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Q: What is the right mic for hihats?

An RP reader wants to capture his hihat in high fidelity. So what is the right mic for the job?

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If the question is, "What is the right mic for hihats?", then another question could be, "Right for what?" Everything is subjective in the listening experience, and ultimately it's all about opinions. Or rather, it's about what sells.

So let's start with the textbook answer...

The hihat falls into the class of instrument known as metallic percussion. Bash two pieces of metal together and you are going to get a lot of high frequencies coming out, which you will want to capture accurately.

High frequency sound causes the diaphragm of the microphone to vibrate back and forth rapidly, so you need a mic with a diaphragm that is capable of vibrating very easily at a quick rate.

That therefore rules out the dynamic mic. Dynamic mics have a coil of wire attached to the diaphragm, which makes the diaphragm heavy giving it a certain amount of inertia. Although dynamic mics often have a useful 'presence peak', they are not renowned for crystal clarity at high frequency.

So it's going to be a capacitor mic then. Large or small diaphragm? Tube or transistor?

Let's start with tube or transistor first. The reason for the continued existence of tube microphones is the 'thickened' sound they produce. Who wants a thick hihat? Strike that one.

Now, large diaphragm or small? Well with the large diaphragm we are once again in inertia territory, and it is often thought that the resonance of a large diaphragm, even if well controlled, can smear high frequencies.

So, going through the possibilities, we come to the textbook answer that we should use a small diaphragm capacitor microphone on the hihat, which will have a transistor internal amplifier because that's all that's on the market these days (unless someone knows different?)

But that's the textbook answer. What's the real-world answer?

Well I had the experience a while back of running out of microphones. There were not enough small-diaphragm capacitor microphones to go round and something had to give. What is the instrument, I thought, that least matters if it has the wrong mic?

Aha - the hihat!

So that is where I made my compromise. I can't remember where the small diaphragm capacitor mic went, but on the hihat was a Shure SM58!

Now for the hihat, this is about as un-textbook as you can get. But you know what? It didn't matter. In the mix, no-one would have cared what mic the hihat had, although to be fair it was a rock music arrangement. With other styles of music it might have been a different issue.

Has anyone else had success using the 'wrong' microphone? Or did the 'right' mic ever not perform as expected?

By David Mellor Thursday March 31, 2011
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