Microphones for Acoustic Drums

A Review By: Alphonso Soosay

Selecting and placing microphones is the most important part of any recording. Make sure that you are equipped with the correct knowledge and to make the right choices with microphones so that the first recording session can save you a lot of valuable time. Here you will find a collection of guides on basic microphone placement for a variety of Acoustic Drums and its recording situations.

Essentially, tuning your Acoustic Drums is so very important before you start any audio recording session. Tuning is subjective (high or low tuning) depending on the type of music you are performing. In general I would prefer to tune my bottom drum heads tighter that the top heads.

I had very good results with Toms and Snares using Sennheiser E604, Shure SM57
For Kick Drum, AKG D-112, Shure Beta52, Sennheiser E602
For Cymbals/ Overheads: AKG C451, or AKG C414

To begin with: The fewer microphones used to record drums, the fewer problems there will be in the mix-down for you. This is because when multiple microphones are used near a sound source, comb filtering and phase shift effects will occur. Microphone placement is critical and should not be overlooked. It’s better to capture the drum sound properly than to try and fix it in the mix. A skilful number of people however want control over individual drum source and that means more microphones.

Secondly: The less processing of the sound the better and more natural your sound will be. By processing I mean anything that alters the sound like equalizers, compressors, noise-gates, reverb, and other special effects. I have used recording drums directly from the pre-amp to Digital and then into my recording system. The PreSonus DigiMax offers an 8 channel microphone preamp with ADAT optical output. Priced reasonable and sounds superior too.

Tips on Miking and Recording Drums:
It’s better to re-position the microphones and find the sound you are looking for, than it is to “Fix it in the mix”. If you find yourself saying “We can fix it in the mix”, then take a break and re-think your approach to the recording. Why are you here? You must focus for the original tone like acoustic instruments.
Purchase the best quality microphones (Neumann, Shure or AKG) you can afford.  Or try and get a medium grade microphone. You may not get a bunch of microphones but you will get a much better sound.
At times, If you feel stress, you must try to relax and calm down. If however you are not properly prepared and you don’t know the song or musical arrangements, then STOP.  Go back to the studio and learn the song well.
How much time do you spend on Equalisation with a poorly recorded track? I
can tell you it’s not worth it. Use quality microphones for natural tones.

Stereo Pairs:
If you can get away with a stereo pair then by all means do so. It’s best to use a stereo pair positioned in the X format but you can also try Mid-Side and Spaced-Omni approach. When using a Stereo Pair setup I must say that the drums sound best when the microphones are positioned in front of the drums (towards the audience) anywhere from 2 to 12 feet and anywhere from 4 to 8 feet off the ground. Rule of thumb: The higher above the ground the more cymbals will be heard lower, the more the kick drum will be heard. The closer to the drums and you hear more direct drum sound (dry). While placing the microphones further away you will hear more room sound (wet). Find what works for you by using your ears; A) In reality If you can have an assistant move the microphones while you are monitoring, this way it’s probably better control on what you are focusing for.
Make sure you test what the stereo pair sounds like in mono. You can do this by using the pan-pot, positioning and moving it to the centre position. If it sounds thin and phased or if it sounds hollow then you need to reposition the microphones. The reason why I use this AKG 415 is because it is designed to not have this problem. You can also use a dual Mic like AKG’s C414 Mic or similar condenser microphones.
One of the main problems with getting a good loud drum sound is that the cymbals bleed into the Tom-Tom and Snare microphones. Ask the Drummer who is involved to move his cymbals up as high as he can comfortably play them. This moves the Cymbal sound source away from the Tom-Tom microphones. The AKG EB-415’s have excellent off axis rejection, meaning they only hear the drums and not the cymbals. You can also count on the Shure SM57 for snare and Tom-Toms as well. I know of several albums that have been recorded using the Shure SM57 on snares and Tom-Tom’s. So, while recording see if the drummer can play his/her drums harder than usual and play the cymbals softer than usual. This creates a better and natural control with recordings.

For Tom-Toms and Snare:
The best sound I have heard are on the AKG 415 and Sennheiser E604 they are about $700.00 each, I have use these microphones at my recording sessions.

For Kick Drum:
Nothing beats the AKG D-112 for the solid kick drum. If you place it near the beater you will hear more (a lot more) of the click, or attack/snap sound. If you move out towards the front of the drum (away from the drummer) you will hear a more rounded thump or the actual sound of the drum itself.
You can always place two microphones in the kick drum: one close to the beater and one out away towards the front. Either way, make sure you test it with the bass guitar and listen for any harsh or competitive frequencies.

For Overheads:
Try Neumann U87, AKG C415, AKG C100, or AKG C414.
If you have not read the Stereo Pair paragraphs above, you should
take a closer look. Most of the applications here also applies to any overheads.

There are many more Condenser Microphones that are available from other brands. Check with your local supplier.

Alphonso Soosay
Audio Recording Engineer / Musician.



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