The sound of toms can make or break a drum kit. The most important thing to do is change the heads and tune them to sound the way you want. No microphone on earth can take a flabby, boxy tom drum and make it sound like pure gold. Microphones can only pick up what is there to begin with. Once the drum is tuned and sounding good, there are lots of different ways to go about choosing tom mics. In this guide, we will show you the different ways to approach that task.
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. In rock and heavy music, toms are the cannons of the song. For these styles it is best to have a microphone with an extended low end and a decent high end to help them cut through the guitars. For jazz and lighter styles, toms tend to be a bit more mid-heavy and natural sounding. For these instances, a microphone with a flatter response that can pick up lots of detail tends to work nicely.
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 capture cymbal bleed in your tom, kick and snare tracks, gating and compressing them while maintaining a natural sound becomes nearly impossible. In many sessions, tom mics pick up huge amounts of cymbal bleed. To avoid your tom mics turning into "underhead" mics, we recommend avoiding cardioid microphones (unless the microphone you want to use has the sound you are looking for) and stick with hypercardioid so that your microphone can stay focused on the tone of the drum.
Primary and Supplemental Microphones
In most cases, engineers will put a microphone aimed at the top head on a tom drum. This is where the stick attack is captured. If the microphone is positioned right, you can capture the tone nicely too. If you want to get more body out of the tom without of lot of the bleed, adding a microphone (typically the same as on top) on the resonant (bottom) head in the exact same position as the top head will do just that. Be sure to flip the phase. keeping your microphones in phase with each other is crucial. If the top and bottom mics don't maintain phase coherency, your massive toms will sound thin and unimpressive.
Sennheiser MD421-II - $379.95
The 421 has been a studio staple since 1960. Over the past 57 years, it's gone through some tailoring and is now a standard on toms in the most prestigious studios throughout the world. It comes with quite the price tag, but it is worth every penny. If you want to save a little bit, check out our exclusive Pixel Pro Audio Bundles here.
Audio-Technica ATM-230PK - $349
If you're looking for lots of attack, the ATM-230 is for you. These have a tight pickup pattern, but a nice top end boost. This combination cuts cymbal bleed without compromising the brightness of the toms. This attack will help them cut through the most dense mix. These are also available in a 3-pack and in our bundles here.
Shure Beta 56A - $159
Shure is probably the most well-known microphone company out there. They've made legendary microphones for decades. The Beta 56A is no exception. The rugged metal body, hypercardioid pickup pattern and overall frequency response are specifically tailored to making toms sound like canons.
There are so many great options for tom mics available, it can get overwhelming. These are our favorites, but we are always willing to help find something that fits your needs and your budget. If you have any questions, feel free to give us a call at 855-269-0474 to talk to one of our experienced engineers. Have questions on other microphones? Check out our other Buyer's Guides here.