The snare drum is the driving force that makes a song exciting and explosive. Using the right microphone or microphone combination make really make or break the drive in your drum kit. Snare drums are the piece of the kit that your audience hears the most in your mix, so you want to make sure it fits right and sounds great rather than distracting due to a lack of quality.
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, type of snare drum, the player's skill/technique and even the room the performance is in, the choice in snare drum microphones will vary immensely. Some snare drums will need to be fat, others more snappy. Many engineers tend to put a microphone on both bottom and top snare. In the mixing stage, they can give the snare a bit more of the high end sizzle to help it pop through a mix with the added control of the bottom snares.
Polar patterns on drum mics are much more important than many engineers realize. Other than placement, it determines how much bleed you will get from the cymbals and other drums. When you get huge amounts of cymbal bleed in your tom, kick and snare tracks, gating and compressing them while maintaining a natural sound becomes nearly impossible. On a snare drum, the hi-hat tends to bleed the most in the microphone because it is physically closer to the snare. A hypercardioid microphone will help control the bleed and give you a cleaner sound up-front to work with later.
Primary and Supplemental Microphones
It is important to get a great sound with your top snare drum mic, but sometimes, one isn't enough. Blending snare tones is extremely common. For example, a lot of heavy music producers and engineers prefer a dynamic and small diaphragm condenser microphone on the top, and another dynamic on the bottom. If you'd like to hear an example of two microphones blended on the top snare, check out this article.
Shure SM57 - $99.00
The SM57 has been a staple in the recording and live music industry for over 75 years, so of course, it had to be first on our list. Engineers like Butch Vig, Jordan Valeriote and thousands more have used this microphone with great success.
Audix i5 - $99.00
The i5 is a USA-built instrument microphone that can hold its own in any recording or live situation on almost any source at a price point for anyone. It has body, high-end presence, and a solid metal chassis that can take a hit. It also has a massive SPL rating for those heavy-handed drummers. We love the i5 for top and bottom snare because it sits just right in a mix.
Shure Beta 57A - $139.00Shure has been a household name in the music industry for decades. One of their finest snare drum microphones is the Beta 57A. It boasts a supercardioid pickup pattern to really cut down on hi-hat bleed as we mentioned before. The microphone also does really well on bottom snare because it has a bit more snap and a little less body.
Aston Starlight - $349.00
Aston is a much newer brand of boutique English-made microphones. These high-end pieces come at a fraction of the cost of their competition and can be even more versatile. The Starlight is intended for overheads, but to our surprise, really excels as a top snare mic in any of the three voicings as well. The laser also helps position the mic so it can point directly at the center of the snare. It gives the snare a very fat and full response, almost making it sound like a canon. You can check out samples here.
Our favorite combo...
As you probably heard in the sound samples, the Audix i5 with the Starlight is a great combination. Our engineers here like to take it a step further and put either the Beta 57 or just an SM57 on the bottom snare to capture the snap and blend it to taste. To us, that is the sound we hear on some of the greatest modern records. Just be sure to check your phase so that you don't get any frequency cancellation! There are tons of great options for a snare microphone or microphone combinations. These are our favorites, but we have other great recommendations as well. If you want to talk to us about miking up your snare 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.