6 Best Overhead Mics

When it comes to recording the rhythmic beats of your drums, the quality of your overhead mics can make or break a record. Therefore, you need to get your hands on a set of overheads that are high in quality, suited to your individual needs, and will consistently deliver great results.

Unfortunately, finding the best overhead mic isn’t going to be as simple as just popping down to your local music store, with most places stocking significantly less microphones than in the past.

Luckily for you, we’ve made things significantly easier. Below you’ll find a list of six of the best overhead mics for drums on the market. We’ve also put together a handy buyer’s guide to remove any confusion when selecting the best product for you and to make sure you don’t fall into some of the most common pitfalls. 

OUR TOP PICK

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EDITORS CHOICE

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BEST VALUE

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OUR TOP PICK

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Behringer has a rich tradition of making high quality, affordable products and the C-2 overhead mics for drums are no exception. These are the best budget mics, and despite being under $100, deliver fantastic value for money.

A major selling point for these mics is the fact they can also be used for other applications, such as recording piano and acoustic guitar. This versatility is particularly valuable for multi-instrumentalists.

A slight drawback to note about these overhead mics however, is that they are a little thin sounding.

If you’re just recording cymbals and then later replacing the close microphones with samples, you shouldn’t have any major issues to worry about. If you do purchase the C-2 overhead mics, it’s worth preparing yourself to have to use a lot of EQ cuts as they can be very harsh in the high end.

Pros

  • Quality - ideal as main and support microphones in a studio and live setting with cardioid pickup pattern effective for eliminating feedback. 
  • Versatile - can be used for recording other applications, such as piano and guitar. 
  • Efficiency - low-mass diaphragm facilitates ultra-wide frequency response and ultimate sound reproduction. 
  • Signal - gold-plated 3-pin XLR connector for highest signal integrity. 
  • Affordable - despite producing high quality sound, these overhead mics are priced very generously.

Cons

  • Noisy - will have to use EQ cuts as these overhead mics can be very harsh in the high end.

EDITORS CHOICE

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Our next product is the M5 produced by Rode, a brand with an impressive knack of making superb microphones for affordable prices. The M5 is ideally suited for the studio recording or any live application.

They’re also cheap and durable meaning they’re the perfect option for musicians and professionals on the move.

Compared to the Behringer C-2s, these drum overheads should provide a fuller all-round sound with a significantly less-harsh high end.

They also provide more detail in your recording and unlike the C-2s, will require less aggressive EQ moves. The M5 is a little more expensive than Behringer’s model, but worth it.

Pros

  • Quality - equipped with cardioid condenser with low noise and a full frequency response. 
  • Appearance - the mics are finished with Rode’s proprietary ceramic coating which offers an aesthetically-pleasing sleek matt black finish. 
  • Durable - the M5 is supplied with WS5 windshields and RM5 stand mounts.
  • Trustworthy - with the product comes a premium foiled certificate verifying the authenticity of the overhead mics.

Cons

  • Noise - several customers reviews have reported the product is liable to produce impulse noise (usually either ticking or buzzing).

BEST VALUE

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This model from Audio-Technica continues the brand’s stringent standards of consistency, reliability and quality.

The AT2021’s condenser design is suitable for studio-quality vocal and instrument applications; particularly ideal for overheads, acoustic guitar, piano and group vocals.

The cardioid polar pattern also works to reduce the pickup of sounds from the sides and rear, improving the isolation of your desired sound source.

The AT2021 excels in high-SPL applications with extended response for smooth, natural sonic characteristics. Performance reliability is also enhanced by the product’s rugged design and construction.

With this overhead priced at below $100, the AT2021 offers fantastic value for money. In terms of quality, it’s the best on the list so far and would provide a worthy addition to your set up.

Pros

  • Quality - extended frequency response and high-quality isolation of desired sound source.
  • Design - condenser design perfectly suited for studio-quality vocal and instrument applications/recordings. 
  • Versatile - ideal for overheads (drums), acoustic guitar, piano and group vocals. 
  • Durable - rugged design and construction; also provided with corrosion-resistant contacts from gold-plated XLRM-type connector. 
  • Speed - low mass element offers a superb transient response.

Cons

  • Stand - product comes equipped with a microphone stand clamp, however the stand clamp doesn’t have the tightest grip on the mic when attached.

RUNNER UP

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The Samson C02 microphones offer high-quality audio performance at an affordable price. The C02 features a low-mass capsule with a cardioid pattern, providing narrow pick up in front of the microphone, thus minimizing ambient room noise and signal from other instruments that may cause feedback.

The C02’s wide, linear frequency response results in both rich detail as well as effectively minimizing low frequency noise. As such, the microphone offers a great solution for both live sound and studio recording applications.

This model can handle sound pressure levels of up to 134dB SPL, making them ideal for capturing percussion, drums and cymbals without any significant distortion.

Pros

  • Design - cardioid pattern effectively minimizes noise and feedback and helps focus on the sound source. 
  • Suitable - can handle high levels of sound pressure so ideally suited for capturing percussion, drums and cymbals without distortion. 
  • Affordable - despite the C02 model offering high-quality audio performance, the price remains affordable. 
  • Features - comes equipped with protective carry case, two shock-mounted mic clips and two foam windscreens.

Cons

  • Low sensitivity - some customer reviews have noted that the C02 can struggle to pick up sound at times. 

RUNNER UP

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Next up are the Shure KSM137 overheads, a much pricier option, but fully worth it if you have the budget. This model can not only be used for your drum overheads, but also on hi-hats if needs be.

Much like some of the earlier products, the KSM137 also sounds excellent with acoustic instruments.

The KSM137 is primarily designed for studio use, but also ragged enough for live applications. The product’s key features include a highly consistent cardioid pattern, ultra-thin gold-layered diaphragm, Class A transformerless preamplifier and a switchable 15 dB pad. All in all, an incredibly valuable and highly-recommended piece of kit.

Pros

  • Suitable - the product can withstand high sounds pressure levels. 
  • High quality - various crucial attributes include extended frequency response, low self-noise, exceptional reproduction of low-frequency sounds and no crossover distortion. 
  • Top-range - product has premium electronic components, including gold-plated internal and external connectors. 
  • Versatile - these mics can be used not only for drums and percussion, but also for a wide range of other acoustic and wind instruments.

Cons

  • Expensive - compared to the other models on this list, the KSM137 is pricier a little higher. 
  • Life span - there aren’t many cons for this product, but a few reviews have mentioned the product failing to function properly for prolonged periods of time.

RUNNER UP

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Last but not least it’s the Neumann KM184. This product is by far the most expensive on the list, but one of the very best.

Neumann traditionally makes expensive microphones, but for the price, these overheads will give you the highest quality drum recordings. To put it simply, these are industry standard mics and have been used on tons of records.

The KM184s offer extreme levels of detail and can withstand very high sound pressure levels. The model also has low self-noise with a wide dynamic range and impressive levels of immunity to electromagnetic interference.

With these overheads, your cymbals will shine bright and your drums will sound large and full.

Pros

  • Reputation - industry standard mics used on records with many musicians swearing by them. 
  • Quality - the best all-round package for overheads priced around $1000. 
  • Performance - functions well when used to attenuate off-axis sound from the rear or from other nearby instruments. 
  • Versatile - model can be used as a main mic, spot mics or in a stereo pair.

Cons

  • Price - while its excellent value for money, it may not be an option for those working to a limited budget. 

Best Overhead Mics Buying Guide

When it comes to finding the best overhead mic for drums, there are a few things worth taking into consideration to ensure you get the best product for your individual needs.

Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most important areas to focus your attention on when choosing your ideal product.

Giving a little extra thought to these will help steer you towards the perfect option and highlight some of the pitfalls many fall into, saving you both time and effort in the long run. 

Matched mics

Matched pairs of microphones minimize the risk of phase issues when recording sound. They also result in greater levels of consistency and predictability.

If you have microphones that don’t match this could lead to what’s known as “comb filtering”. This is when notches in the frequency response arise due to conflicting factors such as distance, diaphragm type and transient response. Understandably, this results in stereo recordings that are difficult and unpleasant to listen to.

Versatility

The versatility of your mic is a virtually important feature. Quite simply, your potential to produce quality recordings will be enhanced by owning versatile overheads.

Greater versatility in the features and tonalities of your mics will enable you to do more with them, not just for drums and percussion, but for a wide range of other instruments.

SPL rating

SPL stands for sound pressure level and is measured in decibels. As you’ve seen throughout the product reviews the exact unit of measurement is ‘dB SPL’.

The SPL rating of your overheads is important to consider as it influences how loud your sound source can be before distortion. Note here, using a mic with an SPL rating lower than your sound source is not recommended practice and could well damage it.

dB pads

Understanding dB pads is another important factor for selecting and using your overheads effectively.

A dB (decibel) pad attenuates the signal going out from the mic into your interface or preamp.

It is a useful addition for loud and high SPL sound sources that may overload your preamp. Owning a mic with a dB pad will provide you with the added benefit of versatility.

Suitability

When selecting the desired overhead mics for your drums, it is worth taking into account your existing setup. For example, there’s no point purchasing an expensive high-end mic that is ideal for live applications when you need something that is suited to something completely different.

Try to avoid focusing too much on the price and pick the product that is best suited for your individual needs. 

Best Overhead Mics - FAQ's

How high should overhead drum mics be?

You can place your overhead mics at two different heights to even the arrival times. This can be done as few as 2-3 inches or up to 8-10 inches if you feel it necessary.

Doing this will effectively solidify the centre image which is so crucial to your drum sound.

Can you record drums with two mics?

Yes is the simple answer. Even if you have the ability to use more than two mics in your recordings it’s worth experimenting to see if you can make just two sound good.

The process of making music demands you to be flexible in all kinds of situations and two mics can still give you a very usable, high-quality sound.

Can you use a condenser mic for drums?

The standard choice for room/studio mics is a matched pair of condenser mics (size isn’t too relevant). This is because their purpose is to provide a balanced stereo sound of the drum kit as a whole.