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Two common techniques to record drums use different types of drum microphones. The simplest way to record a drum kit is to use two overhead drum microphones with individual microphones on the snare and base drums only. A second setup, the popular choice for recording contemporary music, uses a separate, or spot, microphone on each piece of the drum kit.
Whether drum microphones will be used in a live concert or during a recording session, a mix of dynamic and capacitor microphones is commonly used. Note that capacitor microphones tend to be more fragile and expensive than dynamic microphones. Since drum microphones are not picked up and handled during a performance, some capacitor microphones can be used on a drum kit during a live show. Dynamic microphones are more rugged and cheaper to replace if damaged.
Capacitor microphones, also know as condenser microphones, use an electrical charge to change sound waves to electrical energy. These microphones need a special power supply to operate. This power can come from a battery, a power pack that plugs into the wall, or phantom power, which is power supplied through a sound recording mixer. Capacitor microphones are well suited to pick up high-end frequencies.
Overhead microphones and spot microphones for cymbals are generally capacitor microphones. Overheads are usually positioned on boom stands several feet above the drum kit. Cymbal spot microphones are placed facedown a few inches above the cymbal. Crash and ride cymbal sounds are usually picked up by the overheads, and normally don't need spot microphones.
Dynamic microphones use a magnetic field to convert sound to electrical energy. They do not need a special power supply like capacitor microphones. There are two main types of dynamic microphones: ribbon and moving coil. Ribbon microphones are too fragile to use on drums. Since moving coil microphones can pick up a variety of frequencies, they are a common choice to use as drum microphones.
Bass drums, or kick drums, almost always need dynamic microphones. Bass drums require a heavy-duty microphone that can pick up loud, low frequencies and take a lot of abuse. The bass drum microphone is usually placed inside the bass drum or an inch or two from the back of the drum. It is common practice to dampen a bass drum by placing a towel or blanket inside the drum. Dampening can help get better sound quality from the microphone.
Both snare drums and tom-toms can use either capacitor or dynamic spot microphones. The choice depends on the recording engineer's preference and the budget. Generally, snare and tom-tom microphones are placed facedown a few inches from the top of the drum. Dampening can also be used on these drums to enhance the microphone's performance. Using different types of drum microphones and proper placement can ensure quality sound pick up from all elements of the drum kit.
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