Best Microphones For Miking Tom Drums

So you’ve got your toms tuned perfectly and it’s time to mike them up. Whether you’re recording or playing live, choosing great microphones for your toms can make or break their presence in the mix!

Let’s get into more detail about the Sennheiser e604 and MD421-II and why they’re the best choice for miking tom drums.


Disclaimer:

“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)
  • Instrument
  • 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 To Look For In A Tom Drum Microphone

When looking for a microphone tailored for capturing the sound of a tom drum, there are a few things to consider:

  • 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.
  • Price: Budgeting is important and often times drum kits have more than one tom.
  • Durability: It’s critical to select a microphone capable of withstanding a blow from a heavy handed drummer. Drum sticks 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. Directional mics capture what they’re pointed at rather than everything around them.
  • Low-Frequency Response: Choose a microphone capable of accurately recreating the low frequencies of the tom drums. The proximity effect of directional microphones helps with this.
  • High Maximum Sound Pressure Level: Tom drums are loud! Ensure your mics have a high enough max SPL to cleanly capture the toms.
  • Fast Transient Response: As with most percussion elements, toms have great transient information. Opt for a microphone with an accurate transient response.

How Does The Sennheiser e604 Compare To The Above Criteria?

Sennheiser MD421

So now that we know what to look for in a tom microphone, let’s discuss the e604 and why it’s the best choice for miking toms drums.

Size Of The Sennheiser e604

When close miking any drum, we want to create as little an obstacle as possible for the drummer to have to avoid. The size of the mic plays a vital role in the comfort of the player and will show through the drummer’s performance.

The Sennheiser e604 is a very small microphone measuring 59 mm in length and 33 mm at its widest diameter (at the capsule).

This small footprint mounted at the rim of a tom is about as out-of-way we can get while remaining as close as possible to the drum head.

Mounting Of The Sennheiser e604

Every newly purchased Sennheiser e604 comes with an MZH 604 drum clip. Replacement Sennheiser MZH 604 drum clips can also be purchased on their own (link to check the price on Amazon).

These MZH 604 drum clips mount directly to the rim of a drum. There’s no need for awkwardly positioning mic stands and microphones to capture the sound of a drum kit. This makes life easy for the drummer and for whoever is miking up the kit.

The MZH 604 also has a cable clip to help make things even neater around the tom drums of a drum kit.

The mounting combined with the compact size of the e604 make it an ideal choice for clutter-free miking of the toms of a drum kit!

Price Of The Sennheiser e604

Prices may vary from the time of writing this article, but right now the e604 is well priced at below $150 USD per microphone. That’s great value!

Drum kits, however, often have more than one tom drum. The good news here is that you can save money when purchasing three e604 together (link to check the price on Amazon).

To put it in context, the Sennheiser MD421-II (which I’ll get to later) is a tom microphone I’ve used in many recording sessions. However, the MD421 is awkward to position around toms and it’s roughly 3 times more expensive than the e604.

More expensive isn’t always synonymous with better. The price is right with the Sennheiser e604.

Durability Of The Sennheiser e604

When placing a microphone anywhere near a drum head, it’s critical the microphone be rugged and durable. Chances are, that microphone is going to get a whack or two from a drum stick at some point in its life. Luckily, the Sennheiser e604 provides excellent durability!

Both the e604 and the MZH 604 are tough and reviews around the internet suggest they hold up extremely well over time.

The reinforced glass fiber body handles abuse well. It’s not likely the microphone will break from getting hit by a drum stick!

Directionality Of The Sennheiser e604

Microphone directionality is paramount when close miking drum kits. There are so many individual elements in a close space and they are all very loud. A microphone must be directional in order to pick up its intended drum while rejecting the unintended elements.

The e604 has a cardioid polar pattern and is a top-address microphone. Simply clip the microphone onto the rim of the tom drum and point it toward the centre of the drum head. The microphone will be most sensitive to the tom and reject much of the sound in the opposite direction of where it’s pointing.

The cardioid pattern also makes the e604 exhibit the proximity effect, which we’ll get to next.

For more information on the cardioid microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).

Frequency Response Of The Sennheiser e604

The frequency response of the Sennheiser e604 is listed as 40 Hz – 18,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph of the e604:

Image from Sennheiser e604 Specification Sheet

As you can see, the closer the e604 is placed to the tom drum, the more bass-frequency response we get out of it. This is due to the aforementioned proximity effect. 

Mounting the e604’s to the tom drums not only yields greatly isolation fo the toms relative to other parts of the kit, but gives a deeper, boomier sound to the toms as well.

Because we clip these microphones so close to the tom drums, the proximity effect is nearly always in play!

For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).

For more information on microphone proximity effect, check out my article What Is Microphone Proximity Effect And What Causes It?

Maximum Sound Pressure Level Of The Sennheiser e604

Drums are loud. In order to achieve a clean sound without distortion, we need a microphone with a high maximum sound pressure level rating. This typically means a dynamic microphone.

The max SPL of the Sennheiser e604 is rated above 160 dB SPL. This is more than enough. No practical tom drum makes that much sound!

For more information on max SPL ratings, check out my article What Does Maximum Sound Pressure Level Actually Mean?

Transient Response Of The Sennheiser e604

Although somewhat subjective, I believe capturing the most accurate transient response on drums is important. 

A transient for a tom drum is the spike in sound associated with the tom drum as it is hit by a drum stick. A transient response is how well the microphone captures that transient.

A common issue with large diaphragm dynamic microphones is that their transient responses are a bit laggy. The weight and inertia of their diaphragms cause them to react slowly to incoming transient sounds.

The e604 has a lightweight voice coil that responds very well to transients. This makes for a punchier tom drum sound from the e604 compared to bigger dynamic mics.


How Does The Sennheiser MD421-II Compare To The Above Criteria?

Sennheiser MD421-II

Let’s talk about the second recommended tom drum microphone: the Sennheiser MD421-II. Many professionals consider this microphone the best mic on the market for capturing tom drums. We’ll start with what the MD421 does right and work our way down to the cons (to help explain why it’s a second place option to me).

I’d mainly recommend this microphone for familiarity reasons. It has been a standard tom mic for a long time and I’d feel bad if I didn’t mention it!

Durability Of The Sennheiser MD421-II

I’ve never heard of an MD421 ever failing. These microphones are seriously tough and will last for ages.

The truth is that microphones placed around drum kits will get hit by drum sticks… and they’ll get hit hard. The MD421 is tough enough to withstand a serious beating and over a long period of time.

Frequency Response Of The Sennheiser MD421-II

The frequency response of the Sennheiser MD421-II is listed as 30 Hz – 17,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph of the MD421-II:

Image from Sennheiser MD421-II Specification Sheet

There are 5 different high-pass filter options on the MD421-II. You may be asking why they’d come in handy when trying to record the boomy low end of toms. The answer lies in the proximity effect.

If positioning the MD421 too close to the tom, we may end up with too much low-end exaggeration from the proximity effect. A simple flip of an HPF switch allows us to keep the mic in the same position while getting the low-end of the tom just right!

When close-miked, toms sound great through MD421s. This is a big reason why they’ve been used as tom mics for so long.

Maximum Sound Pressure Level Of The Sennheiser MD421-II

Like the e604 and most other dynamic microphones, the MD421 doesn’t have a rated max SPL. The rating surely exceeds 160 dB SPL, which no tom mic ever will.

Transient Response Of The Sennheiser MD421-II

The Sennheiser MD421 is a relatively large diaphragm dynamic microphone. Its voice coil is fairly heavy and its transient response is therefore, slightly inaccurate.

Directionality Of The Sennheiser MD421-II

This is where things start going downhill in my recommendation of the MD421. The MD421 is a top-address microphone that is designed in a seemingly side-address body. What’s that thick seam doing at the top of the mic?!

The MD421 has a cardioid polar pattern, which is what we want in a close range drum microphone. Just make sure that you’re pointing it at the tom as a top-address microphone.

Price Of The Sennheiser MD421-II

The Sennheiser MD421-II is roughly 3 times the price of the e604. I believe the microphone is of great quality and warrants the price tag. However, drums often have more than one tom drum and so higher prices add up quickly!

The MD421 is versatile beyond close-miking drums.

Size Of The Sennheiser MD421-II

The MD421 is a bulky microphone. It’s got volume and weight.

Bigger is not better when it comes to tom microphones. We want to be as out-of-the-way as possible when miking up a drum kit and toms are no exception. The last thing we want in the drummer hitting the microphones and not the drums!

The size of the MD421 makes it impractical for rim attachment.

The weight of the MD421 also makes it a pain when attached to longer horizontal mic stand distances.

Mounting Of The Sennheiser MD421-II

Oh the mic clip from hell. Never have I ever worked with a microphone clip as bad as that of the MD421.

Unlike the e604 (and many other common tom drum mics), the MD421 cannot be mounted to the rim of a drum. This means extra mic stands around the kit in order to position the MD421’s.

Properly positioning the MD421 around a drum kit can be a nightmare (I can personally attest to that). The first obstacle comes with positioning the mic correctly along with its mic stand. The second obstacle is getting the damn microphone to stay put on its clips.

The poorly designed mic clip of the MD421 barely holds the microphone. One little adjustment could detach the mic from the clip, causing it to fall onto the tom or the floor. Not what you want happening during set-up and especially not during performance.

I’ve seen many people tape up their MD421’s to mic stands to avoid this. Still not a great strategy.

For more information on microphone clips and shock mounts, check out my article How To Attach A Microphone To A Microphone Stand.


Recap On The Sennheiser e604

The Sennheiser e604 captures tom drums accurately while accentuating their low-end frequencies. These mics are extremely easy to setup and leave an extraordinarily small footprint around a drum kit. Their price point is amazing and they are quite durable.


Recap On The Sennheiser MD421-II

The Sennheiser MD421-II is a classic tom drum microphone. MD421’s sound great on toms and have adjustable high-pass filters to help get their sound just right. They’re more expensive than the e604s but are relatively inexpensive when it comes to professional microphones. The main issues with the MD421-II is its size, weight, and mic clip.

All in all, these are two excellent microphones for capturing the sound of tom drums!

For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.