Snare Drum Microphone Shoot-Out3D Audio's Snare Mic Comparison

What looks like a Snare drum press conference is actually a microphone shootout conducted by Nashville veteran engineer, Lynn Fuston. You may be asking yourself, "why a mic shootout?" so here's why!

There are numerous kinds of snare drums out there, each with their own unique sound by way of design, materials, drumhead choices and tunings. Taking into account the fact that a given drum can sound very different depending on how it is played, an audio engineer needs to realize that one particular microphone may not be the ideal choice in every situation.

If you were to ask a dozen engineers "what mic should I use on a snare drum?" you might get a dozen (or more) different answers. Even if they all responded unanimously with the Shure SM-57, a highly revered mic and a standard choice for many an engineer, you're still not fully in the clear. Which SM-57 are we talking about — vintage, new or one that has been modified (eg. transformerless)? What's the difference in sound between these three different SM-57 microphones? Lynn Fuston wasn't able to answer this question, which is what prompted him to conduct this microphone comparison on a snare drum.

Microphones are like filters — little miniature equalizers built into a transducer — some are brighter, some are darker. Some highlight details; some just get the big picture. Depending on the sound coming off the snare drum head, a mic should allow you to translate what you are actually hearing into what you want to hear. With that goal in mind, choosing the right mic as well as the 'right' position of the mic will make that job much easier. For some people, the sound they want to capture is exactly the sound that is coming off the drum. That’s an excellent goal and choosing the right mic will accomplish that. Others want a sound that is larger, brighter, tighter, or deeper than what the drum really sounds like live. Knowing the available tools at your disposal, including the microphone, can help them get that sound as well.

How can you know what’s going to sound good when you start trying to record when there are all kinds of snare drums in the world with equally as many drummers who can make each snare drum sound very different? Well, listening to all the snare drum mics that are available is the best way! Get one of each and try them out. But that could take a lot of time AND a lot of money if you had to buy all those mics. Even Lynn, who has been recording snare drums since 1978, admitted there are still mics that many engineers frequently use that he has never tried.

Lynn Fuston decided that he needed to hear some of these 'other' snare drum mics and see what he (we) might be missing. That’s how his Snare Mic Comparison project was started. He compiled a list (see below) of frequent nominees for the "best snare drum mic" and contacted a bunch of engineering friends to loan him their "favorite snare mic." He then I took all the mics into the studio to see how they sounded side by side in a calibrated situation where all the mics were hearing the same drum, in the same room, recorded at the same level, on the same day, by the same drummer (ie. Nashville session drummer, John Hammond).

For this comparison, Lynn gathered the following mics to audition on top of the snare drum:

The following three 
were placed underneath 

Two Neumann U67 microphones were used as overheads.

Now comes the fun part! Lynn Fuston has made his findings available (only $5) for you to download, listen and compare for yourself. All of the audio files in the 3D Snare Mic Comparison are 24-bit/48 kHz WAV files. Included is a 21-page PDF file with all the details and pictures of how the listening test was set up and executed. Needless to say, you'll want a DAW to load these files and compare them. The download is a 157Mb ZIP file that includes the PDF and all the soundfiles and a Pro Tools session.


Listen carefully to these recordings and you may discover that the mics offer vastly different interpretations of the same drum, influencing far more than just presence and EQ. Some mics pick up the thud of the drum while others highlight the first contact of the tip of the drumstick. Some may accent the sound of the physical snares under the drum while others pick up mostly the top (batter) head. If these recordings don’t lead you to specific mics you would like to audition in person, it is Lynn's hope they will at least offer ear training and an opportunity to see just how incredibly different mics can be while interpreting the same sound source.

Lynn Fuston loves making music. For the past 30 years he has lived in Nashville and has recorded artists such as Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, DC Talk, Kathy Troccoli, Russ Taff, Twila Paris, Gaither Vocal Band, Michael English, Newsong, Cynthia Clawson, 4 Him, Bob Carlisle, BJ Thomas, The Martins, First Call, Rich Mullins and Christ Church Choir. He is the owner of 3D Audio Inc., a music mixing and mastering company. He loves to combine travel and recording and has recorded projects in Brazil, Jamaica, Cuba, Ghana, Western Samoa and Hawaii. A recognized author, he has written for recording trade magazines like EQ, ProSound News, and Audio Media. He is currently Technical Editor for Pro Audio Review. A graduate of Belmont University, he has served on the board of the Nashville chapter of the Audio Engineering Society and the Society of Professional Audio Recording Studios (SPARS). He is known internationally for producing CD and DVDs like the 3D Pre CD, the 3D Mic CD, and Preamps in Paradise, projects that allow the listener to hear dozens of equipment options ranging from commonly affordable to elite esoteric vintage gear.