Although the hi-hat is arguably a drum kit most important component when it comes to setting the tempo of a song, many drummers often use generic overhead drum microphone configurations and expect the hi-hat to be picked up along with the snare, bass, tom, etc. as one, complete, drum sound.
It works, any good stereo microphone configuration placed over a drum kit will pick up the sound evenly from all of the drums, but you will not experience true individuality or clarity from every drum type.
For instance, the other cymbals will tend to meld in with your hi-hats and the snares will also be picked up along with the cymbals since the lower frequency range of a cymbal tends to overlap with the high-frequency response from a snare.
As a result, what happens is, you lose out on sound quality and tempo control, which may not matter that much on a small stage or during a practice session, but if you’re recording at a studio, it could make a lot of difference.
Hi-Hat Mics We Recommend
What’s good: Amazing frequency response
Not so good: Doesn’t live up to its legacy
Probably the best budget hi-hat microphone in the market right now, the Shure SM-57LC delivers clean, contoured, and responsive instrumental sound pickup. It also scores high on vocals, due to its polar cardioid design and wide-range frequency response (40 Hz to 15000 Hz).
The exterior construction is super durable, and Shure does multiple drop tests on their microphones, by dropping them ten times from a height of ten feet. To pass, a microphone must show zero loss in input quality. It can handle painfully loud sound pressure levels, and will even work for close-up recording on half-stack amps.
This microphone includes a small capacitive membrane and a really good FET amplifier, which does not change the input sound quality whatsoever, delivering the cleanest, most natural percussion sound you can get at this price.
Samson C02 Pencil
What’s good: Compact, shock mount included, gold plated XLR connectors
Not so good: Tend to sometimes pick up noise
With its cardioid pickup pattern, gold plated XLR connectors, and high-quality condenser diaphragm, the CO2 from Samson is an amazing hi-hat microphone setup that you can buy for a very reasonable price.
It is tuned to be used with percussion instruments such as cymbals, hi-hats, snares, etc. The low mass capsule features an all-metal housing for durability, and the narrow pick-up area in the front makes this perfect for close up usage, it has a pretty high sound pressure level rating too for that purpose.
This microphone sports a wide, linear frequency response, in order to minimize noise pickup and delivers clean, white-noise free sound. Make sure to mount it close to the cymbals or hi-hat though, since it is still susceptible to surrounding noise if placed too far away.
AKG Perception 170 Professional
What’s good: All metal body, switchable attenuation pad
Not so good: Tends to pick up slight amounts of surrounding noise
Sporting an all-metal body and a polar cardioid pickup pattern, this cheap condenser microphone from AKG embodies all the important qualities of a good hi-hat microphone, and it also comes with an adjustable attenuation pad built-in, which can add a 10 dB attenuation in order to damp the volume if you decide to mount your microphone close to the hi-hat.
This will only reduce the volume, so you’ll still enjoy all the original sound quality, without killing your eardrums. It is a small-diaphragm microphone, so it comes with an incredibly crisp sound response and picks up almost every small note from the hi-hat.
The sound pressure capacity is 155 SPL, meaning that you can easily mount it as close as you want to your hi-hat or cymbal, without causing a flat drop in the recorded sound. The .5” condenser diaphragm scores high on clarity and transient response, just like a good hi-hat microphone should do.
Rode NT5 MP
What’s good: Gold-sputtered, low noise
Not so good: Sound maybe a little too bright, might need EQ
With the Rode NT5 MP condenser microphone, you get unmatched build quality, consistent high-level audio, and it boasts one of the lowest noise levels we have ever seen on any microphone.
The externally biased condenser diaphragm is designed to deliver a bright, sharp response, which is especially good for recording high pitched percussion, such as that of a cymbal or hi-hat. The gold-sputtered 1/2 “capsule greatly improves overall transient response and sound quality, while the satin nickel-plated body keeps the microphone rust free and gives it a premium looking shine.
Surface-mounted circuitry ensures low noise levels, and while the sound may seem a little too bright at times, it can easily be fixed with a little touch of EQ.
Audio-Technica ATM450 Cardioid Condenser
What’s good: Built-in 10 dB attenuation pad, and 80 Hz HPF switch
Not so good: Low-end response
The ATM450 features a really smart side-address stick design, so you can mount your microphone more comfortable than an end-addressed model.
It also packs a built-in 10 dB attenuation pad, which can come in handy during those overhead microphone placements, or side-by-side configurations. An integrated 80 Hz HPF switch takes care of frequency response, and ensures high quality, non-tampered audio at all times.
The polar cardioid pickup pattern minimizes cancels out sounds coming from the rear and sides, so there will be no sound bleeding while recording. Its extended flat frequency response makes it ideal for recording high sound pressure levels.
Neumann KM 184
What’s good: Transformerless circuitry, amazing sound pressure handling ability
Not so good: Price
If you’re looking to spare no expenses and want to get the absolute best hi-hat microphone for percussion recording, then get the Neumann KM 184.
It is recognized by professionals and studio managers alike, as one of the most incredible pieces of microphone technology to ever be produced, which is something that only Neumann can do. They have been making instrumental microphones for quite some time now, and their microphones are the gold standard when it comes to recording snares, cymbals, hi-hats, or just about any drum.
The amplification and audio output circuits are free from transformers, meaning that there will be absolutely no white noise or hissing, and the sound pressure handling offered by the small- size gold-sputtered condenser diaphragm is incredible. It is perfectly compatible even with unbalanced equipment and provides a stable output at all times.
So, how do you choose a good microphone for your hi-hat?
Well, let’s start off with the basics. A hi-hat, like any cymbal, tends to produce high-frequency sound more than it does low, or medium frequency sound. And any industry professional will tell you that a small diaphragm condenser microphone is the best when it comes to recording high frequency from stuff like cymbals, acoustic guitars, and in this case, the hi-hat.
Next, you need to make sure that your microphone is capable of handling at least ~120 SPA of sound pressure. If you want to place it closer to the hi-hat, it should be able to tolerate, even more, about 140 SPA, since any decent hi-hat will easily output that much sound during closed operation. Always try to get a polar cardioid pattern microphone to pick up the cleanest, most noise-free sound from your hi-hat. Finally, you need to check if your microphone has features such as attenuation pads, air noise filters, etc.