We talk about the best microphones for vocals and various instruments all the time, but what about the best mics for drums? As with any quality microphone, there’s always some overlap. You probably already own at least one transducer that works well on various parts of the drum kit, as well as on the other instruments you record most frequently. We’ll explore our favorite nine options for miking drums, including a few of the usual suspects and perhaps some curveballs for good measure.
What Makes for a Good Drum Mic?
Acoustic drums can be challenging to record. They’re a dynamic instrument able to be played softly when it’s called for, and played at a medium to loud volume the rest of the time. Drums, as a whole, also represent the entire frequency spectrum, from the kick drum down low to the sizzling top-end of cymbals.
- RELATED: How to Record Drums at Home in 5 Easy Steps
- RELATED: Classic Studio Techniques – Getting That Early Beatles Drum Sound
In order to find the best drum mics, you’ll need those capable of handling high SPLs and reproducing a wide range of frequencies. You even want to consider how durable a microphone is, should it take a hit from a stick by accident. Thinking about all of these factors will help you choose the best drum mics for your recording needs.
Do I Need Different Mics for Different Drums?
For the best results, it does help to think of each piece of the drum kit as its own instrument. The snare occupies a different frequency range than the kick drum, for example, and the hi-hat and cymbals differ from the toms. If you record drums all the time, it would definitely be worth investing in a range of microphones to cover the whole kit.
That being said, the best drum mics will always be those that you already have in your locker; you can always achieve a good sounding recording without breaking the bank on a bunch of super specialized tools. Given the option, though, read on for several of our top drum mics.
The 9 Best Drum Mics for Live Sound & Recording (2023 Guide)
1. Beyerdynamic M 160
Right from the jump, you might be surprised to find a ribbon microphone anywhere near this list. Traditionally fragile with a low tolerance for volume, ribbon microphones definitely aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of miking drums. However, the M 160 by Beyerdynamic is a sturdy double-ribbon hypercardioid mic that’s sensitive enough to capture the nuance and shimmer of acoustic sources, yet tough enough to withstand extreme volumes. Try it on hi-hat or overheads.
2. Sennheiser e 604 – Best All-Around Drum Mic
The Sennheiser e 604 is a brilliant cardioid dynamic drum mic. It features a clip-on mount for snare and toms, and you can even purchase them in bundles of three to quickly cover the kit. The sound it captures is clear and balanced with minimal distortion, not unlike a nice studio condenser. These mics can handle SPLs in excess of 160dB, which is just ludicrous. You’ll never have to worry about clipping the Sennheiser e 604, even with a hard-hitting drummer.
3. Shure Beta 52A – Best Bass Drum Mic
Shure’s Beta 52A is one of the leading kick drum microphones ever made. It features a unique frequency response of 20 Hz to 10 kHz, so the highest top-end rounds off to a certain degree to focus on the lows. The 52A also has a supercardioid polar pattern for maximum rejection of off-axis sounds to minimize bleed from other parts of the kit. This is a road-worthy microphone that’s extremely rugged, can take up to 174dB SPL of volume, and reproduces low-end like no other.
4. Neumann KM 184
Small-diaphragm condensers (SDC) can capture the detail and clarity of acoustic instruments in a hyperrealistic, ultra hi-fi kind of way. The Neumann KM 184’s easily live up to their reptuation as some of the best SDCs for overheads, percussion, and other acoustic applications. Though they’re on the pricier side, a pair of 184s is an investment in the craft that will last a lifetime.
5. Shure SM81 – Best Hi-Hat Drum Mic
The SM81 is an industry-standard SDC for acoustic guitar, but it works equally well as a hi-hat mic for drums. It boasts all of the features you’d want from a quality drum mic: durability, high SPL tolerance, good off-axis rejection, and the addition of a -10dB pad and three-way high-pass filter to cut out bleeding low-end from the kick and toms. The SM81 also has a super flat frequency response to capture instruments just as they are.
6. Shure SM57 – Best Snare Drum Mic
There’s nothing to say about the SM57 that hasn’t been repeated ad nauseam. Everything about it is the reason why it’s a classic workhorse dynamic microphone. The SM57 is also a longtime favorite on snare drum thanks to its toughness, SPL tolerance, and frequency response. If you bought four 57s for snare and toms, you’d be just fine.
7. AKG Drum Set Premium – Best Bundle Kit
Sometimes manufacturers go and do a really cool thing by creating drum mic kits for us. The AKG set is an eight-piece bundle with a D12 for kick, a pair of 214s for overheads, a C451 for hi-hat, and four D40s for snare and toms. These are all premium choices from AKG, and each microphone individually excels in its territory on the drum set.
8. Audix D6
Audix’s D6 is a dynamic kick drum microphone. Its name doesn’t yet carry the weight of a Beta 52 or a D12 (D112, also), but it’s an affordable and formidable alternative to some of the exhausted standard choices. As far its frequency response goes, it ranges from 30 Hz to 15 kHz. What’s unique is a massive 14dB boost at 60 Hz, a 15dB boost between 4 and 5 kHz, and a whopping 17dB boost between 10 and 12 kHz. The result is a “tuned” kick drum microphone.
9. Neumann U 87 AI – Best Room Mic For Drums
The Neumann U 87 falls into SM57 territory in that its reputation precedes it. While nowhere near the same vicinity as far as price is concerned, the ubiquitous U 87 is a studio workhorse condenser. Without exaggeration, these mics have recorded everything. They’re also notoriously great as room microphones and overheads. Should budget allow, you could never go wrong with a classic Neumann.