- 1 How does a Ribbon Mic work?
- 2 Are ribbon mics really that sensitive? Where are the advantages and disadvantages of ribbons?
- 3 Our recommendations
- 4 Buy Active or Passive Ribbon Mic? Where’s the difference?
- 5 Is a stereo ribbon useful?
- 6 Is it worth it to buy an expensive Ribbon Mic?
- 7 What is the difference between different Ribbon Mics?
- 8 Checklist to buy Best Ribbon Mics
- 9 How Ribbon Microphones Work & When to Use
- 10 Ribbon Mic: Royer 121, Mesanovic 2, AEA R84, Coles 4038
Which ribbon should I buy?
Help for the selection before buying
You want to buy a ribbon mic, but do not know which one? After all, the selection is huge. For 69 euros you get a t.bone RB 100 ( product on thomann.de ), for some AEA and Royer ribbons you have to make more than 5000 euros loose. But which is the right one? Here are some helpful tips to buy.
How does a Ribbon Mic work?
A Ribbon Mic transforms the vibration of sound with a thin, elongated aluminum ribbon (= ribbon) in a magnetic field. The movement in the magnetic field induces a voltage that can be tapped as an audio signal. Almost all other microphones, however, have round membranes on which either a coil is glued (immersion coil principle) or which forms a capacitor with a counter electrode (condenser microphones).
Are ribbon mics really that sensitive? Where are the advantages and disadvantages of ribbons?
There are several myths about Ribbon-Mikes , which we have put together in the linked article. To anticipate: It’s not that bad – and it’s worth it tonally!
- RECOMMENDATION “BEST” – Beyerdynamic M 130
- RECOMMENDATION “PRICE/PERFORMANCE” – The t.bone RM-700
- RECOMMENDATION “CLASSIC” – Coles 4038
- RECOMMENDATION “STEREO RIBBON” – Golden Age Project R1 ST
The Beyerdynamic M130 is a true all-purpose weapon. It is absolutely tiny, but has a decent output due to the double-band technology. It has been built by hand in Heilbronn for decades.
The t.bone RM-700 is very cheap – but does not sound like it. It is a classic passive ribbon.
With the Coles 4038 is one of the most characterful, but also quirkiest microphones in the list. Also loved for decades for its special sound and high quality. We have a how-to to work with him and other ribbon microphones.
Stereo ribbons do not have to be expensive. On the drumkit, the acoustic guitar, but also in front of choirs, orchestras or simply as mono-ribbon for the voice, the giant breaker Golden Age Project R1 ST does an excellent job.
Buy Active or Passive Ribbon Mic? Where’s the difference?
The aluminum ribbon in the magnetic field gives only very little tension. Although this is transformed into a transformer, it is still very low. Now there are two possibilities: Either, the microphone preamp manages to easily amplify the weak signals enormously – which many priced preamps fail! – or a small active amplification electronics is built into the Ribbon Mic (= “active Ribbon”). But you can also “activate” passive ribbons, for example with the Triton FetHead . Active ribbons are often more practical, but they reduce the ability to influence the sound. Passive ribbons sound different on different microphone preamps and often respond more strongly to switchable input impedances.
Is a stereo ribbon useful?
There are stereo ribbons, which are basically two ribbon mics on top of each other. That’s handy, because with these microphones – the Golden Age Project R1 ST is one of them – you can make stereo recordings in one place. These “One Point Stereo” recordings are then either in MS-Technique or as XY-Art “Blumlein Stereo”.
A stereo microphone is sometimes huge and looks oversized as a vocal microphone. And of course you can not use the two ribbon units for different sources or Spaced Stereo systems.
Alternatively, two ribbons can always be combined to form a stereo system. There are accessories for this. With two microphone tripods it is a bit hakelig and cumbersome when looking for positions.
A Coles 4038 in a stereo mount. It is easier to set up a stereo microphone directly.
Is it worth it to buy an expensive Ribbon Mic?
Of course that’s hard to say. The fact is that Ribbon Mics under 100 Euro can sound quite good due to the simplicity of their structure. Mechanically very well processed (grill, housing, surfaces …), there are already from just under 500 euros. But of course, a Ribbon like a Royer Labs SF-2 has stunning sound characteristics. And stunning prices. Questions that you should ask yourself are:
- How good is the rest of my recording chain? A multi-thousand-euro passive ribbon on a cheap audio interface is really wrong.
- Can I really take advantage of the tonal benefits of the “last few percent”? In addition to the signal chain, space, skills of the musicians, the quality of the instruments and, last but not least, their own technical sound skills must be sufficient.
- How important is it that the ribbon sounds as exactly as possible, so does a second that I want to buy as a replacement or for stereo recordings (keyword: series production)?
- How important are things like company name, perfect workmanship, exclusivity and resale value?
Even with ribbons that call no high prices, can work properly. In the picture: sE X1R
What is the difference between different Ribbon Mics?
First, there is the question of the area of application: There are ribbons, which are used primarily for instruments and less for vocals, such as the Coles 4038. Others, such as the KU4 AEA, are classic vocal microphones. However, in principle all can be used for everything. The two mentioned are very rich in sound, whereas, for example, a Rode NTR or a Beyerdynamic M130 are rather restrained.
For example, there are differences in how the ribbon deals with high sound pressures. The 4038, for example, becomes more gently and controllably fuller and begins to develop an (initially pleasant) strain. Others “break up”, and quite suddenly. And also, at which sound pressure that happens, is quite different, as well as the handling of quiet signals.
Not all ribbons are per se “warm” and “dark”: The Royer Royer R10 seems downright bubbly (for a microphone of this type …).
The frequency response is also not the same for all ribbons: in the heights, especially passive ribbons are rather weak (But here too there are exceptions, the sE Electronics sE X1Rfor example.). However, you can usually edit this very well with the EQ, also the distortion in the heights in this type of microphone is very low (!). Active ribbons, on the other hand, are often equipped with electronics that give the heels a bit of support. In the vicinity of ribbons, a characteristic of most microphones is particularly pronounced: the proximity effect. The closer you get the bassier the signal gets. Some microphones stay fairly factual and concrete here (Rode NTR, for example), others become large and voluminous, others are quickly droning with too little distance.
A “real” Eight, which is not assembled from two kidney capsules (as is common in the double-membrane condenser), is particularly frequency-stable. In some types, however, not only the level changes, but also the height reproduction, the farther the signal comes from the side. This is mostly irrelevant. There are a few ribbons, which get a stronger directivity (hypercardioid) with a back cushioning. At the moment these are only AEA KU4 and KU5 as well as the Beyerdynamic M160.
Closely related to the M130: Hyperbole Ribbon Beyerdynamic M160.
Do not forget: Ribbons are from tiny and feather-light (M130) to almost monstrous (GAP R1 ST Sund many AEA). Accordingly, the necessary framework is not insignificant – especially considering that ribbons tend to be quite sensitive to impact sound. On historical studio photos you can not see the RCA chunks hanging from the huge Starbird tripods (which are now being rebuilt by Triad Orbit).
Checklist to buy Best Ribbon Mics
- What do I expect from a ribbon?
- Is my chain, my audio signals and my own abilities so good that really expensive ribbons are justified?
- Do I need a stereo ribbon?
- Is an active ribbon perhaps the most suitable microphone?