Do you ever think there must be more to drum tracking when you hear big name engineers talking through their choices when recording drums? There is absolutely nothing wrong with the “first call” mics which have been popular for decades. If they weren’t good people wouldn’t use them but they do occasionally strike me as a little unimaginative and sometimes a little pricy - Of course I’d try a vintage C24 if one were to hand but what about the more modest alternatives?
Here are some suggestions for mics I’ve used many times on drum recordings I’ve made and would definitely consider using as alternatives to the “usual suspects”:
Audio Technica ATM25
Available second hand, circa £175
A hypercardioid dynamic with a voiced response. It resembles a miniature EV RE20. Unfortunately discontinued, its most similar current model is the ATM250. As well as peaks between 2 and 4K the ATM25 has a weight in the bottom end and plenty of low mid which makes it a really attractive alternative voice on kick drums and is particularly nice on snare, where it adds plenty of fullness and body. The hypercardioid pattern is useful for rejecting hihat too.
Hypercardioid dynamic. This is my go to alternative to an SM57. It is flatter through the upper mids and fuller at the bottom end. Try it on top snare (or guitar amps). My negativity about 57s has already caused some controversy on Production Expert but there are alternatives which also sound good on everything and don’t cost much. If you’ve never tried one of these you really should.
Now distributed by AKG, Circa £300
Lots of people of a similar age to me remember the Tandy PZM fondly. This is the “grown up” version it was based on. Boundary mics are a special category and are a brilliant choice in small spaces where reflections from the walls or ceiling might cause destructive interference. A humbling lesson for all of us who might get carried away with all the possibilities presented by multi-miking a drum kit is to put a single PZM on the floor six feet in front of the kit and hear how full and punchy a properly in phase drum recording sounds.
A modern active ribbon design, this mic is unusual in that it offers a halfway house between a condenser and a ribbon in terms of its HF response. While some dynamics, for example the m201, match this response, the presentation of the VR2 is still very ribbon even if the top end isn’t. Brightness without harshness? These can calm a difficult cymbal with the best of them.
Circa £160, advertised for much less (under £90). Check online
The e906 and its closely related cousin the e609 are best known as mics for guitar cabinets, a role for which they are perfectly suited, particularly live where their flat profile protects them from being knocked mid set or even hung down the front of the cabinet by the mic lead.
The e906 is an excellent alternative to the more ubiquitous choices on snare drums. Transient response is suitably snappy and a peak at 5K can be very helpful on a snare. It has a presence filter switch which can lift or attenuate the top end so if you want brighter you can get it from the mic rather than an EQ. The shape of this mic with its flat profile is really helpful when trying to get a top snare mic in when working with a drummer who plays with a low hi hat leaving little room between the snare and hat. The supercardioid polar pattern can help reduce hi hat spill if carefully placed as the nulls 120 degrees off axis are deeper than those found on the back of a cardioid mic.
And of course if you don’t like it on the snare you can always put it on the guitar cabinet!
Rode NT55 With Omni Caps
The open sound quality, lack of proximity effect and extended bass performance make the omni a tempting choice, a true omni, rather than a dual capsule multipattern mic is a great thing. My favourite use for these mics is as a stereo pair either side of a single mono overhead ribbon. I approach the stereo pair of omnis in a similar way to the S channel in an MS pair with the mono overhead as the M component. It’s a great sound with a beefy centre and sparkly sides with as much LF filtered out as is necessary. Try it!
What are your less obvious choices for drum recording? Share your favourites in the comments below?