The snare drum is one of the most essential elements in percussion. It provides the backbeat of so many genres and really gives life to music. There are about as many opinions on miking snare drums as there are drummers and audio technicians. Yet through all the noise, one microphone reigns supreme!
The legendary Shure SM57 (link to check the price on Amazon) is my number one recommended microphone for snare drums. The SM57 is durable, easily positioned in a drum kit, and sounds fantastic on snare drums. At an unbeatable price, the Shure SM57 is the best snare drum microphone on the market.
Although there are new microphones on the scene designed specifically for snare drums, the SM57 remains the go-to for so many drummers and audio engineers. Let’s talk about the reasons why in this article.
“Best” is a dangerous word. There is really no such thing as a “best microphone” for any situation. The microphone(s) listed in my Recommended Microphones And Accessories” page are simply my recommendations. These recommendations are based on my own experience and are mindful of budget. It would be easy to suggest an ELA M 251 or U47 for most scenarios. However, these tube mics are very expensive, putting them out of a hobbyist’s price range and making it difficult for professionals to make their money back on the gear.
Another important note is that the microphone or equipment you choose is not the most important part of recording audio. In fact, there are many factors that are arguably more important than the choice of microphone. These include:
- Performer (whether a musician, speaker, or otherwise)
- Microphone technique/placement
- Number of microphones used
- Natural sound of the room
- Content (whether that’s the song, discussion, or otherwise)
- Signal chain (including mic cable, preamplifier, console, and/or interface/computer)
With that being said, some microphones and gear suit some instruments better than others, prompting this series of articles under “Recommended Microphones And Accessories.”
What Makes A Great Snare Drum Microphone?
Before we just grab the nearest 57 and mic up our snare drum, let’s discuss the criteria that make up a great snare drum microphone.
- Durability: It’s critical to select a microphone capable of withstanding a blow from a heavy handed drummer. Drumsticks will inevitably strike microphones placed around the kit.
- Directionality: It’s essential to pick directional microphones when close miking any part of a drum kit. A tight polar pattern will allow the microphone to capture the sound of the snare drum while rejecting the hi-hats and
other drum kit elements.
- Fast Transient Response: As with most percussion elements, we want to opt for a microphone with an accurate transient response. This is particularly the case with the characteristic fast transients of snare drums.
- High Maximum Sound Pressure Level: Ensure the snare mic you choose has a high enough max SPL to capture the loud snare drum without distorting.
- Size: Pick a smaller microphone that doesn’t get in the way of the drummer’s sticks.
- Mounting: Similarly, choose a microphone that has as little mounting requirements as possible. The less mic stands around the drum set, the better.
- Low-Mid Frequency Boost: Choose a microphone that accentuates the fundamental frequency of the snare drum. Snare drum fundamentals typically range from 120 Hz – 300 Hz.
- Presence Boost: Snare drum microphone benefit from a boost in the 4 kHz – 6 kHz range. A presence boost helps the snare’s snap cut through audio mixes.
- Price: Price is typically a consideration with any serious purchase. Budgeting is important when acquiring microphones and audio equipment.
Let’s Look At The Shure SM57 According To The Above Criteria
The Shure SM57 scores extremely well in the categories listed above. Let’s dive into each of the factors that make the SM57 the best snare drum microphone on the market.
Durability Of The Shure SM57
Much like the SM58, the SM57 is nearly indestructible! The toughness of the 57 makes it an excellent choice for miking snare drums. Surely, at some point, the snare drum microphone will get hit hard by a drumstick. The SM57 could get whacked with a drumstick all day and still work perfectly. In fact, the 57 could handle much worse!
There are official Shure videos of the SM57 getting:
In each of the above scenarios, the SM57 came out functioning (though a bit beat up). I think it’s safe to say if the 57 can withstand that much abuse, it should be fine to mic up a snare drum!
Directionality Of The Shure SM57
The directionality is critically important when miking up individual elements of a drum kit. In order to get a clean capture of the snare drum without the extraneous noise of the other drum kit pieces (particularly the nearby hi-hats), the microphone must be directional.
The Shure SM57 is a top-address microphone with a tight cardioid pattern. This means the mic is sensitive to where it’s pointing while rejecting much of the sound behind it. Above 500 Hz, the SM57 is roughly 6 dB less sensitive at its sides than at its front.
Here is a diagram representing the polar pattern of the Shure SM57:
Although pure isolation is not possible when miking up a drum kits, choosing directional mics certainly helps. Pointing the SM57 at the snare drum and away from the hi-hats proves to be a practical way of “isolating” the snare drum.
Transient Response Of The Shure SM57
The snare drum, when struck by a drumstick, has on of the fastest transients in music. An accurate transient response is essential for a clean capture of a snare drum.
Dynamic microphones typically don’t have great transient responses due to the weight of their voice coils. Their transient responses are relatively slow. Ribbon mics often have the most accurate transient responses while condenser often “overshoot” the transients they capture.
However, the small diaphragm and voice coil of the SM57 does a great job at capturing transients. Perhaps not as great as a top-of-the-line ribbon or condenser, but a balancing game must be played between transient response and the other factors on this list.
Maximum Sound Pressure Level Of The Shure SM57
Dynamic microphone rarely come with a max SPL rating because they can handle any practical sound pressure level. No snare drum is loud enough to overdrive the Shure SM57.
Size And Mounting Of The Shure SM57
The SM57 is just slightly longer than 6 inches with its widest diameter only 1¼ inches. With a weight of only 284 g (10 oz), the SM57 can be easily held in place by a mic stand and positioned around a drum kit to get the best snare drum sound possible.
Alternatively, you could look into the Shure A56D drum mic clip (link to check the price on Amazon). This microphone clip attaches directly to the snare drum and holds the SM57 in place, thereby removing a mic stand from the mix and decreasing the clutter around the drum kit.
Frequency Response Of The Shure SM57
The frequency response of the Shure SM57 is given as 40 Hz – 15,000 Hz. The SM57 frequency response graph is as follows:
Let’s talk about how this graph represents a great snare drum microphone.
Depending on the tuning, a snare drum could have a fundamental frequency (lowest sonic information) between 120 Hz – 300 Hz. Any frequencies below the fundamental don’t add any necessary information to the sound of the snare drum.
Often times these frequencies are removed from an audio signal with a high-pass filter. However, as they say, it’s always best to get it right at the source!
The low-frequency roll-off of the SM57 works nicely with the sound of most snare drums. The natural roll-off of the 57 effectively “filters out” much of the unneeded information below the snare drum’s fundamental frequency.
This unneeded info could be the thump of the kick drum, low-end rumble, bass guitar, or anything other bass-heavy sounds that we don’t want in our snare drum audio signal.
As mentioned, the fundamental frequency of a snare drum varies from roughly 120 Hz – 300 Hz. Having a little boost in this range helps to give weight a power to the snare drum.
As we can see in the frequency response graph, the SM57 has a slight boost around 200 Hz. This gentle boost helps to bring out the low-end of the snare drum sound.
Notice the slight dip after the 400 Hz. This help to rid of the “boxiness” sound of the snare drum while still maintaining its strength and character.
There is quite a presence boost around 6 kHz in the SM57. What does this do to the snare sound?
Simply put, it helps the snare to shine through the other elements of an audio mix. These upper “harmonics” can really help a snare drum stand out and be heard when other instruments are also playing.
Snare drums do not contain much valuable information in the high-frequency “brilliance” range. Therefore, the high-frequency roll-off of the Shure SM57 doesn’t hurt the sound of a snare drum.
In fact, the roll-off improves the sound of the snare by effectively filtering out much of the high-end cymbal wash. This yields an audio signal that is “more” snare and “less” cymbals.
Price Of The Shure SM57
The price is definitely right on this champion of a microphone. For about $100 USD, you can be the proud owner of a new SM57.
As a snare microphone, you won’t find a less expensive microphone that delivers like the 57.
But the SM57 is not only a snare drum mic. If you’re really on a budget, get a bunch of 57s and use them on everything!
Recap Of The Shure SM57
The Shure SM57 is my recommended snare drum microphone for good reason. For an incredible price, we get an easily mountable and durable microphone with a responsiveness that compliments nearly every snare drum on the market. What’s not to like about that!