From the Editor: Mics and Musicianship

How specialized does a mic have to be to work on drums? That depends on your ear.

HOW SPECIALIZED does a mic have to be to work on drums? That depends on your ear. Nonetheless, many manufacturers assemble suitable transducers into all-in-one packs that provide the best bang for the buck when you need to work with a kit in the studio or onstage.

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This month, we evaluate eight such packs, ranging from $299 to $2,499. Although the packs vary in number and types of mics included, we examine their overall characteristics to help you differentiate them by something other than cost. That’s because price doesn’t make one mic sound better than another on drums. Other factors determine which mic is right for the job, including the musical style, the player, the room, and the instruments themselves.

But while it’s easy to over-analyze the combination of all of these ingredients, the trump card is in the musical performance. The gear doesn’t make a bit of difference if the drummer isn’t nailing the part. Consider this: Some of the most memorable hits in early rock history were played on cardboard boxes, Ringo was tracked with one mic overhead and one on the kick, and John Bonham’s paradigm-shifting part on “When the Levee Breaks” was captured with only a pair of ribbon mics high above the kit.

While we hope that this month’s roundup helps you make the decision that fits your budget and tastes, remember: It’s the musician who makes the mic sound good, not the other way around.