Overhead microphones are those used in sound recording and live sound reproduction to pick up ambient sounds, transients and the overall blend of instruments. They are used in drum recording to achieve a stereo image of the full drum kit, as well as orchestral recording to create a balanced stereo recording of full orchestras or a choir.
So, let’s look at what an overhead microphone is and how it’s used. Plus, some tips on choosing the right one for you.
Understanding Overhead Microphones: A Comprehensive Guide
An overhead microphone is a type of microphone that is positioned above the instruments or performers to capture the sound from a distance. It is an essential gear for recording and live sound reinforcement, especially for drum kits, choirs, and orchestras.
What Type of Overhead Microphone Should You Pick?
When picking an overhead microphone, it is important to consider the following factors:
- Budget: Overhead microphones range from affordable to high-end models that cost thousands of dollars.
- Type: There are different types of overhead microphones, including condenser and dynamic microphones.
- Room: Consider the size and acoustics of the room where you will be recording or filming.
- Instrument: Some overhead microphones are better suited for specific instruments.
- Filmmaking or Live Sound: External microphones for cameras, drones, and DSLR cameras are different from those used for live sound reinforcement.
Examples of Excellent Overhead Microphones
Some of the best overhead microphones available in the market include:
- Audio-Technica AT4053B
- Shure KSM137/SL
- AKG Pro Audio C414 XLII
- Sennheiser e614
- Neumann KM 184
Overhead Microphone Positioning
Overhead microphones are an essential part of any drum kit recording setup. The positioning of these microphones is crucial in capturing the right balance of sound from the various components of the drum kit. In this section, we will discuss the different methods and techniques used for overhead microphone positioning.
Distance and Placement
The distance and placement of overhead microphones can dramatically affect the sound of the drum kit. Here are some common methods used by engineers:
- Spaced Pair: Two microphones placed equidistant from the snare drum, facing downwards towards the kit.
- Coincident Pair: Two microphones placed close together, angled at 90 degrees, and facing downwards towards the kit.
- Recorderman Technique: Two microphones placed above the kit, with one mic centred over the snare drum and the other mic placed further back, over the drummer’s head.
- Glyn Johns Method: Four microphones placed around the drum kit, with two overheads placed above the cymbals and two additional microphones placed closer to the floor, aimed at the snare and the bass drum.
Personal Preference and Techniques
The placement of overhead microphones is often based on personal preference and the specific sound that the engineer is trying to achieve. Here are some additional techniques that engineers may use:
- Pulling or pushing the microphones closer or further away from the kit to adjust the balance of sound.
- Aiming the microphones towards specific components of the kit, such as the snare or tom drums.
- Using directional microphones to capture a wider or more centred stereo image.
- Suspending microphones in clusters, such as the Decca Tree arrangement or orchestral setups, particularly for film scores.
Overhead Mic Uses
One of the most popular uses for overhead microphones is recording drums. Placed above the drum kit, overhead mics capture the entire sound of the kit, providing a wide and accurate pickup of the sound. This is important for making sure that each instrument is properly balanced in the mix. Condenser microphones are typically the best choice for this type of recording, as they offer a wide frequency range and excellent sound quality. Some popular brands to consider when shopping for overhead mics for drum recording include Rode, Shure, and Audio-Technica.
Recording Acoustic Instruments
Overhead microphones are also commonly used for recording acoustic instruments such as guitars, pianos, and strings. Placed above the instrument, these mics allow for a natural and extended pickup of the sound, improving the overall quality of the recording. Condenser microphones are typically the best choice for this type of recording as well, as they offer a wide frequency range and accurate pickup of the sound. Some popular brands to consider when shopping for overhead mics for acoustic instrument recording include Rode, Shure, and Audio-Technica.
Live Sound Reinforcement
Overhead microphones can also play an important role in live sound reinforcement. Placed above the stage, they can capture the entire sound of the band or ensemble, providing a wide and accurate pickup of the sound. Dynamic microphones are typically the best choice for this type of application, as they are designed to handle high sound pressure levels and are less sensitive to unwanted noise. Some popular brands to consider when shopping for overhead mics for live sound reinforcement include Shure, Audio-Technica, and Sennheiser.
Overhead microphones can also be used in video production to capture high-quality audio for dialogue and other sounds. Placed on a boom pole or stand, they can be positioned above the actors or subjects to provide a clear and accurate pickup of the sound. Condenser microphones are typically the best choice for this type of application, as they offer a wide frequency range and excellent sound quality. Some popular brands to consider when shopping for overhead mics for video production include Rode, Audio-Technica, and Sennheiser.
Choosing the Right Overhead Mic
When choosing an overhead microphone, there are a number of factors to consider, including the type of microphone, the size and budget of the microphone, and the specific needs of the application. Some important features to look for when shopping for overhead mics include:
- Wide frequency range
- Accurate pickup of sound
- Low noise
- Versatile placement options
- Affordable price point
Some popular brands to consider when shopping for overhead mics include Rode, Shure, Audio-Technica, and Sennheiser. It’s important to do your research and read reviews from other people in order to find the best overhead mic for your specific needs.
Types of Overhead Microphones
Condenser microphones are known for their sensitivity and accuracy, making them a great choice for capturing the detail and richness of acoustic instruments. They come in different designs and feature different pickup patterns, including cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-eight. Some of the best condenser mics for overhead recording include:
- Rode NT5: This affordable set of matched condenser mics offers a wide frequency response and a switchable high-pass filter to reduce unwanted low-frequency noise. They are perfect for drum overheads, guitar amps, and solo performances.
- Shure SM81: This legendary condenser mic is known for its exceptional detail and clarity, making it a go-to choice for studio recordings and live performances. It features a cardioid pickup pattern and a switchable low-frequency roll-off to improve the overall sound quality.
- Audio-Technica AT4053B: This versatile condenser mic features three interchangeable capsules (cardioid, omnidirectional, and hypercardioid) to allow for different pickup patterns and proximity effects. It is great for capturing vocals, drums, and acoustic instruments with accuracy and ease.
Dynamic microphones are known for their durability and affordability, making them a popular choice for live performances and drum overheads. They are less sensitive than condenser mics, but they can handle high sound pressure levels without distortion. Some of the best dynamic mics for overhead recording include:
- Shure SM57: This iconic dynamic mic is known for its versatility and durability, making it a staple in any musician’s toolkit. It is great for capturing the sound of guitar amps, drums, and other instruments with a consistent and reliable performance.
- Sennheiser e604: This compact dynamic mic is specifically designed for drum overheads, with a clip-on design that allows for easy positioning and a cardioid pickup pattern that isolates the drum sound from other instruments. It offers a great value for the money and can be used for live performances and studio recordings.
- AKG Pro Audio C636: This high-end dynamic mic features a unique design that allows for exceptional feedback rejection and a wide frequency response. It is great for capturing the nuances of vocals and acoustic instruments with a rich and detailed sound.
Choosing the Best Drum Overhead Microphones
When it comes to choosing the best drum overhead microphones, you need to consider your budget and needs. There are many different types of overhead mics available on the market, each with its own unique features and benefits. Some are more expensive than others, so it’s important to determine how much you’re willing to spend before making a purchase.
Understand the Different Types of Overhead Microphones
There are two main types of overhead microphones: condenser and dynamic. Condenser microphones are more sensitive and offer a more natural sound, while dynamic microphones are less sensitive and better at handling high sound pressure levels. It’s important to understand the differences between these two types of microphones before making a decision.
Consider the Brand and Reviews
When choosing a drum overhead microphone, it’s important to consider the brand and read reviews from other users. Some brands are widely considered to be the best in the industry, while others may offer a better value for the price. Reading reviews can give you a good idea of how a particular microphone performs in different situations.
Look for Impressive Performance and Construction
When choosing a drum overhead microphone, you want to look for one that offers impressive performance and construction. A good microphone should be able to pick up all the nuances of the instruments being played, and should have a smooth and natural tone. The construction of the microphone should be solid and built to last.
Choose the Right Type of Microphone for Your Genre and Style
Different types of music require different types of microphones. For example, if you’re playing rock music, you may want a microphone that is more aggressive and able to handle high sound pressure levels. If you’re playing jazz or classical music, you may want a microphone that is more neutral and able to capture the subtle nuances of the instruments being played.
Consider Phantom Power and XLR Connections
Most overhead microphones require phantom power to operate, which means that they need to be plugged into a mixer or audio interface that can provide this power. It’s important to make sure that your mixer or audio interface has phantom power before purchasing a microphone. Additionally, most overhead microphones use XLR connections, so make sure that your mixer or audio interface has XLR inputs.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try Different Microphones
Finally, don’t be afraid to try different microphones to find the one that works best for you. Every drummer and every drum kit is different, so what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important to find a microphone that meets your specific needs and sounds great with your instruments.
So, there you have it – everything you need to know about overhead microphones.
You can use them to record drums, choirs, orchestras, and even guitars and pianos. They’re also used in filmmaking and video production to capture high-quality audio for dialogue. So, don’t be afraid to get overhead!
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:Subscribe