If you are wondering which are the best drum microphones for live performance, you have come to the right place. But how do you choose among all the best drum microphones you can find online? The short answer is: “It depends.”

There are many factors that go into choosing the best drum microphone for your needs, but fortunately, there are plenty of great microphones out there to get started with. Your budget and the type of sound you need should be your guide in finding the right mic.

This thorough guide will give you all the information you need, from different types of microphones to the best mics for a particular drum. Let’s dig into the best drum microphones you should bring on stage.

What to know before buying

Good drum sounds don’t simply impact your tone—they inspire your performance. The better your drums sound, the better you play. But even the most meticulously tuned drum set can sound horrible under the wrong microphones. I’ve suffered this indignity many times, and in response have become one of those odd drummers who actually brings his own mikes to a live gig. I’m familiar with them. I like how they sound on my drums.

As for what mikes to buy, fortunately, there are a gaggle of microphone pre-packs available from almost every mike manufacturer, at all price points. I suggest buying the best quality pre-pack you can afford, with more mikes than you think you need, so when you need more mikes, you already have them. If you go nuts and get microphone fever, make sure you get an appropriate tom mike for each of the toms you have, both mounted and floor.

There are many different ways to approach mike setups and microphone choice for live performance. The examples that follow have consistently worked for me. These setups range from just a single bass drum mike to a microphone on every surface, plus a couple of stereo overheads. I suppose you’re not going to plug the mikes into your own mixer and act as front-of-house sound engineer as well as drummer. Instead, you’ll most likely plug into an existing band or venue sound system—hopefully one that sounds good!

When it comes to choosing the right mikes, most of us don’t have the luxury of auditioning different types and models, so I’ll also discuss microphone frequency-curve charts and how they relate to drums. But first, a review of microphone basics.


A condenser mike acts as a capacitor, which has two metal plates with voltage applied between them. One of the plates is thin and acts like a diaphragm. When sound energy vibrates the diaphragm, capacitance is changed, thereby altering the voltage output of the mike.

Condenser mikes require voltage to work, which is most often supplied by sending “phantom power” through the mike cable from the mixing board. Less frequently, a condenser mike may use an internal battery to supply the needed voltage, eliminating the need for phantom power.

Condenser mikes are most useful on instruments that have a lot of high-frequency content, like piano, acoustic guitar, and cymbals, as these mikes inherently reproduce these frequencies better than dynamic mikes. Condenser mikes come in “large-diaphragm” and “small-diaphragm” varieties, with small-diaphragm condensers being the most common in live sound reinforcement. These mikes tend to be more delicate and expensive than their dynamic brethren.

These are the most common mikes used in live sound. It’s easy to see why—they’re super durable and relatively inexpensive when compared to other types of mikes. They use simple electromagnetic principles to work: A diaphragm attached to a coil is placed over a magnet.

When sound-wave energy reaches the diaphragm, it moves the attached coil over the magnetic field, creating electrical current. This current, measured in volts, is amplified by the sound system. Think of a dynamic mike as a speaker in reverse.

Because of this design, dynamic mikes, unlike condenser mikes, do not require phantom power to work. Dynamic mikes are also very versatile, and are equally at home on vocals, guitar amps (like they need to be louder), bass, and most parts of the drum set.


Microphones can be designed to pick up sound in four different ways or “patterns.”

Sound Patterns

This pattern, known commonly as “omni,” picks up sound equally from every direction. Because of this characteristic, they are infrequently used in live sound. Most mikes fall into the directional category. Directional mikes come in two basic patterns: cardioid and hypercardioid.

As the name implies, these mikes have a heart-shaped pattern. A cardioid pattern rejects sound from the rear of the mike and, to a lesser extent, from the sides.

Mikes with a hypercardoid pattern reject even more sound from the sides, making them very directional. These are often referred to as “shotgun” mikes, and are used when you need to capture a single sound in a noisy environment. These are used extensively to record individual voices in film and video. They’re usually covered in a big furry windscreen called a “blimp.” Used properly, directional mikes can reject unwanted sound within a drum set, like cymbals bleeding into tom mikes, and the snare drum from bleeding into the hi-hat mike.

Also known as a bidirectional pattern, it will pick up sound equally from the front and the rear while rejecting sound from the sides. There are few instances in which you might use the pattern on drums.


Buy top-quality mikes the first time around. A great quality mike can give you a lifetime of service. While pre-packs are an easy option for building your mike collection, there is nothing wrong with adding one mike at a time. The suggested mike setups that follow begin with just one mike, and increase in number until almost every part of the drum set is covered.

The First Mike
If you plan to buy only one mike, get one designed for use on a kick drum. Take this mike with you to every gig—even if you don’t think you’ll need it. As stage volume rises, the kick is the first part of the drum set to sonically disappear. Much of this is physical, as most of the sound energy of the kick shoots out the front of the drum, away from your ears. When I can’t hear and feel the kick drum, I begin to hit too hard, and my “finesse chops” go out the window—I hate when that happens!

Don’t skimp when purchasing this mike. It is the one you’ll use most frequently, and creates the foundation for your drum sound. There’s a microphone specifically designed for the kick drum available from almost every manufacturer. These mikes are designed to accentuate the frequencies that most often make kicks sound better, and to scoop out those that are less desirable. In a sense, these mikes are pre-EQ’d, helping make up for a sound system that lacks advanced channel EQ—or for an inebriated sound engineer.

Curves Ahead
A frequency-curve chart is available for every microphone you’d want to buy. If a microphone doesn’t have one, don’t buy it. This chart graphs the microphone’s frequency-response characteristics. The x-axis (horizontal axis) plots the audible frequency range of humans—low to high, left to right—in Hz (cycles per second), about 20–20,000Hz.

The y-axis is (vertical axis) shows sound level in dB (decibels). Anything above the 0dB mark shows an increase to the decibel level (i.e., a frequency boost). Anything below the 0dB mark shows a decrease to the decibel level (frequency cut). The 0dB mark indicates that a frequency is neither boosted nor cut. It is said to be “flat.”

Every mike is designed to accentuate and diminish its sensitivity to certain frequencies. This is done through diaphragm design and choice, internal circuitry, and the design specifics of the physical case in which all this is housed. A microphone’s shape is not purely cosmetic—it greatly influences the final look of the frequency-response curve. Without ever hearing a mike, you can get a sense of what the mike will ultimately sound like by analyzing its frequency curve chart.

drum Frequency Curve Chart

Let’s look at the frequency-curve charts of three popular dynamic kick mikes: The Audix D6, Shure Beta 52A, and AKG D 112 (Figs. 5–7). Although they peak at slightly different frequencies, all three mikes accentuate 3.5–5kHz, which brings out the beater slap against the head. However, since the D6 has the most pronounced frequency bump at a whopping 9dB, coupled with the additional bump well above 10kHz, it offers the most beater slap of the three mikes. This is an important trait when trying to cut through a wall of guitar sound.

“Flat” would best describe the mid-range frequency curve of the AKG D 112. For better or worse, the mike provides plenty of mid-range, which is where a lot of sonic content is found in music—especially live music. To help combat mid-range muddiness, both Shure and Audix have substantially scooped out the low-mids, centered loosely at 500Hz—a great thing for live music, in my experience. Low-end frequencies, 50–100Hz, are boosted in all three mikes, giving a big bottom end to any bass drum.

Before choosing a mike, talk to other drummers and the people doing sound on your gigs about the mikes they like and dislike, and why this is so. Often, this is the most honest source of information available. Also, pay attention to the sound of different bass drum mikes as you listen to live music. There isn’t a substitute for your ears; you’ll know what you like when you hear it. I personally own at least one of each of these three bass drum mikes.

TIP: If you want to go the extra mile, permanently mount your kick mike with an internal mounting system like the May Internal Miking System or the Kelly Shu Kick Drum Microphone Mounting System. These systems make it possible to place the mike in the optimum position, and keep it there over time—plug and play miking.

drum Mic Frequency Chart 2

One Plus One Equals Two
Miking the kick and snare is perhaps the most common live setup using just two microphones. Although a small-diaphragm condenser mike could be used on the top of the snare, multi-purpose dynamic mikes such as the Audix i5 and ever-present Shure SM57 are most common. Even though these are not expensive mikes, they are equally at home on the stage and in the recording studio. If need be, you could mike every instrument on stage with a bunch of either of these two mikes and have it sound great. You could also use either to rough frame a house and they would probably still function as a mike afterward (although, I’m positive that would void the warranty). These are as durable as microphones come.

The frequency-curve charts, as with the kick mikes, show you what to expect from these two mikes before even plugging them in. The chart for the SM57 (Fig. 8) shows why it’s so versatile—a tight bottom end, and then a flat frequency response until a 6dB bump around 6.5kHz. Then the high end gradually tapers off—just enough sizzle without a boomy bottom.

Compared to the SM57, the Audix i5 (Fig. 9) is a relative newcomer. It’s a lot like the SM57, except it has a little more sizzle on the high-end, and some added punch at just the right spot due to the broad 5dB bump at 150Hz.

For me, this is the “extra special little something” that the SM57 has always lacked. I remember once, while tracking drums in the studio with the i5 on my snare for the first time, an engineer said over the cue mix, “Where can I get one?” every time I hit the snare. As he’s engineered sessions for Prince, I thought that was a ringing endorsement for the i5.

Three To Four Mikes
With the kick and snare covered, I’d then add one or two small-diaphragm condenser mikes as overheads. Just a single overhead mike can adequately capture all your cymbals and toms. But, by adding a second overhead to make a stereo pair, you can more easily position the overheads to capture a balanced blend of toms, crash, and ride cymbals, as well as the hi-hat. As a bonus, if the sound system is stereo, it is possible to hear the drums with a stereo image.

For mike placement, I’ve found over the years that an X/Y pattern doesn’t work for me in a live situation. I center-spread out the overheads about three feet, focusing one on the hi-hat, cymbals, and first mounted tom, and the other on the floor tom and cymbals. When using overheads to catch both cymbals and toms, I tend to set them about a foot farther away than I would to capture just the cymbals. Experiment with some different positions—every drum setup is unique.

drum Mic Frequency Chart 3

Once again, let’s refer to the frequency curves for a few popular small-diaphragm condenser mikes often used in live-sound reinforcement: the Shure SM81, Audix ADX51, and AKG C 451 B (Figs. 10–12). All three of these mikes have a built-in roll-off switch for the low end (it’s a good idea to cut at least some of the low end in a live setting).

The Shure SM81 has a somewhat flat response, and so does the AKG C 451 B, which also features a nice and smooth bump on the high end. The additional high-end bump at around 10kHz on the Audix ADX51 gives a lot of point to the sound, especially when relying on just overheads to handle most of the drum set.

Four And More
To complete your set of live-performance mikes, let’s add a hi-hat mike as well as one for each of your toms. Even though dynamic mikes are used on hi-hats in live situations, you really should use condensers, because they inherently reproduce the desired frequencies.

This is most important when playing music that relies heavily on the hi-hat for its feel, such as pop, rock, and funk. The tighter the pick-up pattern the better, as this will minimize the amount of snare drum bleed.

For toms, it’s most economical to use a good dynamic mike, like the Audix D2 (Fig. 13). Its pronounced frequency bump between 2–6kHz gives toms added stick snap and a fat bottom end while leaving room in the mid-frequencies for other parts of the music.

The Audix D4 works well on floor toms, as the frequency bump that accentuates the stick snap is centered a little lower. Of course, the other obvious choice for toms is the Shure SM57 (Fig. 8). It’s been used on toms, and everything else, forever.

AKG Frequency Chart

If you crave more high frequencies from your toms, try the AKG C 518 M (Fig. 15). Being a high quality, clip-on condenser mike, it’s a different animal than the three mentioned dynamic mikes. It has a classic small-diaphragm condenser-mike curve, gradual roll-off of the lows, flat mids, a smooth boost at 5–12kHz, then quick but smooth cut to 20kHz. You’ll be happy with any of these mikes.

TIP: As with the internal bass drum miking system and snare drum mike clip, if you want to make the sound engineer your friend, also get mike mounts that attach to your tom hoops. These make getting them on and off much easier.

There you have it, four different microphone setups for live performance—from one mike to one for every drum—chosen by the numbers. When it comes to microphones, the frequency-curve charts tell all.

Best Kick Mics

The best drum microphones for live performance are designed to deliver the most powerful, clean sound possible from your kick drum. They’re also usually built with durability in mind, so you can use them for many years without worrying about breaking them. Here are the top picks of the best kick mics for live performance.

Sennheiser evolution e902

Price: $199.95

The Sennheiser evolution e902 dynamic cardioid bass instrument microphone is designed for deep frequencies such as kick drums, bass guitar amps, and tuba.

Its rugged housing and integrated stand mount make it ideal for touring bands, live performance halls, and high-pressure studios. It has a metal body construction and shock-mounted capsule with a hum-compensating coil.

E920 can handle loud sources without a downstream input padding because of its very low sensitivity. This microphone dampens mid-range frequencies, so it accentuates the high-end frequencies and bass. It cuts through the stage sound with deep lows for the bass bins and the click of the batter hitting the head.


  • Rich lows and a cut-through click
  • Rugged housing for durability


  • The position of the XLR cable is a little bit inconvenient since it comes out of the back instead of near the stand thread

Shure BETA 52A

Price: $159.00

The Shure BETA 52A dynamic kick drum microphone provides low-frequency bass punch and SPL handling with a wide pickup pattern. Its high SPL allows it to withstand harsh studio and stage environments.

BETA 52A is very user-friendly and requires minimum setup and EQ.

This microphone includes a stand adapter for easy setup, a steel mesh grille for durability, a shock mount for sound isolation, and a neodymium magnet for a high signal-to-noise ratio.

You should position this microphone as close to the source as possible if you want a proper bass boost. If you do it sufficiently, it provides +6dB per octave from 700Hz down to around 50Hz where it plateaus.


  • Easy setup
  • Balanced EQ


  • Inconsistent frequency response
  • It picks up some of the back sounds


Price: $219.00

The D112 MkII is a professional dynamic bass drum microphone that has an integrated, flexible mount, high SPL capability, punchy EQ, and bulletproof construction. It can handle more than 160 dB SPL without distortion and features an integrated hum-compensation coil that keeps noise to a minimum.

Because of its large diaphragm, this mic has a very low resonance frequency and delivers a solid and powerful response below 100 Hz. The low end is complemented by a narrow-band presence boost at 4 kHz, punching through dense mixes and loud stage volumes.

D112 MKII comes with a threaded mic-stand mount so it can be placed to any standard threaded fitting. This mic can handle a lot because of its rugged grille, so it’s good for live performances and touring.


  • Handles over 160 dB of SPL without distortions
  • Successfully cuts down any ambient noise


  • To avoid off-axis coloration, precise mic positioning is required

Best Snare Mics

The snare drum is a key factor in setting the tone for your set. A great snare mic can make all the difference when it comes to your sound. Here is the choice of the best snare mics for live performance.

Shure SM57 

Price: $89.00

The Shure SM57 cardioid dynamic snare drum microphone features a contoured frequency response and clean and accurate sound. Its professional quality reproduction is great for drum, percussion, and instrument amplifiers miking.

SM57 is a die-cast steel mic that can counter vibration-induced movement because of its integrated pneumatic shock mount.

This microphone has a uniform cardioid pickup pattern that isolates the main source while reducing background noise. It can handle high sound pressure levels without distortion.

Sub-bass frequencies are attenuated so you will probably not need to apply a high-pass filter.

 It has a compact and sturdy exterior which is great for traveling. With extreme durability under heavy use, it should give you years of dependable service and performance.


  • Clean and precise sound
  • Successfully cancels all background noises


  • It has a low gain
  • It doesn’t have a power switch

Audix i5

Price: $99.00

Audix i5 is a dynamic microphone that delivers clear, accurate sound with a wide response. Perfectly suited for the snare drum and guitar cabs, it is also ideal for a wide variety of instruments. The microphone employs a VLM (very low mass) diaphragm for excellent transient response. It can handle SPLs in excess of 140 dB without distortion. 

It’s manufactured with a precision cast zinc alloy body, steel grill, black finish, laser etched model, Switchcraft XLR connector and includes a heavy-duty nylon microphone clip.

The Audix i5 is sturdy, compact, and easy to position which makes it perfect for live performances and various stage setups.


  • Affordable
  • Sturdy and durable


  • Strange sibilance

Sennheiser MD421-II

Price: $399.95

Sennheiser MD421-II is a cardioid dynamic microphone widely acclaimed because of its versatility. It can handle high-pressure levels and has an outstanding feedback rejection, making it one of the best drum microphones for live performance.

The frequency response of this mic is 30Hz–17kHz.It has a focused and clean sound capture, with a clear response with no unnatural bass boost. It’s great for capturing the loud sources because it’s not overly sensitive.

MD421-II has five selectable bass roll-off settings that control the proximity effect, making it great in close-miking situations. Because of that, it’s very flexible, which is useful for different stage setups. 

They are fully enclosed which keeps them safe from dust and humidity. Glass composite housing and hardened stainless steel basket make them durable for live performance. 


  • It handles very high SPL
  • Exceptionally versatile and well-manufactured


  • It has a weak and non-standard clip which is difficult to replace
  • Sound quality is degraded by off-axis leaking

Best Tom Mics

It’s true that tom mics aren’t a priority, but they will let you get a distinct drum sound with a lot of control. Here are the best tom mics for live performance.

Sennheiser e604

Price: $149.95

Sennheiser e 604 is a cardioid dynamic drum microphone designed for use in live music performances. It features an advanced shock mount with special foam damping and a rugged metal body construction which helps it stand up to the hard knocks of life on the road.

The e604 also has outstanding feedback rejection, and its directivity makes it ideal for control room monitoring as well as live applications. It is a powerful, compact, and lightweight microphone, which can take high SPLs up to 160 dB.

It includes an attachable mic clip, so you can directly mount the mic on the rim of the drum head.

This mic can take a beating and frequent use due to its glass-composite housing which makes it durable. A 10-year factory warranty ensures that this mic will give you years of reliable service.


  • Easy positioning
  • Durable and rugged construction


  • Doesn’t work well with floor toms

Earthworks DM20

Price: $349.00

The DM20 is a rugged, compact drum mic for stage, studio applications, and beyond.

It delivers a clear sound with a fast impulse response and ultra-high SPL handling capability.

Its cardioid polar pattern captures the sweet spot of the tom’s sound, with a great rejection of cymbals and stage ambiance.

The rugged gooseneck stays in position whether drums are played hard or soft. DM20 includes RM1 RimMount so you don’t need mic stands. Because of its solid and compact body which can withstand hits of the drumsticks, as well as adaptability to various positions, this mic is great for stage performances and occasions when you need to place it really close to the drum.


  • The rugged body which can withstand the kicks
  • Gooseneck for flexible positioning


  • A bit pricey

Shure KSM32

Price: $519.00

The KSM32 is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone with crystal-clear sound and extended response. It’s very versatile and can easily be placed in the desired position, which makes it great for various stage setups.

This mic is constructed around a gold-layered, super-thin Mylar diaphragm that exhibits superior transient response and uniformity across the entire frequency spectrum.

It delivers exceptionally clear audio throughout its wide dynamic range. Combined with its compact construction, the Shure KSM32 delivers extended low-frequency response, consistent off-axis rejection, and excellent high-SPL performance.

Its three-stage protection grille reduces vocal plosives while the internal shock mount minimizes stand noise. Transformerless preamplifier circuitry eliminates crossover distortion for improved linearity across the entire frequency range.


  • Vintage design
  • Smooth frequency response


  • The highs are boosted too much

Best Overheads

The overhead mics are one of the most important microphones for your drum kit. They take up the whole sound of your gear and provide it to the listener as a whole. Check out the choice of top overheads for live performance.

Shure KSM137

Price: $559.00

Shure KSM137 is a small-diaphragm condenser mic pair. Super-thin, gold-layered Mylar diaphragms exhibit superior transient response, so your recordings are clear and detailed even at high SPLs.

The transformerless preamplifier yields transparency, a fast transient response (with very low levels of intermodulation distortion), and near-zero crossover and harmonic distortion. 

The Shure KSM137 eliminates the sub-17Hz low-frequency rumble caused by mechanical vibration and effectively isolates the instrument from the loud onstage volume.

The mic’s 3-position pad (0dB, -15dB, and -25dB) switch allows handling high-SPL sources.

Its 3-position highpass filter switch counteracts the proximity effect and reduces stand-vibration noise.


  • Great versatility
  • High noise reduction


  • This mic loses some of the bottom ends

Neumann KM184

Price: $849.00 for pair

The Neumann KM184 is a small-diaphragm cardioid miniature microphone suitable for both live performances and studio recordings. It is a pressure gradient transducer with a boost of approximately 7 dB at 10 kHz in the free field.

This mic is able to produce a transparent sound without distortion. There is no coloration of sound over a wide pickup angle, and it offers a fresh tonal balance and a very smooth frequency response. The frequency range is 20 Hz to 20 kHz. 

Neumann KM184 microphones are available in matte black or nickel finish. They are compact and classy designed, handling the rigors of the live performances with their durability. 


  • Very detailed and natural sound
  • Hi-end quality professional mic


  • Quite expensive

AKG C214

Price: $999.00

The AKG C214 is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone that delivers a natural, transparent sound and accurate reproduction of your source. It offers an outstanding dynamic range and ultra-low noise for close-up recording of high-output sources of up to 156dB SPL.

The C214 features a switchable 20dB attenuator and bass-cut filter designed to reduce mechanical noise and proximity effects.

With an integrated suspension system to reduce the noise and vibrations from stage equipment or instruments such as drums or guitar amplifiers, this microphone is one of the best drum microphones for live performance.


  • Extraordinary dynamic and transient response
  • Lightweight but durable


  • Some coloration of th sound can happen
  • It requires a proprietary shock mount

sE Electronics sE8

Price: $519.00

The sE Electronics sE8 is a factory-matched pair of versatile, high-performance mics for the stage and studio.

Handcrafted with a gold-sputtered small-diaphragm capsule, the sE8 accurately captures your sound, making it great for all musical instruments, including drums. 

The 80Hz and 160Hz highpass filters ensure that rumble is removed from cymbals.

sE Electronics sE8 is designed with an accurate, nearly frequency-independent cardioid polar pattern. It has 10dB and 20dB Pads, a gold-plated XLR connector, and features a rugged diecast body.


  • A unique backplate feature provides consistent and effective off-axis noise rejection
  • The dual pad makes enables the catching of low frequencies without the excessive low-note rumbles


  • You cannot change the capsules which limits their versatility
  • You cannot tell the front and back of the output cables because they are not marked


Choosing the best drum microphones for live performance is not an easy task. It’s useful to learn all about different kinds of mics and how to use them to achieve the best results.

There are hundreds of models out there, and unless you do a test before buying one, you will not know what kind of microphone will be a perfect fit.

There are a lot of factors that come into play when choosing a good microphone, but let’s go over some basics first. What kind of microphone do you need? What is its purpose? How much money do you want to spend?

The answers will help narrow down your options and provide an idea as to what is “the best” microphone for drums. You need to consider all the factors, including the venue size and types of microphones that will give you the best results.

Ultimately, the choice will depend on your budget. However, don’t hesitate to spend a buck for the good microphones because you want your drumming to be heard loud and clear.

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