Ribbon Mics: From the bedroom to the Pro Studio
Ribbon Mics: From the bedroom to the Pro Studio
The Ribbon microphone, unlike the more common moving coil, is a microphone that uses a thin strip of conductive metal held between the two poles of a magnet. Commonly made of aluminium, the ribbon offers several characteristics and responses that has made this type of mic an essential piece of kit in the working studio.
Originally invented in the early 1920’s the ribbon microphone was widely celebrated by many broadcasting and music studios as it offered a much better frequency response to many of the condenser microphones available at the time. A disadvantage of these older ribbon microphones was that they would not produce a very high output and needed a transformer to step up the voltage passed through the ribbon and therefore increase the output.
Since the invention of the first ribbon microphone there have been many technological advances that have expelled the disadvantages presented by the earlier design and created a much more robust and versatile tool for any modern studio.
The Ribbon microphone is mainly favoured in the recording of guitars (electric and acoustic) and vocals because of its midrange frequency response that will tastefully add quality to audio whilst still maintaining a clear representation of what it is you’re recording. Traditionally the microphones did not boast a very high response when it comes to extreme low end and high-end frequencies, this characteristic also compliments the recording of guitars which sit mainly in the mid-range of the frequency spectrum. Often Ribbon microphones do not have a very high SPL (sound pressure level) so I wouldn’t recommend putting it in front of anything particularly loud, such as a snare drum, in fear of microphone death. They do react quite heavily to proximity effect because of this but it can be used as an additive to warmth if used correctly. Close mic’ing is not usually recommended because of this effect but can be used to great effect if used carefully and you’re willing to roll off some of the low-end. Ribbon microphones also give quite a low output so high gain out whatever input you’re going into is recommended to get the most out of them.
The VR1 is a passive ribbon microphone manufactured by SE Electronics, it boasts a huge increase in frequency response (20Hz- 18Khz) which is massive increase when compared with traditional versions. SE have not released any information on how they have achieved this and put it down to Voodoo magic. It can handle up to 135spl and has a self-noise level of 17db, this does not include any noise from the preamplifier to which its being connected and will need a higher gain stage to operate successfully.
When placed in front of electric guitar cab the extended high end is very noticeable whilst a slight reduction to the lower end occurs, a slightly brighter rendition of the classic ribbon microphone. The smoothness and rich mid range is still achieved and adds nicely to the recording of an electric guitar.
On vocals a similar result takes places with a much brighter recording from any comparable ribbon microphone but with a slightly reduced low end. If its particularly warmth you are after this microphone may not be suitable as a choice but, on the other hand, if it’s a microphone that still has the smoothness of a ribbon microphone but with a much more extended, open sound this would be highly recommended.
At around £300 it sits perfectly in the market as a cheaper option for someone looking to record high quality ribbon results!
The Royer labs 121 is a reinvention of the classic ribbon microphone for versatile use in any studio setup. In terms of design not too far dissimilar to ones of yesteryear but the advanced materials and quality of sound make it one of the go to guitar microphones in the modern studio. The 121 can accommodate quite high sound pressure levels which differ it from past ribbon microphones specifications state that it can handle more than 130spl which means it has no trouble being placed in front of anything giving off a heavy output.
It has a figure of eight polar pattern and with equally sensitive side panels the microphone demonstrates the smoothness of recording that only a quality ribbon microphone could! Boasting a flat frequency response within 2db across the board the 121 really is a major improvement on the traditional ribbon microphone.
The mechanics and build of this microphone give it an instantly recognisable sound which pertains to the smoothness of a ribbon microphone whilst having the response of a moving coil. This blend of characteristics particularly compliment recordings of electric guitar cabinets, its favoured among the industry for that job and I can see why!
Both of these microphones are available at our Holloway Head store or on our website, please pop down for a chat about them so I can nerd out some more!