Snare drums are the foundation of any great modern song, from rock to country and pop to polka. Without a sound snare drum recording, it can be challenging to live up to the significant role it’s meant to play.
Of course, with thousands of microphones on the market today, finding the right one can be challenging.
For that reason, we’ve compiled a guide of the six best microphones for recording snare drums, from tried and true icons to boutique underdogs.
Let’s dive in!
Best Snare Mics at a Glance
What To Consider When Looking for a Snare Drum Microphone
There are many things to consider when looking for the best snare mic. Here are a few of the most critical considerations:
Dynamic microphones are much better at blocking out leakage from other drums, as they pick up less ambiance than their sensitive condenser mic cousins. While ribbon microphones can help beef up your snare drum in conjunction with a dynamic mic, they can be challenging to place due to the proximity of the rear lobe to the other drums in your kit.
However, there’s nothing like a well-positioned Royer R-121 atop a snare drum.
One consideration drummers often need to remember is the microphone’s size, especially when squeezing it between the hi-hat and toms, to position it correctly. So if you’re thinking about getting a massive mic that requires a shock mount, forget about it.
Snares are loud. And, since your snare microphone will be placed a few inches from the top, you must ensure that it can accept the high sound pressure level without clipping or distorting.
Look for microphones with the ability to handle high SPL. Dynamic microphones are excellent in this regard.
We’ve always found that cardioid and hyper-cardioid microphones work just fine for snare drums, as they prevent leakage from other parts of the kit, such as the hats or toms. But, of course, if you’re looking for a roomier tone, you can always take advantage of the natural characteristics of an omnidirectional microphone.
Dynamic Microphone with Cardioid Pickup Pattern, 40Hz-15kHz Frequency Response, Low Impedance, Includes Stand Adapter, and Zippered Carrying Case
Ask any engineer whose recorded drums, and they’re likely to tell you about a session where they placed a single SM57 over the snare and called it a day. The Shure SM57 has become a standard for recording snare drums in studio and stage applications.
It’s hard to beat the proximity effect from the ultra-tight cardioid pattern, which delivers a punchy yet controlled low end. It has a natural roll-off in the high end, so getting a bit of crisp in your snare might require some post-processing, though, overall, the low and mid-range thwack it produces gives you more than enough to work with.
Beyond that, the Shure SM57 can handle incredibly high sound pressure levels and is one of the most durable mics on the market today. Seriously, these things can take years of abuse and still sound as good as the day you got them.
Plus, you can use your 57 for just about any other application, from acoustic guitars to vocals and beyond, when you’re all done recording your drums.
If that didn’t all sound good enough, the fact that you can buy one of these dynamic mics for under $100 puts the cherry on top. The Shure SM57 is one of the best drum microphones money can buy.
Dynamic mic, SPL handling: 140dB, Frequency Response: 50Hz-16kHz, Sensitivity: @1k 1.5 mV/Pa
The Audix i5 is similar to the Shure SM57 in many ways, from its directionality to its size, making it an excellent microphone for tracking snares.
We sometimes prefer this microphone to the 57, thanks to its openness and clarity. However, it has the same ultra-durable construction as the Shure SM57, using a tight cardioid pattern and a zinc alloy covering.
Compared to the 57, you get a boost in the 5kHz range, giving your snare that desirable snap in the higher frequencies.
It’s hard to say anything bad about the i5, as it sounds nice and natural on just about anything and is just as rugged as your standard 57.
Neumann KM 184
Series 180 Small-diaphragm Cardioid Studio Condenser Microphone with Windscreen - Nickel
There’s no more prominent name in high-end microphones than Neumann, and the Neumann KM184 is one the best small-diaphragm condenser microphones for picking up high sound-pressure levels. Not only can it easily capture the hardest-hitting drummers, but it also does a beautiful job of picking up the softest ghost notes with its pristine accuracy.
With just about any Neumann microphone, you get the right balance of polish and accuracy. By that, we mean you don’t often have to make any EQ adjustments during the recording process to get the sound you’re looking for. As a result, the high-end is airy and luxurious, while the low-end is balanced but thick, resulting in a full-range snare drum. For such a small microphone, it produces a gigantic sound.
Of course, with this level of quality, you’ll have to fork over much more than you would for a humble 57.
One popular technique to consider is using the KM 184 and the SM57 together. It’s easy to tape the two mics together, and you can choose between them during mixing or blend them.
Dynamic Cardioid Microphone with High SPL Capacity and 5-position Bass Roll-Off Switch
The Sennheiser MD-421 is one of the most popular microphones in the Sennheiser lineup, and it works just as well for toms as it does for snares. As you can expect, this microphone handles high sound pressure levels easily and has a full-body cardioid pattern for the ultimate directional recording experience.
On the back, you’ll find a 5-position bass control to adjust how much low-end you want in your sound, which is a nice touch.
One of the main selling points of this microphone is it only costs a little for what you get, and what you get is a professional studio sound. You can get the best snare drum sound possible, no matter what kind of shell you’re using and what tuning it’s using.
The sound can best be described as soft and silky. It’s one of our favorite microphones for capturing a smooth, shimmering 70s snare tone without harsh or shrill characteristics. The lows are sizable, and the mid-range is killer.
Dynamic Microphone with Supercardioid Pickup Pattern and 50Hz-18kHz Frequency Response - Black Finish
The Telefunken M80 is best known for its ultra-clear response, which makes it an excellent option for capturing drums naturally in the studio. In addition, you get a balanced tonal characteristic, giving you complete control over the sound in post-production.
One of the key advantages of this particular microphone is its rejection. With the directional shape and tight cardioid pattern, you don’t get very much bleed from other drums, giving you more surgical control over your snare in the mix. The casing is also slim, making it an excellent choice for tight setups that wouldn’t otherwise be conducive to a larger mic like the Sennheiser MD-421. Thanks to its size and shape, we love it as an under-snare microphone.
As you can expect from a high-end, iconic audio brand like Telefunken, you’ll pay a bit more to add the M80 to your arsenal. However, if clarity and precision are your two main priorities, it’s one of the best mics for snare drums that money can buy.
Small-diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Drum Mic with Gooseneck, RimMount, and Windscreen
Now, let’s dig into a microphone in the boutique realm. While the Earthworks DM-20 might be small, it is one of the most powerful mics on this list. So if you’re in the market for a microphone that delivers the most accurate sound possible without any noticeable coloration, you don’t need to look elsewhere.
Seriously, this thing will pick up even the most detailed brush strokes and ghost notes with incredibly high definition. So whatever your drum set sounds like, this microphone will give you a pure representation of it.
With a small diaphragm design, it is lightweight and easy to fit between your toms and hats for proper placement. In addition, it has a surprisingly fast transient response to pick up soft and loud sounds with equal accuracy.
Yes, the price might scare beginner recording enthusiasts away, though if you’re looking to invest in a top-notch microphone for the long run, it’s worth it.
How to Mic a Snare Drum
Miking a snare drum typically involves a top mic and a bottom mic. The top mic should be angled at about 45 degrees above the drum, usually a few inches away from the rim of the head.
This will give you more control over the tone of the head and be able to pick up any sound reverberating in the shell.
The bottom mic should be placed inches away from the center of the snare, slightly off to one side. This will help capture more depth in your sound. Experimentation with different types of mics and positioning can yield excellent results and help you achieve your desired sound.
The SM57 is the Clear Winner
The SM57 is a dynamic mic renowned for its ability to pick up high frequencies, making it well-suited for capturing the sound of a snare drum. It also has excellent feedback rejection and low self-noise. Its cardioid pattern helps to isolate the source audio from bleed and ambient noise, making it ideal for live applications. Additionally, the SM57 is highly durable and affordable, making it an excellent choice for professional and amateur drummers.
The best snare mic for you depends on your budget and setup. The market’s most expensive mic might not have the right sound for your needs.
And, with that said, the sound quality of a snare recording can undoubtedly be dependent on the microphone, though, in many ways, it’s more important that the snare itself sounds good. This goes for any piece of your kit. It’s hard to make a cheap drum set sound good on a recording if you don’t put work into it at the source, even with the highest-end microphones.
Once your kit is taken care of, experiment with different mics. You’ll find that some are better catered to the type of music you make. Start with the options above, and you’ll be well on your way to making killer snare recordings in no time!