- Our Recommended Models and Reviews
- AKG Pro Audio C414 – Best Overhead Drum Mics for Recording
- Rode NT5 Matched Pair Condenser Microphones – Best Value For Money Overhead Drum Mics
- Neumann KM 184 Stereo Microphone Set – High-End Stereo Overhead Mics
- Samson C02 Pencil Condenser Microphones – Best Drum Overhead Mics for Live Use
- Audix ADX51 Studio Condenser Microphone – Best Overhead Drum Microphones Under $500
- Shure CVO-B/C Centraverse Overhead Cardioid Condenser Microphone – Best Single Drum Overhead
- Budget Options – The Best Cheap Drum Overhead Mics
- What Are Drum Overheads?
- What Makes a Good Overhead Microphone?
- Where to Place Drum Overheads?
- Should I Compress Drum Overheads?
In this article, we explore the top options including matched pairs, condenser, and dynamic microphones, and look at the merits of different overhead mics for live use and studio use. Finding the best overhead drum mics is key to getting a great tone.
Recording drums is not a simple task. Whether you are a studio recording engineer or a musician wanting to try your hand at home recording, it is a challenge.
Overhead microphones are vital to the process of recording drums and finding the best drum overheads is key.
Our Recommended Models and Reviews
If you need more info on overhead mics, what they do, and how to use them, this is provided at the end of this article. For now, let’s delve straight into some reviews…
We’ve created a full rundown of some excellent overhead options including matched pairs, condenser mics, and even dynamic mics. To jump straight to a matched pair of mics that balances value for money with exceptional audio quality, check out these drum mics by Rode
Rode NT5 MP Condenser Microphones – Matched Pair
AKG Pro Audio C414 – Best Overhead Drum Mics for Recording
Is there anything the AKG C414 can’t do? I think it would be fair to say that this is possibly the most versatile microphones in the world. It is one of the favorites of audio engineers for vocals, guitars, and of course drum overheads.
C414’s can be bought as matched pairs and this is potentially one of the best ways to record drums. In theory, two mics sold as a matched pair come off the production line together and have almost identical properties.
It comes at a price though, especially if you do want a matched pair, but if money is not a big limitation for you then the C414 is probably the microphone I would recommend.
Being a large-diaphragm condenser this very much fits the bill for recording. You can definitely pick up plenty of the sound and nuance of your drum kit. With some mics, sensitivity can mean you can get nasty clipping and distortion sounds if the mic is overloaded. Luckily, AKG has made this microphone with the facility to reduce the sensitivity by 6, 12, or 18 dB which is great for loud drum kits. Play as loudly as you like and the mic can adjust to suit.
Nine polar patterns let you choose what you prefer for the drum kit, and also mean that if you do invest in a C414 (or a pair of them) you can use them for many different applications from vocals to guitars and more. A microphone that will go down in audio geek history, and definitely one to aspire to if you have the money.
The C414 has a little sibling, the C214, which is a more affordable option designed in a very similar way. We have made a C414 vs C214 comparison for you to see the differences and weigh up the pros and cons.
Rode NT5 Matched Pair Condenser Microphones – Best Value For Money Overhead Drum Mics
They aren’t known as a ‘budget’ range of microphones or as being one of the cheapest microphone brands, but the fact that you can pick up the Rode NT5’s at a far lower price than many of the competitors. Finding a matched pair at such a reasonable price is not something that happens every day, especially a set with so much quality.
The reviews over at Sweetwater and elsewhere online are hugely positive, with audio engineers being stunned at the value for money offered with the NT5s.
They’re small diaphragm condenser microphones and pick up a huge amount of detail, allowing a great overall, atmospheric sound.
The pencil design makes them easy to suspend above the kit on a mic stand, and they come in a hard-wearing case. They’ve been used for everything from orchestras to field recordings, but using them on drums is a very common use whether you want a stereo drum recording or otherwise. They can be used live to good effect, and unlike some of the more expensive mics, you might not be quite as worried about anything getting damaged.
With a low impedance and extremely high build quality, it is really hard to go wrong at the frankly impressive price. Although I understand some drummers and audio engineers will opt for the C414 due to the crazy amount of detail, the NT5 pair is a good competitor (and will save you some serious cash).
Neumann KM 184 Stereo Microphone Set – High-End Stereo Overhead Mics
Neumann Microphones are world-famous and industry-standard for high-end recording studios everywhere. Their “U87” mics are known for being the best vocal mics, but we’re looking for condensers with more ability as overheads, and the KM series is known as exactly that.
The KM 184s are sold as another stereo mic set. You’re able to ensure that you don’t get any feedback as they have a cardioid pick-up pattern (something also available with the C414). Used right, their sound quality is truly second to none. The level of pressure means they can handle an application of being used on percussion as well as wind and string instruments if you need to record these also.
Neumann is a name synonymous with quality, and listening to the results recorded with the KM 184 it is easy to see why. That said, the quality comes at a cost. For elite recording studios then the KM184s and their crisp, clear sound won’t let you down. There are alternative models that are much more budget-friendly, but if you’re looking for the very best, look no further.
An immense amount of five-star reviews and glowing reports from audio engineers show what a well-received product this set is. Perfect for drum overheads.
Samson C02 Pencil Condenser Microphones – Best Drum Overhead Mics for Live Use
Samson mics are very popular for their affordability. They sell full drum mic sets, which can be a good way to save some money when you are buying more than one microphone. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve named them as best for live. In a live environment, mics do take a bit more of a beating and may need to be replaced or fixed periodically.
The C02 mics are also great for handling high volumes that a drum kit can give off. They cope with up to 134 dB sound pressure. They’re sold as a pair, too, so you get a good value set for the left and right-hand sides of your drum kit’s overheads.
We’d say that these mics probably aren’t quite up to the task in a professional studio. They’ll handle home recordings and live use nicely. However, it’s worth investing more if you’re trying to get a super clean sound to your drums.
The cardioid pickup pattern and small diaphragm also mean that this microphone doesn’t pick up the most detail when compared to some of the other options. For the price, though, you probably aren’t expecting ridiculously high fidelity.
- Great for live use.
- Good value for money.
- Can handle the loud volumes of drum kits.
- Not the highest fidelity audio.
Audix ADX51 Studio Condenser Microphone – Best Overhead Drum Microphones Under $500
If you are looking for something that you don’t mind spending a fair amount on, but you really don’t want to compromise on quality, these could be the choice for you. While they come in at well under $500 individually, we recommend getting a pair to form your drum mic setup.
They’re great studio microphones and very versatile products, too, so they can help with a number of uses such as recording brass, group vocals and even guitars and pianos. You don’t have to spend all that money on just mics for your drum kit.
One of the reasons this is such a good choice under $500 is the frequency response. They do a great job of recording high-frequency sounds, all the way up to 20 kHz, so you can enjoy the sizzle of your hi-hats and cymbals.
A decent SPL handling capability combined with the low noise circuitry mean that this is a great mic for picking up the detail of your drumming.
Shure CVO-B/C Centraverse Overhead Cardioid Condenser Microphone – Best Single Drum Overhead
A lot of people opt to use a single mic setup. There are lots of reasons not to use two. Though you’ll always get a better sound with two good mics, you might not have space in your mixing desk, or you might not have the budget to buy two mics. Some people just experiment and find that one overhead mic works for them.
The Shure CVO-B/C is a great microphone for using as a single overhead. It does require some setup to get it in position, and you might even want to set it up as a permanent room mic.
Traditionally, this microphone is used a lot for choirs and recording group vocals. It’s definitely an ideal choice for any recording application where you need to pick up a lot of audio from multiple sources.
If you want to record the whole room with one mic, this can be a good option from Shure, undeniable audio powerhouses, that make some of the best mics going. The frequency response could be a little better, as it cuts off at 16kHz, but this is fine for live use and certainly not too much of a problem when recording a drum kit.
If you need to record with a 3-4 mic setup, and you don’t want to spend much, this can be a good room mic to get a full, ambient sound from your kit.
Budget Options – The Best Cheap Drum Overhead Mics
I understand that not everyone who wants to get good quality drum recordings has the money to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on microphones.
A drum kit can easily use 5 or 6 microphones and the prices can get ridiculous. We wanted to include a budget microphone that can do a pretty good job. Other products such as the Behringer C-1 will get you decent recordings on a budget, but the mics we recommend for cheap drum overheads are…
Sabian Sound Kit Overhead Microphones – Top Budget Pick
Sabian is a drum brand, not a microphone brand. When they released their ‘Sound Kit’ range there were many skeptics, but some of their drum products such as these microphones can be bought for under $100, a truly amazing price.
The quality of these microphones very much surprised me, and a lot of the audio world when they were released. Sabian may not have the same history as the other brands but for such a good price their features are good. These are dynamic microphones instead of condensers, which does make them more robust and even a good option if you need live drum micing. Generally, if your target is decent audio on a budget then the Sabian Overheads are worth your consideration.
This brilliant video shows the mic placement for the bigger Sabian Sound Kit set but shows where to set up your overheads for the best results.
What Are Drum Overheads?
As the name suggests, an overhead drum mic will be positioned above the kit (and of course the head of the drummer). Recording and live engineers often use a set of two overheads to get a rounded sound and an even representation of the sound of your drums. In the modern age, we can use a huge amount of mics to get the right sound for our recordings.
Many studios will use 5, 6 or 7 microphones on the drum set and think nothing of it. The kick drum and snare will always be mic’d up, and often so will the toms. Some audio engineers mic the hi-hats individually, but even if they do, overheads still play an essential role in getting the sound of the hi-hats and cymbals and also the overall tone of the kit.
Overheads are nothing short of vital when it comes to a well-rounded drum sound. Even setups that use three or four microphones will use them in order to get the overall sound of the drum set. Without overheads, it can sound very flat with no atmosphere.
What Makes a Good Overhead Microphone?
So what are we looking for in an overhead? Mics are a complicated science and some will be far superior to others. This doesn’t just mean the more expensive the better, it means that certain types of microphone, sizes of the diaphragm, and frequency response will be better suited to different recording tasks.
For example, the AKG D12 is the ‘industry standard’ to record kick drums due to its ability to pick up the low bass sounds.
Similarly, there are certain microphones that are the best for overhead recording. Terms you may come across on your search for a drum microphone include:
- Condenser microphones. You can use dynamic microphones but we recommend condensers, they’re a good balance between high detail and sensitivity but also durability. Condenser microphones are high quality and great for recording. Dynamic mics are usually preferred for live applications.
- “Matched Pairs”. Another choice you need to make is whether or not to go for a matched pair. Matched pairs come off the production line together, are worth more, and have less of the discrepancies two mics can have. This ensures the most detail possible. Some prefer matched pairs and some aren’t bothered.
- Diaphragm. This is also a big component when it comes to detail. Large-diaphragm condenser microphones will give more detail than small and are therefore more highly recommended.
Where to Place Drum Overheads?
Once you have chosen the best drum overhead mics for you then it is important that you get them set up properly. Otherwise, you’re probably not getting the most out of the mic you have bought.
There are multiple ways to set up drum overheads. It’s a good idea to experiment and get the sound you like best. This is part of the fun of recording!
Some golden rules to get you started include:
- Start with your overheads 30-40 inches away from the snare drum.
- If you are using a two-microphone setup, make sure both mics are the same distance from the snare.
- Don’t put the mics too close to your kit, or any part of your kit. This can cause distortion from overloading the mic or even break the mic.
Most people opt for the standard method of setting up drum overheads. Another popular method is the XY or X/Y method. This is a phase-coherent method and you can use one stand to mic up the kit. The following video shows the best method of using the XY method.
Should I Compress Drum Overheads?
The post-production of drums can also pose some more questions. Should you compress your drum overheads?
The answer is usually yes. Even if you just use subtle compression, it can help you to create an even sound. Your drums will sound punchy and you are less likely to let a drum, hi-hat, or cymbal “go missing” if you compress the sound.
You don’t want to make it sound too processed. However, compression is one of the oldest tricks of the audio engineer when it comes to drums.
The difference in price between the cheapest drum overhead mic on this list and the most expensive is huge. Although they are all designed to give an atmospheric recording of the whole drum kit and particularly the cymbals and hats, the overheads all have their own differences and nuances. The key is learning how to record drums properly, and you can get amazing results even without spending thousands of dollars.
A matched pair is recommended but not essential, though they will make your life much easier. Ultimately, the millions of opportunities for different recording setups should be seen as a world of exciting possibilities.
If you have any questions or opinions on recording drums or overhead mics, leave us a comment below.