Snare Drum Microphone Shootout

Howdy Nerderinos,

So after having a look at the unit guide for my current studio unit AUD210, I promptly put it away and decided I should just get right the fuck into it and record some stuff, assigning ticks to the boxes as they come up. I decided to do a pretty basic microphone shootout with my very average snare drum as the medium for comparison between the 3 different microphones.

The microphones that I decided to test were the Shure SM57; a microphone very commonly found used on snare drums, a Sennheiser MD421; a microphone probably more prominently seen on toms rather than snare, and finally and ElectroVoice RE20; perhaps the most ubiquitous microphone of the three, it sees its most common use as a vocal microphone usually for broadcast purposes. I had originally planned to use an AKG C414 but found that as I have not had access to the Neve studio yet, I was unable to test it. In the end I figured using 3 dynamic microphones would be a more level playing field for an easier comparison of the individual microphones sound signatures.

The set up that I used is pictured below. I admit now that I probably should have approached this a little more scientifically by placing the microphone all in roughly the same position. Take the results with a grain of salt and remember that this is just showcasing how the mics sound on my shitty snare drum. I mean look at that fish. At least it’s meant to be a fish. Shut up.

IMG_4638

Microphone Shootout. Left to right: RE20, MD421, SM57

The studio I used to record the shootout was the Audient. After spending a little while getting reacquainted with the desk after roughly 3 or so months having not been within 100 meters of anything audio related I got into the swing of things. I had my friend and fellow Diploma of Audio graduate Jeff Mckenner assist me with control room side of thing whilst I played the drum. We set the levels and proceeded into the test. I decided to do 4 different takes; the first of which was just a straight through take with no processing. The second was with some positive EQ effects on each microphone. The EQ was added according to the individual characteristics of each mic in an attempt to get the best snare sound, rather than a more scientific approach of for example boosting X frequency X amount across each channel. The third take was with my wallet on the snare drum to reduce overtones, a technique I have employed before. And the fourth take was with the wallet and the EQ.

Shure SM57

In channel order we have the Shure SM57 first. The tried and tested SM57 turned out to yield a workable although thin and honky sounding snare tone. Here is the test recording of the clean SM57 snare sound.

SM57 Clean

To alleviate some of the honky sound some EQ was applied through the channel strip. Please refer to the images below for the settings used. Channel 1 (far left) is the SM57, Channel 2 is the MD421 and Channel 3 is the RE20.

IMG_4642

IMG_4643

Here is the link to the EQ addled SM57 snare sound

SM57 EQ

As you can hear, some shallow dips to the lower mid frequencies and a boost at 10Khz have cut out quite a bit of the honky sound that plagued the original snare sound.

The other recordings with the wallet were not really intended for any purpose of the microphone shootout so I will just link them here if you wish to listen to them. Personally the EQ’d wallet recording sounds the best to me.

SM57 WalletSM57 Wallet EQ

Sennheiser MD421

Moving right along in channel order we have the Sennheiser MD421. This microphone is quite a unique looking microphone due to its strange mounting clip. I feel in the future I may get into some difficulties placing this mic in strange positions but we will cross that bridge when we come to it. Here is the clean recording of the snare drum with the MD421.

MD421 Clean

Out of the three clean recordings this is the one that I would be least likely to have to use an equaliser on. That being said I did anyway for the sake of the experiment. This is my favourite of the clean recordings. Despite it being my most liked recording there is still more to be desired of the recording. The natural sound is quite hollow sounding and there is no ‘meat’ to the sound. It lacks midrange and some low end punch. Now let’s have a listen to the EQ’d version of the MD421. Please refer to the images above for the specific EQ settings, channel 2 is the MD421.

MD421 EQ

Looking at the images above we can see there has been a decent boost using both the shelf EQ’s, boosting both 10Khz and 100Hz by a few dB. A large cut in the very low end of 50Hz has been applied to remove unwanted sub bass tones and a very shallow dip at aroun 450Hz to remove any boxy overtones. Perhaps next time I would look into using the bass roll off switch on the microphone itself to allow more of the low end to present itself. Here are the wallet recordings of the MD421. Again the EQ’d wallet recording is probably my favourite recording of the 4 different samples.

MD421 WalletMD421 Wallet EQ

ElectroVoice RE20

This microphone is a bloody unit. The mic stands in the live room were all apparently rejects from everywhere else. Three or so were unusable due to defects and the ones I did use were a bit iffy. Suffice it to say the poor mic stand had its work cut out holding this microphone up sheesh. The RE20 is most definitely not commonly used as an instrument mic, although I hear it works pretty good as a second mic on a kick drum but I am sure I will look into that at a later date. It finds its home in broadcast studios all around the world as an industry leading vocal microphone. Lets see how it holds up to the other two more common instrument microphones.

Here is the clean RE20 snare recording.

RE20 Clean

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this to be great but to me the mic just seems to pick up the worst that my crappy little snare has to offer. It’s hollow and boxy and muffled as fuck. It just doesn’t sound that great. This was my least favourite recording. Off to the EQ recording we gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Check the images up above for the detailed EQ settings. Channel 3 is where it’s at.

RE20 EQ

This sounds a LOT better. With a boost to the upper frequencies we get a quite a bit more clarity in the attack of the stick sound and the actual snare vibrations beneath the drum. With a cut to the mids and lows we have eliminated some of the gross murky overtones that were ruining the day. Now the snare sounds like it’s in the same room at least, not in the bathroom down the bloody hallway. And for your listening enjoyment here are the wallet recordings. Naturally the wallet recording is my pick of these three as well.

RE20 WalletRE20 Wallet EQ

To Wallet or not to Wallet?

In conclusion I would have to say that all of the microphones that I used performed well. The sound you get is only as good as what you put in and quite frankly my snare drum isn’t that great. It is at least 7 years old and that drum head, geeez probably about the same. I drew that fish when I was like 15 or 16. The SM57 handled itself well, as expected being the most common snare drum microphone out the bunch I figured it would offer a decent sound. The MD421 was perhaps the one to outshine the others in the clean recordings but when it came to adding the EQ all of the microphones had their positives and negatives and the MD421 was no special flower. The RE20 was like the attractive hobo of the bunch. Starts off smelling a bit funky and swearing at you all the time but with a shower and some elocution lessons can stand up there with the rest of the community. In the end if I were to suggest a snare microphone for future use I would question what you are looking for. An all rounder that with a bit of polish can do well and won’t set you back a bunch of dosh? SM57 is the one for you. Perhaps a step up from that would be the MD421 with a much steeper price tag, but does offer a more versatile recording experience with less EQ effort to get a more substantial sound. You want something to record your voice to sound like a god? RE20 is the one for you. I probably wouldn’t suggest the RE20 for snare drums, unless you want that bathroom recording sound, then by all means knock yourself out. Apparently the greatest piece of advice I could give after having done this microphone shootout would be to remind everyone to remember their wallets if they are ever after a decent workable snare sound.

I am not sure if/what/any learning outcomes I have covered in this entire thing. Surely there is something. Please be something.

Peace out.

Alex

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