Recording a drum kit can be a real challenge, every different drum and cymbal within the kit has its own nuances and unique character, and the hi hat is no exception. Finding the best hi hat mic can go a long way to making sure you get the sound you want, as the hat is up there with kick and snare drums in terms of importance to the kit and overall sound. We’ve reviewed a few options which are perfectly suitable for this part of the drum kit.
Some audio engineers choose not to mic up the hi-hats specifically and rely on the microphones on the snare drum or drum overheads to pick up the sound of the hats. This can sometimes be effective, and good drum recordings have been made with as few as three microphones, but in the modern age we can control every detail, and having a microphone on your hats can give you an extra element of control over the sound of your drum recording. It may be that you end up blending in some of the overall sound of the kit from a room microphone or overheads, but that should be your choice. Only by having mics on your hi-hats can this level of detail be yours.
What to Look For in a Hi-Hat Microphone
We’re looking at a few different criteria here for ensuring we get a mic that has the features we’re looking for. There are so many different types of microphone out there, and it can be easy to think they all do the same job, but this is absolutely not the case. Certain mics serve a certain purpose and as such, there is a certain profile that makes a top microphone for hi-hat recordings.
- Small diaphragm condenser microphones. The vast majority of those we’ve tried that have given good quality recordings have been small diaphragm condensers. They’re small enough to fit around the kit without being another extra thing to accidentally get in the way, but still give a huge amount of detail and clarity to your recording.
- “Cardioid” or “Hyper-Cardioid” polar patterns. This is the pickup pattern of the microphone, and these make sure that only the specific drum you want to record will be picked up, and that ‘bleed’ or sound from the other drums being picked up will be minimal. There is no point in getting your hat mic’d up if you’re going to end up getting the snare and toms in the recording too. Using a “limiter” can also help with this.
- Price. This is always going to play a part in your decision. We’d all love to be able to spend thousands on microphones to record our drumming but it isn’t always possible. There are good options out there at many different price ranges, whether you’re looking to spend $500 or get something for under $100.
Hi Hat Microphone Reviews
The following models are all suitable for this purpose and we’ve tried to provide different products at different prices so even if you need a cheap hi hat mic you can find something that is up to the task.
AKG Pro Audio C451B Instrument Condenser Microphone
AKG is a brand which truly has a mic for all occasions, and their offering in the world of Cardioid, small diaphragm condenser microphones gives a wonderful recording on cymbals and hats. Not only do these provide a huge amount of detail, the handcrafted mic capsule and ultra-low noise preamp means that even in really tough conditions you can get top quality recordings. A -12 dB high-pass filter is a godsend for this purpose, it avoids recordings at lower frequencies and gets rid of any rumble or unwanted sounds. Considering a hi hat’s frequencies are at the higher end of the spectrum, this won’t get rid of any frequencies you need.
This is not one of the cheaper microphones you will see, but the amazing AKG quality and clarity is worth paying for if you have the money to spare. The first iteration of this microphone was released in the 60s, and it has been industry standard ever since. Truly a mic that will add a huge amount to your arsenal.
Rode NT5 Compact
Rode is a brand which doesn’t have as long a history as some of its competitors, but still offers a huge amount, and has become commonplace in home studios and even professional studios. The NT5 compact is a small diaphragm condenser and fits the criteria set out for the best hi-hat microphone. This can be purchased on its own or as a matched pair, and these versatile mics can be used for percussion and other instruments.
Features of the NT5 include:
- A tight cardioid microphone perfect for close-micing percussion.
- Gold spluttered, compact capsule.
- Versatile mic which can be used on woodwind, brass and stringed instruments as well as drums.
- Available as a matched pair as well as on its own.
The NT5 is somewhere in the midrange in terms of price, and offers a good amount of quality and clarity at a price that isn’t going to make you scoff. The fact that these can be used for lots of other applications goes some way to justify the cost. Excellent quality from a brand growing in reputation.
Samson is not a brand you’re likely to see at a high-end recording studio, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored, and with their pencil mic, the C02, they have an offering that doesn’t break the bank but can still be a passable option for the home studio, and it certainly is an upgrade on not hat mic at all!
A quick look at the reviews on Amazon or other online retailers shows how highly regarded this mic is in spite of its lower price tag. As if the value weren’t enough, these are sold as a matched pair to make things even cheaper. A cardioid pickup pattern, XLR connections and small diaphragm mean that it fits the criteria we set out at the start, and these are microphones that offer a lot to a home studio.
Matched pairs also make great overheads, can record things in ‘stereo’ and can be a good option for guitars, pianos and other instruments too, though they are designed mainly for drums. Samson is one of those brands that some audiophiles may scoff at a little, but in truth, the reviews of this mic tend to be five star, and though you shouldn’t expect the earth from microphones that can be purchased under $100, these can add a lot of control and options for your drum recordings. The perfect home studio pencil mics.
A lot of recording comes down to technique. Some audio engineers will use around 10 mics on a drum kit, this isn’t essential, but the truth is that more options are better, and you can always choose not to use a recording once you have it. Even using an affordable hi-hat microphone to experiment and add a layer of sound to your drums.
If you have any experiences recording drums, or have your own thoughts on the best pencil mics or small diaphragm condensers for recording hi-hats or other percussion instruments, feel free to leave a comment below.