7 Best Overhead Drum Mics for Live & Studio

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

If you ever plan on using microphones on your drum kit, the overhead mics will be the most important thing along with a kick drum mic. The overhead mics pickup the overall sound of your kit, giving the listener a complete sound to hear.

Every other mic that you add afterward just adds some depth to the tunes.

With that being said, it’s important that you have a great pair of overheads that will bring out an authentic sound from your drums. Let’s look through some of the best ones on the market.

7 Best Overhead Drum Mics

The Rode M5s are small-diaphragm cardioid condenser mics that work wonders as overheads. They’re great for stereo recording and bringing out a natural sound from most drum kit setups.

They’re smooth and predictable, having a a full and flat frequency response that makes mixing the drums a relatively easy task. Small diaphragm condensers often have boxy mids and exaggerated high-end colorations.

These M5 mics do a great job of cutting down on the boxy mids and exaggerated highs. The overall sound is very clean and articulate, especially in the cymbals and higher-tuned toms and snare drums.

The lower range isn’t muddy and adding the right amount of compression will really bring the toms to life.

There is no roll off pad, meaning you get the exact sound that you played and nothing more. Unfortunately, the matched pair of mics don’t come with carry bags, meaning you’d need to buy those separately if you plan on traveling.

Their price is very affordable, making them a decent entry-level set of microphones.

PROS

  • Smooth and predictable sound
  • No boxy mids or exaggerated highs
  • Natural sound from drums
  • Affordable

CONS

  • No carry bags included

Moving from entry-level straight to professional quality, the AKG C 214 mics are large diaphragm condensers with a cardioid pattern.

If you’re new to using drum microphones, you’ll notice that these are a lot larger than your standard pencil condensers, bringing more life out of the drums along with having some unique features.

The mics are factory matched to record in stereo, making them the perfect option to use as overhead drum microphones. They pack in a serious amount of low-end, bringing out a lot of depth from the bigger toms and bass drum.

The other mid-range and higher-end frequencies also sound great, producing a fantastic overall tone from the kit. These mics are sweet, accurate, and very forgiving. You don’t need a lot of EQ to get a good sound, so they will work well even for people who don’t have extensive mixing experience.

A bit of a downside to these mics is that they only have a cardioid pattern. Mics that are more expensive generally have multiple pickup patterns, making them more versatile in their use.

Luckily, drum kits only really need cardioid patterns, so it won’t affect you too much. However, it will limit you in other areas if the need ever arises.

PROS

  • Sweet, accurate, and very forgiving
  • Not much EQ needed
  • Fantastic low-end

CONS

  • Only has cardioid pattern
  • Expensive

It would be criminal to go make a list of drum mics and not mention anything from Shure. So, the Shure mics of choice today are the KSM137s. These mics are small-diaphragm cardioid condensers that have a small structure along with a few knobs and whistles that can be very useful when tracking drums.

The gold-plated Mylar diaphragms allow for great transient response which is great for drum kit applications. The mics also have transformerless preamplifiers which make drum recording sound extremely natural and transparent.

The mics have 3-position pads along with 3-position highpass filters that give you many options to choose from when recording. This makes them extremely versatile. They have an staggeringly wide dynamic range, meaning they will work excellently for all kinds of drum kit setups.

There’ll be crisp and clean high-end with virtually no distortion to go with it. Overall, they’re a great choice for overhead mics that will last a long time and bring a great tone out of your drums.

The carry case that is included is very sleek and easy to transport around.

PROS

  • Crisp high-end with no distortion
  • Very versatile
  • Natural and transparent sound

CONS

  • Expensive

Two things come to mind when thinking of the sE8s from sE Electronics -quickness and value-for-money. These small-diaphragm condenser microphones produce a great tone that is fairly uncommon from mics in their price range. Along with that is the extremely quick responsiveness.

These mics capture the drum kit with an amazing amount of nuance. They make your cymbals sound extremely good, no matter how high-quality the cymbals are. That’s one of the great things about drum microphones which is extra-true for these ones.

They have 80Hz and 160Hz highpass filters along with 10dB and 20dB pads, making them very versatile in the types of sounds they can pickup.

If you have a giant 7-piece kit with 11 cymbals, these mics will have no problem picking up the array of tones from all the drum parts. The same can be said for a minimalist 3-piece setup.

The compact design also makes them fairly easy to position around the drums. Another bonus to these mics is that you could very easily use one of them as a hi-hat mic and it would pickup the crispness beautifully.

They’re a fantastic mid-range set of overheads that are high in value and relatively low in cost compared to the value they bring.

PROS

  • High value for the money
  • Very versatile
  • Easily positionable

CONS

  • None

These Lauten Audio LA120 microphones are packed with features so get ready for some information. Firstly, they have interchangeable pressure-gradient capsules.

This means you can change the pickup patterns from cardioid to omnidirectional, giving you several choices for mic’ing drums and making these mics extremely versatile.

Next on the list, they have lowpass and highpass filters, further adding to their versatility. These filters along with the interchangeable pickup patterns make the LA120 mics great for using in recording studios as well as live gigging situations.

Some mics are good for certain situations. These are great for every situation.

You can engage the lowpass to roll off those piercing highs from cymbals, making them sound less intense. You can also set the mics to have a flat response that is easy to mix from. Whatever you need, these mics will probably be able to do it.

They have a cool wooden case that is included with the purchase. This wooden case is a great extremely durable and protective, meaning your mics won’t be damaged when travelling. It also looks great when placed in a microphone locker in a studio.

There are some other mics at this price-point that tend to sound better. However, these are some of the most versatile mics in the category.

PROS

  • Extremely versatile
  • Interchangeable pickup patterns
  • Cool wooden carry case

CONS

  • There are some better sounding mics in the same price range

Next on the list is a set of extremely affordable overhead mics. Although Behringer has some high-quality products, they seem to thrive the most in the entry-level affordable product sector. 

These C-2 mics are a great option for anyone that is new to the world of drum tracking and needs some cheap mics to get started.

They’re small diaphragm condenser mics with a cardioid pattern. The first thing you’ll notice is that they’re extremely small. In fact, they’re the smallest microphones on this list. This makes them easy to position. It also makes them very light to carry around.

The raw sound you get from these mics is obviously not as great as it would be from some higher-priced mics. However, there’s potential to get a really good sound with some mixing practice and experience.

This is why they’re such a great mic for beginners. They’re cheap and they’ll force you to improve your EQing skills as you go along. You may need to have really good preamps if you want to use these professionally, but that’s a topic for another day.

Overall, these would be great options for intermediate or advanced players. There are better mics out there. They’re best suited for beginners and anyone on a seriously tight budget.

PROS

  • Extremely affordable and beginner-friendly
  • Light to carry and easy to position
  • Will force you to improve your mixing skills

CONS

  • Not great for intermediate or advanced players

Although it’s common to use a matched pair of microphones as overhead mics, you don’t always need to use two of them. Some situations will only need one overhead.

This could be due to space limitations or just having a small drum kit that doesn’t need to many mics. The AKG C1000 MK4 is a great option for these situations.

This mic has a small diaphragm along with a cardioid pattern. It also has a hypercardioid adapter, presence boost adapter, a -10dB pad, and a highpass filter. The icing on top of all these features is the fact that you have the option of using batteries for mobile use.

This mic will render your drum kit with crystal clarity, sounding smooth across medium and high frequency ranges. The batteries can be used instead of phantom power, making the mic a useful option for playing gigs where phantom power may not be available.

Unfortunately, the mic lacks power in the lower ranges, meaning you’ll need to use a kick drum mic to bring out the full character of the kick drum.

Overall, it’s a fantastic option if you’re looking for just one overhead. It comes in at a relatively affordable price point considering all the features it has.

PROS

  • Great option for one overhead mic
  • Several useful features
  • You can use batteries to power it
  • Crystal clear sounds

CONS

  • Lacks depth in the lower frequency ranges

How to Place Overhead Mics for Drums

One vital aspect of recording drums is placing the microphones in the right places. This can make or break your drum mix, so it’s important to place them properly.

When it comes to overhead microphones, you need to place them so that they can pickup the entirety of your kit. This is generally why people will use a matched pair for stereo recording. Using just one may not allow you to get a complete sound.

The two microphones need to be evenly spaced from each other. You also need to place them in a way that won’t allow you to accidentally hit them when you’re playing. You just spend a bunch of money on them, so you need to be careful not to whack them with drum sticks.

How to Record Drums

If you want to record drums at home with the use of microphones, you need to have an interface and a DAW. The interface is what connects the microphones to a computer and the DAW is the software that you use to mix and EQ the sounds.

Some popular DAWs would be GarageBand, Logic Pro X, Reaper, and ProTools. Every DAW does mostly the same things. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference.

Recording and mixing drums is a skill that takes years to get good at. No one became a professional studio producer overnight. So, don’t get too frustrated if your drum recordings don’t sound that great to begin with.

Conclusion

Remember that you’re going to need an interface and some software before getting a set of overhead microphones. Once you have those things, you can choose a pair of mics that you think will fit you the best.

There are so many options out there, these are just some options that tend to work best for drummers.

Every microphone company offers some great products. You need to decide which product is best for you and then run with it. Most studio producers have multiple microphones for different uses.

There never is a one-size-fits-all when it comes to these things. So, choose your mics carefully and get recording!

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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