Are you looking for the best hi hat mic for your money?
Don’t overspend, we’ll break it down for you to help you make the best decision possible.
If you want a quick answer, the best overall microphone for your hats is the Shure SM-57.
If you’ve ever spent any time on this site before, you’ll see this same recommendation continue to come up time and time again. We almost get tired of saying it. But it’s based on the magic of Shure’s dynamic amplification.
Getting things like positioning, mixing, and post-production right are not as easy as this no-brainer choice for best hi hat mic.
Now, this is a subject that an entire 700-page book could be written on. Distance, angle, and intervening obstacles (your other drums and hardware) will all make or break the sound that your hi hat mic picks up.
Let’s start by making something clear. Most drummers don’t directly mic their high hat. In fact, in most cases, unless you really know what you’re doing, we recommend a simple single or dual overhead microphone set up.
Any of the microphones here that we have listed do a great job of picking up the overall frequencies that your high hat, ride, crash and other cymbals put out. The SM 57 is an excellent choice here, as well as far as some of the higher-end condenser microphones.
The high hat is the internal clock or timekeeper of the kit, so some more advanced drummers, especially those in rock music, insist on a close mic set up directly for the high hat. In this case, you would want to get a more specialized high hat mic.
If your budget allows it, the next step up would probably be the SM 81. This premium quality condenser microphone, excels in unidirectional amplification and recording. This means that you can point it directly at the particular part of your kit that you want to target, and it will laser focus what it takes up accordingly. Using a hi hat mic like this will save you from the risk of your hats getting lost in an otherwise busy mix.
Some drummers don’t use a hi hat mic at all
In addition to the general overhead and room miking styles that I touched upon before, many drummers will just depend on their snare mic to pick up the hi hat sound. In some cases (including keeping your budget in check) this is ok.
When I played in a punk rock band, I often hammered away on open hats for the entirety of our songs. I definitely did not need a direct close mic on my hats, as these cymbals were bleeding through all my other mics anyway.
But if a tight, precise sound is important to you, and you want to pick up every crisp 16th and 32nd note, you’ll eventually want to add a dedicated hi hat mic into your setup.
If you decide to go for a closer and direct hi hat mic option, there are several different options in terms of positioning.
The most important thing with any position, is that the diaphragm (or working end) of the microphone is pointed towards the cymbal. There is such thing as a non-directional mic, but that usually defines the cheaper ‘radio shack’ style models that we aren’t going to talk about here. Any serious instrument microphone will be a directional mic, so make sure it is pointed right at whatever you want to be picked up.
I generally recommend that you place your mic towards the outside edge of the cymbal. Think about isolating the hi hat from the rest of your drum set. Also, be very careful to make sure that both the mic and mic stand are far enough out of your way so that you do not bump into it or hit it with your sticks while playing.
You want the placement to be close. However it should not be so close that when you open the hi hat pedal, the mic gets hit.
Take your time setting this up and making sure that all possible hazards are accounted for. You will of course have to make adjustments later to get the ideal sound you’re looking for, but you want to make sure that the obvious ‘in the way’ kind of issues are taken care of before you begin jamming away.
You can either choose an over the top, pointed down configuration, or a more parallel configuration.
A hi hat mic that is close to the top of the cymbal, and pointed down, will produce a great full-sound. Like all other aspects of miking drums, there is no exact science, but generally 3 to 4 inches will be the ideal distance. This positioning is also one of the best ways to avoid picking up the kick and snare drum.
Some drummers prefer a more off to the side, parallel positioning, so experiment to see which one suits your ears better. Be careful however no to point the mic directly at the space in between your opening and closing hi hats. When you push down on the pedal, the two closing cymbals push out a forceful wave of air, which can actually harm the diaphragm or condenser (in the case of condenser mics). Unless you’re setting up super close, this shouldn’t be too much of a concern but it’s something you should be mindful of regardless.
Hands down the best overall mic that any musician can own.
A solid entry-level hi hat mic, making solid use of cardiod response.
One thing I LOVE about these is that they are durable. I’ve dropped one of these from about 4 feet, to a hard parking lot, while packing up after a show (I wouldn’t recommend you go out and do this). I still have that SM57 as one of the most trusted pieces of my arsenal. It is a little beat up and scratched now, but it still works great, and those scars just add character.
Is the SM81 a higher quality piece of gear? Of course. But it’s about 3.5x the price, and a lot less durable!
This is a “dynamic” microphone, and not a “condenser” like our other recommendations. If you’re not sure what that means right now, then you’re probably better off saving your money and getting this right now. Even if you upgrade your hi hat mic down the road, the SM57 will get great use in your musical career.
If nothing else, these things are built like a truck, and will last forever, so they hold their resale value and you can always pawn it off to your guitarist, vocalist, etc…
Did you know that the SM57 has been the microphone of choice for the White House since the 1970’s? Every time that you see a presidential speech or news conference, you are sure to see the SM57.
Audio Technica ATM450
This lesser known brand is actually a great buy due to the fact that it’s not as popular as many of the other small diaphragm consenders that you see used. It’s a great mid range value, and will work great for any kind of cymbal or general overhead miking.
It features a cardiod polar pattern, which simply put makes it an excellent, laser-focused directional mic. It’s ideal at picking up your hi hat, in isolation from the rest of the kit.
It would not make a great bass drum mic, as it does not get the low end frequencies as well. This is is why it’s specialization is excellent for use on cymbals.
The ‘studio standard’. This is the gold standard of hi hat mics, the leader in cardoid pattern sound and low noise pickup.
It’s a trusted brand name, which is great for consumer trust but we feel that it might artificially inflate the price by at least a few dollars.
The SM81 is a bit fragile, and when you first hold it in your hands you feel like you could snap it in half like a twig. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an exceptionally sophisticated piece of technology, but if you’re a real bruiser behind the kit (like Animal from the Muppets), consider something a little more durable.
You would never want to use one of these as your kick drum mic, as the powerful low-frequency force would blow it out nearly instantly.
You can actually buy optional accident protection for up to 4 years with this mic, but I personally have never bothered. I am turned off by warranties in general, but that’s a preference and if it helps you sleep better at night, I won’t talk you out of it.