From the YouTube community we’ve seen a growing number of drum microphone comparisons, of both conventional pro-level and affordable microphones. These comparisons are of great value to new buyers and even to more seasoned engineers. In this article I will share my own current top three pic for dynamic snare-drum microphones. At least one of the mics should be familiar to most readers, and they vary in price from average to high as far as dynamic microphones go.
The three microphones have slightly different profiles: one is the cleanest and clearest; another is the most trusted both over and under the snare; and the final has a pleasant high-mid punch for those snares that really should cut through the mix.
Sennhesiser MD 441
This is perhaps my all-time favourite to capture the top of a snare-drum. The advantage of this microphone is how it positions the snare-sound in the larger mix. My ears have always perceived it as more tidy and focused in the mid-range than the trusted SM57, when recording a whole kit. The micrphone includes a bass roll-off and a treble boost, but there have been different versions in the past and at least one I know of without the roll-off. This is an excerpt of what Sennheiser writes about the MD 441 on their web-page: ‘Dynamic super-cardioid microphone […]. Balanced sound. Precise and distortion-free reproduction even at highest sound pressure levels.’ Those words are very much in line with my experience.
Home-studio owners might be hard-pressed to cash out for one of these right off the bat, but since it has been around for a while there will be a few in circulation in the second hand market. It is also a well worth microphone to save up for in the long run. Personally, I would rather start off with getting one of these for use on snare-drum, and wait with getting a whole line-up of MD 421s for the toms. The rational is simple: How many times per beat do you hear the snare vs. how many times do you hear toms?
None of the examples I have come across on YouTube do proper justice to the results I have gotten from this microphone on recordings in the past. Perhaps the best sound excerpt are found on German online-shop Thomann’s web-page.
As much as I have a soft spot for the MD441, I have never been disappointed with the sound of an SM57. It is easily the most trusted and predictable snare microphone in history and it is my personal top pick for a dynamic under the snare-drum. It is also my top pick for deep snare-drum sounds as it produces a really nice punch in the low mids. In addition to being a great snare-drum mic, it is one of the most versatile microphones you can own. Its most under-valued use may be on voice as the SM58 steals all the thunder due to its grille. Custom-made wind-screens exist and pop-filters can be found in most studios. The SM57 has been a top pick for drums for more than half a century and I guess my grandchildren will one day inherit my own collection and keep using them as nothing had changed. Which it hopefully won’t. I'm now in my 30's with no children, so it's not exactly around the corner. That should put some perspective on what I think about the future of this microphone.
This is the only microphone on the list that I have not yet used, but I have heard it in a number of comparison-reviews and come across it in articles from the industry-press. Sound on Sound did a great review of this microphone. Their article also tells you about the diversity of sound-sources this mic can be put to use on. It is intended to compete with the SM57 and they are closely comparable in price, and certainly not too far from each other in sound. Perhaps not surprising from Audix, the sound has slightly more high-end snap than the SM57. It also appears to be a tad clearer and more open sounding.
For high-pitch drum-sounds and piccolo-snares, this is the microphone I find most interesting on offer right now. Think about those haunting, piercing snappy snare-sounds in fast-paced funky grooves that keeps playing inside your head and prevents you from sleeping at night. This is what I would capture them with!
That this microphone is not in my own collection yet is just a temporary deficit. It is irrevocably on the purchasing-list!
A Pinch of Inspiration
Here’s one of my favourite YouTubers, Rick Russie, making great sound with a mix of Shure and Audix close-microphones. He has chosen one SM57 on the snare: