For years, the most common method of micing tom-toms has been to use a dynamic microphone. Over time, however, the introduction of purpose-built, discreet condenser microphones have given engineers more tonal choice and some practical benefits. Consequently, dynamic and condenser tom-tom options now divide opinion among sound engineers. In reality, both have distinct advantages depending on your application – so which is right for you?
Dynamic Mics on Toms
Dynamic mics such as the SM57 or Beta56 will give you great weight but modest detail. Secondly, their less sensitive response means they pick up relatively low amounts of spill, helping you to isolate the drum more easily. For a floor tom, consider a large diaphragm dynamic mic (such as the SM7B), which can handle higher SPL and extended low end. The disadvantage to dynamic mics is their less responsive sound, which results in a less present attack. They’re also less discreet than modern purpose built condenser mics; meaning your drummer is more likely to hit them!
Condenser Mics on Toms
Purpose built condenser microphones for micing tom-toms such as the Shure Beta98 (pictured above) will pick up an open sound with a pronounced attack thanks to their high-frequency response. The beta98 in particular is very discreet and has the advantage of allowing you to position the mic more accurately using a gooseneck The drawback for condensers is increased spill from the cymbals. Depending on your application, this may or may not be an issue.
The Bottom Line
If you like the more weighty isolated sound of close mic drums, you’re likely better off using a dynamic microphone. Alternatively, if a more natural, open sound, and increased attack is your thing – it’s condenser mics all the way.
Moreover, style of music and the drummer’s performance can also influence your decision. For example: if your drummer is heavy on the cymbals (many rock or metal drummers are) then you might find controlling spill difficult using a condenser mic. On the other hand, if your drummer is using brushes, condenser microphones are perfect for picking up delicate details. Additionally, your selection of dynamic/condenser mics can be used to either accentuate the detail in a darker sounding kit or tame down an excessively bright kit. As always, it’s important to trust your ears.
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