How To Choose The Best Drum Recording Setup

DISCLAIMER: I am not claiming to be a pro audio engineer or pretending to be achieving amazing sounds here. I am new to recording and wanted to share some tips and comparisons that have become clear so far.

I should also stress ‘best’ isn’t the most expensive or biggest. It’s what works best with your budget and your requirements.

Darth Vader… i’ll explain later.

No effects have been used at any stage in the audio of the video demos (other than stock standard gates & compression). I have no acoustic treatment in my studio.

I had burning questions when i decided to up my home studio game.

What do i get? How many mics do i need? What is the minimum amount of mics i need? Do i need expensive mics? Do i need an audio interface? How hard is it to use a DAW and get all this working?

Fact is anything i did was going to provide better results than my then current recording setup… my phone.

Option #1:
The first demo on the video is the audio captured directly into my Samsung S5’s mic. Struggling and compressing like a little champ trying in vain to do what it’s not meant to do, record a full drum kit. If you were using headphones while watching the video you probably heard background noise. Some of that noise was my neighbour in the next room playing and some noise is just general… noise.

The phone/camera is important though. Desperately important. You DO need to see yourself play, not just hear yourself. That goes for whether you are recording to analyse your playing (and therefore technique) or whether you are recording covers, lessons or whatever.

Phone/Camera = ESSENTIAL

Option #2:
Get a proper Mic. Combine that with the camera footage.
BIG decision. Well it was for me anyway. This is a tipping point. ‘Proper’ XLR mics require an interface.

Was a ‘proper’ mic really going to sound that much better? I mean it’s just one mic right?
Answer: Yes. The difference is staggering. Wherever i position this mic it sounds great.

Example 2 on the video is just one condenser (overhead). You will notice that the noisy neighbour has disappeared and it is doing a hell of a job capturing the entire kit. I’m so impressed with that AKG C214.
This is a very musical option also. You need to play really evenly around the kit with the one mic. You can only manipulate the recorded audio so much. You obviously can’t fade up the toms or bring down the cymbals after the fact. You need to mix yourself.

I think the single condenser/overhead is a great option for the drummer on a budget.

You don’t even necessarily need an interface. Usb mic technology is coming along in leaps and bounds. A usb mic plugs straight into your computer, no need for an interface. If you are going to go with one mic you will want that mic to be a condenser.

Condenser Mic = ESSENTIAL

Option #3:
Right you’ve decided to go for it… we’re going multi channel recording. You will need an interface. Something that converts XLR connectors and can pop it into you computer. After much research and chatting to engineer friends i went for a focusrite 18i8. 4 XLR’s in.

I settled on working with 4 inputs. Obviously there are more than 4 elements to a drum kit but hey we’re not trying to recreate ‘Sound City’ here. One great thing about the interface is that it is usb into the computer. VERY simple. I am not a guru by any stretch and i was getting sounds an hour into opening the box. I was very surprised and relieved how easy this was to use.

Example 3 on the video is audio captured on our trusty condenser but with some welcome bottom end reinforcement from a kick mic. The condenser did brilliantly on it’s own but it’s not made to capture walloping and defined kick drum sounds.

This 2 mic setup is really solid. Super easy to mix and you get great sounds with minimum fuss.

Kick Mic = Optional (but recommended)

Option #4: ‘This station is now the ultimate power in the universe! I suggest we use it!’

BOOM! There it is.

Well we’ve got the extra channels… let’s use them. I can see how this recording thing could get addictive. Always a better mic to get, always a better plug in… Just be careful though. We don’t want Vader to choke us out for over complicating things.

Next mic to go up could be another condenser (stereo overheads) or a snare mic. I didn’t have 2 overheads so easy decision. Hopefully you notice more ‘presence’ in video example 4. The snare is now speaking evenly along with the cymbals and kick. There is more punch in the mix.

Snare Mic = Optional (but recommended)

* Probably worth noting at this point that you can get an interface with less inputs than mine or more. It’s up to you how many mics you want to run. I don’t have the ears OR the know how to mix 8 channels of drums properly. And i wasn’t prepared to fork out more money as an amateur engineer. I feel i kept it simple with 4 inputs but still have enough wiggle room to get creative. Worked for me anyway!

Right, moving along.

Just to recap. We have our camera (phone) capturing the images. We decided to go for multi channels (therefore an interface). We have Kick, Snare and Overhead mics doing a cracking job.

I have one channel left. This is like Sophie’s Choice.

Ideally here i would use another overhead which would create a stereo pair. That setup would enable me to go for the Glyn Johns Method. I will eventually do this.
Budget doesn’t currently allow for another condenser so i pulled out an old tom mic i had in my live mic set. It is a Shure PG56. I have close mic’d the floor tom with that. This setup is the final example on the video.

There we have it. I would love to be able to recommend a DAW but i honestly have no clue. I am currently using ‘Reaper’ if that helps. Not for any special reason other than i heard it’s free!

There will no doubt be people that only recommend Pro Tools, which admittedly is the industry standard. But any DAW can be learned and used with great results. As i said at the start i don’t use any effects anyway.
Just having Pro Tools does not make you a great engineer. You do still need the know how.

Mic selection is very personal. I did a tonne of research into this. No one seems to be able to agree on the best mics. I have very good engineer friends who each said polar (see what i did there?) opposites to each other.
Tune your kit properly and play well. That negates the need to nitpick tiny pro’s and con’s between otherwise comparable mics.

Trying to think of additional items to complete your setup…
Monitors/Headphones and XLR leads to connect the mics to your interface.

I hope this post helps with your decision and doesn’t confuse it. Please feel free to email me or add any comments. I am always willing to learn from those who know more and help those who know less.


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