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Shure drum mics
The tried and true favorite snare microphone, for several years, has been the Shure SM57. The most common method of mic placement on the snare drum is the “top” and “bottom” approach.

Drum Mics: A Review Of Positions, Types, Models

It’s important to get the rest of the drum kit right, and there are a few different types of drums to consider. Everything, though, begins with microphone selection.

Within most genres of music, drums are foundational. That also holds true for worship music.

Each instrument in the drum kit requires a specific microphone type, and good mic placement technique, to get the best out of the drum and cymbal characteristics.

I’ve always held the opinion that the quality of the entire band mix begins - first and foremost - with getting the kick drum right. Of course, it’s important to get the rest of the drum kit right, and there are a few different types of drums to consider, as well as various types of cymbals. Everything, though, begins with microphone selection.

Each instrument in the drum kit requires a specific microphone type, and good mic placement technique, to get the best out of the drum and cymbal characteristics.

Let’s jump into the different drum and cymbal types and the types of microphones that are typically used to mic them.

The Bass Drum (commonly referred to as the “Kick” drum)

The diameter of the kick drum can range between 18 to 24 inches. The depth of the kick drum can also vary, usually between 14 to 20 inches.

The importance of understanding the difference between the sizes of the kick drum, without getting too technical, is related to the sound of the drum having a tighter or rounder sound.

As you might imagine, the narrower kick drum with less depth will have a tighter sound, and the larger, rounder kick drum will have deeper tones.

How the size differences relate to placement technique is that, for the larger kick drum, the engineer might choose to use two microphones, each with contrasting characteristics, aiming to get the best sound out of the larger drum. For example, the most commonly used kick drum mic placement technique is to use an “In” and “Out” configuration.

The Shure Beta 52A (a dynamic supercardioid mic) is used for the “out” mic, partially placed in the hole of a cutout in front of the kick drum head, while a Shure Beta 91A (a condenser boundary mic) is placed inside the drum, usually on a pillow, close to where the beater hits the drum head.

Position: Inside/Outside

Type: Dynamic (e.g., Shure Beta 52A), condenser (e.g., Shure Beta 91A), cardioid, supercardioid, hypercardioid

Sidebar: Several years ago, a few vocal mics were widely used as a kick drum mic, among them were the Beyerdynamic M88, the Sennheiser MD 421-II and the Electro-Voice RE20, and they may still be used today on the kick drum.

The Snare Drum

Snare drums also come in a variety of types and sizes, both in terms of diameter and depth. These different sizes render different tones as well. The “piccolo” snare is one of the smallest, but it delivers a high-toned, snappy punch when played. As with the kick drum, the larger it is in width and depth, the deeper, larger and rounder the tone.

Another feature of the snare drum is that it actually has a band of thin metal strips, or bands, (snares) that totally change the tonal characteristics of the drum, when engaged, from a drum with a heavy low-mid tone to a high-mid sounding instrument.

The tried and true favorite snare microphone, for several years, has been the Shure SM57. The most common method of mic placement on the snare drum is the “top” and “bottom” approach.

Using this method, the top mic is positioned slightly above the rim of the drum, aimed toward the center of the drum head, while the bottom drum mic is similarly placed to capture the sound of the “metal snares.” The sound from the top and bottom mics are combined by the engineer offering (more of a palette of sound), to choose from when mixing.

Position: Top/Bottom

Type: Cardioid

The Toms (otherwise known as “Tom-Toms,” or “Rack”)

Toms also have a wide range of size, usually ranging from 10 inches to 22 inches. A drum kit can consist of one to five toms, with the last one or two toms in the sequence being referred to as “Floor Toms.”

I would suggest, as much as possible, to use the same microphone for all the toms in the drum kit, for the sake of consistency.

Among the most popular tom mics used today is either the Sennheiser e 604 or e 904. An awesome feature that both the e 604 and e 904 have, is that they have a built in “drum claw” that allows the microphone to be clamped to the rim of the drum. I should also mention that, because of this drum claw feature, the e 604 and e 904 can easily be used on the snare drum, top and bottom.

Position: Top

Type: Dynamic, cardioid, supercardioid, hypercardioid

Ideal Mic Options: Audio-Technica AE3000, Sennheiser e 604, Sennheiser e 904

Overhead Cymbals (Crash, Splash)

While there are many different microphone types to effectively capture cymbals, most overhead drum mics are condensers. Small diaphragm microphones, such as the Shure KSM 141 condenser are very often used to capture, not only cymbals, but the entire stereo image of the drum kit.

Not only are there many different sizes of cymbals, there are also many various types.  A typical drum kit cymbal setup might feature two or three 18-inch crash cymbals, a 14-inch (medium) crash, a 20inch ride cymbal and a 14-inch hi hat.

Microphone positioning for all crash and splash cymbals should be an overhead left/right configuration, although an XY configuration is occasionally used. Positioning the left and right microphones directly over the crash cymbals, which are usually placed at least two to three feet apart to the left and right of the drum kit, is optimal.

Position: Approximately three to four feet above the cymbals and overall drum kit

Type: Cardioid, Supercardioid, hypercardioid, small diaphragm, large diaphragm

Ideal Mic Options: Audio-Technica AE3000, AKG C414XLS, Shure KSM141

Ride Cymbal

Position: The ride cymbal microphone position should be two to four inches under the bell of the ride cymbal.

Type: The type of microphone should be a small diaphragm condenser.

Ideal Mic Options: Shure KSM141, Shure KSM137, Audio-Technica AT4053b

Hi Hat Cymbals

Position: The hi hat microphone should be positioned close, no more than four inches away, either above or below the cymbals.  

Type: The type of microphone should be a small diaphragm condenser.

Ideal Mic Options: Shure KSM141, Shure KSM137, Audio-Technica AT4053b

Several microphone manufacturers have developed a set of drum mic kits, that cover the entire drum set.

Below are a few that are available on the market today, all in a price range that should fit your budget:

Entire Drum Kit Options:

Audix Fusion 6 Series & DP7 Plus Bundle, sE Electronics V Packs, Sennheiser e 600 Series Drum Kit, Shure PGADRUMKIT7, Telefunken DD5 Dynamic Drum Pack

There are a wide variety of drum microphones on the market today. They all should have similar characteristics of having a cardioid, supercardioid, or hypercardioid pattern for rejection of extraneous stage noise.

We have explored various choices and attributes of drum microphones. Although several manufacturers were mentioned, no endorsement should be assumed.

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