What’s the best snare mic with the best all around value, that will transition seamlessly from the studio to the live show? Well that’s a complicated question, and we’re going to just barely dip our toes into the deep ocean of knowledge that drum micing consists of. But…
If you want a quick easy answer, get a SM57.
Better yet, get two… Seriously. They’re a great investment, probably the best overall instrument mic on the market today. Many pros use one over top of the snare and one underneath. For the relatively low price of the SM57, it’s a great ‘hack’ to get an excellent session-quality sound.
Shure’s flagship model is a go to choice for many guitarists as well, for both direct acoustic sound as well as amp micing. They’ll go beyond being your best snare mic, and can carry over to your toms and cymbals as well. They can be set up in hundreds of different configurations, including room and overhead setups. You’ll find a great use for them in your career somewhere or another.
What is a Dynamic microphone?
A dynamic microphone works by creating an electrical current, that translates sound energy into an electrical signal. The speed and force of the energy as it comes in (from your snare), is directly related to the dynamic of the sound as it goes out through the microphone.
In simple words, it’s great at capturing a range of dynamics. From soft flams and ghost notes, to heavy pounding fills and rim shots.
One great advantage of a dynamic microphone, when compared to a compressor microphone, is that the dynamic does not need internal power from a battery or ‘phantom power’ from the interface it is lined into.
All of these things that makes the SM57 such a great instrument microphone are what puts it up there in the top spot of best snare mic on a budget.
Condenser mics are generally more expensive, due to the more complex ‘active’ role that their internal components must play. If you are intending to do serious studio work, then we have a couple recommendations for condensers that are the best snare mics for that particular application.
The “X,Y” overhead technique vs microphones on your individual drums.
If you’ve done any research into how to amplify your kit for either a demo, live gig, or a full length studio album, you have no doubt come across the XY overhead technique. We won’t go into the full details of that here, but it works based on the concept of stereophonic sound.
If you’re just starting out, and on a very limited budget, then the XY system is a great way to start out. I recommend a pair of Shure SM57s for this job, they are usually about 100 bucks each, but if you hunt around you might be able to find them used on craigslist or at your local music shop.
There are some great videos on youtube that will show you how to set this up. You will of course need two mic stands or some other way to elevate the two microphones above your kit. I used to hang them off the rafters in my basement ceiling, and as long as you can get the positioning right, this is absolutely fine to do.
Nowadays I prefer individual snare and bass mic’ing
The bass and snare are undoubtedly the heart and soul of your kit. Everything else is secondary. I know some people have success with the X,Y overhead technique, but it has never gotten me that far personally… unless it’s a really raw, rough demo. Once I was able and ready to invest in the best snare mic and bass mic that I could afford, it transformed both my live and recorded sound.
Don’t get me wrong, overhead is great for micing hi hat and other cymbals, but micing my bass and snare separately was a real game changer.
I could not believe the difference, in the power and professionalism that was coming out of the same drum set and same technique that I had been using before.
Here’s a great primer on bass/snare recording techniques, and properly balancing the interplay between the two. It’s important that these two drums have clear and independent recording channels, and this comes from getting the best mics possible as well as proper position.
Positioning is a lifelong process, don’t expect perfection right away.
This is something that even the most seasoned pro drummers agonize over day after day. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right away. It will take you a while to develop your ear (we recommend investing in a good pair of drum headphones) and experimenting while playing in different environments.
There’s no easy answer for the optimal positioning, and that’s the beauty of it. So don’t drive yourself nuts, just get the best snare mic that is reasonable for your current budget, and start having fun with it!
Miking from the top
The best snare mic positioning, if you’re only using one, is from the top. Position your stand carefully so that you do not run the risk of hitting it while playing.
This is a lot easier said than done!
A drum kit setup can already be a convoluted and cluttered arrangement, once you start adding mics and stands to the equations, then every tiny fraction of an inch matters. Make sure you can be as comfortable as possible, so that you do not have to adjust your playing style, while still maintaining the closest possible distance between the mic and snare.
The diaphragm (working end) should be pointed towards the center of the drum, so line it up as best as possible. This is the best way to pick up the mid range frequencies that a snare drum creates.
Miking from the bottom
If you have a second mic channel to dedicate to the snare drum, I would highly recommend a bottom mic position for this purpose.
The bottom is where the snares themselves are, and this is where the signature snare rattle comes from.
Sometimes in studio recording or live amplification, the signature character of the snare can be lost. Often this can be fixed with proper drum tuning, if you have not already mastered this… you should start working on it. Good tuning can make the most cheap equipment sound decent, and poor tuning makes an expensive set up a total waste.
There are plenty of good resources on youtube about tuning. Invest in a couple of good drum keys, or a tensioner which does some of the hard work for you. Again, this is going to take trial, error, patience and testing.
(If you want an example of horrible snare tuning, listen to Lars Ulrich in Metallica’s “St. Anger”)
Picking up the sizzle of the snares is a where a great condenser microphone can work wonders. It’s not completely necessary though, so a good dynamic mic like the SM57 will work fine here.
Once your top snare mic is place, go ahead and position one underneath. This diaphragm can usually be placed much closer, as there is less danger of being hit.
Now begins the ‘fun’ of getting the top and bottom mixed well. Generally you want to go about 80/20, with the emphasis on the top for the ‘attack’ of each snare stroke.
One issue you might run into is ‘phase’. You may have to reverse the polarity of the bottom mic, as two mics pointing at each other can cause phase issues.
A quick note about phase
There are some little quirks that might make even the best snare mic sound like crap, if you don’t know what to listen for. This can occur if two or more of your microphones are ‘out of phase’, i.e. there are two conflicting soundwaves in your output signal. One of the benefits of the previously mentioned XY technique is that it eliminates a phase conflict.
If for example you are using an overhead mic, and a close snare setup, you might get them to be out of phase. You’ll be able to hear with this sounds like, as it will almost sound like there is a connection issue with one of your microphones. There are some complicated methods to switch polarities, but we recommend just fiddling with the positioning of one or both of the mics. Pointing two microphones directly at each other can often cause this issue, so just don’t do it!
Thanks for reading, and we’d love to hear from you if you disagree with our choices for best snare mic. Until next time, keep on rocking!