When the going gets tough, should the tough get a Sennheiser's drum kit microphone set?
With the many different combinations of microphone types and positions used by recording engineers when miking up drum kits, Sennheiser have taken the very sensible step of compiling two sets of mics that have been proven to give good results. The basic set comprises four MD504 drum mics complete with drum rim mounting clips, and is packaged in a lightweight, foam‑padded plastic briefcase. This briefcase can be made up into a more comprehensive set by the addition of an MD421 with which to mike a bass drum, and a pair of K6P/ME64 capacitor mics for use as overheads.
The MD504s are specifically designed for drum use (particularly snare and toms), their short bodies solving most of the positioning problems experienced with standard microphones. The integral clip assembly enables the mic to be mounted directly onto the drum rim, eliminating the need for stands. The clip has three possible mounting angles, and once the mic is secured in its nominally correct position, small adjustments can be made to both head distance and angle through the fully‑movable mic head. The MD504s are dynamic cardiod mics with a usable frequency range of 40Hz to 18kHz, and although they may not appear very sensative at 1.8mV/Pa, bear in mind that they are destined to spend most of their lives only a couple of inches above a drum head! As with the rest of the mics in the kit, the body terminates in a conventional, balanced XLR connector.
The MD421 is most often seen on toms or even used for vocals, so it may seem an odd choice for a bass drum mic. However, it is a very flexible microphone, capable of withstanding huge sound pressure levels, and has a decent amount of bass extension — if ever a dynamic mic deserved to be called a Jack of all trades and master of most of them, the MD421 is probably it.
Technically, the MD421 seems similar to any other dynamic cardioid mic, but the resulting sound is clearly defined, yet at the same time, solid. (I seem to recall that the originals were tested on a tank firing range, with the result that they didn't distort until they reached the kind of SPLs that would make an average human's eardrums meet in the middle of his head!) A generic mic clip is unlikely to be suitable for the MD421, so it has its own built‑in stand clip, and while this prevents the mic from falling out of the holder, its main disadvantage is that the correct replacement parts have to be ordered should the clip get broken.
As overhead mics are used with cymbals as well as drums, they require the extended frequency range of capacitor models, which is why Sennheiser have chosen to include a pair of K6P microphones equipped with ME64 cardioid polar‑pattern capsules in this kit. These mics require phantom power in the range 12 to 48V, though they may also be powered from a 1.5V battery. A recessed slide switch allows the battery to be turned on and off, and a small LED indicates when it is in use. A bass roll‑off switch fitted to the body provides a gentle roll‑off below 500Hz. Once the ME64 capsule is screwed onto the mic body, the overall length is around eight inches (but the anodised aluminium body keeps the weight very low). The frequency response of the capsule is essentially flat from 40Hz to 20kHz (+/‑ 2.5dB), it is surprisingly sensitive, giving 32mV/Pa, and the maximum SPL is a hefty 130dB. Additional capsules may be purchased to fit the K6P body for other applications, including shotgun and remote miniature mics.
Drum overheads need to be stand mounted a couple of feet or more above the highest cymbals, and the normal procedure is to space them by three or four feet, then pan the outputs left and right in the mix to give a stereo image. Of course, it's necessary to pan the individual drum mics to the same positions in the stereo field, otherwise the integrity of the stereo signal will be compromised. The K6P/ME64s come with stand mounting clips, but, as with the other mics in the kit, you have to supply your own XLR leads.
Sennheiser have put together a very practical package of drum mics which work very well in both live and studio applications. The purpose‑built MD504s deliver a full‑sized dynamic mic sound, yet are almost as unobtrusive as some of the more vulnerable miniature drum mics currently available, while the tough rim clips keep them firmly in position. Their sensitivity is only slightly below that of the larger MD421, and the tone is close to what you'd expect from something like a Shure SM57.
The MD421 has always been a good kick drum mic, combining bite with punch, and although some engineers prefer other mics for specific kick sounds, the MD421 provides a well‑balanced basic sound, which lends itself well to different EQ treatments. It's probably true to say that the MD421 is still one of the best dynamic mics around, and it manages to sound great in all kinds of applications, from kick and tom miking to lead vocals.
I must admit to being rather surprised by the ME64/K6Ps which not only deliver a vibrantly natural sound, but in a shoot‑out with some of my large‑diaphragm capacitor mics, they turned out to be quite a lot more sensitive. Of course, this means that when you aren't miking up drums, the K6Ps can be used on acoustic instruments, and when coupled with a pop shield, they make great vocal mics too.
This kit is actually a lot more versatile than the 'drum mic' tag might suggest, and if you are uncertain as to which drum mics will work best together, this package is highly recommended.
4 x MD504 microphones @ £104.58.
4 x MZH504 clips @ £22.33.
Total for set: £507.64.
MD421 microphone @ £327.83.
2 x K6P microphones @ £173.90.
2 x ME64 capsules @ £146.88.
Total for set: £969.39.
Complete Set: £1477.03.
Prices include VAT.
- Practical, all‑in‑one solution to drum miking.
- MD421s and K6P/ME64s are versatile enough to cover most other studio applications between them.
- The documentation is limited to spec sheets and a picture of a miked‑up kit on the back of the packaging. More detailed practical guidance for newcomers to drum miking would be helpful.
A well‑designed, compact kit of drum mics that doesn't trade off sound quality for convenience.
See separate 'The Cost Of The Kit' box.