Drum overhead microphone technique comparison

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010 | by

ORTF PairYou have two microphones and two hours. How many ways can you mike a drum kit?

I had a good idea of my choices, but I wanted to hear them all together so I would know what works in my room. It’s no different from getting to know your own mic locker; each stereo mic placement technique is a tool, and like any tool it is only useful if you know how to use it.

I made a list of seven stereo mic techniques for drum recording, then recorded myself playing the same thing on the same drums in the same room, as heard through the same pair of microphones — in seven different configurations. Following is a detailed comparison of Spaced Pair (omni and cardioid), Coincident Pair (omni and cardioid), ORTF, Mid-Side and “Recorderman.”

The mics in question were a pair of 4400aSE Electronics’ 4400a. The 4400a is an incredibly versatile large-diaphragm multipattern FET condenser in a very small form-factor. (We are liking this mike a lot; watch for a full review soon.)

The audio samples below are stereo 320kbps MP3s. I recommend listening in headphones, as the differences among the tracks are easiest to hear if the sound of your own monitoring environment is well-controlled.

Listening with the proper mindset

All the following are legitimate stereo miking techniques (well, except maybe for XY-omni). While you might find a favorite here, be aware that the appropriate technique for any session depends on the drums, the room, the player, the song, and the arrangement. As always.

Nonetheless, this test reveals characteristics of each OH miking technique — such as the width of the stereo field, the intimacy of the kit, the amount of room sound in the mix, the susceptibility to phasing or comb-filtering problems — that bear consideration for every session.

XY (Coincident Pair)

Overhead mic configuration: XY or Coincident Pair
XY is one of the two most common stereo overhead miking techniques. For my test, the mics were in a 90° spread, about 55'' from the center of the snare head and 80'' above the floor. I recorded samples in both Cardioid and Omnidirectional modes.

Neither of these clips presents a wide stereo image. Listen to the closing tom fill — there is little discernible lateral movement.

The image collapses to mono gracefully; this is expected, given that the mic capsules were close together. Listening in mono also reveals that, in stereo, both clips do present a sense of space — it’s small, but it’s there. If you don’t like hearing tom fills that go from one corner of the room to the other, or if you’re recording a song for which the drums play a background role, then XY is a reliable choice.

For me, both these tracks have too much boomy low end. I don’t much like either of them.

The omni clip has far too much room sound for my taste. In a space that is either deader or tuned, I think omni is a more viable choice for drum overheads; for example, listen to the omni tracks in my old drum overhead shootout, in which an omni mic brought depth and LF without excessive boom or smeary HF.

Note, too, that the height of the XY pair will alter the sound of the result. I think I would have liked this pair better if I’d lowered the mics to a height of about 60 inches (instead of 80); this would have reduced the apparent volume of the room sound, and provided more stereo separation too.

Reader Malcolm Paterson posted a comment suggesting a “stereo widening” technique — subtracting ~6dB worth of the inverted L signal from R, and vice-versa. Here’s the result… we’ll be playing more with this soon.

Spaced Pair

Overhead mic configuration: Spaced Pair
The spaced pair is the other of the most common overhead drum miking techniques, although there are an infinite variety of ways to do it.

Perhaps more than any other method tested, the spaced pair approach requires care to avoid phasing problems. As an example, let’s say the snare drum resonates at 400Hz. The wavelength of a 400Hz tone is about 33 inches. If one of a pair of haphazardly-placed OH mics is 16.5 inches closer to the snare than the other, then the snare sound will arrive out-of-phase at the two mics, and in mono the 400Hz tone won’t be heard.

While it’s true that drums resonate at multiple frequencies, phasing problems can nonetheless cause drums to sound thin.

The easiest way to avoid screwing up the snare sound with phasing problems is to put the two capsules of the spaced pair at equal distances from the center of the snare head. This has the added benefit of centering the snare in the stereo image, which is most likely where you want it anyway.

To be fair, this arrangement may well introduce phasing problems with the kick or toms, which is why the OH mic position should always be tested before recording.

The 3:1 rule suggests that the mics should be three times farther apart than their height above the drum kit. In practice, I see engineers worrying more about the distance from the snare than the distance between the mics. Use your ears (and a tape measure too).

Should the mics’ capsules be pointed straight down, angled in, angled out, or aimed directly at the snare? It’s a matter of taste. Any drums or cymbals that are on-axis — meaning, in the mics’ “line of sight” — are going to be more clearly heard and probably louder too. Adjust the OH position with an ear toward your final mix.

In this test, the mics were 69'' from the floor, 52'' from the center of the snare, and 58'' apart, with the capsules pointing straight down. I recorded samples in both Cardioid and Omnidirectional modes.

The Cardioid clip gives a wide stereo image. The hi-hat is firmly on the left. The tom fill has some movement, although it seems to start in the middle move to the right. (The panning of close tom mics could of course alter this perception.)

I like the sound of the Cardioid pair; the drums retain their presence without losing the sound of the room. I can hear the space, but I can hear the drums too. It’s a good balance.

In Omni, the mics bring in more of the sound of the room, but not so much as in XY. This is probably a result of the fact that in XY, the mics were mostly pointing past the drums. But while this Omni track doesn’t offend me, I’d be more likely to choose Cardioid for most applications, and rely on room mics for the room sound.


Overhead mic configuration: ORTF

ORTF is a curious stereo technique with specific positioning requirements: 17cm between capsules, angled 110° apart. I fudged this slightly, owing to haste and my unfortunate reliance on the World’s Worst Stereo Mic Bar (produced by On-Stage Stands). Note that the 4400a stereo kit includes a far superior stereo bar that I wish I’d used instead. Alas.

My ORTF pair was 77'' above the floor, 53'' above the snare, positioned so the snare was equidistant from the two mics’ capsules.

The sound of this track grew on me over repeated listenings. The drums sound big, but not excessively boomy. The cymbals are well-represented without taking anyone’s face off.

The stereo image is not as wide as on the Spaced Pair track, but ORTF sounds more realistic — see below for a head-to-head comparison of ORTF vs. Spaced Pair.

I don’t hear any drastic volume changes when I monitor the ORTF track in mono; this suggests a lack of significant phase problems.

I think I’d like ORTF even better if the mics were lower.


Overhead mic configuration: Mid-SideThe following two clips are of the same performance; the only difference is a mix-time gain change.

Mid-Side is a stereo technique that promises perfect mono compatibility. It employs a “mid” Cardioid mic pointed at the source, and a “side” figure-of-8 mic whose null is pointed at the source. The stereo “left” channel is the mid plus the side, while the “right” channel is the mid minus the side… more or less. (See this video to learn more about mid-side technique.)

One of the benefits of mid-side is that adjusting the relative gain of the two signals can alter the perceived width of the stereo image. The louder the “side” channel is, the wider the stereo image is. That said, the side channel is comprised entirely of off-axis sounds, which might not sound very good, depending on the instrument and room.

My MS pair was located 71'' above the floor, with the “mid” capsule about 52'' from the center of the snare. I produced two samples; the difference between “narrow” and “wide” is about 8dB worth of gain on the side channel. (The mid channel is about 9dB (RMS) louder than the side channel in the “wide” mix, and about 17dB louder than the side channel in the “narrow” mix.)

The “narrow” mix sounds a lot like XY! The XY track contains more of the sound of the room, due to the height of the XY pair. But the stereo image is similar in size.

Flipping to mono, the “narrow” track sounds almost the same as in stereo. There is not much side-channel information in this mix.

The “wide” track communicates a greater sense of space, but the change is subtle. And it’s not true stereo separation to my ear; rather, the size of the space seems to grow, and the size of the kit seems to grow, but I don’t hear the high-hats or floor tom move farther to the outside of the mix.

Mono compatibility is excellent for both these tracks, as expected.

But I’m not fond of this sound. Part of the problem is that the “side” channel sounds like a room mic, not like an overhead; I’d rather my stereo image not come at the cost of trashing up the sound of the kit. But as with the Omni samples above, Mid-side would likely work better in a treated room.


Overhead mic configuration: Recorderman

The “Recorderman” technique is a close-overhead technique that attempts to put both mics equidistant from both the snare and the kick drum. One mic stands about 32'' above the snare, pointing straight down, while the other sits over the drummer’s right shoulder, pointing at the snare. Here’s a video tutorial.

I panned the two tracks hard R/L in this clip, which maximizes the width of the stereo image at the cost of leaving a hole in the middle. Listen to the closing tom fill; it sort of jumps from left to right. But of course this is easy to adjust at mix time.

This clip sounds unlike every other clip on this page. It’s punchy, clean, and very dry. All that room sound from the other samples is gone, because the mics are nearly half the distance from the drums as before. (Hello, inverse-square law!)

This sound puts me in the middle of the kit. I love the presence of this sound. The kick drum is tighter-sounding here than in any other clip.

But is it too dry?

Head to head


I extracted a 4-bar clip from each of the cardioid-pattern samples, and pasted them into one file, arranged from narrowest to widest stereo field (a subjective judgment, of course). In order, they are:

  1. XY
  2. Mid-side
  3. Recorderman
  4. ORTF
  5. Spaced Pair

The tonal difference is eye-opening. Compare the sound of the cymbal in the first two sections; the XY clip contains much more cymbal ring than does the MS clip. Then hear how the cymbals drop away in the third section (Recorderman) — a much drier, more drum-centric OH configuration.

The ORTF clip sounds tonally similar to Recorderman, but has a wider stereo image. The spaced pair clip is wider still, but introduces a tonal change that I’m not fond of.

XY vs Spaced Pair

The next comparison illustrates the stereo field differences between XY and spaced pair, with both mics in Cardioid mode. This clip contains a 1-bar excerpt from the XY sample, then Spaced, and then the whole thing repeats.

I far prefer the spaced-pair approach. The drum kit, unlike just about every other instrument on stage, is naturally a stereo instrument. (And personally, I do like those big Neil Peart tom fills that go from one corner of the room to another!)

ORTF vs Spaced Pair

The next comparison reveals the stereo field differences between ORTF and Spaced Pair. Just to keep things confusing, this time the excerpts are 2 bars long: a 2-bar clip in ORTF, then Spaced, then ORTF again, then Spaced again.

As mentioned above, the sound of ORTF grew on me. It’s not as wide as the Spaced Pair image, but it sounds more realistic. Although I liked the Spaced Pair track in isolation, when I compare it to ORTF, it seems unnatural.

Personal Preferences

The “Recorderman” technique has been my go-to OH technique for years, so it is familiar, and a welcome change from what was sounding like excessively room-y overhead tracks. I really like the sound of it, and I like that the mics can be close to the kit without being in the way.

But the ORTF results sounded really good, too, and promises an easier setup. Two mics on a single stand can easily be moved around in space to quickly find a sweet spot for height and angle. I’ll definitely be trying ORTF more in the future.

What about Glyn Johns?!

The most obvious missing drum mic technique here is the “Glyn Johns” method, about which more can be read here. I skipped it primarily because it is not a stereo overhead technique — it’s a 4-mic approach for the whole drum kit.

Certainly any of the OH techniques I tried would likely be augmented by close mics on the kick and snare, and possibly tom mics and ambient mics too. But all the techniques I tested give a usable representation of the kit. I’m not sure that would be true with one-half of the Glyn Johns approach.

I also didn’t try a Jecklin disk. I’ve never seen anyone record drums that way, but it sounds like fun. Maybe next time.


A few useful lessons emerged from this process:

  • A pair of cardioid mics provides several distinct, viable OH sounds.
  • If the mic placement puts the whole drum kit off-axis, the OH sound will be primarily the sound of the room.
  • The closer the mics are to the kit, the less room sound you’ll hear (and the less preamp gain you’ll need).
  • Avoid phase issues by keeping the snare and kick centered between the mics.
  • XY and mid-side create the narrowest stereo image; ORTF and spaced pair create a wider image.
  • Reduce cymbal volume (and room sound) via Recorderman.

As always, the main takeaway is “Test and listen!” But you knew that already.

I’d like to hear your lessons, too: is your go-to OH technique dependent on the room, the size of the kit, the style of music? Are there “gotchas” not already listed here? When the drummer can’t stop pounding the hell out of the cymbals, is it acceptable to simply move them out of his reach? The comments are open!

Posted in Microphones, Shootouts | 59 Comments »

59 Responses to “Drum overhead microphone technique comparison”

  1. Brendan

    April 3rd, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Glyn Johns overheads will work on their own. You might need a kick mic. But the rest of the kit should balance out fine.

  2. toddy

    April 4th, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    awesome writeup!

  3. MTrogner

    April 5th, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Excellent work! I almost always go for the space pair configuration but your testing has inspired me to experiment with some other setups. Thanks.

  4. Joe Pacheco

    April 6th, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Wow, this is great. I’ve tried most of these over the years, but never had the chance to do them back to back in the same room same kit etc. Also really appreciate the comparisons with Cardiod and Omni. I was able to tell which one’s I preferred between the different techniques.

    thanks again for all this


  5. Kevin

    April 6th, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    I really appreciate your time and research here. Even though most of us have heard these techniques in various sessions, personally, I haven’t taken the time to create a nice archived comparison like you have done for us here. Thanks for putting in the effort.

  6. Ben

    April 14th, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Awesome post! Especially the 1:1 comparisons are very helpful. I think ORTF is the way to go… I have gotten good results with Recorderman so far but next time I am definitely gonna give ORTF a try.

  7. Mike Prewett

    April 19th, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    This is simply the most useful recording comparison of any kind I’ve ever heard on the web.

    The ORTF makes me really curious about how NOS would sound.

  8. Adam Menczykowski

    April 20th, 2010 at 8:15 am

    What about Blumlein! My favourite OH technique is missing!

    Positioned at head height 2 feet in front of the kick drum gives an even picture of the cymbals and the drums, with good mono translation and great width.

  9. Miguel de Campos

    May 2nd, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Great work!! very nicely presented as well!

    The OH for the glyn Johns technique are based on the same principle for the recorderman technique. The distance used is similar (32″) and either the snare or the kick can be used as a center reference.

    I personally love ORTF, or rather a semicoincident pair, variyng the angle between the mics to “focus” the sound of the drums. Keeping a similar distance between the mics as in ORTF should keep the same phase relationship.

    Blumlein stereo is also interesting but the room is also an issue here.

    Keep on with the good work!!!

  10. Randy Coppinger

    May 3rd, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Thank you for this presentation. I’ve done comparisons like this in the past and have some issues to add…
    > The off axis response on the SE mics is pretty wild. As such, spaced techniques will ALWAYS seem wider than coincident techniques. But the failure is the mics, not the choice of array. I’ve had the same experience with Oktava MK012s, which are also wonky off axis.
    > Headphones will always sound more spacious than speakers. I prefer to judge width on speakers because it is more difficult to achieve. A check on headphones is important too, but not necessarily “easier to hear” and judge width.
    > I’m scratching my head about the XY pair in omni. Coincident arrays require directional patterns.
    >Drum overheads sound a certain way when isolated, but they can sound totally different when you add close mics on snare, kick, etc. For rock drums with lots of sound from close mics, you really need your overheads to have an exaggerated sense of space because centered close mics will make the image sound more “mono”.
    > The “side” of a Mid-Side pair is always going to point somewhere that the kit isn’t. I think this array is great for lots of applications, including drum room mics. But because the “side” doesn’t ever point toward the kit, I don’t think it works for drum overheads.
    > In addition to choosing a mic array and where that array should be located, the other HUGE issue here is room acoustics. Close mics are not as subject to room acoustics, but overheads are. Sometimes the other choices are more about minimizing how crappy a room sounds than about getting the desired width or tone from the drums.
    Hope that helps.

  11. Chris Tabron

    May 8th, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Excellent post, and thank-you for your effort here. I think it’s important to add that the skill level of the drummer often plays a large role in deciding which miking technique to use. For instance, I only use Glyn Johns’ method with a very skilled drummer who can control his tone/velocity/dynamics well. If the drummer is average or just not-so-good, this method can sound pretty crappy. Most of the time, a spaced pair of cards (U67s if you got em) angled steeply to provide a wide stereo image is what I use. Sometimes a nice ribbon (Coles) as a mono overhead is just the right thing as well, depending on the tune.

  12. powlow

    May 12th, 2010 at 12:52 am

    Great writeup. Really interesting to hear a side by side comparison of the techniques. Very helpfull. Cheers

  13. Malcolm

    June 14th, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks for doing this comparison, it was very informative for me. I do however have one comment; I think the XY technique can be improved dramatically by using some stereo widening. Since your mics were angled at 90 degrees apart, I’d suggest inverting the left signal, lowering it by about 6 decibels, then subracting that from the right signal. Then do the same for the other side.

    Would it be possible for you to post the results of this, or send me the XY file so that I can try widening it?

  14. Dan W

    June 15th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    This is great! You’ve inspired me to give ORTF a go, and it’s nice to hear such differences compared to my familiar spaced pair arrangement. I’m a big Glyn Johns fan, too, and recorderman has also worked for me. I have been planning on trying a “really low” spaced pair, about head height, I saw a picture of Phil Selway of radiohead being miked this way by Nigel Godrich, and I thought, ah, yes, that must be how he gets that really “close up” drum sound (duh!, d’oh!) per your observations in your conclusion.

  15. matthew mcglynn

    June 21st, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Malcolm, I’ve posted your “widened” track in the article. Thank you for the suggestion! I prefer your version to my own, and plan to experiment more with this technique in the future.

  16. Ryan Taylor

    August 25th, 2010 at 5:34 am

    For the widest image, I like to use the Jecklin disk method but replace the omni mics with two cardioid mics. Place them ORTF style with a 90° angle and bam! Super wide especially with a pair of cardioid ribbons like the Silvia SC-5C! You may call it the RT Crazy Wide method LOL! Placing a mic on each drum is a must. It allows for more compression on the drum buss and from mastering without taking the stereo image away. Fun Stuff!

  17. Steve Estrada

    August 31st, 2010 at 10:37 am

    I’ve mixed Recorderman and Glyn Johns once. Basically a Recorderman set up with the side mic over the floor tom from the Glyn Johns, all equidistant from the snare (and kick, if possible.)

    Over the snare is Left, behind the drummer is Center, and the side mic is Right.

    It’s super clean sounding. (I used 414s in cardioid, though doing it in omni will sound HUGE, but maybe too huge…)

    If you make them around 4 feet from the kick, and flip the phase on all of them, they will naturally filter out around 300Hz when in use with a spot mic on the kick.

  18. Yaniv

    September 23rd, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Really great work. Thanks!

  19. evan

    October 21st, 2010 at 10:12 am

    One trick for cymbal bashers — move the overheads closer to the ground, or more parallel to the cymbals’ edges (cymbals project up and down, not off the edge). I usually do this with Recorderman-style overheads in omni. It’s more of a, half close-mic’ed, in-the-drummer’s-throne sound but still provides some room tone.

  20. Noah

    December 29th, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Great article, thanks so much. I also own the worlds worst stereo mic bar, and my previous ortf mount made of gorilla tape and cardboard was vastly superior.

  21. David Nicol

    January 3rd, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Wow what a helpful article. I am just getting started with recording drums and I am recording in a variety of garages and other less-than-desirable rooms. At present, I try to record as bone-dry as possible with individual close micing and no overheads or any other ambient mics. Then I add a good room ambience later in the mix. This technique works, but I am new so I wonder if anybody else has some ideas for me.

    Does anybody have any tips on how to record as dry as possible, and which configurations you have found to be useful? Put the drums in the middle of the room, or put them into a well-dampened corner? I use the corner usually. Face the drums/mics towards the live end of the room or the dead end of the room? I have the mics face towards the dead end of the room, and let the cardiod response attenuate the reflections off the more live end. I deaden the whole room a bit, but try to totally kill one wall’s echoes entirely, or kill a larger corner area. And I hang foam here and there from the ceiling, and add some bass traps to the corners.

    Anybody remember tips from your early days?

  22. matthew mcglynn

    January 3rd, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Hi David,

    First off, if you have decent OH mics, you might as well put them up in the Recorderman position to see if they’ll work for you in whatever room you have. That’s the “driest” OH position I’ve found.

    Regarding the room, put your drums in the driest corner. This helps stop the closest reflections. Ambient mics put in the “live” end of the room — depending on room size — can then bring a useful contrast into the mix.

    Be aware that thin foam, egg cartons, and carpet do NOT adequately deaden a wall or corner. They’ll mute HF reflections somewhat but you’ll still get an unreasonable amount of echo of mid and low frequencies, not to mention potential room nodes that can cause very colored sounds in the mics. Panels made of rigid fiberglass insulation tend to sound better in my experience. But they don’t sound as good as a larger room. :)

  23. xin

    February 19th, 2011 at 5:57 am

    i’ve read through this blog and found out some useful drum miking techniques .. really appreciate !

  24. Maurice

    February 21st, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Very nice articles! Thanks a lot.

    Guys, I need some advice, I have the kick snare hat only in the corner of a small booth, it’s well dampened, but I am not too sure what OH type to go for, because I quite like the sound of the bass drum picked up by the OH, added to the kickmic… But I am worried about phase cancelations in the low end, as the kick is in the corner so the OH cannot be position as good as if the BD was centred. I know I could go mono, but I like the stereo spread better. I have got enough mic though, so that, not an issue, and in fact I was thinking of trying to ad a single mono mic just for the bottom end, as a “room mic”, and then hi-pass the overheads so I can blend properly. Does this makes sense to anyone? Any help or advice would be great, Thanks.

  25. Tumbler

    August 28th, 2011 at 1:50 am

    Thank you very much for this article.
    A great deal of time and effort must have been put into it and I really appreciate that.
    It’s an eyeopener.

  26. Josué Acosta

    September 5th, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Hey matthew this is the best article I found talking about drums miking.
    Really Helpful!!!

    I want to know it is possible mix Recorder-man technic with some close mics, for funk music and traditional pop, I want to know if there are phase problems doing it???
    I have Audix DP7, please talk me about this brand they are pro user mics???
    Really thanks, sorry I am spanish and have poor english.

    Josué Acosta
    El Salvador country

  27. matthew mcglynn

    September 5th, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    @Josué, yes: you can use close mics on snare, toms, and kick in combination with Recorderman overheads.

    The Audix DP7 has some very nice microphones. I use the D2 and D4 myself. The D6 is a great kick mic if you like that sound. I am not familiar with the overheads in the DP7, but I would only recommend changing them if they are not giving you a sound you like.

  28. Urmas Lattikas

    September 15th, 2011 at 3:52 am

    Thank you Matthew! Really useful and lot of sense.

  29. Greg Thomas

    October 4th, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    I’ve just found this page now, and I very much appreciate your work here!

    When recording my own drums, I’ve found that the spaced pair sounds best, but I agree with the suggestion from one commenter that this approach can sound particularly good when the mics are a bit lower and closer to the drums. For me, I position the mics about 33 inches away (diagonally) from the snare drum center, pointing straight down toward the hat/crash/hi tom/snare on one side and the ride/mid tom/low tom on the other. (I should measure the distance between mics at some point and the distance from the ground just for repeatability.) The snare winds up being a little left of center, but hey, that’s where it is!

    The ORTF and XY techniques definitely appeal to me since it seems a little harder to screw up phase, and you can get the snare more in the center, but I definitely prefer the wider imaging (and punch) I get from the spaced pair at the right height.

    I love the Recorderman and Glyn Johns concepts because of the possibility of using fewer mics overall, but ultimately, that’s not the way I (as the drummer) want to hear the kit. I want to hear it in stereo, like I’m sitting there playing, with certain sounds on the left and certain other sounds on the right.

    Anyway, thank you again for this page!

  30. Daniel Mixer

    October 25th, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Malcolm, the effect you’re talking about is precisely what happens when you increase the angles of the microphone capsules from 90? to around 135? (which is still technically considered to be an X/Y pattern). By increasing the angle, you reduce the amount of spill between mics by an additional 4-6 dB, creating a larger difference between the two mics, thereby increasing the stereo spread.

  31. Nils Breton

    November 7th, 2011 at 5:54 am

    XY (omni) is also a legitimate stereo miking technique. This is the Blumlein pair.

  32. John

    January 4th, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    Thanks for a great article, Matthew. I’ve had good results using side by side (near coincident) cardioids angled at 90 degrees to each other and approximately four to five feet above the center of the drum set. My favorites for this are Gefell M-71s but try this with any matched pair of LDCs you may have. Raise or lower the mics to adjust the width of the stereo image and simultaneously increase or decrease the amount of room. The caveat here is this approach depends heavily on an elusive recording trifecta: a good drummer, a good set of drums, and a good (preferably large) room. Augment with additional mics as you deem necessary.

    I’ve also had great results with a Royer SF-24, the internally amplified stereo ribbon mic. However, because of the pick up from the rear lobes of the ribbons this REALLY depends on a good room. By the way, coincident figure 8 mics at 90 degrees to each other are the Blumlein pair, not coincident omnis as mentioned above.

    Thanks to everyone here for such a great website!

  33. Jaime

    January 11th, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Excellent work!! Easy to read, instructive and demostrative!!

  34. Igor

    January 13th, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I’d have been curious to hear a Blumlein pair.

    My favorite was the MS (wide), followed by the ORTF, followed by the spaced pair. In every case, I preferred omni to cardioid.

    Those are my choices listening to the drums by themselves, but my choices would be apt to change in a mixing situation.

  35. Jorge

    January 17th, 2012 at 2:35 am

    Excellent article, and excellent ideas to use from now on for drums OHs. Thank you very much for taking the time to write it and research it so well!

  36. Dan

    January 27th, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Awesome article! I’ve been meaning to try ORTF, but I can’t find good hardware to make it happen. Where did you get the bar that you used?

  37. Josué Acosta

    February 14th, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Hey Matthew, I don’t have any problem with the snare distances, but when i try to set snare, kick drum distance and maintain the snare distance its impossible for me, i am trying the recorder-man techniques , can you help me

  38. salmud

    March 14th, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Thanks a lot for your nice work.

  39. bobby

    March 17th, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    First off, great job! what a wonderful presentation and very accurate. My go to setup has been the recorderman approach, due mainly to my home studio/office consisting of carpet, drapes, standard 8 foot ceilings, etc. the recorderman takes the room out of the image which is great for my lack of! However, I do find that the lack of room presence does have its drawbacks. using Recorderman with tom mics, kick and snare, allow the drums to stay up ront if I find I need to mix back the overheads depending on the tune. I’d like to try the ORTF your version sounded pleasing to me, but again it appears your room in the photos looked and sounded very much alive! If you have a bad room like me I think the recorderman is the way to go! I’ll try the ORTF since its the one I’ve never tried here at home!..thanks again, brilliant work!

  40. Johnnie

    April 25th, 2012 at 10:27 am

    There’s some good food for thought here. Spaced pair is always a winner, but I too have been a long-time fan of the “Recorderman” setup. I seldom think to try ORTF–in fact I’ve only used it as a drum OH technique once–but listening to these clips, ORTF provides a lot of the sound I’m looking for from my overheads. I suspect I’ll give ORTF a go again soon.

    If the kit is still up you should add a Blumlein clip!

  41. Mike

    May 10th, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Great site! I could hear the difference in mic techniques in the audio you had on the site even over my laptop internal speaker. Very cool!

    I have been experimenting with absorbers that are tuned for the bass, snare,
    and tom. I am going to try mono / overhead to start, thinking mono will record drum sound changes with absorbers in place better.

    Thanks again,

  42. Damien mahoney

    July 13th, 2012 at 5:25 am

    This is brilliant.
    Much appreciated Matthew.

  43. Steve

    October 15th, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    Nice job with the OH drum comparisons! I have come back to this informative feature again and again. My question is this: you’re a fan of the Recorderman technique and your comparisons were with large diaphram condensers – would you recommend this technique with smaller, pencil condensers as well? I’ve been using the spaced pair technique forever and soon I will be testing some of these other techniques out as well, but all I have available are the smaller condensers. The other issue I have with my drums is that they wrap around me and I have two floor toms with a butt-load of cymbals to my right. I feel like the mic over the shoulder isn’t going to capture my lowest floor tom and farthest cymbals as the mic is already in front of those instruments. Any advice in this situation? Thanks again for the good work!

  44. matthew mcglynn

    October 15th, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    @Steve, I’ve done the RM technique with probably 20 different SDC pairs. See, for example, the recent post about tube SDCs, which incorporated both RM and AB configurations.

    I’ve heard some engineers say they don’t like RM for large kits. But then, I think it depends on your mix of OH vs close mics. If you are not using close mics, and the overheads need to pick up the whole kit, then probably a higher AB placement would be more suitable.

    The bottom line is, try it out. Maybe you’ll love it, or maybe not.

  45. Biff

    October 25th, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Thank you for doing this!

  46. Marcus

    December 4th, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Recorderman slays!

  47. Scott Rennie

    February 8th, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Thanks for this spent a long time testing and reading to find out about overheads and you have done the work me.
    I may be missing your point about 3:1 rule but you said you placed the mic 52″ above the snare and 58″ apart. This means I am missing the point so apologies as that would be 1:1.
    Please could you explain as I don’t get this

  48. matthew mcglynn

    February 8th, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    @Scott, my point about the 3:1 rule is to not worry about it. Just keep the spaced mics equidistant from the snare and you’ll probably be fine. Record something, play it back in both stereo and mono, and listen for phase issues before you commit.

  49. Dave De Lerch

    March 31st, 2013 at 5:34 am


    well done. Good layout. Real timesaver and a must for beginners.



  50. GoranGrooves

    May 25th, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Great and thoughtful article. A very good resource for different ways to record a drum set.
    I have been using Jecklin disc with a pair of EarthWorks QTC40 omni’s with fantastic-sounding results. This has to be my favorite as I find it to be the most balanced-sounding. Normally you would have a stereo image created by significant difference in signal between the L and R mics. With Jecklin disc configuration this is achieved differently: by phase delay and sound absorption. Results are a natural-sounding drum set where everything appears correctly placed within the stereo image. It is phase-coherent.
    What I really like about it is that cymbals decay so naturally and cymbals that are on the left or right of the mics don’t appear so separated like they were recorded on their own with no relation to the kit.
    It is important that the mics with disc are placed on-axis with snare and kick drum. That marks the center and everything else will follow correctly. Also, the height is important (as with other systems) in order to make sure you don’t get the cymbal “phasing effect” (that happens when mics alternate capturing top and side of cymbals/ even and odd harmonics).
    I think I will write a post on this and perhaps create a video of this technique, as I don’t think it is common.



  51. bill s

    July 16th, 2013 at 6:55 am

    I have a snare mic and bass drum mic as well as an sm57 and a perception 420 condenser mic.

    would there be problems if use the condenser mic and the sm57 dynamic as overheads in these techniques?

  52. matthew mcglynn

    July 16th, 2013 at 11:44 am

    @bill, I doubt you’ll love the SM57 as an overhead mic. I suspect your stereo image will sound lopsided and weird, due to the vastly different “reach” and frequency curves of these two microphones. It won’t sound like a stereo image, but rather like two mono drum kits, one playing in each ear.

    But hey, try it and see. Maybe it’s just right for your production. You never know.

  53. Kreczek

    December 16th, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    1) I wonder that ORTF sound so diferent in comparsion with X/Y.
    2) Recordermann was till now technique unknown for me but its results in this test sounds nice.

    So “Recorderman” and ORTF are adepts for my favourite minimalistic record setup for drums. Thank especialy for introduce me to Recorderman setup and comparsion of ORTF vs X/Y was also valuable for me.

  54. matt

    November 20th, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Awesome post. Immensely helpful. I really appreciate this!

  55. Charles Charamba

    January 8th, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    What an insightful presentation. Its worthy reading and seems very much helpful. Thanks, be blessed.

  56. simon

    September 14th, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    nice to hear the examples and see how complex it can be ;-}.

    Personally, lately I’ve discovered MS recording only works correctly with an omni mic. With a cardioid you miss all the rear info and they won’t fold down to mono correctly which is the whole advantage of MS recording.

    Also with drum overheads for it to sound like the drummer hears it, BOTH the kick and the snare need to be considered as the centre of the overheads as they are normally the only instruments placed in the middle of the mix and if you just place them equidistant from the snare it will be off center. Lately I’ve been placing the overheads ( or more like side mics) first to check the image then the close mics are brought up and checked one by one for their effect on the image and phase inverted until they add and not subtract from the image. And as ever fewer mics = bigger sound

  57. Gregory P. Booker

    November 29th, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    I’m in Recording classes, Audio for Media rev. 8 at OCVTS in Ocean County and will defiantly turn the class on to this article. Thank you for being so analytical. As a drummer and Multi- instrumentalist I am always trying to get the drums right ( in my home project studio ), and at school we examine all the different mic, and pre-amp combo’s as well as the the positioning. Personally for me this article has presented me with options that expand my abilities and I thank you for being so thorough. I will try them out and finding the right sound for each situation, right now I’m using Beyer dynamic 930’s in an XY 60″ over the lower lip of my dual mounted toms and getting fantastic results, BUT that doesn’t mean its better than your proposition and I will be experimenting because of this article. Thank You!!!!!!! Kick D112, Toms sm57’s, Floor C2000’s, snare sm 57, Snare under Audix d7, Room AT 4050. Thanks

  58. matthew mcglynn

    November 30th, 2015 at 12:36 am

    @Gregory, the MC930 is a fantastic SDC mic. (We reviewed them here: )

    It would be easy and very instructive to try these in ORTF, positioned behind the drummer and above his head… or as an AB spaced pair, pointing straight down, one above the HH and one above the ride… or in RecorderMan configuration. They’ll all sound different, some *very* different, depending on mic height. Good luck, and have fun!

  59. paul hartry

    December 18th, 2015 at 6:32 am

    definately like the ortf and recorderman configuration, good work sir!!! will give em a shot !! :)

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