Microphones for live and recorded music provide the same function: capturing the sound of drums and converting it to a signal for amplification. The differences in environment, however, call for different techniques and in some cases, different equipment. While "best" is a superlative that means different things to different people, there are some microphones that are time-tested and serve as standards and starting points.
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The bass drum, or kick, is the deepest pitched piece of a conventional drum kit. In contemporary music, the sound of the kick is not truly the sound of the drum itself, but rather is the sound of the drum through a dynamic microphone, usually with a medium sized diaphragm. Mics designed and favoured for use on the kick include the AKG D112, Shure's Beta 52 and the Electrovoice RE20.
The snare drum creates sharp transients, the trademark "crack" sound. A standard go-to microphone for just about every engineer is Shure's SM57. A dynamic mic, it is rugged and offers predictable behaviour. With any mic, try to approach the snare from the audience side of the drum, pointing toward the drummer so that the hi-hat is off-axis, thus reduced in volume, compared to the snare. Other popular snare mics include the Audix D-3 and the AKG D-1000E.
While many live sound engineers opt for a four-mic approach using kick, snare and a pair of overhead mics, some applications require individual miking of the tom-toms, both rack and floor mount. This allows greater control over individual drum sounds, but may increase problems with ambient noise and feedback. Close miking will reduce these problems. The SM-57 is once again a popular mic for this application, with the Sennheiser MD-421 and the Audio-Technica AT-4051 also being highly regarded.
Overhead microphones, either a single mono or stereo pair, are tasked with capturing cymbals, though they may do double-duty picking up an overall sound of the kit, which is then supplemented by snare and kick mics. Small capsule condenser microphones are the standard for this application. They are full-range, sensitive and not prone to off-axis colouration, meaning they don't alter the tone balance of sounds entering from the side of the mic. The Neumann KM-184, Shure SM-81 and AKG 451 see regular use in this role.
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