It would seem strange to us today. But in the early days of recording, the engineers used only a single mic in a room to record the drums. It collected all the sounds from all the drums and cymbals at once. No one even considered what the best snare mic was back then?
By the 60s, they had really pushed the boat out. The Beatles used two mics. Yes, a whole two. One over the top and one a few feet in front of the bass drum. Of course, with the improvement of recording equipment came better, some might say, techniques.
The Best Studio Drum sound?
Who has the best drum sound on record? Some would argue Zeppelin’s, John Bonham. Difficult to find a word to describe it. Monumental maybe?
In today’s recording world, a microphone seems to be positioned in front of every drum and orifice. Bonham was recorded by Glynn Johns, who used his now-infamous three mic setup.
One over the top of the kit, pointing at the snare. And a second over the floor tom, about four feet high, angled down towards the snare. Those were the ‘overheads.’ The third in front of the bass drum. That was it. His key to getting the sound? Make sure the overheads are right.
Mic up the Snare
Glynn is unique, and most engineers give the snare at least one mic. These are the people who like to tweak the sound a little bit. Nothing wrong with that. And there are some great mics to choose from.
So, let’s take a look at the Best Microphones for Snare Drums currently on the market and find the perfect one for you…
Top 5 Best Snare Mics On The Market In 2021 Review
1 Beyerdynamic M201 TG Classic – Best Premium Snare Mic
Founded in 1924, Beyerdynamic are one of the big players in the world of the best microphones. German engineering ensures they are top quality, and they are respected around the world.
It was a coincidence when as I sat down to write this, I happened to speak to a pro drummer friend. He has worked with some of the biggest names in Rock and toured all over the world. What does he use as a snare mic in the studio? Two Beyerdynamic M201 TG Classics.
What does it offer?
This is a pressure gradient dynamic mic. It is very sensitive to sound, and it is bright, concise, detailed, and articulate. It has a hypercardioid pattern with a dynamic moving coil. As a pattern, this excels for a snare drum and will virtually eliminate any bleed that may occur from the hi-hat or from the toms.
But in doing so, it is still able to give you a big sound with a lot of depth from the snare. It has a frequency response of 40–18000 Hz.
Of course, there is a mic manufacturer that is recognized as making tough mics that are ‘Daltrey-proof”. We shall be looking at them soon. If they are the top, then this comes in a very close second for the strength of build.
The case is made of brass, and it is virtually indestructible. Beyerdynamic has clearly decided to go head to head with the reputation of Shure. It is rugged and versatile, and many would say that it delivers more depth and attack than its closest competitor, the Shure SM57. It has a 3-pin XLR fitting.
There usually is with most things, and this mic is expensive. Significantly more expensive than its big competitor. We feel certain that the price will put some off. But don’t forget this is a great mic in every way.
In fact, we could ask the question, is this the Best Snare Microphone? It’s gonna be close.
More than just a studio mic…
And don’t forget this is a mic that will handle the live performances as well as the studio work. When we mic up a snare, it could be for either, not just for the studio.
A nicely-balanced tone and great sound quality make this a mic that sits at the top of the stack. It comes with a mic holder, bag, and a windscreen.
- Well made with a great sound quality.
- A neutral sound that is full of clarity.
- None, apart from being quite a bit more expensive, than the…
2 Shure SM-57 – Most Popular Snare Mic
So let’s take a look at the ‘competitor’ we mentioned in the last review. But competitor is hardly the right word. The benchmark, the industry leader, might be better. The SM57 is possibly the most versatile and respected mic ever made for rock music.
If there is someone who hasn’t used it at some time, they will be a rare commodity. And that includes singers and musicians as well as studio engineers.
The original design…
The Shure idea was to create a mic that was for instruments. Its beginnings came in 1937 with the Unidyne and its cardioid pattern. Pushed further in 1959 with the Unidyne 3, the SM57 arrived in the mid-60s.
It has proven to be not only a great mic for instruments, especially drums, but also for vocals. Everyone from Paul Rogers of Free and Bad Company to Lemmy from Motorhead has used the SM-57 as their number one choice of vocal mic, both live and in the studio.
Aimed at the Snare…
It is a dynamic mic and has a cardioid polar pattern. That makes it especially suitable for the snare drum. Some engineers like to get a fraction of ambient sound around the snare when recording.
The cardioid pattern will eliminate virtually everything except the snare when you aim the SM57 directly at it. But there will still be a ’little bit‘ of ambient noise. By drums being so loud and close to each other, there might be a fraction of overspill.
Your default mic…
Its versatility is well-known. In fact, many studio people keep an SM57 around as a spare default mic. You can use them on and with anything.
They have a 40 to 15,000 Hz frequency response and a high SPL. They also have a natural presence to the sound, which makes them ideal for drums. All this adds up to a mic for all seasons. Great for snare drums but pretty good at a lot of other things as well.
Everyone knows you can run over these things with a truck. No, really, you can. It is a build that is going to withstand anything you can throw at it. Working with a snare drum is a stroll in the park.
All you need to say is it is ‘Daltrey-proof’ That ought to give you some idea. The rugged build is just part of the story with this mic. The quality of the reproduction matches the quality of the build.
And the price point?
For this quality, it is quite astounding that one of the best microphones in the world could cost so little. We would normally say, is it the Best Snare Mic? We don’t have to; in fact, it is estimated that about 98% of all recorded snare drums on hit records have had an SM57 on them.
- A great mic for the snare but more than good for everything else.
- Great build quality at a very cost-effective price.
- The fact that it has been used on nearly every hit record speaks volumes.
3 Shure SM81-LC – Best Condenser Snare Mic
This is another mic from Shure that was developed with the instrument mind. It is noted for its ability to excel when recording in acoustic environments.
It is especially known for recording acoustic guitar and has become one of the go-to microphones in that area. But it is also excellent at other acoustic style instruments. Drum overheads are a good example and especially when working with the snare drum. The Cardioid pattern will give you great isolation and limit any potential off-axis disturbance.
This is another of those mics manufactured by Shure that can be put to a variety of uses. It is, therefore, always good to have it around.
Designed to perform…
This is a condenser mic that has a small-diaphragm and a response that is very flat. The frequency response is 20Hz-20kHz, and it has an excellent SPL of 136 dB. One of the reasons you are given a great reproduction is because of the response curve, which is very smooth.
There is a low-frequency switch that has three positions. These are 18dB roll-off, 6dB, and flat. These help to reduce any proximity noise. For louder sounds, a -10dB pad that is lockable. That allows you to capture the louder sounds with no further adjustments. And any potential interference from other nearby signals is reduced because of the low radio frequency susceptibility.
Typical Shure build
The casing is made of steel and has a vinyl coating, so of course, it is going to be very robust. But it is not only the shell that is strong. This is a mic that can be used in a variety of difficult environments. And it is quite at home in hot and humid conditions.
It comes with a foam windscreen and an adapter, and also a carrying case. Being a condenser mic, it will require phantom power.
A superb second snare mic…
A lot of engineers use one of these along with an SM57 as a pair of top snare mics, making sure that the diaphragms are perfectly lined up and that they are in phase with each other. The 57 gives the body of the snare, the 81 adds clarity and snap, creating a fantastic joint snare sound.
Not Shure’s most cost-effective mic, but a very good all-rounder.
- Well-designed with good built-in features to work with acoustic instruments.
- Typical robust Shure build.
- Quite expensive.
4 Sennheiser MD 441-U – Best Supercardioid Snare Mic
When we are discussing the best in microphones, the name of Sennheiser won’t be far away. This German manufacturer of quality mics has been with us since 1945. Their reputation is well-known.
This mic has been given a fresh and different design from many of its competitors. Its thin, squared-off shape says, ‘I am something different.’
But don’t let the design make you think it hasn’t got its rugged side. It is made with an all-metal casing that has been given a nickel-plating. And the mesh covering the head of the mic is also metal and very robust. Inside is a shock suspension system for when it is handheld.
A big performer…
This is a mic that some have said brings the ‘best of everything’ together in one unit. They haven’t gone for the usual cardioid pattern with this mic. They have used the Supercardioid pattern.
Many would say that this polar pattern offers great advantages. If you can imagine a ray of light, the cardioid pickup pattern is similar to the light that has a wider base. The Supercardiod, though, is almost like a small, sharp, and very focused beam of light.
The Supercardioid is focused even more on the sound source and excludes even more of the sounds on either side. It will also help to reduce feedback.
Of course, there will be something. With a Supercardioid, because the collection of the sound is so narrow, you have to get the placement exact. If you don’t, then you might start missing the sounds you need.
Placement is vital. For something like a snare drum that is static and not moving around, that is fine. For a handheld mic for a vocal, that could be a problem. This mic is highly thought of for its great vocal recordings, but you have got to get the placement exact. It is especially good for female vocals and is Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac‘s first choice vocal mic in the studio and live.
There is plenty to be impressed with. A frequency range of 30-20000 Hz and a five-setting bass roll-off. Any potential hum is eliminated by a humbucking coil. The signal to noise ratio is low, and being the Supercardioid pattern, the separation is good. It excels in isolating what is in front of the mic.
A great mic, but you will need to get the placement exact to see it at its best. Not a cheap option, to say the least.
- Well-made with Sennheiser build quality.
- Versatile and practical.
- The price will make you pay attention.
5 Sennheiser MD 421 II – Best Snare and Tom Mic
We finish this look at mics, especially for snare drums, with another legendary offering. This is another from our German friends in Hannover and the little brother of the 441 we’ve just reviewed.
You can’t deny that German Engineers know how to make a quality mic, with excellence in design and engineering. You will find them in just about every studio in the world. And the MD 421 is one of their most popular.
If you want the definition of versatility in a mic, this goes a long way. There is a reason why this mic is one of their most respected and popular. This a mic that will produce great results wherever you may choose to use it.
Its most common use is for recording the Toms on a drum kit, at which it is undeniably the best in existence and has been used more than any other in recorded history. It is also commonly used on Electric Guitar cabinets, especially for distorted sounds, but the cardioid pattern allows for more options. It also works well as a kick drum mic and for vocals.
Cut the bass end…
There is an adjustment with five settings for the reduction of bass. This means it will allow you to ensure you get great results whether you are working with instruments or vocals.
The rejection of feedback is very good, and the cardioid pattern eliminates any unwanted peripheral noise. Its options for use in a studio environment are plenty. It has a frequency response of 30-17,000 Hz and can handle high SPL levels.
It is made of a combination of steel and a hardened glass composite. A combination that makes it rugged and able to withstand a few knocks. It is no small mic either, measuring 5.31 x 2.6 x 13.78 inches.
But there is a small problem, in that it features the worst microphone clip design in history. It’s majorly over-engineered and so easy to mess up, especially when drummers lean over and try and adjust the mics because they are in their way. That’s why nearly every one of these mics that you will ever encounter in a studio has taken a fall and has the bruises on the grill to prove it.
Luckily they take it in their stride due to the rugged build and keep on sounding fantastic, but don’t look as good as they once did.
But the reason this is a well-respected and used mic is the quality of sound it produces. The clear and crisp sound reproduction makes this a winner. And its potential uses make it an even better buy.
It isn’t cheap, but it is a great mic.
- Tough build with a practical design and good features.
- Great sound production with a good SPL.
- The worst microphone clip design in history.
- Not a small mic.
Looking for more superb Upgrades and accessories?
If so, check out our reviews of the Best Snare Drums, the Best Drum Tuner, the Best Kick Drum Mic, the Best Drum Practice Pads, the Best Drum Thrones, the Best Cymbal Packs, the Best Drumsticks, or the Best Dynamic Microphones currently on the market.
Or if you fancy playing something a little bit more unusual than a standard kit, how about banging on one of the Best Cajon Drums, the Best Jazz Drum Sets, or even the Best Hang Drums you can buy in 2021.
What is the Best Snare Mic?
This is one of those situations where you are confronted with various options. All of them are good and have their attributes. But in amongst them is a product that just stands out.
It is a mic that has stood the test of time and is still one of the most used and respected mics anywhere in the world. And at its price point, which is less than the majority of its opposition, makes it even harder to pass over.
There is a great mic from Beyerdynamic, the 201. There are also the Sennheiser options, which always must be considered. But we have to admit there is one that just says, ‘I am the best of the bunch.’ And it probably is.
We would therefore have to go with the…
A great mic with a legendary history that is still at the top of the pile.
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