By Contributing Author Dango
Our list of the best overhead drum mics makes it easy to choose the option that fits your needs–read our comprehensive reviews to learn more.
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Overhead microphones are a huge part of the sound of drums in a live setting as well as on records.
Great overhead mics capture the entire picture of the drum kit, as well as adding a lot of body to the snare drum and toms.
For years people have debated what the best mics are and history has shown that several options can be used for finding the best sound.
Nowadays with technology, there are even lower-priced options that do a great job, all the way up to pricey vintage mics that were used on big records in the 60’s and 70’s.
6 Best Overhead Drum Mics
Here’s a brief overview of 6 of the most famous options as well as a couple newer models of overheads.
All of these mics are built amazingly well and have been used on hit records, but some of them come with a hefty price tag and are more suited for busy recording studios.
I have also included some budget-friendly options for people who are working with limited funds or who aren’t recording full-time, because not everyone can drop big bucks on mics.
Our list progresses through the best of the best, then on to some solid budget-friendly options.
AKG C12VR Condenser Microphone
- The legendary AKG sound used on dozens of number-1-hits an enhanced version of the highly sought-after AKG C12 built 1953-1960.
- Edge-terminated CK12 Capsule and original 6072a Vacuum tube provide a sound that is simply beyond words.
- Selected state-of-the-art components ensure low noise and reliable operation
This AKG C12VR condenser mic is the modern version of the legendary AKG sound from the 50’s. This is a versatile mic that’s great on drums as well as vocals.
It features 9 pickup patterns and has figure 8, omni directional, and cardioid patterns. The original model was discontinued in 1963, but you can still find them if you’re lucky and have a ton of cash.
The current version is the C12VR. These mics are still made by hand in Vienna, with the same capsule and same vacuum tube. They certainly aren’t cheap, but they are a quality option.
Earthworks QTC30mp Microphone
- Frequency response to 30kHz and excellent impulse responseIdeal and affordable choice for recording applicationsIntended for detailed sourcesOmnidirectional polar patternFlat frequency response, fast...
- These low-noise omnis are also an excellent choice for drum overheads, close-miked wind and percussion instruments
- Earthworks' reputation for realism is based on these distinctive omnis
This Earthworks microphone is a small diaphragm condenser microphone that’s omnidirectional and that’s known for uncolored sound and very low noise.
It is great for drums or other percussion instruments. Earthworks claims their realism is based on these very mics and why they’ve gained their reputation.
A matched pair is less expensive than some of the other options on this list, making it a bit more budget-friendly.
Neumann KM184 Condenser Microphone
- For universal use, especially for recording situations when it is necessary to attenuate off-axis sound (mainly from the rear) from other nearby instruments.
- Announcer’s mic for broadcasting
- Spot mic, overhead
This Neumann mic is another small diaphragm condenser microphone. Neumann has several famous models that have been used to record drums and make great overhead mics.
This model is known for great detail and articulation. This is the modern version of the famous KM84 and has similar qualities to the sound, though purists will still search for the originals on the secondhand market.
This pair is a reasonably-priced option on our list when compared to some of the greats.
The Neumann U87 is one of the most famous workhorse mics in history. It’s a solid state version on the U67 while sharing the same capsule.
Both the 87 and 67 are large diaphragm condenser mics and both offer cardioid, omni, and figure 8 patterns. Both mics have been replicated by several companies the past few years due to their popularity and versatility.
Neumann currently offers the U87ai which has a few modifications, but is said to be very close sonically to the original. The pair costs more than some of our more budget-friendly options, but is definitely a favorite in the industry.
Beyerdynamic M160 Double Ribbon Microphone
- Unique double ribbon microphone transducer with hypercardioid polar pattern
- Extended frequency response
- Excellent transparency and transient response
This unique double ribbon mic has a hyper cardioid polar pattern. This mic is the most unusual looking in the whole bunch and it’s extremely rugged.
It’s known for tracking drums well in rooms with lower ceilings and being an overall versatile option. This is also the most cost-friendly of our options.
Coles 4038 Stereo Ribbon Microphone
The 4038 is a British mic that is a bi-directional, figure 8 ribbon mic that is famous for its natural sounding characteristics.
This mic was created over forty years ago by the BBC and, according to Coles, hasn’t ever been modified.
It takes extremely high volumes easily and keeps things sounding very warm, which makes it an ideal overhead mic for drums.
These aren’t cheap or easy to come by, but they are always on the list of great overhead mics. They’re one of the pricier options on our list, as a pair will run you between $2500 and 3K.
Budget-Friendly Overhead Drum Mic Options
If you are on a much lower budget, or you’re building a home studio setup, there are plenty of cost-effective options.
Check out these options as cheaper alternatives that still do a really good job. I have personally recorded with all of these and had great results.
What Are Overhead Drum Mics, and Why Would You Need Them?
Overhead mics are such an important piece to the sound of a drum kit as we know it.
If you listen to a recording of drums with just the close mics, you will be missing so much body and depth. Overheads add a large part of that, and room mics add even more.
There are famous drummers like John Bonham who were known to record a kit with as few as 3 mics, with an overhead being one of the essential parts of that. A huge drum sound can be created with overheads.
Where Do Overhead Drum Mics Go?
There are several ways to mic the overheads depending on the situation, the player, the room, and the music. Whether the music will be played loud or soft can determine how close the mics may be placed.
In some settings live they can be miked underneath the cymbals. In a studio setting the acoustics of the room can determine some of the placement.
the 3 most common miking techniques:
- The Spaced Pair Technique – Also known as A/B, this technique consists of two individual microphones, typically using cardioid or omni-directional polar patterns, spaced apart to capture a wide stereo image of an instrument or ensemble.
- The X-Y Technique – This consists of two identical cardioid microphones, placed on top of each other while facing away from each other at a 90 degree angle.
- ORTF Technique – ORTF combines both the volume difference provided as sound arrives on- and off-axis at two cardioid microphones spread to a 110° angle, as well as the timing difference as sound arrives at the two microphones spaced 17 cm apart.
Things to Consider When Buying Overhead Drum Mics
The biggest factors to consider when purchasing are probably whether you’ll be using them in a live setting versus a studio, as well as your budget.
Studios will always have higher end microphones by nature, because you hear more recorded than you do live. The clarity required is much greater.
Live microphones also need to be more durable and rugged due to travel, setup and teardown, as well as just the possibility of being dropped or knocked over during a live performance.
Types of Overhead Drum Mics
There are different types of overhead drum mics, so let’s take a look at each one.
Condenser Vs Dynamic Microphones
A dynamic mic is typically better for capturing loud sounds directly up-close, while a condenser is better for capturing overall sounds, higher frequencies, and delicate low volume things.
Overhead mics are condensers, while the rest of the kit’s mics are dynamic mics.
Dynamic mics are more durable and handle loud noise without distortion. Condensers are more fragile but are able to capture more clear and crisp sound and minor details.
A matched pair of overheads were made at the same time and tuned together to sound the same.
They have matching frequency response and sensitivity at different angles and patterns.
Many people don’t realize it’s possible to pick up 2 mics from the same company and model, yet have them sound quite different. The matched pair was designed to eliminate that.
Condenser Vs. Ribbon
Both condensers and ribbons are used for overheads, and both sound great. The biggest difference is that ribbons convert sound simply through electromagnetic induction, while condensers do so through electrostatic and complex circuitry.
Condensers are more sensitive and pick up more detail. Ribbons are much warmer sounding to the ear and don’t pick up as many high frequencies.
Condensers are also a little more durable which is why you generally see them live in most music settings. Ribbon mics can damage or break easily when dropped or with misuse.
What Are the Best Overhead Mics for Drums? Our Top Pick:
What microphone is the best overhead of all time? That’s a tough choice that is still up for debate.
The Neumann 67 is right up there with the AKG C12.
I have only ever gotten to use these types of super high end mics when recording in bigger studios and they all sound great.
The Neumann 87 is probably the best sounding large diaphragm to my ears while the Coles 4038’s are my favorite ribbon mics.
Any mics on this list would be an excellent choice as a main set of overheads, or an addition to your collection already.
My top choice from this collection that I think would be the most versatile and best overhead mic is the Neumann 87ai. This is a classic mic that will never go out of style in the studio.