What you’re looking for in a snare mike is a good transient response, wide dynamic range, and off-axis sound rejection to keep the hi-hat and other drums out of the picture as much as possible. No matter what style of music you play, most engineers will reach for a Shure SM57 to mike a snare. The SM57’s pronounced midrange response and high SPL handling capability make it perfect for the job. While it lacks somewhat in sensitivity, this trait is actually a benefit, and gives a snare that thick, warm recognizable sound without sacrificing attack. Other small-diaphragm, unidirectional dynamic mikes will also do the trick, from Electro-Voice’s conveniently swivel-mounted ND/408 and Shure’s Beta 58 to the Audix D1.
If you desire extra detail and tone, say for a jazz session, a sturdy small-diaphragm condenser can help with its greater sensitivity and wide frequency response. Examples include AKG’s 451, or Neumann’s KM184. Low profile miniature clip-on condensers such as Shure’s SM98 or AKG’s C418 also have excellent transient response, and capture extra detail and tone while being easy to place. I’ve found that the Oktava MK219 large-diaphragm condenser has a warm midrange and adds extra crispness to the snare sound.
Common choices for capturing toms are dynamic mikes like the Shure SM57 and Beta 56, Audix D2, and Sennheiser MD409, MD504 and E604. The MD504 and E604 have a response tailored for toms, and a slight brightness between 6kHz and 8kHz that accentuates attack. With tighter patterns, these mikes offer more off-axis rejection to help isolate each instrument. If you’re looking to capture bottom end, a large-diaphragm dynamic like Sennheiser’s MD421 has a darker, rounder-sounding response characteristic due to a slight low-mid boost.
For a more open jazz sound (assuming you’ve got the drum tuned that way) and to capture sticking detail or brushwork, a condenser will give you enhanced definition. A large diaphragm condenser like AKG’s C414 is bright, but does an excellent job of capturing the lows. With a switchable pickup pattern, you can opt for greater separation by selecting hypercardioid. Making use of proximity effect by placing the mikes in close can enhance the low end even more. AKG’s C3000B is also a good choice, capturing a big natural tom sound. The Shure KSM32, with its warm, controlled low-end response, would be an asset to a floor tom.
Small diaphragm condensers such as Neumann’s KM184 have an expansive, detailed sound and can represent a tight low end. They’re small and easy to keep out of the way. In a similar vein, miniature clip-on condensers such as Shure’s Beta 98 or Audio-Technica’s ATM35 give you that extra detail while keeping out of the way of stray stick strokes.