Whether you are running your own studio or engineering live bands, chances are you’ll have to mic up a drum kit at one point.
As an audio engineer, it’s in your best interest to place a mic on every drum. I always see what mics to use for overheads, snares, and kick drums but, I rarely see advice on choosing the best tom mics.
That’s where this list comes in. I’ve compiled my favorite microphones for recording toms. All of these are exceptional dynamic microphones that cost under $500. These products pick up a performance accurately and reproduce it with high quality.
Every music producer who records acoustic drums (even for samples) should consider these for their mic cabinet!
1.) Sennheiser MD 421
The MD 421 from Sennheiser is, without a doubt, my favorite mic for toms. This is a dynamic cardioid microphone with a frequency response of 30Hz to 17kHz. The cardioid polar pattern is wonderful at attenuating off-axis noise meaning the MD 421 will only pick up what’s in front of it (this is great for avoiding phase issues). In addition, this microphone features a 5-position bass roll-off to customize your sound.
There are very few disadvantages to this microphone but, it does have a couple. For one, the MD 421 is the second most expensive tom mic on this list. Getting a set of three can be costly, but they will last you essentially forever. Another slight drawback is the size and weight. You will need a mic stand for each one of these, so you will need enough space.
Overall these drum mics are a terrific choice for rack toms and floor toms alike. The low-end roll-off options let you customize the mic for each tom individually, giving your recording more versatility. Mic placement is easy with the MD 421 as phase issues are easy to eliminate with reliable off-axis rejection. You can’t go wrong with this Sennheiser microphone if you have the budget!
- Clean and clear sound quality
- Rugged design, built to last
- 5-position onboard EQ switch
- Effective feedback rejection
- Heavy and large design
2.) Shure SM57
First off, if you don’t have one of these, you should get one. The SM57 is probably the most-used microphone in the recording industry. Its versatility is legendary and, it’s built like a brick. All of that with an amazingly affordable price point. This microphone is perfect for getting that Pop sound for your drums. You can’t go wrong with close-miking your toms with an SM57.
The SM57 features a cardioid polar pattern that helps isolate the source audio. Shure has equipped this mic with a frequency response of 40Hz-15kHz that accents the shine in your performance but doesn’t quite capture the low-end. With this mic, what you record is what you hear. If you haven’t gotten a chance, you should definitely experience this mic in action!
- Clean, accurate sound reproduction
- Lightweight and durable
- Easy to place
- Lacks low-end response
3.) Sennheiser e906
The e906 is yet another great option from Sennheiser. Although it is designed for bass and guitar amps, the e906 sounds exquisite on a close-miked rack or floor tom. Due to its flat design, the placement of this microphone is simple in small spaces. It features a super-cardioid pickup pattern and a frequency response of 40Hz-18kHz. In addition, this mic is designed to handle a high SPL (sound pressure level).
The e906 also has a 3-position switch that toggles between bright, moderate, and dark modes. This makes for a versatile microphone that can be used for any genre. The sound quality offered by this mic is professional; it’s hard to get unwanted tones out of the e906. One drawback of using this mic with drums is how easy it is to accidentally hit with a stick.
- Handles high SPL with ease
- Easy to place
- 3-position tone switch
- Easy to hit accidentally due to shape
4.) Electro-Voice RE20
Most people wouldn’t think of the RE20 as a drum mic. The Electro-Voice (EV) RE20 was designed as a broadcast microphone with a cardioid pattern and Variable-D design to minimize the proximity effect. In doing so, they created a microphone that sounds amazing on drums. The RE20 has a built-in shock mount that reduces vibrational noise (which is helpful because drums can have a lot).
This mic sounds amazing on rack toms but truly shines on floor toms. The vocal tuning on this microphone brings out the warmth of a drum without it getting muddy or overbearing. In addition, the rugged design with plenty of noise reduction allows you to place the RE20 up close to a drum without worrying about phase issues.
The notable drawbacks of the EV RE20 are the price point and the large size. While it is durable and has the sound to match, it can be hard to fit the RE20 over your toms. It can be especially tricky to place over rack toms with cymbals overhead. If you don’t have much space to work with, the RE20 will not be an easy microphone to use.
- Warm and professional sound
- Exceptional noise reduction
- Rugged and durable
- The size of its profile makes it hard to place
5.) Shure PGA56
The PGA56 is probably your best option for a tom mic if you have an extremely tight budget. For the price, the PGA56 has a lot going for it. It has a frequency response of 50Hz-15kHz, a durable design with a cardioid polar pattern, and it comes with a drum mount mic clip. Because of that, it has a tiny footprint in your recording setup.
The PGA56 is by far the easiest microphone on this list to place; you just clip it onto the side of the drum. However, despite its convenience, there are definitely some issues with this mic, as you’d expect from this price point. The tradeoff is, unfortunately, sound quality. For the price, the PGA56 is in the upper echelon. Compared to the rest of this list, though, it just can’t compete.
You will be able to get an accurate reproduction of your recording with the PGA56. It will need some post-production EQ to really shine. This microphone has decent off-axis rejection but, you’ll definitely want to be careful of phase issues with it in a studio setting. Overall, if you’re stretched thin and need a cheap, quality tom mic, the PGA56 is a perfect fit.
- Easy placement with drum mounts
- Durable design
- Accurate sound reproduction
- Lack-luster sound quality
- Needs EQ to really shine
- Is prone to phase issues
- Lacks versatility
There is a myriad of microphones that exist that are great for recording toms. This list didn’t even cover some of the condenser microphone options. For instance, the AKG C414 or the Earthworks DM20 are both great condenser microphones for recording toms.
The fact is, whatever works for you and your setup is the best. This list includes what I like to use for toms and why they’re worth looking into.
If you work within a limited budget but want to record acoustic drums, any of these dynamic mics will work wonders. Most of them are versatile and will give you a great recording to work with.
I would recommend that any aspiring engineer (studio or live-sound) try out the microphones on this list at least once. Whether it’s your first time recording or your 500th, these tom microphones are sure to make your sound pop!