BEST DRUM MICS: Ultimate Guide To Great Sounds

best drum mics

Getting a great drum sound takes a little bit of time to understand and learn.  Knowing how to EQ and add the right plugin to the track is one part.  The second part is having the best drum mics for the kit.  And the last part is how and where to place the them when recording.

From my experience there are 3 things that make drums sound great or bad.

  1. How the drum sound ( if they sound like crap, they will record that crap sound, you can’t change that after)
  2. The room sound is important.  Imagine recording drums in the middle of the basketball court vs. your insulated basement.  If you can, find a nice tall ambient room.  With wood panels that resonant a little bit.
  3. The mics make a huge difference.

My Ideal recording set-up needs a few good mics.  I can get by with 4 microphones for a full drum kit.  But if I can, I will add more to each drum.

This guide is broken down into each drum that will be recorded.  But here is a quick reference for my ideal set-up:

  1. OverheadsCAD GXL1200 Cardioid Condenser Microphone
  2. Kick drumAKG D112 Kick drum mic
  3. SnareShure SM 57 snare mic
  4. Tom’sSennheiser E604 Dynamic Cardioid for Snare and Toms

Isolate Drum Sounds

Recording the drums is tricky, you’re always going to have them bleed sounds together.  But that’s Okay.  There are some tricks you can do to make sure they are as isolated as they can be.

After the mics are placed on the kit, cover the kick drum with blankets and try and place your snare mic in place that won’t pic up a majority of the hi-hats.

I don’t place a microphone on the hi-hats because they are so loud, that the overheads and the snare will pic them up with out a problem at all.  The overheads are a beautiful thing, splurge on a get pair and get the best overhead drum mics.

Here’s why, they pick up that room ambiance I was talking about, and they pic up the drum-kit’s cymbals, hi-hats and tom’s in such HUGE sounding way.  With the kick and snare isolated, and the overheads picking up everything else, you are golden!

Recording the bass drum or Kick drum

I say bass drum and kick drum just so we don’t get them confused, they are the same thing.

If you want a fat, snappy sounding kick drum sound, then you need my number one go to microphone, the AKG D112.

AKG D112 MkII Professional Bass Drum Microphone.

The D112 has earned a famed reputation as one of the best bass drum microphones ever made due to its high SPL capability, punchy EQ and bulletproof construction”

This is almost everyone’s go to bass mic.  It has been used for decades for live and recording settings.  And here is why:

  • It has a large bullet proof body.
  • It can handle 160DB without distorting
  • large diaphragm has a very low resonance frequency
  • Very Affordable (You want this mic)
  • You can use if for recording the bass, or trombone or whatever low end instrument you have.

This is such a great a necessary microphone to have.  It’s one you can totally notice the difference right away when you use it.  It is kind of true that you won’t need to eq too much with this mic.  But, you will, but not by much.  It is designed to record the kick drum and it does it well.

When I place the D112 on the bass drum, I usually place it right in the middle of the kit and I sometimes aim it right at the beater to get the best sound.  But go ahead and experiment with the best place to put it.

Make sure you have a piece of carpet underneath the stand, so that you sound proof it as much as you can.  We don’t want any odd floor sounds from the drum to be recorded.

Recording Snare Drum

Getting a snare to sound good is pretty easy.  However, the snare must sound good before trying to record.  So, if you have that taken care of then this will be no problem.

I personally don’t use the super expensive mics to record the snare.  My favorite snare microphone is the Shure SM57. About $75

The 57 mic is another industry standard.  I like this mic because you can place this super close to the instrument and get that great sound.  It has solid body, made of metal that can with stand if it gets hit by a drum stick.

I also use this mic for recording vocals, guitar, bass, well anything.  Its just that simple and great.

How to mic the snare is really easy.  First, just make sure you are on top of the snare and away from the hi-hat and make sure its not touching anything.  I place the furthest away from the drummer and about an inch from the skin.

You can angle it at 45 degrees or which ever.  But at least an inch away and not too far away that it will pick up other instruments.

Pretty easy, just make sure the snare sounds good.  When it comes time to mix, I like to compress and add a little reverb.  Gets a pretty nice sound that doesn’t over power the mix.

The Best Overheads

I love the sound of overhead microphones.  They do a great jobs of picking up those nice crisp cymbals and the ambient sounds of everything else.  It’s great when adding the kick and snare mics to the mix, it makes a solid well rounded sound.

Putting these in stereo is the way to go.  I love having them angled to the left and to the right.  You get the feel of cymbals and drums from both sides of the speakers.

My favorite overhead’s are the CAD GXL1200 Cardioid Condenser Microphones.

These have a few sound options, point at the source transaction and field effect detection.  the GXL1200 condenser really captures the true sound of your instruments.

They require phantom power to use.  Some digital workstations come with, but if you need you can get a cheap pre-amp with phantom power for about $30 dollars.

“The cardioid polar pattern is ideal for field-effect recording for vocals and instruments, but it also works well for live applications. Use condenser mics to get a clear directional recording of choirs, acoustic instruments, strings, piano, and cymbals/overheads.” -CAD

You will need a couple of angled mic stands that can get up and over the drum kit.  Most standard vocal mic stands can do it.  You will want to angle them from the above the center of the kick drum and aim each mic towards the opposite ends of the kit.

What I like to do is record a separate track for each mic.  When you come to mix down, I like to pan on to the left and one to the right.  I like to keep at 3 and 10 o’clock.  It creates and overall stereo sound of the kit, that you’ll love, trust me!

The Best Tom Mics

The tom are pretty easy to mic up and get a good sound.  Once again, make sure they are tuned and sound good before trying to record them.

I have a favorite I like to use.  They do a great job of getting that low end as well as high tone when the drum is hit.  That’s something really important for the toms.  I like to use the Sennheiser E604 Dynamic Cardioid for Snare and Toms. 10 year warranty comes with!

“The e604 is a robust microphone for close-miking drums, brass and woodwind instruments, capable of handling very high sound pressure levels in excess of 160dB. Delivered with drum clip for attachment to the rim of a drum. ” – Sennheiser

The are built solid specifically for toms and snares.  They are small and out of the way.  So, your drummer won’t hit them.  They also come with drum clips, you just attach to the side of the tom and you’re good to go.  But you could easily take the clip off and attach it to a microphone stand.

Generally that’s all I really do when it comes to mic’ing the toms.  But, you could and should experiment with the sound as much as possible before recording it.

Don’t be afraid to tell the drummer to back off and let you get on the kit.  Put some dampeners on if they have to much sustain.  The key is, you are the producer/engineer, you need to get the best sound as possible.  They’ll understand, I do it all the time.

Same goes for the toms when it comes to mixing and mastering.  A touch of reverb and then off center them to add dimensions to the drums and you have a nice deep sounding rack and floor tom.

The Best Drum Mics

The ones listed above are my go to microphones.  In my onion are the best for recording drums with.  But, they are versatile and you can use these for other instruments too.

If you were to go that route you’d spend around $600-700 dollars.  And that really isn’t that bad for getting a great drum sound.

They do make some really good drum mic kits.  What these are, are a set of drum microphones that include almost everything you need.  Some are simple 4-piece of 7 piece.  And I have used the 4-piece sennheiser set.  That’s where I found out they were great on the toms and snare.

But what I listed above is my absolute favorite.  I use them on all my recordings.  So, I’m going to list a few of my favorite kits that you could try if you wanted.  They cost a fraction of the price above and can do a decent job.

Drum mic kit

CAD PRO-7 Drum Microphone Kit (7-piece)

This is a nice set of microphones.   For the money you get everything you need to start recording your drums.  These are sturdy and super easy to set up, just like most of CAD’s equipment.

This is in all-in-one kit, you get it all.  7-piece package.  Here is whats inside:

  • 1 – KM212 dynamic cardioid kick drum mic
  • 3 – TM211 dynamic cardioid tom mics (with attached drum mount clips)
  • 1 – SN 210 dynamic cardioid snare mic (with attached drum mount clip)
  • 2-  CM 217 cardioid mini pencil condenser overhead microphones (with external roll-off and pad)

Not bad for the money.  In comes in a nice hard-shell vinyl carrying case with a strap.  Good thing to note is that all the microphones have XLR inputs, but do not come with cables.  So, you’ll need to grab seven of those if you get this kit.

The drum clips are removable so that you can easily add them to a stand without a problem.

These are not just for recording, you also use these to gig out.  They are built strong to withstand the environment.  Overall, I would give this kit 4 star rating.  They are great for the money, you get good sound with this kit.

AKG Drum Set Session 1 Drum Mic Pack (1x P2, 4x P4, 2x P17)

AKG is one of my personal favorite brand

They haven’t let me down and that’s why this was one of the best ones I thought was on the market right now.

This is another 7-piece set that really doesn’t leave anything out.  You get the following:

  • 1 – AKG P2 kick drum microphone (or could also be used with bass guitar)
  • 4 – AKG P4 tom and snare mics.
  • 2 – AKG P17 overhead microphones
  • 1 –  Hard shell carrying case.

AKG is brand that I trust and with this kit, they also didn’t leave anything out.  One thing I might do is keep the kit, but add a SM57 for the snare to really pick up the attack.  The Bass drum is good, and but I would have to test it out more.  I still prefer the AKG D112 for Kick drums, but for this kit, it’ll work fine.

The two condensers make great overheads or work on other instruments.

Overall, for the money you get everything you need to rock the drum kit and get a great responsive sound back.  My favorite is the AKG drum mic kit.  5 stars from me and easily the best drum mics.

Cables are not included.

Shure drum mics

Shure PGADRUMKIT7 7-Piece Drum Microphone Kit

This is my runner-up drum microphone set, and quickly becoming my favorite. First of all, Shure is a great company that has been around for along time, 90-years!  They are the company that makes my favorite go to mic, the Shure SM-57.  With that in mind I knew they wouldn’t let me down.

So with this kit they include 7-microphones, and, 7 XLR cables and clips for the drums!  Check this out, you get:

  • 1 – PGA52 Cardioid Dynamic Kick Drum Microphone
  • 3 – PGA56 Cardioid Dynamic Snare/Tom Microphones
  • 1 -PGA57 Cardioid Dynamic Instrument Microphone
  • 2 – PGA81 Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphones
  • 1 – A25D Break-resistant Microphone Clip
  • 3 – AP56DM Break-resistant Drum Rim Mounts
  • 7 – 15 foot (4.6 m) XLR-XLR cables
  • 1 –  hard shell carrying case

As you can see, this is a complete package.  Do they sound good?  Yes, actually most reviews give this kit 5-stars and mention how great the sound is.  Really, for the price you can’t beat this set-up.

Shure really doesn’t let me down with this professional quality kit.  Want a full drum sound for half the price, go with this one, they even throw in a seven cables, none of the others do that.  That right there is a saving of over $100!

The Wrap-up

The drums are a HUGE part of the recording.  You need the best drum mics, you can start with a few and build as you go or get yourself a kit.  I recommend either, but just don’t put a cheap mic on those drums.

Like I mentioned above, the bass drum needs a specific microphone just for example.  A large diaphragm that can handle the loud low end thump.  Same goes for the snare, it needs one that can handle the extreme attack.

You need to consider a couple good mikes for the recording process.  Any of these will make them sound 100-times better than a couple of standard cheap ones

Have you used these?  I would love to hear your thoughts on what ones you like to use.  Rock on, now go make some awesome music!

 

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