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The 5 Best Microphones For Recording Drums In A Home Studio On A Budget

by | Microphones | 1 comment

Let’s face it: Recording acoustic drum kit tracks at home is not easy!

There are basically five things you need in order to produce great-sounding drum tracks at home:

  • A well-tuned drum kit
  • A large room that has good acoustics
  • Enough mics: 4 mics are usually the minimum, while 8 or more mics would cover larger kits, plus mic stands and cables
  • A mixing board or mic preamps for each mic
  • Knowledge of correct mic placement

There is a 6th factor which is actually the most important: how well the drummer plays.

I can’t help you with that one…….

Recording Drums At Home: Mic Budget

Now, choosing the best mics when it comes to drum recording is very subjective.  And because there are so many mics that are needed, your budget will play a major factor.

While some classic drum sounds were recorded with two mics (like Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks”) or three mics (listen to hit producer Glyn Johns’ recordings with The Rolling Stones and The Beatles), most producers usually want a little more control over the final sound and opt for a more close mics on the kick, snare, and toms.

If you were to assemble a “Dream Team” of the best mics that top producers and engineers use, your bill would likely top $15,000.  Many mics like the Cole 4038 or the Neumann U87 are $1,500 to $3,000 each, and you would need two of them just for drum overhead mics!

So, rather than give you a list of what you probably can’t afford, I’m going to give you the best mics to record a kit with 8 pieces: kick, snare, hi-hat, 2 rack toms, 1 floor tom, 1 ride and 1 crash.

This means a minimum of 8 mics are needed for maximum flexibility when mixing: close mics each on kick, snare, hat and 3 toms, plus two mics for overheads.

Total budget: $1,200 for 8 mics

That is really not bad for eight pro-quality microphones!  You’ll be surprised at how the best mics for some drums are very affordable!

But if $1,200 is out of your budget, I’ll also go over some Drum Kit Mic Bundles that are great lesser cost alternatives.

Of course, if you have the budget feel free of course swap out my chosen mics for the industry-standard mics you’ll see in the reviews.

Review Criteria

All mics included in my reviews were chosen based on their widespread use and reputation in the professional music community.

I’ve also added my insights gained from 25+ years of experience running a very successful music production company, creating Audio Addiction Music Library, a production music library with global distribution, and recording in major studios.

Beginner’s Guide To Buying Microphones

First off, if you are new to buying microphones, please check out my Beginner’s Guide to Buying Microphones For Your Home Recording Studio. You’ll learn the different types of mics discussed in this article, how mics work, mic polar patterns, when to use them, and much more.

The 5 Best Microphones For Recording Drums
In A Home Studio On A Budget

Kick Drum

Mic type mostly used: Dynamic

Industry standard mics: AKG D12VR | AKG D112 Mk II | Audix D6 Shure Beta 52 Shure Beta 91A |Audio-Technica ATM25 | Sennheiser e602 II

My pick: AKG D112 mk II

AKG D112 mk II

Best Microphones For Recording Drums - AKG D112 mk IIThe AKG D112 has a reputation as the best kick drum mic ever made.  Countless records have been recorded with this dynamic mic, and it has been used by top producers such as Steve Albini, Roy Thomas Baker, Steve Churchyard, Bob Clearmountain, Elliott Scheiner, Butch Vig, and more.

The new D112 Mk II keeps the same sound and quality of the original D112 but adds an integrated flexible mic mount.

Its tight and solid low end is complemented by a narrow-band presence boost at 4 kHz that punches through dense mixes.

Because of this built-in EQ boost, mixers and producers find it frequently requires no additional EQ to sound solid and punchy.

You really can’t go wrong with the D112 covering your kick drum!

In the following video, I preferred the deeper thump of the D112 than the others.

Kick Mic Review
(the D112 appears at 1:07 on the video)

AKG D112 mk II

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AKG D112 mk II Specs:

  • Large diaphragm dynamic mic
  • Cardioid pickup pattern
  • 20 Hz – 17 kHz frequency response
  • 160 dB max SPL

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Snare Drum

Mic type mostly used: Dynamic

Industry standard mics: Shure SM57 | Neumann KM84 | Beyerdynamic M201

My pick: Shure SM57

Shure SM57

Best Microphones For Recording Drums - Shure SM57The Shure SM57 is probably the most widely used mic in history, and certainly one of the best-selling mics in the world.  Shure released the first SM57 in 1965, and it quickly became a go-to mic for guitars, vocals, drums, horns and more.

Though the SM57 shines as a guitar mic, it is a top mic for snare drum, preferred by top producers such as Steve Churchyard, Bob Clearmountain, Mike Hedges, John Leckie, Elliot Scheiner, Chris Thomas, Tony Visconti, and more.

There are four main reasons it gained in popularity so fast.  First, as a dynamic mic, it is capable of withstanding high sound levels that can damage more delicate condenser mics.  This makes it ideal for miking guitar amps.

Second, it is also built very ruggedly, making it last in the studio for many years despite constant use (and abuse).

Third, the mic just plain sounds good on many different sound sources, but especially on vocals and guitar amps.

And finally, studio owners love them because they are very inexpensive compared to condenser or ribbon mics.  The SM57 retails for only about $99.00.

Fun Fact: The SM57 has been the podium lectern mic of choice for U.S. presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama.

Hear the SM57 in action at the Shure Mic Listening Lab.

Shure SM57

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Shure SM57 Specs:

  • Dynamic mic with cardioid pickup pattern
  • 40Hz – 15 kHz frequency response
  • Includes stand adapter and zippered carrying case

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Toms

Mic type mostly used: Dynamic

Industry standard mics: Sennheiser MD 421 (for rack toms) Electro-Voice RE20 (for floor toms)

My Choice:  Sennheiser e604 – Single Mic | Sennheiser e604 3-Pack

Sennheiser e604

Recording a full set of toms gets pretty expensive using the industry standard mics!

The Sennheiser e604 delivers comparable performance for a third of the price of an MD 421 or RE20 mic.  In fact, you can get three of them for less than the price of one MD 421 or RE20!

The e604 compares favorably with the MD 421 as far as sound goes.  It should, as the e604’s capsule is the same as in the higher priced MD 421.

However, the overall feeling from e604 owners is that while the e604 is great on toms, but is kind of a one trick pony. The MD 421, however, has more features and can be used to record many different instruments with great results.

BUT, if you’re only looking to use it to record toms, the e604 would be your best bet.

One nice bonus is that the e604 includes a drum clip that mounts to the rim of the tom.  This saves having to purchase mic stands.

Sennheiser e604 (Single Mic)

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Sennheiser e604 (3-Pack)

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Sennheiser e604 Specs:

  • Dynamic mic with cardioid pickup pattern
  • 40 Hz – 18 kHz frequency response
  • Max SPL: 160 dB
  • Includes drum clip

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Overheads

Mic types used: Matched pair of large or small diaphragm condensers or ribbon mics

Industry standard mics:

Large Diaphragm condenser: Neumann U87 | AKG C414 XLS

Small Diaphragm condenser: Neumann KM 84 (only available used) | Neumann KM 184

Ribbon mics: Coles 4038 | Beyerdynamic M160 | Royer SF-12 | Royer R-122 | AEA R88

My pick:  Rode NT5 MP Matched Pair

Rode NT5 MP Matched Pair

Drum overhead mics are a crucial part in getting a great drum kit sound.  A carefully placed pair of overheads can provide the right sound and balance without any other mics being used.  Just listen to those early Led Zeppelin records recorded with only two Beyerdynamic M160 mics as overheads!

It’s no wonder then that many hit records are cut with a pair of Neumann U87s, Beyer M160s or Cole 4038s on the drum overheads.  Unfortunately for most home recordists, a pair of these mics are way out of the budget.

The Rode NT5 matched pair of mics is a great solution for users on a much smaller budget.  No, you won’t get the same lush sound as a pair of U87s, but you will get an excellent drum sound that will make your drum tracks come to life.

To start, the Rode NT5 is Rode’s premier small diaphragm condenser pencil mic.

It was designed as an overhead mic for drum kits and for recording cymbals and hi-hats and is excellent for producing a clear detailed sound.

The matched pair lets users record a stereo X/Y mic setup which is the standard for drum overheads.

The NT5 is designed and made in Australia and is covered by RØDE’s industry leading 10-year warranty.

Rode NT5 MP Matched Pair

Check price:
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Rode NT5 MP Matched Pair Specs:

  • Small diaphragm condenser mic with cardioid pickup pattern
  • 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response
  • Max SPL: 143 dB

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Hi-Hats

Mic type mostly used: Dynamic or small diaphragm condenser

Industry standard mics: Neumann KM 184 | Shure SM81-LC

My pick: 
Samson C02 Pencil Condenser Microphones

Samson CO2 Pair

Depending on the style of music, many engineers and producers do not mic the hi-hats separately, relying on the overheads to pick them up and get a good balance.

For home recordists, however, having a separate hi-hat track is really beneficial, so I’ve included a very low-cost mic that will provide that flexibility at mix time…

The Samson CO2 is a pencil style small diaphragm condenser mic that is sold in pairs.  They are designed for recording drum overheads, hi-hats, and other instruments.

Sound on Sound Magazine found the mic provided a fairly accurate, detailed, and well-balanced sound.

They did find that it exhibited a higher noise level than they would have liked, but if you are recording fairly loud sound sources like hi-hats this won’t be a problem.

Since you only need one mic for recording hi-hats, you can use the other one on something else, like miking under the snare.

Samson CO2 Matched Pair

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Samson CO2 Matched Pair Specs:

  • Small diaphragm condenser mic with cardioid pickup pattern
  • 40 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response
  • Max SPL: 134 dB
  • Includes two mic clips, two windscreens and carrying case

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Drum Kit Mic Bundles

If individual mics are too expensive for your budget, a less expensive option is to purchase a drum kit mic set – a selection of drum mics that are bundled by the manufacturer at a discounted price compared to buying them separately.

Just know that for lower-priced bundles you won’t get the same quality as assembling the best mics you can get from different manufacturers, but you can always add better mics later as your budget allows.

All bundles are listed with the higher-quality mic sets first.

Sennheiser DRUMKIT600/ e600 Drum Microphone Package

Check price:
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This 7 mic set includes five dynamic mics and two condensers:

  • One Sennheiser e602 kick drum mic
  • Four e604 dynamic tom/snare mics
  • Two e614 super cardioid overhead mics.

All mics in this set can handle high SPLs so this set would work well for loud drummers.

Overall, this set gives you everything you need to produce punchy drum tracks with the close mics and a vibrant detailed sound on the overheads.

The set comes with mic clamps and a slim-line aluminum case.

Audix DP7 7-Piece Drum Mic Package

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This 7 mic set includes five dynamic mics and two condensers:

  • One D6 dynamic kick drum mic
  • One i5 dynamic snare drum mic
  • Two D2 mics for rack toms
  • One D4 mic for floor tom
  • Two ADX51 condenser overhead mics.

The set comes with gooseneck/ DClip mic clamps, a “How To Mic Drums” video and an aluminum case.

AUDIX Microphone Kit DP7

AKG Pro Audio Rhythm Pack Drum Microphone Set

Check price:
Amazon

This six mic set includes four dynamic mics and two condenser mics for overheads:

  • One D112 kick drum mic
  • Two C430 mics for overheads
  • Three D40 mics for snare and toms

The set includes mic clamps and stand adaptors and an aluminum case.

It’s a great deal for six mics, including the D112 kick drum mic!

Audix FP7 Drum Microphone Set

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This seven mic set includes five dynamic mics and two condenser mics for overheads:

  • One F6 kick drum mic
  • One F5 snare drum mic
  • Three F2 mics for rack and floor toms
  • Two F9 condenser mics for overheads

The set includes 4 DFLEX mic clips for rim mounting and a heavy-duty aluminum case.

Audix FP7 Mic Test

Shure PGADRUMKIT7 7-Piece Drum Microphone Kit

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This seven mic set includes five dynamic mics and two condenser mics for overheads:

  • One PGA52 cardioid dynamic kick drum mic
  • Three PGA56 cardioid dynamic snare/ toms mic
  • One PGA57 cardioid dynamic snare/instrument mic
  • Two PGA81 cardioid condenser mics for overheads

The set also includes 1 mic clip, 3 drum mounts, 7 15-foot XLR cables and a carrying case.

These mics really make the drums in the video below sound great!

Shure PGADRUMKIT7 Demo

Conclusion

The five mics I’ve chosen are all great choices for recording drums at home.

These are not amateur mics for hobbyists – you’ll find these same mics in many professional studios.

If budget is an issue, then the lower-cost drum mic bundles will get you great-sounding tracks without causing money stresses.

By using these mics or mic set bundles correctly, you can get a great drum sound at home that won’t sound like it was recorded at home!

The key is to use the right mic for each drum and to place each mic in the right spot.   Combined, you’ll find your drum recordings will sound fuller and have more definition and punch.

Plus, you’ll have a nice mic collection that can also be used to record other instruments as well as vocals.

One final thing: Don’t forget high-quality mic preamps to get the best sound from your new mic!

Have fun, experiment and get going today!

 

 

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