7 Best Hi Hat Mics for Live & Studio Recording

Author: Brett Clur | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Hi-hats are often the last thing that drummers will think of mic’ing up. After all, the overhead microphones tend to pick up the hi-hats quite well. However, if you want a more distinct chick sound in your mix, you’ll need a dedicated mic for your hats.

There are many condenser mics on the market that do a great job of bringing your hi-hats to life. We’re going to look through a few of them and see all the great qualities on offer.

7 Best Hi-Hat Mics for Studio & Live

The AKG P170 is a great mic to start the list off. It’s a small-diaphragm cardioid condenser that comes at a relatively affordable price. When your hi-hat mic becomes the last mic that you think of, it’s nice to get one that won’t be breaking any banks.

The P170 has a switchable dB pad, making it somewhat versatile in its pickup frequencies. This means it can handle fairly loud levels of input, a great feature for the hard-hitters out there.

The response is fantastic and it produces an extremely clear tone, especially when used as a dedicated hi-hat microphone. The perfect words to describe it would be snappy and detailed.

The construction of the mic is very durable and dependable. You could do some heavy traveling and the mic would hold up just fine. However, the mic clips are lacking on the durability side. They could definitely be a bit more rugged.

Overall, it’s a great starter mic for anyone who is just getting into recording or anyone on a tight budget.

PROS

  • Affordable
  • Durable and dependable
  • Great response

CONS

  • Mic clips could be more rugged

The Rode M3 is a wonderful condenser microphone, especially for live gigging. The reason it’s so great for playing live is that it has a built-in battery that powers it, meaning you don’t need to have a mixer with phantom power.

The second reason it’s such a great live mic is that it has an adjustable roll-off bass and pad which are fantastic for cutting of pops, clicks, and reducing the risk of feedback. This makes it a trusted microphone that will work wonderfully in most situations.

The mic itself has a very modern look to it. It’s long and black, giving it a smooth aesthetic next to your drums. It’s a permanently polarized condenser that is tough and sturdy, ready to be used in high-intensity situations.

It works wonderfully as a studio microphone as well. However, you’ll get the most use out of it in live playing situations.

The actual tone of the mic is very natural with a slight crisp on the top-end. This is great for picking up hi-hats as you’re often going to want that crispiness to shine through.

One drawback of the mic is that it’s quite heavy for its size. Although that adds to the durability of it, it detracts from the portability.

PROS

  • Great for live gigs
  • Natural tone with crispy high-end
  • Built-in battery, meaning you don’t need phantom power

CONS

  • Heavy for its size

If you’re looking for something that is a bit higher in quality, the Shure SM81 is a great option to start with. Shure mics are famous for being great drum mics. However, the SM81 is actually the industry-standard mic for acoustic guitars.

With that being said, the natural-sounding response is great for hi-hats as well. It has a cardioid pickup pattern which is great at isolating single sound sources, meaning it will pick up your hi-hat notes without having any of the other drums bleed into the sound.

It also has a 3-position switch that allows you to adjust the frequency response of the microphone. This is great for getting rid of room noise or wind noise if you’re playing a gig outside.

The lockable pad allows you to get a loud and aggressive hi-hat sound without changing how the mics respond to frequencies.

The best thing about this mic is that it’s extremely versatile. If you’re more than just a drummer, you can use it for your other instruments and it will work wonderfully. If you’re just a drummer, it will work well as an overhead mic as well.

The mic has a rugged steel exterior that makes it able to take on any weather conditions. It works well in studios and live gigs. Since it comes with a few features and a higher-build quality, it is a lot more expensive than the previous two mics on the list.

PROS

  • Very versatile
  • Lockable frequency pad
  • Rugged steel exterior

CONS

  • Relatively expensive

If you liked the features of the Shure SM81 but have a low budget, the sE Electronics sE7 mic will definitely tickle your fancy. It has a switchable highpass filter and a switchable pre-attenuation pad.

These are both things you only see in larger and more expensive mics. However, the sE7 has them and it comes in at less than $100.

It’s one of the best sounding small-diaphragm mics on the market and it works very well as a hi-hat mic. The sound is balanced and it does a great job of eliminating bleed from the other drums around your setup.

It’s fairly easy to mix and add EQ onto your hi-hat thanks to the flat response of the mic. If you’re going to be playing really hard, you can just flip the 20dB pre-attenuation switch to make sure there’s no distortion.

The best part of this mic is arguably the size of it. Since there is so much potential for hitting the microphone when it’s placed near the hi-hats, it’s great that the sE7 is so small. It allows you to optimally place it without worrying about damaging it.

Altogether, it’s a great inexpensive microphone with some good features. It just won’t sound as good as the higher-priced mics with the same features.

PROS

  • Affordable
  • Has a highpass filter and pre-attenuation pad
  • Small size makes it easy to position

CONS

  • Doesn’t sound as good as more expensive mics that have the same features

If you want a top-of-the-range microphone to mic your hi-hats, look no further than the AKG C 451 B. This small-diaphragm cardioid condenser comes with some high-quality features at a high price.

This mic is a reinvention of the AKG C 451, one of the most popular studio microphones of all time. That tells you that it’s a worthy mic to look out for, especially for your hi-hats.

Firstly, it does a great job of bringing out the metallic tone of your cymbals. It’s a great mic for picking up rich transient signals, perfect for hi-hats. It’s extremely accurate and has many improvements from the original C 451.

It has a switchable highpass filter along with a pre-attenuation pad that can be selected at 0dB, -10dB, and -20dB. The mic makes your hi-hats sound fantastic without any mixing or EQing, giving you a great base sound to work from.

Similar to its predecessor, the AKG C 451 is the ideal microphone for studio recording. It has highly reliable qualities that will work wonders every time you track a song. Your hi-hats will come out sounding very clear in the mix.

The big downside is that you’re going to be spending a large amount of money on this mic. However, it will be a big investment as the mic will last years of use and bring out the best from your drums.

PROS

  • Brings out the metallic tone from your hi-hats
  • Ideal for studio recording
  • Excellent responsiveness

CONS

  • Very expensive

Audix is similar to Shure in that the company is well-known for producing drum mics that are loved by many drummers in the percussion community. The ADX51 is a standout mic on their list of products as it works brilliantly as an overhead as well as a hi-hat microphone.

It’s a pre-polarized condenser that can be used in both studio and live playing situations. The mic reacts well to fast transients at high pressure levels, basically meaning that it will be able to take on loud and fast hi-hat playing fairly easily.

The tone it produces is very similar to the Shure SM81. However, it sounds a bit more refined in the upper mids. This means it may be a better option if you have bright cymbals for rock or pop.

The ADX51 is a solid microphone that will be able to last several tours. It’s quiet, articulate, and detailed. It’s also a bit more affordable than the Shure SM81.

PROS

  • Quiet, articulate, and detailed
  • Very durable
  • Great for bright cymbals

CONS

  • Similar to Shure SM81, yet more affordable

The Senheiser e 614 is built like a tank. It’s a heavily durable microphone that is backed by a great sound. Most people will use it as either an overhead or hi-hat mic. When it comes to hi-hats, it brings out strong clarity from them.

Very little EQ is needed when using the e 614. However, a few touch-ups will get your hi-hats sounding punchy and effective. It works pretty well for all kinds of hi-hat properties from dry to bright. The high SPL also means you won’t have to worry about any distortion.

In terms of design, the e 614 has a sleek black appearance. It’s relatively small for a pencil condenser, yet thick enough to feel durable.

It’s a great mic that sits somewhere in the middle of the other mics on this list. It could definitely have more features for the price, though.

PROS

  • Little EQ needed to get a good sound
  • Great for all kinds of hi-hats
  • Sleek black appearance

CONS

  • Doesn’t have as many features as some similarly priced microphones

How to Place Hi-Hat Mics

Although you’re using condenser microphones, a close placement works best for hi-hats. If you place the mic too far away, the mic will pick up more ambiance from the room and potentially have bleed from the other drums.

If you’re looking to focus on the hi-hat sound, external noise is no good.

So, place the mic fairly close to the hi-hats. Some people like to place the mic underneath while most people place it above. If you’re placing the mic above, make sure that there is enough room for the top hat to raise without touching the mic.

You also need to make sure that there is enough room for your sticks to move around. The struggle of mic placement is allowing the drummer to still have freedom of movement without potentially hitting the mics.

You just paid for this hi-hat mic. You don’t want to break it while bashing out to some rock music.

This is a trial and error sort of thing. The more mic placements you do, the better you’ll get at it.

How to Record Drums

If you want to record drums, you’re going to need to get hold of an audio interface. The interface is the thing that connects the microphones to a computer to deliver the audio output. The mics connect to the interface through XLR cables.

Once you have that sorted, you need a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Some examples of DAWs would be Logic Pro X, Ableton, and ProTools. These DAWs will allow you to see the audio output from the mics and edit the sound waves. This is called mixing. 

That’s pretty much the gist of the recording process. If you don’t have an audio interface or DAW, you’d need to get those things before buying a hi-hat mic.

Conclusion

The potential need to mic a hi-hat is a big reason why it is so beneficial to have a microphone locker. As a drummer, having microphones stored away ready for use at any moment is a great idea.

You never know when your overhead microphones just won’t be enough to get that great hi-hat sound. So, pick a mic from this list and use it to beef up your hi-hats in the mix!

About Brett Clur

Brett has been drumming for almost two decades. He also helps his students get better at drumming. He can be found on Instagram (@brettclurdrums), where you can regularly catch glimpses of his drumming.

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