Great cymbals can really glue a drum kit together and make the kit overall sound better. The same principle can be applied to overhead microphones - if the cymbals sound great in the recording, it helps out the entire kit. There are a few main microphone styles and techniques used to get great drum recordings that we will show you in this buyer's guide.
Some things to keep in mind...
Frequency response is a fancy expression that translates to, "the range of frequencies/pitches that a microphone can pickup." The microphone's diaphragm is what picks up the sound. The materials and size of the diaphragm determine the frequency response and ultimately what the microphone sounds like. Depending on the style of music, drum kit and cymbals, the player's skill/technique and even the room the performance is in, the choice in overhead microphones will vary immensely. Some overheads will need to pick up most of the kit while others will need to be used mostly as cymbal mics. Some engineers use overhead microphones for orchestral performances, so those will need to pick up much more low end than microphones being used for just cymbals.
Polar patterns determine where the microphone picks up sound from. Most overhead microphones are condensers that have a cardioid pickup pattern. This means they pickup sound directly in front and some from the sides. If you were to draw a cardioid pickup pattern, it would look like a heart shape (hence the name, cardioid). Although cardioid is most common, there are many engineers who like to use omni-directional microphones as overheads. Omni-directional means that it picks up all frequencies evenly from all directions. Condenser microphones tend to over-saturate and distort when they pick up lots of low-end energy. Omni-directional microphones engage a special low-cut filter which helps reduce this problem which helps to isolate the cymbals a bit more from the shells.
A quick note...
When using two microphones on the same source, phasing can occur and ruin recordings, even with the best gear and best players. To avoid phasing issues in your overheads, measure from the center of the snare the each of the capsule. If the distance matches, the signals will be in phase with each other.
What makes overhead microphones sound different from each other?
There are two main types of condenser microphones available - large diaphragm and small diaphragm. Large diaphragm condensers are typically used as overheads if the engineer wants to capture the entire kit. This is useful for styles of music like jazz, acoustic pop, indie rock and orchestral settings. It captures a much more round low-end and makes the kit or orchestra sound more cohesive. Small diaphragm condensers are very popular in music in which cymbals need to be well separated from the rest of the kit. Examples include rock, metal and hardcore. Typically, small diaphragm condensers have a more accurate transient and frequency response which makes them ideal for capturing intricate cymbal work. They are also very common for concert halls due to their small size and accuracy.
What they're made of
Just like your instruments, car, desk and anything else you can think of, the parts contribute heavily to the quality of the microphones. One of the most important attributes to a great microphone is a great capsule. The capsule has a very thin metal diaphragm that captures the sound waves. Every capsule will capture sound waves differently which will result in a different sound. Higher quality capsules tend to be thinner which makes them more accurate.
Audio-Technica AT4041 SP - $499.00
AT4041's are some of our favorite overhead microphones. They capture the kit and cymbals in such a natural way that it sounds like the kit is in the same room with you during playback. These are a great pair of overheads that will last a long time for only $499. If you want to hear these in action check out this article.
Aston Origin - $269.00
Aston is a relatively new, but that doesn't stop them from making incredible British-made boutique microphones at a price point within reach for every studio. The Origin made our list of recommendations for overheads because of how clean this large-diaphragm condenser is. As mentioned before, large diaphragm condensers excel at capturing a whole kit. Two of these with a kick microphone would make a great 3-mic setup.
Lewitt LCT-040 Match - $99.00
Early in 2019, this Austrian microphone company released a small diaphragm condenser that competes with a the best at a price any studio can afford. The LCT-040 Match has become a much loved small condenser diaphragm here at Pixel Pro Audio for its clarity and small profile. You can even hear it in our weekly show, PPA Unfiltered!
Warm Audio WA-84 - $749.00
Warm Audio is taking the recording industry by storm. They constantly are releasing new versions of classic studio gear and every single piece is impressive. The WA-84 is no exception. These mics sound incredibly smooth and could be used for any genre. You can hear them on our weekly show, PPA Unfiltered!
There are tons of great options for a pair of overhead microphones. These are our favorites, but we have other great recommendations as well. If you want to talk to us about miking up your drumkit, orchestra or any other instrument, feel free to give us a call at 855-269-0474, and as always, enjoy FAST and FREE shipping on any order in the continental US. Don't forget to check out our other articles here.