Whether you’re a YouTuber with a drum channel, a teacher, a recording artist, or an audio engineer, I’ll assume you’re probably reading this because you need to mic a drum kit. Let’s also assume you already have some great close mics for the toms, snare and hi-hat, and that all-important kick drum.
So what’s left?
You need to figure out which are the best overhead mics for drums that you can use to complete your set-up. Overhead mics are crucial to getting perfect cymbals sounds plus the overall sound of your kit. So if you’re on the market for the best, I’ve got a few gems for you to check out in my in-depth look at the best mics for recording overheads.
Top 6 Best Overhead Mics For Drums in 2023
1 Behringer C2 Microphone Matched Pair – Best Budget Overhead Mics For Drums
Microphone Type: cardioid condenser
Let’s start out with one of the best affordable overhead microphone sets. The Behringer C2 matched pair can be snapped up for around an incredible $70. This is even more unbelievable when you consider that they come with a hard transport case, stand adapters, windscreens, and a stereo bar for mounting the mics in an XY or other stereo alignment.
These are durable die-cast metal mics with quality gold-plated 3-pin XLR connections to reduce noise. They come with a low-frequency rolloff switch to keep your bass rumble out of the mix and prevent distortion. There’s also a -10 dB input pad for pre-attenuation. Unfortunately, these are both on the same switch, which means you have to choose one or the other, which doesn’t make them well suited to closer mic’ing applications.
The inputs have a high max sound pressure level of 136 dB which means they won’t distort even in the throes of a full-on drumming attack. The cardioid pattern does its job here, keeping off-axis sounds out of the mix as well. There is a 4 decibel boost in the range of 1-8 kHz. This pulls cymbals forward and makes them brighter in the mix.
However, you will have to be careful with really high and bright cymbals like large splashes. These can come across as less bright than screaming and overpowering. So, as usual, positioning is crucial to avoid overdoing it.
Fantastic value for the price…
Overall, you can find better mics out there, but certainly not for this price. The sound can get overly bright if you don’t watch it, but they have good sensitivity and sound great for this price point.
- Really inexpensive.
- Good sensitivity and decent overall sound.
- Low-frequency rolloff and -10dB attenuation on the same switch.
- High end can get brittle and sharp.
2 Rode NT5 Matched Pair – Best Mid-Priced Overhead Mics For Drums
Microphone Type: compact cardioid condenser
Next in my Best Overhead Mics For Drums Review, we’re going to take a big leap in price for this set of mics. A certified matched pair of NT5s from Rode will set you back a bit over $400, but I doubt you’ll end up being disappointed in your purchase.
Good as gold…
These are small, compact cardioid condenser mics, small enough that some people might call them pencil mics. Inside, you’ve got an active J-FET impedance converter and bipolar output buffer. Combined with a gold sputtered ½” capsule and gold-plated XLR 3-pin connections, these mics cut out essentially all noise that could otherwise ruin your recordings. In fact, these are the best mics for overheads in terms of low self-noise that you can buy.
If you want to play loud, they can stand up to a max sound pressure level of 143 dB, so they’re even more robust than the workhorse C2s. They can run on P24 or P48 phantom power, which is another sign of their versatility.
Change the capsules…
One really cool feature is the ability to swap out the unidirectional capsules for omnidirectional ones. This will allow you to use these same mics for other recording applications like ensembles, choirs, or as room mics. Of course, the omnidirectional capsules aren’t included and have to be purchased separately.
What is included is a padded pouch for these mics, wind shields, and stand adapters, though I would have liked to see them come in a hard case instead. The mics themselves are finished in durable and rust-proof nickel, so they should last for ages. Plus, you get a ten-year warranty from Rode on these puppies, so that adds a lot to the pot.
Beautiful sound recreation…
Sound-wise, these mics are very sensitive (-38.0 dB re 1 Volt/Pascal (12.00mV @ 94 dB SPL)) and pick out cymbals beautifully. They do well on detailed and nuanced recordings, so if you have a lot of percussion elements in your drum kit, these might make for a great choice.
- Mid-range price for solid, great-sounding mics.
- Matched pair comes with a 10-year warranty.
- No high-pass switches.
- No low-frequency rolloff.
- Padded soft pouch instead of hard transport case.
3 Audio-Technica AT4041SP Studio Microphone Pack
– Most Versatile Overhead Mics For Drums
Microphone Type: electret cardioid condenser
Coming up in price a smidge, we get to the $500 AT4041SP Studio Microphone Pack by Audio-Technica. These mics are highly feedback resistant and really well made. They’re made from durable turned brass with a black chrome-plated finish meant to stand up to abuse.
The AT4041s have a very low-mass diaphragm for great response bandwidth. They have a smooth frequency response with a slight boost in the high end. This gives you a full low end when you want it and a slightly improved high to really pick out cymbals in an overhead set-up. The top end is bright without getting harsh, so compared to the Behringer C2s, you’ll be able to get tighter in on the cymbals.
What else do they offer?
There’s a single switch to access the low-frequency roll-off. This helps you block out that low end when you don’t want it, especially keeping the kick out of the overhead tracks. It’s set to 80 Hz, dropping off at 12 dB/octave.
As for sensitivity, these are slightly more sensitive than the Rode Nt5s, providing -36 dB (15.8 mV), re 1V at 1 Pa sensitivity. This helps you pick out great detail, which will be especially evident with cymbal work and other percussion elements. It also makes these mics great for instruments like nylon string guitars and violin.
They also come in a retro-looking wooden box complete with wind covers and stand adapters.
So what’s not to like?
There’s no passive attenuation switch here, though, which is a bit of a shame. Also, despite being built with transformerless circuitry to get rid of distortion, these mics are still slightly noisier than the Rode NT5s. Yes, you get more noise and distortion, but also more detail, so there’s a bit of a trade-off to consider.
For the price point, though, I think you could do a whole lot worse!
- Great sensitivity produces great detail.
- Smooth frequency curve with a small high-end boost for cymbals.
- Slightly noisy.
- No passive attenuation device.
4 Shure KSM137 SL Stereo Pair – Best Value for Money Overhead Mics For Drums
Microphone Type: cardioid condenser
If you know your mics, you were already expecting to see a Shure product on this list. And while the SM57 gets a whole lot of attention for being pretty much indestructible, they are not a great option for overheads. What you’ll want to get is approximately $665 KSM137 instead for the best Shure overhead microphones for drums.
These mics feature gold-coated Mylar low-mass diaphragms for a clear and extended frequency response. Inside, there’s a transformerless pre-amp that gives great response with extremely limited distortion. The internal and external (3-pin XLR) connectors are gold-plated, again helping to keep noise to nearly imperceptible levels.
The cardioid pattern here is tight and highly effective at blocking out off-axis sounds. Unlike the other mics I’ve reviewed, the KSM137s are pretty much totally natural, with no frequency boosts. This gives you an accurate sound, though it doesn’t add any brightness or shimmer to cymbals. You also find solid sensitivity at -37 dB re 1 V at 1 Pa.
Get the cymbal sound you want…
As for SPLs, you’ve got a switchable pad at 0 dB, -15 dB, and -25 dB to protect you from high sound levels. With the switch at 0 dB, you get a max SPL of 145 dB, but flipped on to -25 dB; these mics can handle up to 170 dB.
There’s also a 3-position switch for the high-pass filter. You can keep it flat or cut off low frequencies from 115 Hz at -6 dB/octave, or from 80 Hz at -18 dB/octave.
All told, there’s a lot of flexibility in these mics and great durability Shure is known for. They are not cheap, but considering the quality, they are still fantastic value for money. They come in a smart, hard case with stand adapters, windscreens, and a handy stereo adapter.
- Excellent noise-free sound.
- Hard case and full accessories provided.
- High durability and SPL tolerance.
- Getting a bit pricey.
- No high-end boost for cymbals.
5 AKG Pro Audio C214 Matched Pair – Best Matched Pair Overhead Mics For Drums
Microphone Type: large-diaphragm cardioid condenser
Nearing the end of my review of the Best Overhead Mics For Drums, AKG offers up a matched pair of large diaphragm microphones for $780 – the AKG C214s. Now that we’re getting to the expensive end of things, we want to be sure that these mics are absolutely worth it and great for overhead mic’ing of drums.
So are they?
To start off, these mics are gorgeous and look cool and retro. The matched pair comes in a hard trap case with wind screens and shock mounts to help protect them from both impacts and creeping low-frequency noise.
These are actually a cheaper alternative to the AKG Pro Audio C414 XLII Vocal Condenser Microphone, Multipattern and produce a very similar output at less than half the price. In fact, you can get a pair of these for less than one 414! But if you want to spend that much, the 414’s are one of the most versatile professional microphones you can buy at any price.
They also feature a 1-inch capsule mounted on an integrated suspension that helps to keep noise to a minimum.
Power them up…
As with all of the condenser mics we’ve seen, these AKGs need phantom power to operate. However, here they have a great range of input from 9 to 52V. So if you’re using standard 24 or 48V power, or something a little more home-cooked, you’ve got a ton of leeway.
As you’d expect with mics at this price level, the sensitivity is an impressive -33.98 dB re 1 V at 1 Pa. This beats out all of the other contenders so far. This helps these mics pick out extraordinary detail on cymbals and percussion accessories.
Remove the low end…
For sound pressure, there’s a switchable pad that offers -20 dB attenuation. That can allow these guys to handle up to 156 dB of max pressure. Not as good as the Shures, but pretty close. You can also switch on the bass-cut filter to block out low frequencies under 160 Hz. There’s only one choice here for the high-pass filter, which is unfortunate as having another set at 80 Hz or so would add a lot of versatility to the mics.
All told, these mics really sound natural and highly detailed. You might even find their sensitivity is too high, but lowering your phantom power, if possible, can help them from picking up every pin drop.
- Extremely sensitive and detailed.
- Beautiful mics with great accessories.
- High SPL tolerance.
- Only one level of high-pass filter.
6 Neumann KM 184 MT Condenser Microphone Stereo Set – Best Premium Overhead Mics For Drums
Microphone Type: small-diaphragm cardioid condenser
Last but certainly not priced the least, are the Neumann KM 184 MT cardioid mics. If you thought the AKGs were pricey, these are double the price at over $1500.
Do you get double the quality?
As with other mics we’ve seen, the KM 184s use transformerless technology to limit self-noise. They’re very natural, though you’ll notice the slight boost around 9 kHz, which gives some brightness and color to cymbals. You might not want this boost with other instruments that you choose to record with these mics, but as overheads, it generally helps to pick out cymbals well.
So does the sensitivity. These mics are sensitive to -36.48 dB re 1 V at 1 Pa, so while they’re not as sensitive as the AKGs, they’re still up there. Powered by 48 V phantom power, they are limited in power supply, so there’s no easy way to reduce the sensitivity like with the AKGs.
Built to last…
As for durability, these best microphones for overheads are built like tanks. They’re coated brass that can take a hit and keep on mic’ing. They can also handle up to 138 dB of sound pressure. However, there’s no pad to help out here in extremely high sound pressure situations. That said, with overheads, you’re not going to have to worry as much as when close-mic’ing a loud source.
Overall, these are clean, crisp, and detailed mics. They have barely any self-noise and provide a clear, very natural sound for any recording. However, they are missing the HPF and pad features I like to see on microphones for drums.
As an aside, these are also one of the Best Microphones for Recording Acoustic Guitar on the market, as well as superb on a range of classical instruments.
- Durable and tough.
- Beautiful detailed, crisp sound.
- Very low self-noise.
- No pad provided.
- No HPF for bass roll-off.
Need more fantastic mics for your drum kit and more?
You may also enjoy our in-depth reviews of the Best Microphone Preamps on the market.
Also, take a look at our reviews of the Best Snare Drums, the Best Drum Practice Pads, the Best Drum Tuner, the Best Drum Thrones, the Best Cajon Drums, the Best Drumsticks, the Best Hang Drums, and the Best Cymbal Packs currently available.
Which of the Best Overhead Mics for Drums should you buy?
Now that we’ve seen a range of great cardioid condenser mics, it’s time to pick a favorite. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy task after looking at all the microphones on this list. I’ve included everything from cheap workhorses to expensive studio mics for professionals.
In the end, though, I want to tip my hat to the…
These mics sound great with very little noise. They give a very natural response curve, and while they don’t boost cymbals, they’re sensitive enough to pull them out of the mix well. All this for a really affordable price, making them fantastic value for money.
No matter which of these mics you choose for your set-up, remember that all of them are great options with lots of versatility. It’s also worth investing in a pair of cardioid condensers because they’re perfect for all sorts of other recordings, from certain vocalists to acoustic guitars, to highly detailed classical instruments.