For those of us who still prefer the organic sound of acoustic drums, rather than MPCs and electronic drums, finding the right equipment to record them can be quite a challenge. Your microphones need to be able to sustain high decibel levels over a long period, as well as capture all the various sounds from your kit.
A well-recorded drum can be the difference between a song that sounds like it was done in a professional studio and one that was done at home.
You can be the best drummer in the world, but your recorded sound is only as good as the equipment you use to record.
This is where a pair of good overhead drum mics come in handy – they capture the full sound of the kit and unify the sounds of the other mics. Given their importance and versatility, a pair of high quality overhead mics can be quite an investment.
To help you spend your money wisely and make the right decision, I've made a list of the best overhead drum microphones on the market right now. All of these mics will surely give your kit a great sound going into the mix, while some of them can even be used to capture vocals and different instruments.
5 Best Overhead Drum Mics - Top Options
Here are five excellent overhead drum mics that you can get your hands on.
1. Shure KSM137
If you’ve ever set foot in a studio, you’ve probably seen your fair share of Shure mics, since the name has sat at the top of the industry for some time. It comes as no surprise that the stereo pair of KSM137 is around three times more expensive than the Rode M5 matched pair, as they offer a variety of features which make them extremely versatile in a studio environment.
My favorite of these features is the three-position dB pad that allows you to change the microphone’s input volume. This means you change the mic’s sensitivity to keep it from distorting, which really comes in handy when moving between drums, vocals, and guitar.
Another sweet feature is the low-frequency filter which helps prevent low-frequency rumble and cuts down background noise – extremely helpful when recording a kick drum.
2. Rode M5
With a history of over 50 years (Rode started in 1967 as Friedman Electronics), Rode gradually rose to prominence in Australian audio industry, eventually launching their own line of microphones.
Their M5 Matched Pair is a great budget option not only for drums, but for a wide range of acoustic instruments and choirs. It is a small diaphragm mic with low noise and full frequency response, which makes it perfect for small performing and recording spaces that don’t need much augmentation.
The best thing about this microphone set is the sound matching which makes them a great option if you’re going to be using them to record in stereo exclusively. It features a sleek matte black finish, and comes fully accessorized with WS5 windshields and RM5 stand mounts.
If you’re looking for a bargain without hugely compromising your sound quality, this pair is the way to go.
3. AKG C214
The C214 from AKG is a cost-effective alternative to their high-end C414 family, which has been at the very top of the industry for years. However, take the “cost-effective” part with a grain of salt – it’s still substantially more expensive than our last two models, although it’s one of the rare products in the AKG catalog still within four digits.
That being said, this stereo pair is also substantially more versatile. They are made for both studio and live performance, with the ability to record multiple instruments with great accuracy. Its circuitry provides maximum SPL capability with minimum noise, while its sensitivity and durability make it perfect for the sharp attacks of a drum kit.
It comes with a carrying case, windscreen, and an awesome spider suspension mount.
4. Rode NT1-A
Another entry from Rode, the NT1 matched pair is a bit pricier but justifies the increased price tag with a better performance all around. Low ambient noise is very important when you’re recording in the studio, so these microphones should be a perfect choice if you have a thing for clean, noiseless microphones. The NT1 is easily one of the quietest microphones around.
It is also renowned for its great frequency range, which makes it very versatile when it comes to recording multiple instruments or different elements of a drum kit. It produces very detailed highs and lows, creating a balanced sound with high SPL capability that can handle even electric guitars.
At this price range, these microphones would be hard to top.
If you’re really serious about your recording and you want to invest in a premium product delivers superlative performance, my recommendation is the Neumann KM 184. An industry standard and a microphone that many professional musicians laud for its versatility and sound quality, this mic will surely satisfy even the hardcore sound purists out there.
It captures the sound perfectly with a crisp, clear tone, while eliminating all outside noises. It is extremely durable and can handle the full range of a drum kit for an extended time period, retaining the sound quality and definition in the process. The frequency response is flat and smooth and it captures hi-hats better than any other microphone out there.
If you’re looking for a high-end product and are willing to break the bank for a top product, I fully recommend the Neumann KM 184.
Microphone Sensitivity and SPL Ratings
When looking for microphones, you’ll often encounter the term “SPL” among the specifications. This stands for “sound pressure level” and it tells you how much volume a mic can take before distorting. It’s a mechanical measure of the noise-inducted change in air pressure. Aim for mics with high SPL ratings, as they are more likely to endure the force that a drum kit produces.
When it comes to sensitivity (measured in decibels), go for less sensitive mics, as a more sensitive one is more likely to distort. However, if you plan to use an overhead mic for other instruments, don’t buy a microphone with extremely low sensitivity, as it won’t be able to capture the sound of quieter instruments.
The Importance of Matched Microphones
Different mics will have different polar pickup patterns and different frequency responses. If you try to use two separate mics for X-Y coincident stereo recording, it will result in an unstable stereo image, affecting instruments in various ways. Most importantly, it takes just a small difference between the two microphones for this problem to become evident.
That’s exactly why manufacturers pay such close attention to matching their microphones perfectly, especially high-end ones. Always go for a matched pair when recording stereo, as it will give you the most complete sound and allow you to focus on other aspects of the recording experience.
The recording process is a complex endeavor with many elements that work together and many sound principles that need to be well studied if you want to get the best results. A good set of overhead mics stands in the middle of that process, playing a vital part in the shaping of your sound quality.
All of the mics from this list perform really well for their respective price tags and provide you with great options to record your drum kit with more or less additional features. Study all the specs, get familiar with industry terms, and make your choice wisely.