The Music Espionage

Hi Hats and Overheads

Hi Hats and Overheads – Drum Kit vs. Cymbals:

The first question you need to ask yourself is, ‘What am I trying to record, the whole sound of the kit or just the cymbals?’ The answer will depend on the song, the drummer and personal preference. But you need to think of this when recording Hi Hats and Overheads and all the drum kit for that matter and  once this is answered, you can go on to decide where you’re going to place your microphones.

Hi Hats and Overheads – Recording Hi Hat:

Hi-Hats can are naturally bright with many overtones and undertones so a small diaphragm condenser is appropriate although dynamics can also work.

Hi Hats and Overheads

Microphone position for HiHat

Lighter Hi-Hats tend to record better than heavy ‘live’ hi-hats. Depending on where the drummer plays the hi-hat will determine its position i.e. is the drummer is playing the ‘bell’ or the ‘rim’ of the hi-hat?

Hi Hats and Overheads

Mic. placement for HiHat

Hi Hats and Overheads – Recording Overheads:

If you want to capture the entire drum kit there are numerous ways you can place your microphones. The first techniques all fall under the term ‘Stereo Pair‘. If you place a microphone at one end of a long room and stick a sound source directly in front, it will reproduce a large sound. The further away you move the source the quieter the signal becomes. If you add a second microphone at the other end of the room the signal will get louder the closer it gets to the second microphone while continuing to decrease in volume from the first. Now imagine each microphone goes to a separate speaker so you would be able to hear the sound source get louder in one and quieter in the other. This creates our stereo image.

Hi Hats and Overheads

Mic. placement for Overheads

For a more in-depth look at Stereo Pairs and Stereo Recording click here.

A spaced pair is probably the most common stereo technique seen today. As the name suggests, a spaced pair consists of two microphones spaced apart from each other.

On a standard drum kit setup, position the microphones above the drum kit one angled straight down and aimed at the gap between the snare, hi hat and hi tom. The second should be aimed at the gap between the floor tom and mid tom. For height, stack two drumsticks end to end on top of the highest cymbal, the microphone grill should be at the top of the sticks. Ensure that the microphones are at the same height. This should give a nice balance of the kit and produce a half decent stereo image. If you want to make the stereo image wider, move the microphones further apart or bring them closer to narrow it.

Overheads using Spaced Pair:

Another technique is called coincident pair, also known as XY pair. This technique has two directional microphones angled in at 45 degrees from a central line facing each other. Therefore, the microphone positioned on the left will pick up sounds from the right and the one on the right will pick up sounds from the left. A variation of the XY pair is the Blumlein pair, where instead of a directional polar pattern a figure of eight or bidirectional pattern is used. This technique provides a solid stereo image from the sound source and the room acoustics behind the microphone, enhancing the image.

Hi Hats and Overheads

Example of Rode NT1 Microphones recording Spaced Pair Technique:

[audio:|titles=NT1 Spaced Pair]

Overheads using ‘ORTF’ Pair Recording:

An alternative technique is the ORTF pair, sometimes called “XY”. This uses two cardioid microphones spaced 17cm apart and angled away from each other with 110° between the microphones. The very specific technique replicates the distance and shadow area of human hearing and produces a wider stereo image than an XY pair. Specialist microphone clips can be purchased to ensure the measurements are precise.

Rode NT1 Overhead ORTF Pair:

[audio:|titles=XY pair NT1]

Oktava MK-012 Overhead ORTF Pair:

[audio:|titles=ORTF Oktava]

Hi Hats and OverheadsQuite often drums will be recorded with a ‘Room Mic‘. This is where a single microphone – usually a Large Diaphragm Condenser – is placed at a distance from the front of the drum kit. Its purpose is to capture the entire drum kit sound within the room it is being recorded in. Using this technique can produce a warm blend of a kit. The positioning of the microphone is extremely important as you will want to achieve a well-balanced sound and it will take a lot of fine adjustments to achieve this. A good starting point is about 5 feet back and aimed at the manufacturer plate on the Hi Tom.

Rode NTK Room Microphone:

[audio:|titles=Room Mic NTK]

Hi Hats and Overheads

 Great tutorial here on Stereo recording drums.

Individual Cymbals:

Hi Hats and OverheadsIf you want to capture the cymbals instead of the entire drum kit, place directional condenser microphones above the cymbal aiming down and away from the kit. This will ensure the least amount of bleed from the rest of the drums. This is commonly used on the hi-hats and ride cymbal to emphasis them in the mix.

sE Electronics sE1a Hi Hats:

[audio:|titles=Hi Hat sE1a]


One of the biggest factors in your microphone positioning will be the room you are recording in. If the acoustics are poor you wont want to have your mics at a big distance. On the other hand, if they are great you’ll want to give them a bit more room to capture the space.

Quite often you will see overhead microphones positioned behind the drummer or over their heads. This technique can produce surprisingly good results by taking one microphone and positioning it 2 feet above their head, aimed directly at the centre of the kick drum.

Taking the term ‘overhead’ literally might not be the answer either. Instead of placing microphones above the kit, try placing a stereo pair about 5 feet from the floor, this technique can produce a fantastic sounding kit.

As with any recording, the microphones and techniques you use will be a result of the drummer, the song, the room and personal preference. Experiment with your techniques, the difference in overhead techniques can have a massive impact on your recording!

Just Remember:

  • Depending on the sound you are going for, the overheads can be used either to capture the sound of the entire kit or as cymbal mics.
  • An X/Y configuration has less phasing issues and a wide stereo image.
  • A spaced pair on the overheads has a tighter stereo image and usually more punch as a result.