In addition to being a private violin teacher, Alecia started writing music-related articles 3 years ago and has been enjoying this experience greatly. Loves quilting and scrapbooking in her free time.
Marcus has a vast experience in digital audio and sound design. Thanks to his knowledge, he actively helps musicians with technical problems, improving their audio quality and even promoting their tracks so that thousands of listeners could enjoy some really good music.
Last updated: February 02, 2021
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For a brilliant drum recording, the best overhead drum mics are arguably the most important component. They can make the difference between drums that sound amateur and professional, clean-cut recordings. What’s more, there is quite a unique formula to finding the right mics for overheads as they can be quite different from other forms of microphone.
In this guide, we’re going through some of the top microphones and pairs of microphones that can be used as drum overheads as well as looking into their features and functions, and how well-built they are for the job. Features we’ve used in our overhead drum mic reviews include SPL levels, polar patterns, the type of microphone and any power requirements as well as their frequency response and any strengths and weaknesses when it comes to picking up certain frequencies that are essential for getting a full and strong drum sound.
Matched pairs of microphones are notoriously quite expensive. Every mic has its own different quirks when they come off the production line and the idea of a matched pair is to try and keep the frequency response as similar as possible, providing a clear and crisp overall drum sound which doesn’t have one mic sounding different from the other.
Behringer is a budget audio manufacturer and to be honest, some of their products are very much “hit and miss” – the C-2s are definitely a hit, though, and they are popular among people looking for the best budget overhead drum mics.
The frequency response is 20hz to 20kHz which is a great range, and these do a really good job of picking up the high frequencies of drums such as the cymbals and hi hats.
The max SPL of 140 dB is pretty high so you shouldn’t have to worry about overloading the mic and getting distortion or even breaking it.
As they can pick up a fair amount of detail, these mics are condenser microphones, which means they do need power run to them from a mixing desk, 48 volts of phantom power are required.
They have a cardioid pickup pattern which is good for rejecting unwanted noise, for example if other instruments are recording in the same room. However, it might be nice if they had a switchable pickup pattern to allow you to capture sound in different ways if you wanted to, and experiment a little more with the mics. A benefit of cardioid is that these are suitable for recording guitars and other instruments too.
What we liked:
Good value for a matched pair
High SPL to cope with louder volumes
Great for hi hats and cymbals
What could be better:
Some engineers worry about Behringer build quality
The Lyx Pro microphones are not made by a global powerhouse brand, but they are good drum overhead mics with far better features than you would expect for such an affordable option. These come in at a very low price tag, and though they are not a perfect matched pair, the mics have reliably similar characteristics.
They’re pencil style condenser mics, meaning they don’t take up too much space but they will require phantom power to work, which can be achieved by running power from a mixing desk or audio interface.
The frequency response is 30 Hz to 18 kHz, and while this is fine at the low end (you won’t need to pick up anything lower than 30 Hz), it can leave a little to be desired in the highs, which could maybe do with a little more shine, but this really depends on what you are looking for. It certainly isn’t overly noticeable that these frequencies are “missing” if you just want to get a base recording.
One of the best things about this microphone is the fact that it has a switchable polar pattern. While you can use the cardioid pattern to isolate the drum overheads, there is an omni pattern for picking up more sound from other directions and getting more of a room recording and also a super cardioid setting which isolates the sound further.
While this isn’t an elite mic in terms of being something you would see at Abbey road, it comes in a fantastic affordable bundle and for those looking to record drums at home or build a small studio this can be a wonderful choice.
What we liked:
Great value for money for a pair/bundle
Switchable pickup patterns
Lightweight and easy to use
What could be better:
Lacking a bit in the high frequencies so can lose some “shine”
The Shure SM57 is an iconic microphone. We’ve included the SM57-LC as our budget pick. It’s an affordable microphone, but don’t let that make you think it is cheap and flimsy. The mic is known around the world as being one of the most versatile microphones that exists. It’s good for use with many instruments and many parts of your drum kit, and does a decent job as a drum overhead microphone.
If you are looking to pick up all the detail of the high-end then this could be a little bit lacking, the 40 to 15,000 Hz pickup is fine for most parts of the kit and gives a rounded tone overall but it doesn’t have the most detail possible.
What this does have is a reliable cardioid pattern, decent sensitivity and brilliant build-quality. You are likely to see this mic in studios all over the world, not because it is the most detailed but because it works with so many different instruments and it is ruggedly made and unlikely to ever let you down.
Because of this durability, many consider this the best drum overhead mics live. You can set these up before a show and be confident that even if they get hit or dropped they shouldn’t break on you.
For most engineers, both live and in the studio, it is a good idea to have a couple of these “workhorse” style microphones that you can call upon in pretty much any situation.
What we liked:
Very durable and work in a variety of situations
An affordable option for those looking for a dynamic mic
Shure reputation from one of the biggest brands in the world of microphones
What could be better:
Not as detailed in the high-end frequencies
Dynamic, not condenser, so some nuanced details might be missing
Looking for the best drum overhead mics for recording? The Rode M5-MP Matched Pair Cardioid Condenser Microphones might be your ideal choice, and the features on offer from this brand are very impressive for the price, even if the M5s will cost a bit more than the Behringer option already mentioned.
Finding affordable matched pairs is hard, and some brands charge many thousands for theirs. The Rode M5s are reliably matched off the production line and offer a fantastic level of detail making them the best overhead drum mics for recording in a studio or at home.
Naturally, these need phantom power as they are condenser microphones. The thin pencil design and incredibly lightweight design still manages to pick up detail in spite of not being as sturdy as some bigger microphones, and having a smaller diaphragm.
In fact, 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response is on offer which is another reason why we’re so happy to recommend using them in the studio, you will find that they are capable of picking up loads of the subtle shine in the high end.
Like many of the options on the list, it can cope with loud volumes with a high max SPL. It does have a higher impedance rating than some of the other models, which means that you might find the noise degrades if you have to run a long cable to the microphones in your studio.
All-in-all, we’d expect these mics to cost a little more than they do. They rival some models that are twice the price and they can be used for more than just drum overheads.
What we liked:
Great frequency response for picking up detail in the high-end
What could be better:
High impedance rating can be a disadvantage in some cases
The Samson C02 are a stereo pair of microphones rather than a perfect matched pair. This means that when using them as drum overheads or as another type of microphone, you can record a left and right channel for your mix.
They are relatively affordable and work out at good value for money, from a brand whose mics tend to be pretty reliable even if not spectacular, Samson.
Another thing we really like about these microphones is the clips. They easily clip onto your microphone stands and this means that you can suspend them easily above the kit. What’s more, they have a shock mount which means that if they get hit or move around it is unlikely to be as noticeable, which could save a mix.
The impedance is 200 ohms which is slightly high, and can lead to degraded sound at long cable lengths. The SPL and sensitivity are good though, meaning these mics can handle most of what is thrown at them.
It would be nice if the polar pattern could be switched to allow a bit more versatility, and because they’re not a perfect matched pair you might also find that the C02s can have a little variation between the two mics in terms of volume and sensitivity. The price tag is certainly reasonable, so we’ve no complaints on that front, but these aren’t elite mics.
If you need to record other instruments such as guitars in stereo, these pencil mics can do a great job of this, too, so for stereo recordings they have plenty to offer.
What we liked:
Great for making stereo recordings
Pretty good value for money
Quality mic clips include a shock mount for bumps and movements that can occur
Nady OHCM-200 is a great option for those who want a microphone that can hang from the ceiling and act as a room mic rather than just an overhead.
It is not sold as a pair, which is definitely something to think about if you are looking to use two overhead mics. This is designed to sit above your kit and do a great job of collecting the ambient sound of the drumming and the hi hats and cymbals.
This design is popular as a room mic for some other recordings, too, such as guitars or even ambient recordings, so it could potentially become a valuable studio tool.
It’s a cardioid mic which is fairly standard for a drum overhead but it could possibly benefit from an omnidirectional setting too, as you would experience more of the room.
For the price (which is very reasonable) the quality is pretty impressive. The frequency response is similar to that of the Shure SM57, and gives a good overview, however, for a condenser microphone there is not a huge level of detail in the recordings, something to consider before buying.
The SPL is good and this can handle a lot of noisy drumming before the quality is impacted. Naturally, as it is a condenser mic it needs phantom power to come from a desk or an audio interface in order to function.
One thing a lot of people like about a hanging mic is the fact it doesn’t need floor space which can already be at a premium in a lot of studios. If you are in the market for a specific hanging mic then the Nady can do a good job.
If you came here in search of the Best Overhead Drum Mics under $500 then it might be time to look away now! This is one of the more expensive options out there, and Beyerdynamic is a brand that is known by music tech lovers all over the world due to the excellent product range.
This is a pricey model, but they are a brilliant matched pair and come with a case as well as lots of high-quality accessories such as wind shields and mic clips. They can stay secure within the foam padding of the easy carry case, great for taking out and about with you.
The frequency response is definitely one of the strengths of this microphone. Detail can be recorded from 40 Hz all the way up to 20 kHz, so there is no excuse for not picking up all the nuances and sounds of a drum kit.
The mic has great SPL handling, and extremely low self-noise so it is great if you want to find a mic that doesn’t taint or imprint the sound in any way.
It would be nice to have some other options besides cardioid, but this polar pattern is the one you will find recommended for most drum overhead recordings anyway, so there is no real disadvantage here. The MC930 mics can be used individually or as a matched pair for recording other studio equipment, too, and sound good with acoustic guitars as an example.
The whole kit is quite bulky and weighs 4 Oz in total, but the fact it comes in a handy carry case is a good thing.
In the market for a more elite set of drum mics? The MC930 mics could be your answer, just be prepared to pay more for the privilege, they’re comparable to AKG overhead drum mics in price, but the matched-pair design makes them appealing.
What we liked:
Exceptional, detailed recordings
Come with a protective carry case
What could be better:
The most expensive option on our list
Things to Consider
How do you choose an overhead drum microphone? The following section is our buying guide, designed to explain a little bit more about overhead mics and how they work. This should help you to make an informed choice on which overhead drum mics you should buy. As with a lot of audio equipment, there is a huge amount of choice out there for anyone looking to buy drum microphones, from the best budget overhead drum mics to expensive, professional models. Anyone can get involved in recording at home now, and the audio market caters for hobbyists and pros alike. You will need to make your decisions accordingly, as some of the mics out there won’t quite be good enough for using in a commercial studio, but will do a fine job of making some practice recordings at home. Overhead mics are key to a drum kit’s sound, and it’s integral to get the right model for your needs.
What is an overhead drum mic and how does it function?
When micing up a drum set, there are lots of different configurations of microphones. Some people record with just three mics, others use 12 or even more on their microphone in order to get loads of detail to work with. Almost every drum setup needs overhead microphones.
While some drums are recorded with individual mics (the kick, snare and toms will usually have their own microphone) the overheads are designed to pick up the cymbals and hi hats, as well as some of the “ambience” of the kit. By recording from above, these microphones inevitably get a bit of everything when they are picking up the hi-hats. Some people don’t bother with the tom mics, for example, as toms will also shine through on overheads.
Even three mic setups will use at least one drum overhead mic. While other microphones pick out individual drums and details, the overheads do a lot of the “heavy lifting” and record a massive chunk of the sound.
So, in order to do this job, overhead mics need to be either suspended above (like the Nady OHCM-200) or on a mic stand which is high above the drum set. This gives a balanced overview of the kit and allows the microphone to pick up sound from the whole kit rather than just focusing in on one area.
Two microphones are usually set up, and these can capture the left and right of the kit in more detail and give a wider stereo field for engineers to play with when it is time to mix the drums.
Features to consider when choosing an overhead drum microphone
What features do you need to think about when you are looking to choose a drum microphone? How have we judged the models on this list? Ensure that you have considered the following before you take the plunge and order any drum mics. If you’re just looking to do some basic home recordings, you don’t need to spend thousands, but if you want to make a Grammy award-winning album then you will need to invest.
Microphones come in two main types, condenser and dynamic. They get these names from the way they pick up sound and the method used within the capsule to record, but there are some key differences between the two mics. You can buy both condenser and dynamic mics suitable for use as drum overheads, so understanding what both are will help you to prioritize.
Condenser microphones are powered and therefore usually do a slightly better job of picking up detail. In some cases, they do a much better job of picking up detail. So why do some people still opt for dynamic mics?
Dynamic microphones have their pros too, they don’t require power where condenser microphones will require some sort of phantom power from batteries or from the desk. Also, they tend to be a little more rugged in design, if you dropped a dynamic mic it probably has a better chance of surviving than a condenser.
Both types can be found on our list so it is truly a matter of personal preference.
The polar pattern outlines the direction and area from which the capsule of the mic is designed to pick up sound. Cardioid patterns are common. These reject a lot of the sounds from behind or the side, and focus on the direction in which the microphone is pointed, meaning you don’t get as much bleed from other instruments.
The LyxPro SDPC-2 has some added options such as omnidirectional which can pick up sound from all directions. These can be experimented with to tailor your own unique sound.
Microphone sensitivity refers to how much of the original sound source the mic pics up and turns into input signal for the desk or other audio input. Dynamic mics tend to have a lower sensitivity, so this means they are good for high-volume recordings, and will turn this into a much more stable level of sound and the mic won’t get “overloaded” easily. A super sensitive microphone might sound like a better thing, but in some cases, mic sensitivity can be too high and lead to all sorts of audio problems. Drums are loud, so you don’t need an overly sensitive mic.
Equivalent noise level
All microphones produce some sort of noise whether or not there is a sound source for them to record. This is referred to as equivalent noise level or just “self-noise”. Around 22-24 dB is pretty standard, and this is quite a low figure. The Samson C02 has a noise level of 22dB. Some mics are a bit higher and this can be something to look out for.
The lower this noise level, the better, in the majority of circumstances. It means more of the end-result (your finished recording) will be the sound you want to record rather than the noise of the microphone.
You may be worried about the fact that there is any noise in the recordings to come from a microphone, it is unavoidable and mics have their own character. There is no problem in having a little noise and at low levels like 22 dB it won’t be noticeable.
High volume, and therefore high vibration sounds, can cause a microphone to distort. This is measured in SPL or “sound pressure levels”. The maximum SPL is the maximum level of this pressure a mic can handle. Basically, the higher the better, especially if you are looking to record louder sounds, from loud sources such as drums. Overheads do not have to have insanely high levels, but higher does tend to be better and just give that extra bit of protection to ensure that your mic won’t distort if you do have a loud drummer playing.
Overloading microphones is a sure fire way to ruin recordings, so be sure to avoid this by getting a mic with a high SPL rating.
The range of human hearing is, in theory 40 Hz to 20 kHz. It tends to degrade a little over time, hearing gets worse as we get older.
Good recordings can make use of the full range of frequencies, which is often 20-20kHz in quality microphones. Realistically, most frequencies in a drum pattern will not be at the very high or very low end of the frequency range, but it is still a good idea to record these frequencies if you can for a well-rounded sound. The Beyerdynamic MC930 is a great example of a full frequency response.
If you don’t have a full frequency response then some of the sounds can go missing, or you can get a low-quality sound like an old-school telephone.
Impedance is AC current resistance. The higher it is, the more likely long cables will cause some degradation of the sound, so the goal is to have a low impedance. The lower the better, generally, but all of the options on this list are 200 or below which is very good for an overhead microphone.
Think about how long you need the cable to be when you run it to your drum overheads. If you are likely to run long cables then lower impedance will be an even higher priority.
As we’ve already stated in this guide, the majority of microphones on the list do need some sort of power going to them. Condenser microphones require power, and if you do not use it then the signal will be almost imperceptibly low. Some more affordable mics such as the Samson C02 pair will also need power.
Power sometimes comes from a battery source but in the majority of circumstances it is actually run to the mic through a mixing desk or audio interface using something called phantom power. This is built into a lot of mixers and interfaces as the manufacturers know that the mics will require this extra power in some situations.
The voltage rating will also be noted.
The weight is not the number one feature to consider when you are thinking about which overhead drum mics to buy but if you need a portable setup you might give it some consideration. Also, the more your mics weigh, the more sturdy the stands might have to be. Luckily, most of the mics themselves are pretty lightweight. Some of the heavier products are rated so because they have cases which add to the bulk.
The warranty offered will come down to each manufacturer, as they all have their own policies when it comes to this. Microphones should last a long time if treated right, especially dynamic microphones, so look for products with a one or two year warranty if you can just to make sure you can be confident in your purchase over long periods of time. If a mic is well-made, the risks of it breaking without being damaged deliberately are pretty low, so manufacturers should be happy to provide their customers with a warranty, especially for mics over $100.
What are some of the other features that can make a microphone stand out as a great buy?
We’ve already briefly mentioned the fact that multiple polar patterns can be included in some mics, switchable capsule patterns for different audio pickup can be a good little feature that makes your microphone that extra bit more versatile.
Accessories are another great way that mic manufacturers can make an overhead drum microphone stand out from the competition. A lot of these mics come with clips for connecting to mic stands, as this is pretty standard as additions go.
Other mics include accessories such as cases, which can be used for safely storing and transporting, the Beyerdynamic MC930 is a good example of this. This model also comes with windshields, which mean that if you are recording outside you can protect the mics from gusts of wind. This is not likely for drums, but if you use your mics for other purposes then it can be a good added feature.
There are so many microphones on the market that each is trying to create a separate, attractive offering with added extras.
Sometimes, overhead mics can have different uses. If you want to keep them mounted as overhead microphones then some of these uses will be redundant. You can use them as overheads for things like orchestral recordings or choirs though. All of the microphones on our list are versatile enough to be used for other things besides just drums. In fact, the Shure SM-57 is renowned for being a really versatile microphone that is suitable for use with guitars and even pianos and vocals. Overhead mics tend to have multiple uses if needed.
You don’t have to spend a huge amount to get a good overhead drum microphone if you are just getting started and our list has some great budget picks from the likes of Nady, Samson and Shure. If you are looking to buy a microphone that is good value for money then now is the best time in history to do it! There are budget manufacturers making some good quality mics. For a beginner, a drum mic setup can be bought for a few hundred dollars.
The Behringer C-2 microphones are our editor’s choice. Behringer has knocked it out of the park with this product, and the matched pair is affordable but also offers a good level of detail for drummers and producers. We’ve given it a rating of 9.9/10.
The best value is the LyxPro SDPC-2, though the brand isn’t the best-known in the world of audio technology, this is an impressive little set and the microphones come with a case for carrying and storage. They also have switchable polar patterns to allow you a little bit more room to experiment within the studio and record in different ways, we’ve rated these 9.8/10, one of the best overhead drum mics for those on a budget.
Finally, the budget pick is the Shure SM57-LC. The SM-57 is an iconic mic and one of the most popular models of microphone ever made. People looking for a mic they can use on other instruments as well as using as a drum overhead will find that this is a good choice, and we’ve rated it 9.7/10. Versatile and budget-friendly.