The 6 Best Overhead Drum Mics in 2021 [For Live & Studio Use]

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It’s no secret that drums are one of the most challenging instruments to record. That’s why investing in the best overhead drum mics is a necessary step to take to achieve top-notch recordings in your studio. Overhead drum mics — alongside a great kick drum mic — are vital pieces of equipment, and they warrant a decent amount of research in order to make the right choice.

Well, you’ve come to the right place because this whole article will be centered around overhead drum mics. We’ll first go over all the factors to consider when looking at overhead microphones and finish everything off with my top picks.

The best overhead drum microphones out there are designed to capture the intricacies of a drum ensemble, and help to glue everything together. Moreover, their main purpose is to provide a much needed stereo image of the drum set as a whole. This helps to make everything sound more balanced during playback, especially in terms of the harsh frequencies that come from the cymbals.

Like I mentioned before, there are quite a few things to consider when shopping around for a set of overhead drum mics. We’re talking about various aspects there such as what type of microphone to choose, how to properly place the mics for the best results, and a few other technical considerations. Let’s get into it.

Quick Picks

ImageProductScorePrice
TOP PICK
Rode M5
Rode M5

Microphone Type: Condenser — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz — Max SPL: 140dB — Signal to Noise Ratio: 75dB (A weighted)

9.8
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RUNNER-UP
Neumann KM 184
Neumann KM 184

Microphone Type: Condenser — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz — Max SPL: 138dB SPL — Signal to Noise Ratio: 81dB (A weighted) — Self Noise: 13dB (A weighted)

9.7
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WELL-ROUNDED
Shure KSM137
Shure KSM137

Microphone Type: Condenser — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz — Max SPL: 134dB (159dB w/Pad) — Self Noise: 14dB (A weighted) — Low Cut Filter: 80Hz, 115Hz — Pads: -15dB, -25dB

9.5
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FOR LIVE PERFORMANCES
sE Electronics sE8
sE Electronics sE8

Microphone Type: Condenser — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Max SPL: 139dB-159dB (with pads) — Self Noise: 13dB (A weighted) — Low Cut Filter: 80Hz/160Hz/ — Pads: -10dB, -20dB

9.4
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UPGRADE PICK
AKG Pro Audio C214
AKG Pro Audio C214

Microphone Type: Large-Diaphragm Condenser — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz — Max SPL: 136dB (156dB w/Pad) — Self Noise: 13dB (A weighted) — Low Cut Filter: 160Hz (-6dB/octave) — Pads: -20dB

9.2
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BUDGET PICK
Behringer C-2
Behringer C-2

Microphone Type: Condenser — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz  — Max SPL: 140 dB — Self Noise: 19dB (A weighted) — Pads: -10 dB

8.9
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What Type Of Overhead Drum Mic Is Best?

In most cases, condenser microphones are best for recording drums, but it’s still a little more complicated than that even. Let me start out by saying that you’ll need two condenser microphones to properly record drums. You won’t get very far with just one overhead mic.

There are two main types of condenser microphones that can be used for drums: small diaphragm and large diaphragm. Let’s take a step back for a moment and learn more about condenser microphones in general.

Condenser microphones are specifically made for capturing the more intricate nuances of certain frequencies. That’s what makes these types of microphones perfect for tracking drums. They’re highly sensitive and do a great job of picking up soundwaves that cymbals and drum heads create.

The difference between small and large diaphragm condenser microphones is the size of the membrane itself. Either type of diaphragm has its own pros and cons, and you really can’t go wrong with either one.

That being said, small diaphragm mics are probably the better route to go. They’re more lightweight and won’t weigh down the mic stand/arm as much. Also, despite having higher self-noise, small diaphragm condenser mics have a more natural sound with better transient response.

Large diaphragm condenser mics are still very suitable for tracking drums though. They have higher sensitivity, lower self-noise, and an extended frequency response. The downside is that they’re bulky and tend to add more color to sounds than their counterpart.

No matter which one you go with, keep in mind that you’re likely going to have to treat your studio space in order to get the most out of your condenser microphone. Honestly, if you’re at the point where you’re recording drums, then you should already have some decent acoustic treatment in place.

Related: Studio Microphones Guide

Related: Frequency Response Guide

Polar Pattern

The next important specification to pay attention to when looking at overhead mics for drums is the polar pattern designation. It’s universally known that cardioid microphones are the way to go when tracking drums. More specifically, unidirectional cardioid polar patterns are best suited for capturing the wild frequencies that drums create.

Matching Your Overhead Drum Mics

You aren’t going to need anymore than two condenser mics in order to properly record drums. Now, it goes without saying that you should make sure that both of your overhead drum mics are from the same manufacturer with the same exact specifications.

The core method of tracking drums outside of the kick drum is to capture every sound in stereo. The kick drum can be recorded in either mono or stereo, but inevitably it will be converted to mono at some point in the mixing process.

The rest of the drum kit, however, is predominantly recorded in stereo. Having matching overhead microphones will ensure the integrity of the stereo image which will in turn limit any phasing issues or comb filtering problems.

Additional Resource: The Ultimate Acoustic Treatment Guide

Additional Resource: Acoustic Panels Guide

Recording Drums In A Home Studio Environment

In order to record a full band in your home studio or small semi-pro studio space, there are a few key ingredients you’ll need to have as a prerequisite.

First, you need an audio interface with a sufficient amount of inputs and outputs for all those drum mic cables. Usually you’ll need one XLR or TRS/TS input per overhead microphone. Make sure you give yourself enough I/O’s for this instance and all the other gear you need to use as well.

Second, you’ll need a digital audio workstation (or DAW) to receive all of your recordings. From there. you can manipulate and control the sounds you captured in post. 

Related: Recording Studio Equipment List: The 50 Essentials

Choosing the right DAW and audio interface are two separate topics, so refer to my guides below to learn more. Also, don’t forget to get a good set of in-ear monitors to compliment your drum kit.

The thing to remember here is that recording and mixing drums and other acoustic instruments is a lifelong process to master. Try not to get discouraged early on as you learn everything there is to know about recording complex layers of audio.

Related: 9-Step Home Recording Studio Setup Guide

Related: In-Ear Monitors Guide

Related: Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces Guide

Overhead Drum Mic Placement & Positioning

There are a handful of different methods and techniques to tracking drums with overhead microphones. For the sake of this article, I’ll keep the explanation of these techniques brief.

  • Spaced – the most common, and most simple way to position overhead drum mics. In this technique, all you have to do is place two condenser mics at any angle with about 3-10 feet between them depending on the size of the drum kit. The important thing here is to tilt the microphones down toward the snare.
  • X-Y – this method is almost the exact opposite of “spaced.” Here you place two condenser mics close to each other, but with separate 90° angles of maximum response. This method improves the stereo image and provides more consistency.
  • ORTF – with this method, you’ll have two overhead drum mics placed about 7-inches apart, but each one is angled around 110° away from each other. This method isn’t as common due to it’s more technical setup, but it does a better job of handling cymbals in particular.

For most of you, using the simple “spaced” method should work just fine.

Related: Microphone Boom Arm Guide

Other Factors To Consider

Last but not least, let’s quickly talk about some other factors to keep in mind when weighing out your overhead mic options.

  • dB Pads – dB pads are a great way to take some load off of your preamps, whether they’re in an audio interface or rackmount preamp. They’re not a common feature among microphones, and some preamps already feature them. That being said, it never hurts to have another level of protection, especially when it comes to the harsh soundwaves that drum kits produce.
  • SPL Rating – Sound Pressure Level is basically the amount of loudness that a microphone can handle before distortion is introduced. We are dealing with drums here, so make sure the SPL Rating is high enough to avoid any issues.
  • Phantom Power – condenser mics need phantom power in order to operate. Ensure that you have an audio interface or rackmount mic preamp device that has preamps with Phantom Power behind it.

Additional Resource: Studio Equipment Bundles Guide


Best Overhead Drum Mics List

Now that we’ve covered the important stuff, it’s time to get to my list of the best overhead drum mics on the market today. Let’s get into it.


Rode M5

TOP PICK
9.8/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Microphone Type: Condenser — Mono/Stereo: Stereo Pair — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz — Max SPL: 140dB — Output Impedance: 200 ohms — Signal to Noise Ratio: 75dB (A weighted) — Color: Black — Connector: XLR — Weight: 0.17 lbs.

Reasons To Buy: 

+ Excellent price-to-performance ratio

+ Extremely versatile

+ Handles cymbals quite well

Reasons To Avoid:

- No low-cut filter or dB pads

9.8out of 10

Build Quality9.9
Features9.5
Sound Quality9.9

Rode is a company that requires no introduction. They’re well known for making high quality microphones that don’t break the bank. In terms of drum overhead mics, the Rode M5 is a perfect representation of their reputation.

This is a set of small-diaphragm microphones with a cardioid polar pattern. These are a matched pair, so you’re not likely to experience any phase issues with these overhead mics for drums. 

Although the Rode M5 overhead mics are considered to be more of a budget option, they don’t sacrifice much in terms of sound quality. They handle harsh frequencies very well, and the overall sound feels natural. Their extended frequency response is also noteworthy, especially when considering their small-diaphragm design. 

With their low self-noise and high max SPL, these drum overhead mics can easily be used in a number of different environments. They’re great for use on-stage, during rehearsals, and especially in a recording studio. No matter what task you throw at them, these drum overheads can handle it.

The only thing that’s flawed with the Rode M5 overhead drum mics is that they lack some key features. There are no switches, no filter options, and no dB pads to speak of. I also wish there was an included carrying bag because these mics really are great for taking on tour.

At the end of the day, the Rode M5 drum overhead microphones are an easy top pick in my eyes. Their price-to-performance ratio is unmatched. They also give you a sound quality and transient response that’s pretty surprising at this price-point. Definitely the best value on the list. 


Neumann KM 184

RUNNER-UP
9.7/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Microphone Type: Condenser 0ù Mono/Stereo: Stereo Pair — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz — Max SPL: 138dB SPL — Output Impedance: 50 ohms — Signal to Noise Ratio: 81dB (A weighted) — Self Noise: 13dB (A weighted) — Color: Silver or Black — Connector: XLR — Weight: 0.18 lbs.

Reasons To Buy: 

+ Self-noise is very low

+ Sound shaping capabilities

+ Recording quality is very good

Reasons To Avoid:

- You’d expect more features at this price

9.7out of 10

Build Quality9.7
Features9.5
Sound Quality9.9

Next up we have a top-shelf option from a company known for making exceptional microphones. The Neumann KM184 cardioid non-modular microphone is a popular choice for recording drums in the studio, but they can easily be used on stage as well.

Like I said, Neumann has a reputation for making some of the best microphones on the market, and they’ve been doing it for a long time now. Now, the KM184 is a premium microphone with a form factor that’s perfect for an overhead mic.

As a matched pair, these drum overhead mics can handle very high SPL. We’re talking 138dB before you notice any distortion. Not only that but these overhead mics for drums do a great job of eliminating external noise and their self-noise is low as well.

As I mentioned earlier, these overhead mics are quite versatile. You’re likely only going to use them in the studio, but they can be easily carted around and miked up on-stage due to their durable build quality and great frequency response. This makes them one of the best overhead drum mics for any occasion.

All of this isn’t to say that the KM184 drum overheads aren’t without some flaws though. At such a hefty price, you’d expect features like a low-cut filter switch or even some dB pads, but they’re non-existent. 

Neumann did make an extremely powerful microphone here though, and the sound quality is top-tier. It would just be nice to have a few more premium features on these overhead drum mics. 

All in all, these overhead mics take the cake in terms of sound quality, recording quality, and build quality. They are a premium option for those of you looking for serious drum recording capabilities.


Shure KSM137

WELL-ROUNDED
9.5/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Microphone Type: Condenser — Mono/Stereo: Stereo Pair — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz — Max SPL: 134dB (159dB w/Pad) — Output Impedance: 150 ohms — Self Noise: 14dB (A weighted) — Low Cut Filter: 80Hz (-18dB/octave), 115Hz (-6dB/octave) — Pads: -15dB, -25dB — Color: Silver — Connector: XLR — Weight: 0.22 lbs.

Reasons To Buy: 

+ Feature-rich

+ Great build quality

+ Premium sound & recording quality

Reasons To Avoid:

- Mounts are not shockproof

9.5out of 10

Build Quality9.4
Features9.7
Sound Quality9.5

We’ve already covered some of the biggest players in the microphone industry in Rode and Neumann. It would be unheard of to have a list of microphones without including Shure in the mix. They are arguably the biggest player in the mic industry, and the KSM137 overhead drum mics do a great job of showcasing their expertise.

These are a matched pair of small-diaphragm condenser microphones with a unidirectional/cardioid polar pattern. They also come with an included carrying case and mounts. 

These drum overheads come loaded with great features like a switchable low-cut filter, and a switchable dB pad. That’s honestly the best part about these drum mics; they give you all the features you could ever need while also giving you some added versatility.

The carrying case isn’t just a gimmick either, the build quality of these overhead drum mics makes them great for taking on the road and setting up on-stage. They were mainly designed for studio use as told by Shure themselves, but you’re by no means limited to that.

Now, on to sound quality. If you’ve ever used a Shure microphone before, then you know just how good their recording quality is. The KSM137’s are no exception to that fact. Their SPL rating gives you more than enough headroom for drums, and the way they handle low-end frequencies will surely surprise you. They also have a great frequency response range.

In fact, the design of the Mylar diaphragm affords some unique advantages. Yes, you can easily record drums with these overhead mics, but you can also record a wide variety of other acoustic instruments as well. The KSM137’s are probably the most versatile microphones on this list.

The only reason these overhead drum mics aren’t the top pick is due to the included shock mounts. As the name suggests, you’d expect the mounts to be shockproof right? Well, unfortunately they aren’t entirely that. When tracking drums with these mics, you’re likely to notice some vibrations happening. You can find some alternative mounts that will work better though.

At the end of the day, the Shure KSM137 overhead mics for drums are a great option for pretty much anyone. As I laid out previously, these overhead mics do a great job of being universally useful, and that makes them a great investment for the long run.


sE Electronics sE8

FOR LIVE PERFORMANCES
9.4/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Microphone Type: Condenser — Mono/Stereo: Matched Pair — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Max SPL: 139dB-159dB (with pads) — Output Impedance: 110 ohms — Signal to Noise Ratio: 81dB (A weighted) — Self Noise: 13dB (A weighted) — Low Cut Filter: 80Hz/160Hz/ — Pads: -10dB, -20dB — Connector: XLR — Power Source: 48V phantom power — Weight: 4.97 oz.

Reasons To Buy: 

+ Great for live performances

+ Well-matched sound

+ Recordings are balanced and natural

Reasons To Avoid:

- Included mic clip is lackluster

9.4out of 10

Build Quality9.3
Features9.6
Sound Quality9.4

Here we have the perfect “middle-of-the-road” condenser microphone option from sE Electronics. The sE8 drum overheads are small-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphones that are sold as a matched pair, and they have probably the best “matched” sound on this list.

What drove me to include these overhead mics for drums on this list is their ability to capture harsh frequencies like those that come from cymbals. As a pencil microphone, the sE8’s have a surprisingly wide dynamic range while still limiting their own self-noise. All of this helps to create a recording quality that’s very well suited for recording large drums. Everything sounds crisp and natural, and they can capture pretty much any part of a drum kit with clarity.

The recording capabilities of these overhead mics is great in it’s own right, but they somehow seem to perform even better on stage. Their unique sound quality and handy features like variable high-pass filters and dB pads make them easy to mix for live performances.

The sE8 drum overhead mics are one of the smallest on this list of best overhead mics. Their small form factor makes them easy to position in any way you see fit. Also, their small size in conjunction with the included carrying case is yet another reason why they’re suitable for traveling musicians.

I know I’m making it seem like these drum overhead mics are flawless, but they do suffer from a couple minor setbacks. For one, the included mic clips feel cheap and should never have been included in the kit. Secondly, although the build quality of the sE8’s is good overall, you might want to take it easy on them and keep them in the carrying case as much as possible when taking them on the road.

Besides that, the sE8 overhead drum mics are a very good value for the money. They are a high-quality set of mics that come with all the right features.


AKG Pro Audio C214

UPGRADE PICK
9.2/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Microphone Type: Condenser — Mono/Stereo: Stereo Pair — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Diaphragm Size: 1" (25.4mm) — Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz — Max SPL: 136dB (156dB w/Pad) — Output Impedance: 200 ohms — Signal to Noise Ratio: 81dB — Self Noise: 13dB (A weighted) — Low Cut Filter: 160Hz (-6dB/octave) — Pads: -20dB — Color: Matte Grey Blue — Connector: XLR — Weight: 0.62 lbs. (Per Mic)

Reasons To Buy: 

+ Great low-ends

+ Exceptional value

+ Accurate recording quality

Reasons To Avoid:

- Heavy and bulky

9.2out of 10

Build Quality9.3
Features9
Sound Quality9.4

Last but not least is the only large-diaphragm overhead drum mic option on this list. The AKG C214’s are a matched pair of cardioid microphones that are capable of professional-quality recordings unlike any other mics featured in this article. 

By nature, large-diaphragm microphones have ultra-wide dynamic ranges. That really sums up the difference between the AKG C214’s and all other “pencil” overhead mics on the market. A larger diaphragm makes for a more lively recording of all the aspects of a drum kit. Not only that but they don’t require as much EQing as small-diaphragm microphones.

Everything captured on these overhead mics for drums sounds accurate, clean, and natural. Usually large-diaphragm mics tend to introduce a little more self-noise than you’d like for tracking drums, but that’s why these particular drum overheads are included above others. They have very low self-noise and their max SPL is very forgiving. Additionally, you can expect a great frequency response range with these bad boys.

The major downside to large-diaphragm mics acting as overhead drum mics is their size and weight. You’ll have to get a pretty hefty mic stand, mic arm, and mic clips to secure these things above a drum kit, but it’s certainly not impossible to do so.

When looking at the AKG C214’s specifically, their only real con is the price. Outside of that, the build quality is exceptional, the sound quality is amazing, and they can easily be used in the studio or for live performances. 

These overhead mics weren’t specially designed for recording drums either. You can use them to record various other acoustic instruments, and one could even venture to say that you can record vocals with them as well. They really are made to be universally useful.

With that, if you are looking for a well-rounded pair of overhead mics for recording in pretty much any occasion, then the AKG C214’s are hard to pass on.


Behringer C-2

BUDGET PICK
8.9/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Microphone Type: Condenser — Mono/Stereo: Stereo Pair — Polar Pattern: Cardioid — Diaphragm Size: 0.63" (16mm) — Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz — Max SPL: 140 dB — Output Impedance: 75 ohms — Signal to Noise Ratio: 75dB — Self Noise: 19dB (A weighted) — Pads: -10 dB — Color: Silver — Connector: XLR — Weight: 0.2 lbs.

Reasons To Buy: 

+ Great for beginners

+ Affordable price

+ Low self-noise

Reasons To Avoid:

- Build quality is questionable

8.9out of 10

Build Quality8.8
Features9.1
Sound Quality8.9

As we get closer to rounding out the list, it’s time to get into the budget option for those of you who are looking for good “bang for your buck” quality. Well, the Behringer C-2’s are probably the best overhead drum mics for that.

Behringer is a company best known for making affordable pieces of music equipment. The C-2 overhead drum mics take that to a whole new level. You get a matched pair of drum overheads, a carrying case, and two microphone clips for under a hundred dollars. That’s an incredible value when you consider just how much you get in the bundle.

Now, to be fair, you shouldn’t have high expectations for these overhead drum mics. They have a good sound quality to them, but it’s nothing like the other options on this list. Their frequency response range is also somewhat lacking. The long and short of it is that these overhead mics for drums are great for beginners, but intermediate/advanced users won’t find much use out of them.

That being said, these overhead mics have some surprising qualities to them given the price point. There is a switchable low-cut filter, input attenuation, and they have pretty low self-noise. There are a couple options above that cost a whole lot more and don’t even feature a switchable filter of any sort. 

Again, at this price you have to know that you’re sacrificing some things. Most notably with the C-2 overhead mics is the build quality. I would suggest being gentle with these guys because the casing and diaphragm both feel quite fragile.

Overall, the Behringer C-2’s are a great entry-level option for drummers looking to record themselves. They aren’t going to be the world’s best sounding overhead drum mics, but it is possible to get a decent mix with them. That fact alone makes them a great pair of overhead mics to learn from and improve your skills with.


Conclusion

Now that we’ve gone over everything, it’s time for me to remind you that investing in a pair of overhead drum mics is a pretty subjective decision. A lot of this depends on what you plan on recording and how your studio is set up. Also, you’re going to need quite a bit of other gear before you even get to this step. 

With that being said, once you’re ready to start recording some awesome drum tracks then my top pick on this list of best overhead drum mics goes to the Rode M5 matched pair. They are easily the best value on the list and their sound quality far surpasses their price-tag.

Every set of overhead mics on this list has something to offer for everyone though. Like I said, it’s up to you, your budget, and how you plan on recording. From there, you can make a choice that you’re confident with.

My only hope is that this guide has provided you with some useful information as you do your research. As always, feel free to reach out with any questions.

Cheers guys!

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Jeremy Bongiorno
I have been a musician and producer for over 15 years. My goal is to provide reliable, honest information and hopefully help to improve the quality of life in your studio.

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