, it won’t stand out in the mix.
The AKG P4 is a very safe choice when it comes to snare mics. It will provide your snare with a punchy, intense sound. Little to no EQ’ing is needed when using this microphone, making it perfect for a beginner who just needs a mic that they can rely on.
Like the previous models, this mic can withstand high SPL and is built to last during any knocks or drops – perfect for live use. What’s more, its small size makes it extremely easy to place in your stick or cymbal bag so that you always have it to hand.
This microphone can be used with the integrated stand adapter as well as the external bracket, letting you mount it to a regular mic stand.
Shop now | AKG P4 Dynamic Instrument Microphone
Kick drums and snares are two drums that need to be miked up, no matter what type of gig you’re playing. However, depending on the venue and genre, you may not need to mic up the toms. For example, intimate jazz gigs or small venues can get away with just an overhead or no mic at all. That being said, here are the mics for toms we would recommend if you’re planning on playing a larger venue.
Shure Beta 98AMP
The Beta 98AMP has been designed specifically for tom drums. Its flexible gooseneck teams with the Shure A75M universal drum mount for an easy setup and premium quality sound in seconds. Just attach the microphone to the rim of the drum and position it the way you like.
This microphone is quite special in that it comes with its own built-in pre-amp, which allows you to get a smooth, natural sound from your drums.
As this is a condenser microphone, it picks up a high level of detail from the toms, capturing all the punchy lows and resonance you need. Plus, it enables the toms to sound incredibly natural when recorded. The Beta 98AMP is perfect for both live and studio settings.
Sennheiser MD 421 II
When it comes to studio tom microphones, Sennheiser’s MD 421 II is probably one of the most used mics out there.
It gives amazing results every single time, allowing the engineer to get natural, punchy toms that are full of clarity, weight, and body.
The interesting thing about this microphone is that it has a five-position switch that can change the tone of the microphone. This switch allows you to cut the low end of the microphone at five different levels – perfect for removing any unwanted boom whilst keeping clarity in the top end.
Getting a great sound can be as easy as pointing the microphone in front of the source and pressing record.
Being a dynamic cardioid microphone means that the MD 421 II’s “off-axis” rejection is incredibly good. You’ll get little, if any, bleed from the cymbals, promising total control over the isolated toms in a mix.
A lot of sound engineers and producers swear by this microphone as the “go-to” mic. Once you hear it on your toms, you’ll understand why.
Shure Beta 56A
Perfect for both toms and snare, the Beta 56A microphone can be clipped onto the rim of the drum, allowing you to capture the perfect tom sound whilst keeping the stage uncluttered.
All the Shure Beta mics have an extended frequency range and higher output. You can even use the 56A for vocals if your drummer is brave enough to sing. The super-cardioid polar pattern means that there’s minimal bleed from other instruments or drums on the stage.
The microphone’s advanced shock mount system eradicates vibration noise so that, even if you hit the mic or play the drums hard, the noise from the microphone won’t come through. Thanks to an almost-indestructible, hardened steel grille, the Beta 56A is ideal for toms. Beta mics will help your toms sound weighty and punchy with plenty of articulate detail.
Shop now | Shure Beta 56A Snare/Tom Microphone
Overheads are for capturing the overall sound of the drums – not just the cymbals. You want to make sure that the cymbals are not going to wash over everything else.
Condenser microphones are the best mics for overhead as they can capture more detail than a dynamic and usually have a much wider frequency range.
Overhead mics usually come in two different styles: a small diaphragm condenser (SDC) and a large diaphragm condenser (LDC). SDCs help cymbals and snare really cut through the mix. They usually offer a brighter, more “modern” sound. An LDC, on the other hand, provides a warm mid-range, more low end, and more spacious sound.
Shure Beta 181
The Shure Beta 181 is a very unique microphone as it’s one of Shure’s only microphones with a removable capsule. Capsules allow you to change the polar pattern of the microphone, and with the Beta181 you can choose from cardioid, super-cardioid, bi-directional, and omnidirectional. This makes the microphone versatile and well suited to drums and other instruments.
The frequency response is tailored for a wide dynamic range and can be used under high SPL conditions, meaning the Beta 181 is the perfect SDC microphone for drum overheads.
This mic’s small size makes it great to have in a live setting as it won’t take up much space. Plus its robust construction can survive the brutal conditions of live touring.
With interchangeable capsules, you can use this mic to capture your snare or toms, or even act as a room mic. The possibilities are endless with the Shure Beta 181!
Shop now | Shure Beta 181 Cardioid
Shop now | Shure Beta 181 Supercardioid
Shop now | Shure Beta 181 Bidirectional
Shop now | Shure Beta 181 Omnidirectional
The Beringer C-2 Microphone is another SDC for your cymbals and snare, and it’s perfect for anyone who’s on a budget. But don’t be fooled by its incredibly low price, this microphone has a wide frequency range – 20hz to 20kHz – which means that no detail is missed.
The C-2 also has an ultra-low noise FET input that helps to minimise and eliminate low-frequency distortion.
To give you total control of your drum tone, it features a bass-cut switch, which removes any unwanted boomy low frequencies that may make your mix sound muddy.
For overhead microphones, you’ll want a pair, which is easy with the C-2 as it’s both affordable and of incredible quality. Not only will a pair help your drums sound amazing in a mix, but stereo overheads will also help your bandmates listen to the full kit without having to take out their in-ear monitors if they use them. Your band will sound as tight as ever.
AKG C414 XLS
AKG’s C414 is a staple microphone that can be found in just about any professional studio. The reason for this is its versatility – it can be used for pretty much anything. In terms of drums, the C414 will usually be used as an overhead as it captures every single detail and nuance.
The C414 features changeable polar patterns, accessed via the simple switch on the front of the mic. These polar patterns include cardioid, figure of eight, hypercardioid, omnidirectional, and wide cardioid. Such versatility makes the mic a go-to for drummers wanting to record with a large diaphragm condenser.
Along with changeable polar patterns, this microphone gives you even more control thanks to its bass-cut feature.
This allows you to cut bass frequencies at 40hz, 80hz, and 160hz, which is great for overheads as it gives you the chance to focus on the mid to high frequencies of the kit.
The AKG C141 is an iconic microphone and it’s easy to see why it’s used by so many professionals.
Shop now | AKG C414 XLS Condenser Microphone
Choosing your own microphones is the ideal way to achieve a custom sound. However, some brands, like Shure, have created affordable drum packs that give you everything you need in one package.
Shure Drum Microphone Kit
The Shure PGADrumKit Pack comes in a few different versions. They all include the PGA range of microphones from Shure – a budget-friendly series that provides exceptional build and sound quality. In fact, their standards are similar to the iconic microphones Shure offers.
The PGADrumKit packs are available in the following:
1 x PGA52 kick drum microphone
2 x PGA56 snare/tom microphone
1 x PGA57 instrument microphone
1 x PGA52 kick drum microphone
2 x PGA56 snare/tom microphone
1 x PGA57 instrument microphone
2 x PGA81 instrument microphones
1 x PGA52 kick drum microphone
3 x PGA56 snare/tom microphone
1 x PGA57 instrument microphone
2 x PGA81 instrument microphone
This is the most cost-effective way to make sure you get the microphones you need without sacrificing quality. All these PGA kits come with a carry case and accessories, perfect for getting any drummer started.
The choice is yours
Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of drum microphones. The one thing to remember is that choosing the right mic comes down to what you’re using it for and what you want to achieve. Always think about your drum kit first and the microphone second, a bad kit will sound like a bad kit, whichever microphone you use.
Microphones are there to enhance and capture all the sonic details.
This is just a start to understanding drum mics. Once you start perfecting the techniques and tricks used for placing drum mics, that’s when you can really start to customise and manipulate your sound.