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Q. What mics should I use on a snare drum?

By Hugh Robjohns

I am looking at buying a matched pair of SE Electronics SE1 mics for drum miking. I am prepared to pay more for the right mics, but would the SE1s be suitable for 'over and under' miking of the snare? If not, could you offer any alternatives for this kind of configuration?

SOS Forum Post

If you're going to 'over-and-under' mike a snare, remember to switch one of the mics out of phase.If you're going to 'over-and-under' mike a snare, remember to switch one of the mics out of phase.Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: The SE1s are great as overheads, but I'd be wary of using them for close-miking a snare. In the case of jazz drumming you might get away with it, but for a heavy-handed rock drummer with a loud snare, you stand a very good chance of overloading the mic's internal head amp.

Looking at the published specs, the SE1 is rated with a max sound pressure level (SPL) of 130dB for 0.5% total harmonic distortion (THD). If you really want to use small-diaphragm condensers, I'd suggest something like the Rode NT5, which is rated at 143dB SPL (albeit at 1% distortion), and so should be able to cope with a close snare a lot better.

It all depends on the kind of snare drum sound you are after, but condenser mics on snares can sound rather lightweight and thin. They deliver the transient 'thwack' of the hit very well, but often lack body. On the other hand, a good dynamic mic, like the venerable Shure SM57, inherently 'soft-limits' the transients and gives a much thicker, more full-bodied snare sound.

The over-and-under technique can be useful, as long as you remember to phase-reverse one of the mics. This is because when the stick hits the batter head, the head moves away from the top mic, producing lower air pressure (an initial rarefaction), while the snare head moves towards the bottom mic, producing a rise in air pressure (an initial compression). If you mix these two together without inverting the polarity of one of them, the two opposite pressure waves will tend to cancel each other out, and result in a very thin sound. Flip the phase of one mic (usually the bottom one, but it depends on the phasing of any other mics around the kit), and you should get a really big-sounding snare.

It's a good trick to experiment with, but not essential, and in general if you position the right mic in the right place above a good, well-tuned snare drum with a decent batter head and a competent drummer, you should still get excellent results.

Published October 2004