Sennheiser e604 vs. CAD M179 on Toms

For several years, I’ve had some Sennheiser e604’s that I’ve always used for recording the toms on drum kits. Lately though, I had been particularly unimpressed with how my tom tracks have sounded, so I decided to try out a pair of the much-loved-for-toms, CAD M179’s. I only bought two M179’s and set one mic between my two high toms (10″ & 12″) and the other between my two floor toms (14″ & 16″). I engaged the -20 db pad on the M179’s and set the pattern to hypercardioid to try and minimize bleed.

On the other hand, I had 4 of the e604’s–one mounted on each tom using an old “Mic Eeze” drum rim clamp, since the stock clamps that came with the e604’s don’t play nicely with my RIMS suspension mounts. I had each of the e604’s positioned in what I would consider a fairly typical position for a tom or snare mic–a couple of inches above the head, and pointing down at an angle between the center and outside edge of the drum.

I pressed record, played for a while, then went to the control room to have a listen. I was literally blown away at how much better the M179’s sounded. The e604 tracks sounded terribly lifeless, dull, and honky. You would have guessed that the heads were totally worn out (especially on the 3 larger toms), which isn’t the case–the heads are relatively new.

Here are the tracks from the first pass:

e604 10″ Tom:

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e604 12″ Tom:

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e604 14″ Tom:

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e604 16″ Tom:

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M179 Hi Toms:

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M179 Low Toms:

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It was also strange that the toms sounded very inconsistent on the e604 tracks. The 10″ sounded ok, the 12″ not as good, the 14″–absolute crap, and the 16″ also quite terrible. On the M179 tracks, all 4 of the toms sounded fairly consistent, and generally quite good! I’ll also mention that I was soloing each of the e604 tracks in my DAW as I listened, so phase cancellation between tracks wasn’t the problem here.

After this little experiment, I was left scratching my head. The e604’s seem to be fairly well-respected mics, so I felt like I had to be doing something wrong. So later, I spent some time playing around with their positioning. I kept the mics on the Mic Eeze clamps, but tried pointing them down at varying angles, either more toward the center of the drum, or more toward the edge, where at the extreme, the mic was pointing pretty much straight down, with the face of the mic parallel to the head. Regardless of the angle, they still sounded like junk compared to the M179’s.

Finally, I removed the e604’s and put them on boom stands. Since the M179 is a side-address large diaphragm condenser, I tried positioning the e604’s pretty much the same way–perpendicular to the drum, parallel to the head, about an inch or so above the rim and pointing straight across the head. After thinking about it, I realized this is pretty much the same mic positioning that I use all of the time now when miking a snare drum. After positioning the e604’s in this way, I got a perfectly usable signal for all 4 toms that was much closer to the sound of the M179’s! The high toms sounded better than the floor toms, but they were all usable tracks. I still thought the M179’s sounded better, but the difference was much more subtle this time.

Here are the tracks after changing the position of the e604 mics (the M179’s were left untouched):

e604 10″ Tom:

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e604 12″ Tom:

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e604 14″ Tom:

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e604 16″ Tom:

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M179 Hi Toms:

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M179 Low Toms:

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I guess this is just another example of how critical mic positioning can be, and that some mics are more forgiving than others. So if you have a set of e604’s that you aren’t digging, try this position out, and see if it doesn’t work much better for you. If you don’t have any decent tom mics, definitely try the CAD M179’s. These are great mics, extremely versatile on a number of different sources (not just toms), and come with some nice accessories (huge case, nice shock mount, and nice clip mount for tight spaces). When positioned properly, both mics can give you outstanding results on the toms.

Special thanks to Jon Osborne of Imprint Studios who assisted me with this little experiment.

Shop for these mics at ZZounds:

Sennheiser e604

CAD M179

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