Recording drums at home is a difficult task and knowing what mics are best used for this can be tricky. First, you have to decide how many microphones you would like to track with. We have several guides that discuss this such as 13 Integral Drum Recording Tips and 11 Techniques for Miking Drums at Home.
Once you decide what sort of set up you’re going with, you still have to decide which mic you’re going to use. This is where it gets tricky because there are so many different parts of the kit, each producing their own unique sound. So, you want to make sure that you match the proper microphone with the correct element.
To help get home recording engineers started, we’ve put together this guide on the best mics for recording drums that everyone should try.
Best Drum Overhead Mics
The overhead microphones are one of the most important aspects to get right when recording drums. There’s a common misunderstanding that the overheads are just there to capture the cymbals. However, they actually give a full image of the entire kit as a whole.
Because of this you want something that will accurately capture each element of the kit. This is especially true if you only have a budget for a couple microphones and won’t be miking every drum on the kit.
We’re going to start with the cheapest option first. It may not be the best sounding way to record, but these mics will certainly get the job done as drum overheads.
For under $60 you can get a decent sounding matched pair of small diaphragm condenser microphones that will give you a passable image of the kit. You definitely get what you pay for in this case but they can suffice if you’re getting started on a budget.
Still on the affordable side but with a much better sound quality are the RODE M5 microphone. They are a cheaper version of RODE’s classic NT5 small diaphragm microphones, but with little difference in quality.
Using these to record your drum overheads will give you a much fuller image of the kit than Behringer C-2s. You’ll be very happy you made the investment if you go this route.
Many prefer using large diaphragm condensers on the overheads when recording drums. It’s definitely the best choice if you don’t have a mics recording every individual drum. The downside of going this route is that the cost can go way up for the overheads.
However, there are plenty of affordable options out there and one of the leading examples is the Audio Technica AT2020. At only $99 per microphone, you can have a stereo set for the same cost as a pair of RODE M5s.
That’s not to say they are better than the M5s, they’ll just give a different picture. As previously mentioned it’s the perfect option when you don’t want to buy mics for every drum but still want to fully capture things.
These are much higher budget microphones than other options in this section. In the interest of showing both sides of the spectrum I wanted to include them in the list.
As previously mentioned, you get what you pay for. In this case that means a high quality, versatile mic that will give you a beautiful image of your drum kit.
There are many different iterations of this model that have been released overtime but the most common models at the moment are the C414 XLS and the C414 XLII. The XLS is my preferred version as it has a more neutral sound whereas the XLII has a sight boost in the high end content.
Best Mics For Recording Kick Drum
The kick drum is the foundation of the entire kit and an important element to get right. Depending on the song it can have an aggressive sound or a more mellow tone. Either way the kick is integral for keeping all other musical elements locked into the tempo of a track.
Aside from the overheads the kick should be the first thing that you mic and there are plenty of ways you can go about doing so. Some prefer the microphone to be far inside the kick, close to the beater. On the other hand, some like it to be outside the kick drum. Alternatively many choose to use one in each position whenever possible.
The best thing you can do is experiment with the microphone before recording. Move it around to various positions and see which place it sounds best.
The AKG D112 is a classic choice for recording the kick drum that dates back to 1953 when the AKG D12 came onto the scene.
The D112 was a variation of this, built specifically for kick drum. It’s able to take high SPL sources and also has a frequency response that complements the sound of the kick.
It reproduces low frequencies well but also has a prominent boost in the upper range to give clarity to the kick drum’s attack. They’re fairly affordable and if you can only have one mic for recording kick drum, this is one of the best choices.
Similar to the D112, this mic is also specifically designed for kick. However, the Beta 52 has less presence in the attack range and what could be described as a “fluffier” sound.
Some prefer this for that reason, claiming the D112 to be a little too aggressive. It’s one of the best choices for recording a kick drum on lighter styles such as folk music.
Although it’s not anywhere near the quality as the former two options, the Apex 325 is one of the best budget friendly mics for recording kick drum. The downside is that you may need to carve out the sound a little with EQ.
However, once you do you’ll have a great sounding kick at a fraction of the cost. If budget allows though, I would encourage people to choose one of the other models first and foremost.
Best Mics For Recording Snare Drum
The snare drum is a major focal point of the kit. It’s what pulls the listener in and sets the groove of the song. How the snare sounds lays the groundwork for the tone of the rest of the kit so you really want to use a microphone that gives the vibe you’re going for.
Another aspect to consider is whether or not you would like to mic the top and bottom of the snare drum. If you have the luxury of doing so, it’s a great choice as each side produces its own characteristics.
Some prefer to use a different mic on each side while others use the same style.
Either way, it’s a technique worth putting into use when recording snare drum.
Many of the best recording engineers claim this to be their go to mic for recording snare drum. Having been around for decades, the SM57 is an affordable option that gets the job done.
It’s frequency response complements the snare drum, making it easy to get a great tone with little EQ.
Another aspect that makes this one of the best options is that this mic can take a beating from your drummer. This is important as not all drummers have perfect aim and its not uncommon for a mic to get hit by a stick every now and then.
Thankfully the rugged design of the SM57 makes this the least of your worries and even if it does break, it’s cheap cost makes it a low stress item to replace.
Also made by Shure, the SM7B is kind of a big brother to the SM57. It’s got a much higher price tag however, and for good reason.
Though the capsule’s on the two microphones are not very different, the body and transformer in the SM7B give it a greater presence on the lower side of the spectrum.
This can lead to a fatter sounding snare with a lot more body to it. Though it’s a great mic some don’t think it’s the best option for recording snare drum as it doesn’t have the same sense of presence that an SM57 does.
Ultimately, there’s no one size fits all solution as every snare sounds different and every song calls for a different energy.
Best Mic To Record The Toms
Having microphones on each of the toms is more of a luxury than a necessity. It can be awesome to have down the road in the mixing stage. It gives you control over their level and further flexibility for shaping their tone.
However, if you’re budget only allows for a few mics, leave the toms for last. Having quality overheads will capture the bulk of their sound in a natural way anyways.
Where the SM57 is the classic microphone for snare drum the Sennheiser MD421 is a standard choice for Toms. It’s a similar design to the SM7B, capturing a lot of low end content but with a nice quality to the upper range.
This can give you toms that sound full but still have the definition and attack necessary to cut through a recording.
They’re a little cheaper than the SM7B but still pretty pricey. So, they may not be the best choice if you’re on a budget or planning on recording a kit with tons of toms. However, if you end up going this route, you’ll have a great starting place without much work in terms of EQ.
These mics are designed for recording toms and although they’re primary purpose is for live use, they work equally well in the home studio environment. Although they aren’t as detailed as the MD421s they still do a great job of capturing the toms.
Their built in clips make it easy to attach them to the toms without getting in the way of the drummer. However, be wary of the extra noise that can be transferred to the mic if they’re mounted on the tom.
One last reason these are one of the best entry level mics for recording tom drums is their price. For almost the price of one MD421 you can get a pack of e 604s ready to go with their built in clips.
Although this was already mentioned in the snare drum section it’s worth mentioning that it’s also a great option for recording toms. Once again it’s affordably priced and heavy duty.
As with all versatile mics you’ll have to add some EQ to properly shape its sound. Don’t underestimate the power and flexibility of the SM57 though, it’s a great mic capable of awesome things!
Conclusion: Best Drum Mics For Recording
There’s plenty of options out there for recording drums at home but our top 11 are the following.
- Behringer C-2
- RODE M5
- Audio Technica AT2020
- AKG C414
- AKG D112
- Shure Beta 52
- Apex 325
- Shure SM57
- Shure SM7B
- Sennheiser MD421
- Sennheiser e 604
This is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of mics on the market for the home studio engineer. However, many of these microphones are industry standard and any combination of them will give you a great sounding kit at an affordable cost.
Alternative: Hire A Pro
Recording drums is a big investment and even once you have the gear you still need a qualified drummer. If all of this seems like a bit much to you, consider hiring a profession to produce, mix and record your demo from start to finish.