Getting a good drum sound is your foundation to a good sounding mix.
If your drums sound great, it gives room and a place for everything else. If your drums sound bad, nothing seems to ever fit or work together, and you end up fighting for space in shared frequency ranges, between the other instruments and vocals.
There are several specialized kick drum or bass drum microphones available on the market today. Given that there are a good number, I thought I’d focus on some of the more popular ones out there that I also own and use.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for any microphone, but that’s not to say that you can’t get good results on many different drums using any of these mics. But each microphone has a frequency response curve that is going to fit certain drums better than others.
There is not enough space to give a complete review or description of all the kick drum mics that I will take a look at, so here is a short overview.
First off, the AKG D12e is very midrange heavy, compared to modern drum mics and has less boosted low-end, compared to newer models. The AKG D112 is what I would consider the first modern kick drum mic on the market. It has a scooped lower midrange and a low-end boost to its sound, though not nearly as extreme as some of the newer kick drum mics.
Next, the Audio-Technica ATM25 is similar in sound to the D112, but has a slightly fuller low-end to it. The newer Audio-Technica model, the ATM250, is more extreme in comparison to the older model with a bigger mid scoop and low and high-end boost.
Another is the Shure Beta 52, which also has a scooped midrange, but is cut is in a slightly higher frequency range, giving it more low end around the 125hz region than the other microphones in this list. Also from Shure mic to look at is the Beta 91, a microphone that lays flat inside any kick drum. It is usually used in conjunction with another microphone for the kick in and kick out setup that is so common. The Beta 91 also has a pre-EQ'd sound to it with a lot of top end boot. It’s a great mic to give your kick drum some slap or cut in your mix.
In addition, there is the Audix D6, which seemed very extreme when it first came out, because it has a big midrange cut, low-end boost and top-end boost. But once the Sennheiser e 602 came out, it took the most extreme label away from the D6. The e 602 has a very metal sounding kick drum sound to it, in my view, but it also has a ton of low-end. At first, I did not like this mic at all, but I had to use for a few weeks and after going back to my old standby, I missed some of the character qualities of the Sennheiser e 602. The e 602 will need less EQ than any other mic that I have listed above, and it gives a certain sound that only it can achieve, in my experience.
After a look at those handful of microphones, let’s switch over to tom mics to review. Like kick drum mics, there are many available options.
Most of the tom specific mics on the market are of a hypercardioid pattern. This is a good thing, because it allows you easier placement to avoid cymbal bleed, for example. My normal go to for toms, is the Shure Beta 98 mic. These include a great little clip on the mics, making them easy to place and take EQ very well. They also seem to have a more boosted top end than other mics that I use for this application.
Next for consideration are the Audix D2 and D4, which are also mics that I use all the time. They are more durable than the Beta 98s in general, from my experience, and these also have a slightly warmer sound to them compared to my Beta 98s.
Next for consideration is the Sennheiser e 604, which is an excellent value, and if you didn’t have any tom specific mics yet, this is what I would suggest. They are not my favorite sounding tom mic, as I do side-by-side comparisons frequently, and they never end up being my first choice. Even so, the built-in mic clip is great, the best one out there for this kind of mic and they are the most durable thing I have come across.
As a side note, try using a kick drum mic on your floor tom. You will not be disappointed. If you don’t have much in the way of a budget, buy a few used Shure SM57 mics. While they are a normal cardioid pattern and require more careful placement, they are still a decent sounding mic on drums. They work for just about any drum besides a kick drum.
There are so many different options available to use for a snare drum, it really comes down to one’s personal preference. I’ve used the Sennheiser 604 on snare at my old church for years, because we had multiple drummers and placement was easiest with it. I also have used Shure Beta 98s on a snare drum all the time, and I personally love the way the little clip on condenser sounds on snare drum. It has a sound I just can’t get with a typical dynamic mic on snare.
That being said, I still use the Shure SM57 or Beta 57 often on a snare drum. The SM57 has a heavy midrange that most people are accustomed to hearing from a snare drum. There are a lot of handheld vocal mics that do a fantastic job on snare drum. The Shure Beta 87 or the AKG C535 sound awesome on snare drums as well.
Overhead mics are going to be the last thing that I will cover here. You can either use small or large diaphragm condensers for this application. I tend to use small diaphragm condensers for overheads, because they are easy to place and visually less obtrusive than large diaphragm condensers.
If you can afford them, the Neumann KM 184 are just wonderful sounding microphones. They also work great on other instruments, like piano, acoustic guitar, violin and cello. You will find many reasons to use them, because of how great they sound. Aside from the Neumann, other options can be the AKG C451 and C460, which are slightly less expensive, but still sound very good. They might not be in the same class as the KM 184, but are still good sounding mics.
Among the overhead mics I have used, what I end up using most, is the Shure SM81. I own six of them, and use them for overheads and other instruments all the time. They are much more budget conscious, and are easy to find to purchase used, if you opt to go that route. They are still considered an industry standard for small diaphragm condensers. One thing to acknowledge, based on my experience, is that they have a certain grainy quality to the sound, when compared with more high-end microphones. There are many other small diaphragm condensers that would do an excellent job for you as overhead mics.
After this extensive look at a number of different drum mics that could suit your needs, it is notable how there are many different options out there for you to use today. If you are looking to buy some drum mics, particularly if you are in need of such mics for your worship space, I would recommend trying out several different models before you buy. This way you can find out what sounds best in your space with your drum kit, and find what best also fits your budget.