To keep time and carry the feel of a song, hi-hats are one of the most important parts of a drum kit. It isn’t enough to capture them with overheads or a nearby snare microphone. In order to get the best result, and have the ability to define the hi-hat sound later, you’ll want to record it with one of the best microphones for hi-hats.
What Features Does a Good Hi-Hat Mic Need?
The best microphone for hi-hats will help you capture all the sizzle you need to get out of the top-end. For that, small diaphragm condensers do an incredible job. Small diaphragms tend to sound very detailed and hi-fi, especially in the higher frequencies, which will let you represent the hi-hat as accurately as possible. It’ll also help ensure that it cuts through a dense mix, and even cuts through the other parts of the drum kit.
Another good feature to have, but isn’t a deal-breaker if it doesn’t, is a high-pass filter. The hi-hat consists mainly of higher frequencies. Having a filter on the mic lets you cut unnecessary lows, but most importantly, it helps you remove low-end rumble/bleed coming from the kick and toms. That way you essentially have a scope aimed at the hi-hat and hi-hat only.
Having a pad on the microphone helps as well. By nature, drums are super loud, and the hi-hat is no exception. Most of the kit is going to be miked with dynamic microphones able to withstand high sound pressure levels. But we’re using a more sensitive condenser to capture the right amount of detail from the hi-hat, so a pad is an extra layer of protection against overloading and distorting the mic.
Hi-Hat Mic Placement Tips
Typical placement has the mic pointed down at a slightly off-axis angle near one of the outer edges of the hi-hat. The mic should be aimed away from the snare and the rest of the kit to minimize bleed. Try to find the hi-hat’s sweet spot if you can, and point the mic there. Also just make sure that it’s out of the drummer’s way and doesn’t risk being hit by a stick.
Moving the mic towards the inner bell tightens up the sound, but you may have to raise the microphone higher if the drummer hits hard. One final tip is to not point the mic parallel to the hi-hat near the outer edge. There’s quite a bit of air that “swooshes” out when the cymbals open and close, and could potentially damage the microphone.
The 6 Best Hi-Hat Mics for Your Studio
The Neumann KM184 is a cardioid small diaphragm condenser microphone. It can withstand a whopping 138 dBSPL before overloading, making it a perfect match for loud hi-hats. It also has very low self-noise, which wouldn’t be an issue on loud sound sources, but it makes the 184 versatile enough to be a fantastic all-around small diaphragm condenser.
For roughly 1/8 of the cost of a Neumann, you can snag yourself a stereo pair of Samson CO2 pencil condensers. These guys can handle up to 134 dBSPL, have relatively low self-noise, and come with a rock-solid carrying case to keep them protected when they’re not in use.
The Shure SM81 is an industry-standard small diaphragm condenser, and it has all the makings of an excellent hi-hat microphone. It can withstand loud sources before distorting, and the SM81 has a three-position bass roll-off filter as well as a -10 dB pad.
We love the LEWITT stuff around here for its affordability, quality, and forward-thinking design. For just a couple hundred bucks, you can get a matched pair of LCT 040 small diaphragm condensers made for acoustic instruments and drums. These offer a balanced sound with a sweetened high-end that lets hi-hats shine.
The V67N by MXL is another great small diaphragm condenser. It’s ideal for stringed instruments, and most importantly, cymbals/percussion. It offers a mostly flat frequency response to capture sound naturally; the V67N also comes with interchangeable cardioid and omni capsules for added versatility.
Our Pick for the Best Microphone for Hi-Hats: AKG Perception 170 Professional Instrumental Microphone
The AKG P170 is one of the best microphones for hi-hats from an all-around standpoint. It’s very affordable, it’s rugged and won’t fail from one accidental stick smack, it sounds great, and it has a -20 dB pad. The P170 has nearly all of the features we love in a good hi-hat mic, including high SPL tolerance and a pad for safety. If you were on a budget and had to pick one, you can’t go wrong with the AKG P170.