Many drummers are interested in miking their drums for gigs or for recording band demos in their basement but are hesitant to drop thousands of dollars on a professional microphone kit. Is it possible to get a decent result with a small investment and not a lot of know how?
The answer is yes.
In fact, you may get much better results than you’d think possible for a very small investment. In this article, we’re going to check out a few inexpensive drum-miking setups and hopefully you’ll pick up a few tips along the way. The DIY approach will teach you a great deal about sound and what your drums really sound like. After recording, you may find yourself rethinking your tunings and head, stick, and cymbal choices.
Want to become a noticeably better drummer in a month? Start recording yourself today. You’ll identify issues with your drumming that you’ve never noticed before. Think of it like a visit to the dentist. Recording might not be completely pain-free, but it’s ultimately in your best interest.
The microphones we’ll be checking out have two different pickup patterns: cardioid or omnidirectional. A cardioid pickup pattern is similar to a flashlight that illuminates mainly what is in front of it. An omnidirectional pattern is more like holding a bare lightbulb in your hand in that it illuminates in all directions.
The overheads in this roundup are condenser microphones that require Phantom (P48, 48V) power usually supplied by your mixer or interface.
For this project we’re going to check out a pair of sub-$300 drum-miking kits from KAM Instruments and Karma Microphones, along with a pair of ridiculously cheap omnidirectional condenser mikes from Karma. Both kits include seven mikes; four snare/tom dynamic cardioid mikes, a dynamic cardioid bass drum mike, and two cardioid condenser overhead mikes. Both kits include the same type of plastic clamps common to many miking kits to attach the mikes to your hoops (the overheads include microphone clips to attach to a stand or stereo bar). The hoop clamps have a slot to move the mikes closer or further within about a 3" range to further tweak the position and sound.
Dynamic mikes often exhibit a trait called proximity effect. That is, when you bring a mike very close to a source it often boosts the lower frequencies, adding fullness to the instrument. Radio DJ’s love to use that effect. You can take advantage of this trait much like an EQ. If an instrument sounds thin, moving the mike closer can make it sound fuller and if it sounds a little muddy, pulling it away can add clarity. That’s another reason cardioid dynamic mikes are often chosen to close mike drums.
Both of these kits include enough mikes to cover a 5-piece drum set, or, as I used them, a 4-piece kit with both the top and bottom of the snare miked. Miking the bottom snare head may not be necessary but I like having the option to add a little extra crispness.
*Tip: When miking the bottom of your snare, engage the phase-reverse button on your mixer or your software. Otherwise, the drum will sound very thin and weak.
Street Price: $250—$290
There are two versions of this kit: one with and one without a large case. I was sent the version without the case, which is $40 cheaper, but it did include individual plastic cases for the five drum mikes and a nicer case for the two overheads. There are four mikes for snare and tom duties (K-TDM), a bass drum mike (K-BDM), and the two overheads (K10) are small-diaphragm cardioid condenser mikes. The Karma kit thoughtfully includes lightweight shock mounts that can help isolate the close mikes from vibration.
Karma also sent me a matched pair of its K-Micro “Silver Bullet” mikes to use as overheads. Amusingly, these tiny omnidirectional mikes came in the same clear plastic packaging that might otherwise house a two-pack of small flashlights. These mikes have lightweight miniature clips, which I’d take extra care of to avoid stripping their threads. This K-Micro pair costs just $35. Yes, that’s for both mikes.