When it comes to recording drums, it is important to get a clear hi-hat sound, since the hi-hat is what drives most grooves and has a listener hooked into the beat. The same can be said for live performances. A live crowd needs to hear the hi-hat come through the mix so that they can latch onto it and sit with the music.
People will often just use overhead mics for cymbals, having the hi-hat come through with that. However, you won’t experience true individuality and clarity from the hi hat with that setup. So, a dedicated hi-hat mic is a good option to have. It will give you a distinct hi-hat sound that is easier to mix.
You’re going to need a good hi-hat mic to achieve this, and I have put together a list of my favorites.
Best Hi Hat Microphones for Recording & Live
1. Shure SM81
The Shure SM81 small-diaphragm condenser microphone is an industry standard mic for guitars, pianos and cymbals. Industry standard means that it’s the common choice for pros in the music industry and has guaranteed quality and usefulness.
The SM81 has uncolored highs, insignificant distortion and is comfortable with high sound pressure level next to a cymbal, meaning it’s a great fit for a hi-hat mic.
It has a uniform cardioid pickup pattern that offers good isolation with minimum off-axis coloration, basically meaning it will pick up the sound of your hi-hat very clearly.
The mic itself has a rugged vinyl-coated steel construction that makes it extremely durable. The SM81 will last years if cared for carefully.
It has a 3-position switch that allows you to adjust the low-frequency response of the the microphone, which helps in situations where there is noise that might bleed into the mic such as wind or room noise.
It has a lockable -10dB pad that allows you to capture loud sounds without changing the frequency response. So, you can play your hi-hat really loud and the SM81 will handle it.
The SM81 is better suited for recording hi-hats in a studio environment.
2. Rode M3
The Rode M3 Cardioid condenser microphone is a good contender for overhead drum mics, but an even better contender for a hi-hat mic. It has an extended high end and produces smooth hi-hat sounds with an aggressive edge.
It has a polarized condenser transducer with a high immunity to R.F. interference. This means that the mic won’t pick up sounds from things like lights on stage.
It has a strongly built metal body, a switch that controls the dB level and a highpass filter. A highpass filter cuts off low frequencies and allows higher frequencies to pass through.
It sounds clean, crisp and full-bodied.
The Rode M3 is quite long compared to other condenser mics. So, it might feel a bit awkward to position comfortably.
3. AKG P170
The AKG 170 small-diaphragm condenser microphone is a highly affordable hi-hat mic option.
It includes a 20dB pad and has incredibly clear and accurate sound. Its cardioid polar pattern makes it ideal for recording hi-hats, without picking up the sound from the other drums and cymbals around the kit.
It’s pretty small and lightweight, making it easy to position around the hi-hat. It’s also easy to use, since you won’t need to worry about filtering audio too much.
It’s good for both studio and live performance use, making it a really versatile hi-hat microphone option.
It will need a phantom power source, so make sure you have that before getting this microphone.
The sE7 is a back-electret small-diaphragm condenser microphone that is designed for studio and live performance.
The transformeless design will make your hi-hat sound punchy and immediate.
It has a 6dB/octave 80hz highpass filter that cuts away very low rumbles, while its 20dB pad allows you to play your hi-hat really loudly, without any distortion.
It has a high quality build that includes a gold-plated XLR connecter for great signal strength. This makes it a very reliable option for a hi-hat microphone.
It is budget-friendly. So, you won’t break the bank to get one of these mics. The sE7 is advertised as a studio and live performance option, but it’s best suited as a home studio microphone.
5. Shure KSM137
The Shure KSM137 small-diaphragm condenser has a gold-layered Mylar diaphragm that is sensitive to sound. It also has a transformer-less preamplifier that delivers very transparent audio reproduction, meaning you’re going to get a clear sound that is true to the hi-hat that you’re mic’ing up.
Its cardioid polar pattern offers great isolation, while its built-in subsonic filter removes unwanted low frequencies.
It has a 3-position pad that controls dB input, which helps with controlling high sound pressure levels. It also has a high-pass filter that stops unwanted frequencies from lights and vibrating stands.
The Shure KSM137 is a well-known microphone that is used as an overhead, making it a great choice for a hi-hat. It’s great for both studio and live performances.
The Audio Technica AT2021 is designed to easily capture instruments. Its small diaphragm produces a cardioid polar pattern, which makes it ideal for recording hi-hats.
Its small, but powerful. This makes it usable in studio and live performance situations. Its small body allows easy manoeuvrability.
It’s good for high-SPL applications, meaning you can play the hi-hat pretty loudly without worrying about getting a bad sound. It also has an extended response that results in natural and smooth sonic characteristics.
The AT2021 is fairly inexpensive. You’ll find that most recording engineers will have a few of these lying around. This means that you can get this as a hi-hat mic without worrying about paying too much.
The mount that comes with the mic isn’t as tight as it could be. So, I’d advise you to buy a separate holder so that the AT2021 is comfortably secured.
Mic’ing Your Hi-hat
Hi-hats don’t necessarily need to be mic’ed up. However, using a hi-hat mic will greatly enhance your sound, giving clarity to your cymbal setup. So, how should you position a hi-hat microphone?
The standard way of doing it is to position the mic from above facing downwards towards the hi-hats. You’ll need to leave enough space so that the hi-hats can open and close, but not so much space that the microphone picks up sound from the other drums.
The standard way is not the only way to do it. I have seen sound engineers position a mic under the hi-hats pointing upwards. This will give a slightly different response. It’s all about personal preference, and you should experiment and see what works for you.
What Mic to Use
For hi-hats, you should use a microphone with a cardioid or supercardioid pickup pattern that picks up extremely fast transients. You should also use a microphone that has a small diaphragm, since you are trying to pick up sound from a small area. All of the condenser microphones that I have listed above have these qualities.
It’s important to know that the sound quality firstly depends on your playing and your gear. The highest quality microphone isn’t going to make you magically sound good. Your playing needs to be clean and solid before you record anything.
You then need to have a decent pair of hi-hats. If you mic a cheap pair of hi-hats, you’re going to hear a cheap pair of hi-hats in the mix. This is the difference between cymbals and drums when it comes to recording, since a cheap set of drums can sound pretty good when mic’ed up. This is why it’s good to invest in some high quality cymbals.
A hi-hat microphone shouldn’t be the first priority when deciding to record a drum kit. However, it will give that much needed clarity and will distinguish your cymbals from each other.
So, if you want to get a full sound from your kit in the studio or at a live performance, it will be a great idea to invest in a solid small-diaphragm condesner microphone for your hi-hats.