After determining some of the best microphones for kick and snare drums, the journey towards the Gearslutz Ultimate Drum Mic Kit™ continues. This time we have consulted with our membership on their favourite mics for recording drum overheads - here are ten of their favourite tools (presented in alphabetical order):
Considered by many to be the “holy grail” of microphones, the AKG C12 was introduced in the early 1950s and due to its sheer excellence it has gathered a devoted following since then. The C12 has been used for many applications (from vocals to drums) and it was one of the first mics to offer variable directivity with minimum variations in the frequency response. It includes figure-of-eight, cardioid and omnidirectional variations for a total of nine pickup patterns, which are remotely assignable through the external power supply unit. The original C12 has been discontinued since 1963 but AKG currently offers the C12 VR, a reissue of this coveted microphone that’s built to be as close as possible to the vintage model, still handcrafted in Vienna with the same CK12 capsule and 6072A vacuum tube. Start saving those pennies because it will be expensive, and prepare yourself for a long wait on the secondary market if re-issues aren’t good enough for you!
One of the most cost-effective small-diaphragm cardioid condensers out there, throughout its' long history the AKG C451 has rightfully earned its reputation for reconciling great quality and reasonable costs. According to AKG, the latest iteration of this mic presents an acoustic response that’s identical to the famous CK1 capsule from the late 1960s, with a seamlessly flat frequency response of 20 Hz to 5kHz, where it picks up with a gentle boost that lifts the top end by a few dBs. The C451-B also features a gain pad (-10/20 dB) and a 12dB/octave low pass filter (75/150Hz) for more flexibility. Also available as a single unit. Read our user reviews.
The Beyerdynamic M 160 is one of Gearslutz’ most loved ribbon microphones and a frequent recommendation for drum overheads. This distinctive looking mic presents a hypercardioid polar pattern with excellent off-axis rejection, an even frequency response from 40Hz to 18kHz, superb loudness handling and it's particularly useful when recording in rooms with low ceilings. It’s also light, extremely rugged and a very trustworthy mic that will serve you well on many sources - not just drums. If you want 'that Beyerdynamic ribbon sound' but you need a bi-directional pickup pattern then look out for the M 130, which shares the same spirit of the M 160 but presents a figure-of-eight pattern instead of hypercardioid (which also allows for the possibility of an M/S setup when used along with the M 160). Read our user reviews.
Originally designed by none other than the world-famous British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Coles 4038 is one of the most acclaimed microphones in our community and a recurrent recommendation when it comes to drum overheads. The 4038 is a bi-directional (figure of eight) ribbon mic, famous for its natural sound character with a frequency response of 30-15000Hz, taking on loud sources (up to 125dB SPL) without much of a sweat. It’s often cited for its smooth yet highly detailed sound, excellent transient response and proven reliability. According to Coles the 4038 hasn’t changed since its introduction over forty years ago, a testimony to its excellence and explains why our members trust them so much. Also available as a single unit. Read our user reviews.
It looks like another boring acoustic measurement mic, but make no mistake, we have a fine studio microphone on our hands here. The Earthworks QTC30 is an omnidirectional small-diaphragm condenser famous for its supreme accuracy, detail and uncoloured sound with a large range of possible applications, including drum overheads. It’s also a very quiet mic with little self-noise and boasts a near ruler-flat frequency response across the entire spectrum, all the way down from 6Hz to 30kHz. The QTC30 is a relatively affordable mic when compared to some other participants on our list and a wise purchase given everything it can do. Also available as a single unit.
The Neumann KM-84 is one of Gearslutz' favourite mics, and for good reason. This highly regarded small-diaphragm cardioid condenser is capable of pulling out great recordings from a wide variety of sources, and guess what - they’re great as overheads too! The KM-84 delivers incredible detail and articulation, low self-noise and will handle loud sources easily, so it’s definitely a great choice if you’re looking for a SDC that will shine on overheads along with a host of other applications. It’s not always an easy mic to find (nor a cheap one if you want a pair) given how long it’s been discontinued but it’s not impossible either - keep an eye on our classifieds and you might get lucky. If you can't hold out, Neumann currently makes the KM-184 which is in the spirit of the original - although it's not necessarily sonically identical it still oozes German quality.
This iconic large-diaphragm tube condenser microphone rightfully deserves all the praise it has garnered over the past five decades, with an immense track record and tonnes of history behind it. Ironically, the U67 was initially designed to replace the U47, but both mics ended up becoming classics in their own right. The U67 is considered to be a milestone in recording history due to the novelties introduced by Neumann to make it suitable for close-miking. This is a highly flexible mic, with cardioid, omni and figure-of-eight polar patterns, a frequency response ranging from 40Hz to 16kHz that’s mostly flat with gentle variations depending on the chosen polar pattern, and it will capture basically any source at any distance with ease. It’s top end is known to be smooth but also clear, which makes it a great choice for overheads. Now take a deep breath, try not to faint when looking at the price and remember: for many it’s not only a vintage mic, but also a piece of history!
The original U87 is another legend from Neumann, one of the most recommended large-diaphragm condenser microphones ever made. The U87 was meant to be a “solid-state version” of the U67, with both mics sharing essentially the same capsule and offering the same polar pattern options (omni, cardioid, figure-of-eight), but with a crucial difference on the amplifier - U87 has a transformer-based design instead of the vacuum tube circuit used on the U67, leading to a different frequency response which sets one apart from the other. Known to be an extremely reliable microphone that consistently delivers great results, the U87 excels on many fronts and it’s a true “workhorse” for any situation - needless to say that includes drum overheads! The legacy currently lives on with the U87Ai, which has a few updated electrical components but according to Neumann it retains all of the venerable sound quality that rightfully made them so famous in the first place.
Our list wouldn’t be complete without a true stereo microphone and the Royer SF-12 fits the bill perfectly and stands out as one of the finest in this category. This impressive mic uses two perfectly aligned ribbon elements with figure-of-eight polar patterns for effortless recording with stereo, mid-side or Blumlein setups. The SF-12 displays an excellent transient response and tonal consistency regardless of how it is pointed at the sound source, so placement should come easy - with the obvious spot being right on top of the drummer’s head for an easy road to great sounding stereo drum overheads. The SF-12 also displays a balanced frequency response, with the top end gently rolling off past 15kHz, which should be great for smooth sounding cymbals.
The Schoeps name evokes nothing but great recommendations from many of our users. Featured here we have the Colette Series Stereo Set, which consists of the masterfully built CMC-6 preamp body and seven interchangeable capsule designs to choose from. There are two types of omnidirectional capsules (nearfield/universal), four cardioids (wide/open/regular/super), plus the multi-pattern “MK5” omni/cardioid capsule - but it doesn’t stop there, as the CMC-6 body is also compatible with other MK series capsules for even more options, including a figure-of-eight capsule. Besides serving as excellent overheads the Schoeps mics are also widely used to capture orchestras and classical instruments in general, so that gives you an idea on where it hangs in terms of sound quality. Inevitably such greatness comes at a price and the cost might be a bit too steep for many, but nevertheless it’s an investment that surely pays itself in the long run as you add more and more capsules to your set.
We have quite a diverse list but there were also many other great recommendations from the community - we could only fit ten mics on here so honourable mentions go to the many incarnations of the AKG C-414 (especially the vintage models), AEA R88Mk2, DPA 4011C and Royer R121. If budget is an issue the Line Audio CM3 and Oktava MK-012-01 come to mind as good value-priced options too.
Please tell us how you’re using your overheads - do they play a leading role on your sound or are you only using them to reinforce the detail and top end? How are they set up on the kit? Regular spaced pair or something fancier? Let us know what you're using and share your thoughts and techniques for great sounding drums.