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Top 5 Best Drum Overhead Mics To Capture Your Kit

audiosorcerer
|
June 29, 2023 
|
Last Updated on January 8, 2024

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to place a few spot mics on your kit and call it a day? Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. No matter how much effort you put into setting up close mics, the sound will never be “unified” without overhead mics.

So, since we can’t do without them, we might as well get the best there is.

To help you do just that, we rounded up five of the best drum overhead mics that'll capture your kit—cymbals and all—without costing an arm and a leg.

Jump right in to see which pair is going to provide the best stereo image of your drums!

1. Neumann KM 184

Top Pick
Neumann KM 184
9/10Rating

Interested in getting this microphone? Click the link below.

Let’s kick things off with a high-quality stereo set from one of the most reputable brands out there: Neumann.

The Berlin-based company has decades of experience and a long list of mics that could work for an overhead setup, but we had to go with KM 184. That’s mainly because it’s compact, gets the job done, and comes at a reasonable price (at least compared to the iconic U 87 Ai).

When it comes to actual overhead performance, you can expect a clean and clear sound using the stereo set in the X/Y configuration.

It’s worth noting that the mic doesn’t handle plosives and wind well, but hey, Neumann never claimed it was optimized for vocals. That shouldn’t matter much when you’re using it over your kit in a controlled studio environment.

A little cherry on top is that the KM 184 has a surprisingly low self-noise figure for a small diaphragm condenser (SDC) model. You might not notice this right away with a loud drum kit, but it’s a nice feature to have in your mic.

Key Specs

  • Type and Polar Pattern: SDC, cardioid
  • Max. SPL: 138 dB
  • Weight: 2.82 oz
Pros
  • Produces natural, detailed, and balanced output
  • Minimal off-axis coloration
  • Unobtrusive, lightweight, yet durable design
Cons
  • Might not fit larger on-stage mic clips
  • Provided foam isn’t as transparent as you’d expect

2. Shure KSM137

Top Pick
Shure KSM137
9.2/10Rating

Interested in getting this microphone? Click the link below.

Aesthetically, the KSM137 isn’t much different from the KM 184, with the exception of the two little switches under the logo. One controls the attenuator (0, 15, and 25 dB), while the other adjusts the low-frequency filter.

For the most part, you’ll rely on the 15 dB setting with your kit. The 0 dB setting is often not enough for drums, and the 25 dB works best in close proximity (under 4 inches) to the sound source. Just remember to have a ballpoint pen nearby to be able to flick the recessed switches.

As beneficial as the attenuation controls are, the true hardware star of the show here is the low-mass, gold-sputtered Mylar diaphragm.

We didn’t want to get carried away by the “24 karat” label initially. However, the diaphragm does make a difference in the transient response. It could be the ultra-thin design that’s doing the heavy lifting here, though.

To be fair, we considered swapping this one for the dual-pattern KSM141 for a hot minute—they’re highly similar. However, the fixed cardioid KSM137 can offer a better cost and performance balance for most drum overhead setups.

Key Specs

  • Type and Polar Pattern: SDC, cardioid
  • Max. SPL: 145 dB (170 dB on the 25 dB pad)
  • Weight: 3.5 oz
Pros
  • Provides a neutral character with smooth top ends
  • Subsonic filter that eliminates low-frequency rumbles
  • Comes with an A27M stereo adapter (great for X/Y and ORTF configurations)
  • Wide, adjustable SPL range
Cons
  • Fiddly recessed switches that require a ballpoint pen (or similar objects) to flick

3. AKG C414 XLII

Top Pick
AKG C414 XLII
10/10Rating

Interested in getting this microphone? Click the link below.

The C414 family’s legacy lives on with the XLII mic. Much like the KSM137, this one features a gold-sputtered (one-side only) diaphragm. It also gives you the chance to adjust the headroom with 0, 6, 12, and 18 dB pre-attenuation pad settings.

However, one core difference is that AKG uses rocker-type selectors with LED indicators, which are much easier to use than a recessed switch. Just note that the pre-attenuation and bass-cut selectors are on the rear side.

On the front, you get another rocker, but this one controls the polar pattern. Yes, the C414 is actually a multi-pattern mic. It’s nice to have this many options, but you’ll probably use the cardioid and omni most of the time and maybe opt for a figure-8 to create a mid/side array.

That said, AKG recommends using the C414s in the X/Y configuration, with the mics 2 ¾ to 4 feet above the drummer’s head to capture the full kit. You can also use these mics for kick drum and floor toms if you’d like, but remember to check the ideal placement in the user manual.

Key Specs

  • Type and Polar Pattern: LDC, multi-pattern
  • Max. SPL: 158 dB
  • Weight: 10.6 oz
Pros
  • A close match to legendary C12’s sonic character
  • Easy-to-use soft-touch rockers
  • Overload LED indicator
  • Nine polar patterns for more versatility
Cons
  • Pricey
  • A bit on the bulky side

Related Article: Capture The Beat: The Top 5 Best Kick Drum Mics (2024)


4. sE Electronics sE7

Top Pick
sE Electronics sE7
9.8/10Rating

Interested in getting this microphone? Click the link below.

Now, let’s go back to SDC mics and check a ½-inch black-electret option by sE. At first glance, the sE7 looks a lot like the matte black version of the Neumann KM 184, but it’s nowhere as expensive.

It has the SPL range for overhead miking, though. Using the 20 dB attenuation switch, you can give the sE7 a bit of reduction if your kit is particularly loud.

However, the mic doesn’t have a multi-level filter like the C414 or the KSM137—you only get two low-cut options. Sure enough, both switches are recessed, and the good-old ballpoint pen is going to be handy once again.

Still, the mic is pretty quiet for its price and has great transparency. So, if your cymbals are on the bright side, the sE7’s natural sound can keep the scale balanced.

Key Specs

  • Type and Polar Pattern: SDC, cardioid
  • Max. SPL: 156 dB (on 20 dB attenuation pad)
  • Weight: 4.52 oz
Pros
  • Affordable price point
  • All-metal chassis (despite the price)
  • No fuzzy high-ends or weedy bass responses
Cons
  • Recessed switches instead of rockers

5. Rode M5

Top Pick
Rode M5
9.4/10Rating

Interested in getting this microphone? Click the link below.

While the sE7 set is affordable, the M5 by Rode remains the king of all budget-friendly overhead mics. It’s not exactly as hot as the iconic NT5, but it’s inspired by it and offers a comparable overhead sound quality at a lower price, which makes it a winner in our books.

The M5s might not give you the same sparkle that you’d get with expensive sets, but they do provide surprisingly clear stereo imaging. Plus, they could be a perfect pick if you need lightweight overhead mics but don’t want to splurge on the Neumann KM 184s.

One thing that caught our eyes, though, is the product availability. Unlike all the other options on the list, this model can’t be purchased as a single mic. You can only get M5s as a matched pair with a guaranteed variation of no more than 1 dB.

Don’t get us wrong; this isn’t a terrible drawback. Most people opt for two overheads from their drum kit, after all.

Key Specs

  • Type and Polar Pattern: SDC, cardioid
  • Max. SPL: 140 dB
  • Weight: 2.82 oz
Pros
  • Great value for money
  • Lightweight all-metal body with Rode’s proprietary ceramic coating (sleek matte finish)
  • Free 10-year warranty on registering
Cons
  • No pads or filter switches

3 Tips For Choosing The Perfect Overhead Mics For Your Kit

Still can’t decide? Here are three tips to help you out:

1. Consider The Polar Pattern

You’ll notice that we favored cardioid patterns (with 20–20,000 Hz frequency response) on our list. Those tend to work well as drum overheads.

Still, it’s not a cut-and-dry situation, and the “right” configuration depends on room size and personal preference. So, you could go for omni patterns with spaced mics. The flavorful figure-8 isn’t out of the question, either.

How do you choose? Check out how each pattern sounds and decide which you like best.

If you want more than just the traditional cardioid configuration, consider a multi-pattern mic, like the AKG C414 XLII. But, if you’re not sure which way to go, just get a fixed cardioid.

2. Size And Shape Matter

A bulky design isn’t a deal breaker, but the pencil-shaped SDC models can be easier to maneuver over the kit. So, take a moment to think about the kind of venues you play at and the studios you record in before you pick an LDC.

3. Double Check The SPL

Overloading isn’t as big of a concern with overheads as with close mics, but it could happen. Keep in mind that a drum kit could go up to 120 dB!

We made sure to only pick models with high enough SPL for our top-five list, so you don’t have to worry about distortion with any of them. If you decide to go with a different mic, double-check that its SPL is well over 120 dB.


Related Article: Dynamic Vs Condenser Microphones - What Is The Difference?


Final Thoughts

The KM 184 and the KSM137 are fantastic SDCs, but if you want an LDC, the AKG C414 XLII is your (relatively pricey) guy. For more affordable yet reliable overheads, check out the sE7 or the M5.

If you found the information in this article helpful, please consider subscribing to our blog for more product reviews, music production tips, and audio knowledge.

"Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. These links are from various companies such as Amazon. This means if you click on any of these links and purchase the item or service, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is at no cost to you and the money gets invested back into Audio Sorcerer LLC."

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