A pair of overhead condenser mics is arguably the most important component of this set-up, giving you an overall picture of your entire kit’s sound. Condenser microphones that use a cardiod pattern are the best option when it comes to overhead drum mics. Not only will investing in a high-quality matched pair of condenser mics vastly improve your drum set-up, but these versatile microphones work just as well for vocalists and acoustic instrumentalists, making them a must-have component of your recording arsenal.
Below we recommend 4 such mics. They are, in our opinion, the best overhead drum mics you can buy.
AKG Pro C414
Though it’s marketed as a microphone for vocalists and soloists, the characteristics of this mic that make it great for those applications also make it a perfect overhead drum microphone. It’s a large diaphragm condenser microphone (see full specs) that has nine different polar patterns, making it customizable for a variety of applications. This makes it a perfect addition to any recording studio’s arsenal and gives you a lot of flexibility in regards to how you capture sound.
It’s an improvement over AKG’s similar past models, boosting the presence and spatial reproduction that make it perfect for overhead miking. The broad dynamic range captures all the nuance of your kit, while the bass filters help to clarify and clean up the percussion sound in your mix.
AKG Pro Audio C214
Another excellent option from AKG is their C214 model, one of the few entries in their catalogue that lets you get a matched pair for less than $1,000. Like the C414 above, it uses the patented AKG dual-capsule system and Back-Plate technology in a large-diaphragm condenser mic, though with just one pattern (cardiod) that’s perfect for overhead drum mics. It strikes an excellent balance between sensitivity and durability, able to handle the sharp attacks and dynamics of a drum kit without missing any of the nuanced details. It also has some tone-shaping features, including a low-cut switch, 20dB attenuation pad, and a 13dB noise floor. It’s among the best overhead drum mics period.
Neumann SKM 184
This matched pair of small-diaphragm condenser mics uses a cardiod pattern to capture just the sound of your kit and none of the extraneous noise of the room that other patterns tend to pick up. It gives you a noise-free operation and an incredibly accurate sound capture with a tone that’s crisp but doesn’t neglect the mid- and low-range of the spectrum. As an overhead drum mic, this means the SKM 184 can handle the whole range of a kit, from the boom of the kick drum to the shimmer of a splash cymbal, keeping the whole sonic picture balanced in the mix. Just check out the video below. It’s for the KM 184:
Shure KSM 141
Another option for the sound engineer on a budget is the Shure KSM 141, which offers professional miking technology and two choices of polar patterns (cardiod or omnidirectional) for less than $500. It brings you all the features of pricier condenser mics, including a subsonic filter that eliminates self-noise and a three-position switchable pad that’s great for the high sound pressure levels involved in miking a drum kit.
The adjustable low-pass filter gives you three settings so you can tailor the frequency capture to the equipment in the kit, while the low-mass Mylar diaphragm gives you an incredibly detailed response with a lot of flexibility. This just might be the best overhead drum mics for the money.
Why Condenser Mics?
There are three basic types of microphone: dynamic, condenser, and ribbon. Ribbon microphones are the most specialized of these, generating the signal by conducting electricity through a ribbon suspended between two magnetic poles. They have a figure-8 or bi-directional polar pattern and are typically delicate, warping easily when used to record high dynamics or sharp sounds, and are typically a poor choice for percussion.
Dynamic mics, on the other end of the spectrum, use a coil attached to a diaphragm that moves through a magnetic field. This style is more durable when it comes to high sound pressure levels; since they can handle a lot of abuse, they’re great for close-miking of kick or snare drums, but don’t give you as much fine detail or sensitivity.
Condenser mics are perfect overhead drum mics because they strike a balance between the durability of a dynamic mic and the sensitivity of a ribbon mic. They’re designed with two conductive plates, one of which is charged, allowing a signal to be generated when the other plate moves across it. This gives condenser microphones a wider frequency response and higher sensitivity than dynamic microphones. Though they can’t handle high sound pressure levels from close-miking of drums, the distance of an overhead set-up is enough to protect the microphone while still capturing the detail of a multi-piece kit.
Diaphragm Size Recommendations for the Best Overhead Drum Mics
Condenser mics come in two predominant styles depending on the size of the diaphragm (the top plate that moves against the charged plate to create the signal). Large diaphragm mics have a diaphragm of 1 inch or larger, while small diaphragms are smaller than an inch. More important than the stats, though, is the effect of this change on the sound.
The main difference is sensitivity. A large diaphragm mic will be more sensitive than a small, and tends to have a deeper frequency response. Small diaphragm mics, meanwhile, can operate using less power, and tends to respond better to especially high frequencies, like those produced by a cymbal. When it comes to overhead drum mics, either style can work—it just depends on what you want to emphasize. Using a large diaphragm mic will give you more detail and a bit more presence from the kick drum and toms in the mix. If you use a lot of cymbals, though, you may want to use a small diaphragm mic to capture all their sparkle and detail.