Best Overhead Drum Microphones 2021: Ultimate Beginner’s Guide


Like any other gear, there are many different mics to choose from when recording a drum kit.  Not only are there a ton of mics to choose from, but there are also several different TYPES of mics as well, as really any main type can be used—from small-diaphragm condensers to LDCs, to ribbon mics or even dynamics, there’s a mic to suit every job and taste.

In this article, I’ll give you several different microphone “reviews’, grouped into three categories: “top-shelf/pro,” “mid-price,” and budget,” with a few options for each.

Price is usually the deciding factor here, but you can get great recordings with any of these mics!  The difference usually comes down to patience, attention to detail, and of course, capturing a good performance!

best overhead mics fro drum recording
Nik Johnson’s Setup (with MXL 3000)
Best Top Shelf Overhead MicsBest Mid-Range Overhead MicsBest Budget Overhead Mics
1. Neumann KM184 pair1. Shure KSM137/SL1. Behringer C-2 Matched Studio Condenser Pair
2. AKG C414 pair2. Rode NT5 Pair2. Rode M5 Pair
3. Neumann U87 pair3. Audio-Technica AT4041 Pair3. sE Electronics sE7 Matched Pair
 4. AKG C451B Stereo Pair4. MXL 3000

Read our guide to types of microphones here!

Check out my guide to the Best Boom Arms.

Best Budget Overhead Mics

1. Behringer C-2 Matched Studio Condenser Pair

What We Like – You get a PAIR of mics for less than a hundred bucks. Crazy, and you really cannot get any cheaper than that.  Small-diaphragm condenser mics are ideal for capturing the quick transients needed with drum overheads.

It can come from any source, but it will sound wonderful in all cases.  The C-2s perform really well in the studio and onstage. Isn’t it wonderful that you can get a pair of fantastic matched pair mic for the price of a song?

Behringer C-2 Studio Condenser Microphones, Matched Pair
365 Reviews
Behringer C-2 Studio Condenser Microphones, Matched Pair
  • 2 matched condenser microphones for stereo studio recording and live applications
  • Ideal as main and support microphones for studio and live applications
  • Cardioid pickup pattern for effective feedback elimination

If you are starting with recording drums, it’s probably best to start small and not spend a ton of money right away.  Wait until you get your feet under you and get comfortable with your skillset first, and these mics certainly allow you to do that.

What We don’t like – When you spend less than 100 bucks on A PAIR of microphones, you can’t really be choosy.  These are very basic mics that don’t color the sound much and will do the job, but you’re not going to get a Mercedes when you pay for a Hyundai (no offense to Hyundai, of course!).

2. Rode M5 Pair

Sale
Rode M5-MP Matched Pair Cardioid Condenser Microphones
455 Reviews
Rode M5-MP Matched Pair Cardioid Condenser Microphones
  • Compact 1/2 inch cardioid condenser microphone with low noise and a full frequency response
  • Matched pair has been carefully selected to ensure a variation of no more than 1dB sensitivity betwe
  • A premium foiled certificate is supplied to verify the authenticity of the pair

What We like –   These mics give you the kind of performance that will exceed what you’d expect from condensers at this price point. This pair is great for recording and other stuff such as sound reinforcement. It is also great with guitars, percussion, woodwinds, strings, etc.

As they have mentioned, they work like a charm for stereo recording techniques. When I got there, I was blown away at how great they sounded. And for the price, wow. Perfect mics for anyone, for any budget.

What We don’t like – At this price, not much!  I wish they came with a nice case but again, you get what you get for that price.  I looked around online and couldn’t find a lot of negativity either, which is usually a good sign!

3. sE Electronics sE7 Matched Pair

sE Electronics - sE7 Small Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone with Clip, Factory Matched Pair
46 Reviews
sE Electronics - sE7 Small Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone with Clip, Factory Matched Pair
  • Small-diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Mic with 80Hz Highpass Filter
  • Gold-plated XLR (pair)
  • Pad

What We like –  With its effective and great sounding design, distinct Class A circuit system, adaptable value, and leveled transmitted switches, and a lightweight output-  the sE7 provide Pleasant and pure sound that fits all frequencies of any source.

The sE7’s distinct Class A signal path doesn’t rely on ICs or transformers. This is the main reason behind this mic’s remarkable performance, as it efficiently manages to gain access to various sources.  This is another reason why people invest in them.

We don’t like – Problems with these mics are that after sometimes it can be a bit harsh and even fragile.  Clever use of EQ and high-frequency roll-off is highly recommended.

4. MXL 3000

sE Electronics - sE7 Small Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone with Clip, Factory Matched Pair
46 Reviews
sE Electronics - sE7 Small Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone with Clip, Factory Matched Pair
  • Small-diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Mic with 80Hz Highpass Filter
  • Gold-plated XLR (pair)
  • Pad

What We Like– The MXL 3000 is a condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. It has an evident, underlying tonal quality that leaves the drums sounding clean and unprocessed.

I personally use this mic in my recording set up as drum overheads. Although I’d prefer using small diaphragm condensers on my overheads, the MXL 3000 is great for just about anything and everything! It comes in a blue aluminum casing that looks fantastic!

There are many great things about this microphone, but the one I think I find to be the most attractive is the overall natural and bright sound it produces. It captures cymbals with ease, and you can hear every shimmer of your crashes and rides!

We Don’t Like- There aren’t too many downsides to the MXL 3000, but I do not like that the stock shock mount that comes with the bundle pack easily scratches the pretty blue casing. So the blue casing is easily scratched is definitely a downside when you want your microphone looking top-notch!

Best Mid Range Overhead Mics

1. Shure KSM137/SL

Shure KSM137 /SL Cardioid Condenser, Foam Windscreen and Carrying Case
  • Highly consistent cardioid polar pattern
  • Ultra-thin, 2.5 micron, 24 karat gold-layered, low mass Mylar diaphragm for superior transient response
  • Class A, discrete, transformerless preamplifier for transparency, extremely fast transient response, no crossover distortion, and minimal harmonic and intermodulation distortion

We Like –   The KSM137 what we like most about this end-address microphone has a cardioid polar pattern. It is an apparatus microphone that is specially designed for studio use. However, the other uses of these mics are for live applications, and they can handle high SPL due to their rough nature. It is a great recording instrument due to its high-frequency response and soft noise.

Its switchable pad makes it’s perfect for instruments with loud frequency sounds (like drums!). It also works great with extreme X-Y recording with its fantastic new bracket. Separately, it can be used for almost everything, for example, violins, violas, acoustic guitar, percussion, harp, xylophone, vibes, and marimba.

Due to its wide frequency and dynamic range, you can do anything. It’s not twisted and had a clear, clean high end.

What We don’t like – I wish they had a switchable polar pattern.

2. Rode NT5 Pair

Rode NT5-MP Compact Cardioid Condenser Microphones, Matched Pair
142 Reviews
Rode NT5-MP Compact Cardioid Condenser Microphones, Matched Pair
  • ENSURE YOU BUY GENUINE RØDE PRODUCTS! Products from sellers which say ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ under the price are NOT authorized resellers, and may not be selling genuine product.
  • Buy only from Amazon.com (labelled ‘shipped and sold by Amazon.com’)
  • Intended for recording acoustic instruments, drum overheads, cymbals and live performances

What We Like – If you’re looking for affordable small-diaphragm condenser microphones, take a look at a matched pair of RODE NT5. These mics give you the kind of performance that far exceeds what you’d expect from condensers at this price point. They hold their own against other acclaimed, more expensive SDC’s. And for the price, you can’t beat them.

I bought these mics to “hold me over” until I could afford some of the more expensive small-diaphragm condensers and was absolutely amazed at how good they sound! I find myself using the NT5s more than I would have ever imagined and loving the results. When I need a bright and detailed signal, these mics perform exceptionally well.

What We don’t like – Honestly, the carrying case for Rode mics isn’t my favorite.  It’s a hard, molded plastic, and there isn’t any padding in it at all.  It seems strange to me, but obviously, that isn’t going to affect the mics in any way.

3. Audio-Technica AT4041 Pair

Audio-Technica AT4041SP Studio Microphone Pack
7 Reviews
Audio-Technica AT4041SP Studio Microphone Pack
  • Smooth, extended frequency response with a slight rise occurring in the high-frequency region
  • Ideal for drum overheads, acoustic guitar, piano, horns and under snare
  • Low-mass diaphragm improves transient response, increases response bandwidth and reduces handling and mechanical noise transfer

What We like – It’s the best pair of drum overhead mics you can buy at its price range. You will get Clear sound, reliable, smooth range crossover, a great investment all in all. These microphones give the most balanced and soothing sound you can get.

They work well with cymbals, overheads, room mics, acoustic guitar, pianos, horns, and you can even use them as a snare bottom microphone. These microphones’ unique transformer-less design turns your room into a quieter noise floor.

It also came with a protective vinyl case in which you find two microphones, two stand clamps, and two windscreens. Everything about this points to great quality.

What We don’t like – Honestly, not much!  These mics are really quite killer for the price.

4. AKG C451B Stereo Pair

AKG C 451 B Reference Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
51 Reviews
AKG C 451 B Reference Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
  • The C451B is an excellent tool for accurately capturing signals rich in transients such as drums, overhead miking, or other instruments with a percussive sound
  • The airy sound, high overload limit of the capsule and electronic circuitry, and improved engineering details of the C451B are a solid foundation for creating another legend
  • The Best Selling Classic is Back! Precise artistic work deserves precise artistic craftsmanship

What We like –  The new C 451B  has incredible precision and accuracy. The capsule is fixed to the preamp to increase its stability under mechanical stress. It also has a switchable pre-attenuation pad its mic’s SPL capability can increase.

The switchable high pass filter prevents low-end problems (at 75 Hz or 150 Hz). Its C 451B’s all-metal body is designed for protection from RF interference. This microphone is created explicitly for studio or recording usage.

What We don’t like – These are, of course, some expensive mics, given some other options on the list.  Would I pick these over the AT4041s above?  If the budget was a primary motivation, probably not.  You won’t go wrong if you choose them, but there are less expensive options out there that will do the job for you.

Best Top Shelf/Pro Overhead Mics

1. Neumann KM184 pair

Neumann KM 184 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone Satin Nickel
8 Reviews
Neumann KM 184 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone Satin Nickel
  • Cardioid Polar Pattern
  • Transformerless circuitry
  • Trouble-free operation even with unbalanced equipment

What We like –  Neumann’s KM 184 Stereo Pair can handle high SPL very easily. You can get up to 138dB before it can get overloaded. It’s can also work quietly, and this is a brilliant choice when you capture subtle sounds of acoustic guitars and orchestral instruments. Because of this, your scope is not limited to used drum OHs. It can provide a classic Neumann sound!  That’s the reason why it is used widely in pro studios.

What We don’t like – It’s self-evident that these mics are expensive and perform really well. Even if you get a hand on a pair of KM184s for a lot less pricey, that’s great for you.  However, if you use these, you also won’t suffer any loss.

2. AKG C414 pair

AKG C414 XLS Large-Diaphragm Instrument Condenser Microphone with Nine Switchable Polar Patterns with Shockmount, Popfilter, Carrying Case, Windscreen, Cable Ties, XLR Cable and 6Ave Cleaning Kit
3 Reviews
AKG C414 XLS Large-Diaphragm Instrument Condenser Microphone with Nine Switchable Polar Patterns with Shockmount, Popfilter, Carrying Case, Windscreen, Cable Ties, XLR Cable and 6Ave Cleaning Kit
  • FOR EVERY APPLICATION: Because of the nine polar patterns that can be found in the C414 XLS, this microphone has a setting for every application! With an astonishing low noise floor, a 152dB dynamic range, and the ability to disable all controls for live-sound applications and permanent installations, this microphone is bound to suit your environment regardless of the setting.
  • HIGH QUALITY: The C414 XLS set a new benchmark in microphone versatility due to introducing a 9-pattern design. This microhpone also maintains reference-quality results through leading-edge technology and state-of-the-art components.
  • CAREFULLY ENGINEERED: This microphone has been specifically engineered for highest linearity and neutral sound for precisely detailed recording of vocals and acoustic instruments. Additionally, the three attenuation levels (-6,-12,-19dB) allow for close-up recording or high-output sources of up to 158dB SPL.

What We Like – The AKG C414 multi-pattern condenser microphone needs a little introduction (but I’ll give you one anyway! haha). Few microphones are as widely accepted as a de facto part of any professional engineer’s mic locker as this famous microphone.

Like the KM184s, you can use these for really ANY application in your studio, from vocals to acoustic guitars to percussion, of course, drum overheads. Still, as OHs specifically, they SHINE. Nice high end that isn’t brittle.  They make things SPARKLE, really.  Plus, I love that they have FIVE different polar patterns to choose from—that choice is rare in a single mic.

What We don’t like – again, not much not to like here!  The C414 variants can be confusing to differentiate, but a lot of that comes down to the most minute differences.  Expensive, but absolutely top of the line.

3. Neumann U87 pair

Neumann U 87 Ai Switchable Studio Microphone - Nickel Color
23 Reviews
Neumann U 87 Ai Switchable Studio Microphone - Nickel Color
  • 3 selectable directional patterns: omnidirectional, cardioid, and figure-810dB attenuation switch127dB SPL handling 20Hz to 20kHz response Impedance rated at 200 ohms.

We Like –   The Neumann U 87 Ai is believed to give a new life to the classic microphone. First Introduced in 1967, the U 87 instantly became the favorite of engineers, producers, and clients. In the mid-’70s, it was popular use in any world-class recording studio.

Moreover, it’s still in the season. It’s still used in a session, and engineers still use 87s everywhere. On pianos, vocals, toms, overheads, guitar cabs, brass, strings, congas — and any other instruments you can imagine.

No doubt this mic is so prevalent in this field: It’s believed to be a gift of a new age of audio fidelity and reliability, it has three selectable polar patterns (cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8), also a switchable high pass filter and 10dB pre-attenuation pad, This mic is highly adaptable and accessible in demand for a vast range of recording techniques. The Neumann U 87 Ai is specially created for industrial use. Its distinctive features are its large-diaphragm condenser mic. In the end, you can’t get a better deal than this.

What We don’t like – not a thing.

THE OVERALL WINNER

If we had to choose one pair of mics from this list, it would not be easy to do!  There are many great options here, and basically, it’s going to come down to your skill and patience as an engineer (and certainly the skill of the drummer as well!) to capture that great-sounding performance.

That having been said, we have to choose one!  Those are the rules, and rules are rules after all, right?
So, without further ado…

The winner for the best overall drum overhead mic is the Audio-Technica AT4041 pair! We mentioned previously, they are by far and away from the best-sounding mics under a thousand dollars that you’re going to find, and we don’t think you’d be disappointed in making that investment.

Audio-Technica AT4041SP Studio Microphone Pack
7 Reviews
Audio-Technica AT4041SP Studio Microphone Pack
  • Smooth, extended frequency response with a slight rise occurring in the high-frequency region
  • Ideal for drum overheads, acoustic guitar, piano, horns and under snare
  • Low-mass diaphragm improves transient response, increases response bandwidth and reduces handling and mechanical noise transfer

Why your choice of overhead mics is so important!!

Overhead microphones are there to pick up your drum set as a whole and give the listener a stereo field of the entire instrument instead of putting a mic on each drum and trying to capture just that individual drum sound.

Also, overheads are there to bring your cymbals into the mix, as cymbals are a vital part of a drum set and need to be heard properly. Most overhead microphones will be condenser microphones, as condenser microphones are more sensitive and can pick up a better range of sounds and frequencies thrown at it while also maintaining the high-end transients of the bright, shimmering cymbals.

However, some engineers also use Ribbon microphones for overheads and even as room mics because they can give you a bit of a “darker/warmer” sound and an almost “vintage” sound. But the most popular are still condensers, small and large diaphragm.

During the mixing process, I’ve personally found that if you can get your overhead tracks sounding great as a full set, you won’t have to do much with the other microphones because the overheads are giving you exactly what the listener, or audience, would hear if the music were being played right in front of them. Now, that’s not to say the just the overheads will give the perfect sounding tracks, but they are the main thing that’s going to help get you there!

More on Overhead Microphones

An overhead microphone is a microphone (usually condenser) that is placed above the drum set/drummer and used to capture the overall ambiance and blend of the drum set as a whole. We also incorporate overhead microphones so that way the cymbals can be heard properly and as intended for the listener.

There are many different types, brands, and styles, and each one offers its own individual characteristics to the music. The most popular are Small diaphragm condensers, large-diaphragm condensers, and even some ribbon microphones! Although, condensers are the more popular overhead solution.

For more information, check out how many mics you need to record drums.

Different Types of Overhead Microphones

There are three main times of overhead mics. SMALL diaphragm condenser, LARGE diaphragm condenser, and ribbon microphones. Each one with its own unique qualities and characteristics/features. With condensers, there’s really no right or wrong choice.

It strictly depends on what you like and feel is best for your current recording session. Ribbon microphones offer a very noticeable difference from condenser microphones and sometimes can be a go-to to capture that unique drum sound! The type f microphone used is usually the sound engineer’s personal preference and what he/she thinks would work best for the sound of the musical arrangement being worked on.

Even though the small and large-diaphragm condensers are both “condenser mics,” they still offer unique and different qualities and add different characteristics to the sound being captured. To understand the differences between the two, let’s look more into the definition and showmanship of both.

1. Small Diaphragm Condensers

The word “small” in “small-diaphragm condenser” usually refers to the size of the capsule (or “membrane”) within the microphone itself. However, don’t let that fool you; some small-diaphragm condensers have capsules that would be considered “large” compared to their size.

Small diaphragm condenser microphones are great for capturing a stereo field/image and that high-end shimmer produced by the cymbals in a drum set up. They’re usually thin, pencil-shaped microphones and capture sound “end-fired,” which means that they record whatever they are directly pointed at and don’t capture as much sound coming from the sides of where ever it’s placed within your setup causing bleed from other instruments.

Small condensers are great tools for capturing and recording the pure, natural sound of the drum set. Small diaphragm condensers leave the overhead drum tracks in your recording, sounding very uncolored and very neutral, allowing and giving you the ability to have a lot of headroom when mixing your song down.

They have a very consistent cardioid pattern and extended high-frequency response, which makes them ideal for the cymbals’ bright transient response. Also note, small-diaphragm condensers are also great for recording the bottom side of snare drums and can even be used for acoustic guitar and piano instruments.

Pros :

  • Better transient response.
  • Consistent pickup pattern.
  • Pure, natural sounding. Uncolored.
  • Better high-frequency response.

Cons :

  • Higher dB of self-noise.
  • More narrow recording path (this could be both pro and con depending on the sound you’re looking to achieve)
2. Large Diaphragm Condensers

Historically, Large-diaphragm condenser microphones came first and before small diaphragm mics. Until the 50s or 60s, small-diaphragm condensers started to show up in the recording studios of that day and era. Large-diaphragm condensers are usually twice the size of small condenser microphones and bigger!

Unlike most small diaphragm microphones, the large-diaphragm condensers operate “side-address” instead of capturing the sound source head-on; it captures from all around the capsule. This creates a higher sensitivity and allows the microphone to sound huge and warm. They offer a lower dynamic range and a much narrower frequency range. Large-diaphragm condensers are also an ideal solution for vocal tracks.

Pros :

  • Lower self-noise.
  • Higher sensitivity.
  • Helps shape the sound

Cons :

  • Size, bulky than small, pencil condensers microphones.
  • Color the sound. Not as “natural” as a small diaphragm.
3. Ribbon Microphones

The overall advantage of using ribbon microphones, originally, was that it had a much higher natural resonant frequency than what existed in your modern microphones of the era.

Earlier ribbon microphones had problems with low voltage output, which led to having a step-up transformer being used to increase it. Modern-day ribbon microphones don’t really suffer from this problem because the magnets within the microphone have been improved, and even the transformers that allow the microphone to have output levels that can exceed even most dynamic microphones.

Also, with earlier Ribbon microphones, they were very fragile. It is so fragile that even slightly dropping it or slipping out of your hand could damage the ribbon and internals and render the microphone useless afterward. However, with modern technological advances, they’ve become quite durable as well as just about everything else we use in the world today.

Ribbon microphones as overheads aren’t too popular, as condensers are usually the main go-to microphone solution for the job, but using them isn’t unheard of! As I’ve mentioned before, they produce a much “darker” or “Warmer” sound than your standard condenser microphone, which, in turn, can give the overall drum sound a very “vintage” feel. Usually, the usage of Ribbon microphones as drum overheads is pretty much an “if you want that kind of sound” solution.

Pros :

  • Darker/Warmer sound
  • Higher natural resonant frequency.

Cons :

  • Less durable than other types of microphones.

Check out my picklist for the Best Condenser Mics for Under $200.

Different Miking Techniques for overhead microphones.

When placing and setting up overhead microphones around your drum kit, you can try several different techniques and placements, but there’s not exactly a right or wrong way to do it. Usually, the room acoustics are a big factor in how you place your microphone within and around a drum set as the room you’re playing in highly affects the kit’s overall sound and the sound that is going to be captured from it.

It’s best to have some sound dampening or sound absorption in place around the kit and the room itself so that the harsh sound reflections aren’t bouncing everywhere, allowing the microphone to capture a whole mess of sounds while you’re playing. You want to capture the most natural and clear dynamic ranges of the drums with your overhead microphones. The three most common types of overhead microphone placements are “Spaced Pair,” X-Y,” and “ORTF.” Here’s a deeper look at the three:

  • SPACED PAIR – Spaced pair is the most popular and most widely used technique/method for recording drums. It consists of a microphone on each side of the drum set, both left and right, and pointing straight down or slightly towards the snare, the drum kit’s center. The set up allows for a lot of headroom while placing the microphones.
  • X-Y Placement – The X-Y method consists of two cardioid microphones placed close to each other, but both have separate 90-degree angles. This technique enables the engineer to capture a more consistent and focused drum sound and a better stereo image of the drum set itself. The center of most and almost every drum set will be the snare drum, so an X-Y placement over the snare will give you the ideal stereo image and overall stereo drum sound that you may be looking for. Give it a try!
  • ORTF – This particular miking technique isn’t as popular as spaced pair or X-Y, but it definitely has a sound of its own! Two microphones placed about 17 cm apart and angled at 110 degrees from each other will give you the proper ORTF placement. This method allows more width from the cymbals compared to the actual drums.

Whichever pair you choose, always remember to take your time with mic placement, listen to what you’re recording, stop and make adjustments until you find the sound you’re going for!

Good luck, and happy recording!

Authors : Nik Johnson and Adam Coolong. A collab bewteen the two (info)

Last update on 2021-10-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

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