In this Sound Pure Gear Tip, pro audio specialist Marc Kuzio looks at the differences between a few of the most common dynamic and condenser microphones in the context of recording snare drums.
Marc says that context plays a lot into the decision of whether to use a dynamic or condenser mic. It really comes down to your personal preference sonically, the drummer’s playing style, genre of music, what the song calls for, etc.
With dynamic microphones, you get more of a forgiving sound that can gel nicely with the aggressive transients of the snare’s attack. Depending on your mic placement and mic choice, a dynamic can give you a thuddy and punchy kind of sound. They also can help with isolation due to their lower sensitivity. Marc said that he typically uses a dynamic mic for something like a rock drum track, something aggressive and snappy.
The SM57 is common choice because of its midrange focus that compliments the predominantly midrange frequencies of a snare. This mic tends to do well at emphasizing the body and thud of the instrument.
Marc usually uses a condenser mic when he wants more of a natural and full sound. Condenser mics capture the sound of the snare as you would hear it in person. Again, depending on placement you can get more of that crack, high end, and a little bit of sizzle that round out the full spectrum.
You tend to get more information when using a condenser microphone because these mics are inherently more sensitive. Condensers like the Josephson e22S and Beta 181 have a tighter polar pattern, so they let you focus on the snare. Since these mics are super cardioid, you don’t have to worry too much about picking up the rest of the kit.
You will often times see both the top and bottom of the snare mic’d and blended to give more thud or crack in the context of the whole kit. A lot of engineers will use dynamic mic on top and a condenser below to get the sizzle and snap of the bottom snares. In context, having the condenser mic on the bottom adds brightness that makes the snare sound like a full picture.
Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org for the high res audio files of these mics being used in context.