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Thread: Ribbon Mics

  1. #1
    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Ribbon Mics

    Did not want to side-track another current thread, but for those interested - this is well worth a read:

    http://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/...crophones-test

    A whole range of ribbon microphones from the $100 range up to over $1K.

    On the lower cost ones, there are a few things to be aware of. Most of them come (as do lower cost mandolins) from just a couple of factories in China. They then get re-branded and sold in various packaging.... so the name might mean very little. Moving up a bit (or a lot in some cases) certain importers or microphone engineers buy these 'base designs' in then modify them to varying degrees. This can involve anything from just a new 'paint job' to replacing transformers, re-tensioning or re-building the ribbon motor, to a complete new shell. It varies - a lot. You need to do some research to find out exactly what the situation is. Some of these mods are really excellent, some not so. You certainly can't go by looks alone.... there are also two basic designs: a Short Ribbon motor and a Long Ribbon motor. It is pretty easy to tell which is which...

    Typical Long Ribbon design


    Typical Short Ribbon design


    You'll see the same 'base microphones' sold with numerous labels... though the modifications (if any) will be different from the Golden Age models shown. The 'straight from the factory' examples can be very hit or miss, with often dubious QC. This is why buying from a source (importer) that tests and mods them is a good idea.

    You can even modify them yourself, if so inclined. Lots of info on the web.

    While I'd agree that the most expensive ribbon mics do tend to be consistently excellent (Royer, AEA, etc.) some of these heavily modified lower cost ribbon microphones can be amazingly good too, in their own right. They are definitely worth investigating.
    Gibson F5 'Harvey' Fern, Gibson F5 'Derrington' Fern
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    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Yes they are.

    Keep in mind the preamp used means a LOT to the sound of ribbons. Look up the AEA TRP and read about it to understand what I mean.
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    recordinghacks.com *had* good reviews too but the site seems to be down (and their domain expires soon:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20160531...y-ribbon-mics/

    https://web.archive.org/web/20160721...bbon-shootout/

    https://web.archive.org/web/20160401...phone-designs/

    https://web.archive.org/web/20160515...tout-alto-sax/

    _____________________________

    another good source of info is "Recording" magazine, but that one is getting skinnier every month. If you can find a library that has back issues, you can learn a tremendous amount.
    Last edited by gtani7; Aug-23-2016 at 12:46pm.
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    Registered User pit lenz's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Thanks y'all for pointing to a couple of great articles.
    Having read almeriastrings' former posts yesterday, I'm really tempted to get me one of these NoHype ribbons with a Triton Audio Fethead (not to be confused with the FATHEAD you mentioned in that post).
    Almeria, do you have any first hand experience with them?

    Thanks again for keeping up this very informative thread...

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Yes. I have used three different FET boosters.

    1. Cloudlifter
    2. Triton Fethead
    3. Marti Audio Boost Barrel

    They all worked really well. While the Fethead and Cloudlifer are quite well known, the Marti Audio device is less so (they don't even have a website!)... but I had heard good things and needed some FET boosters for a live project where we needed to use some very low output dynamic mics (1.1 mV/Pa), into some preamps that lacked sufficient hiss-free gain (Soundcraft Ui series), so thought them worth a try.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    They worked perfectly... producing a big increase in output and a dramatic reduction in the noise floor. Instead of needing +45dB on the inputs, it now needed less than +14dB! No more hiss..So good that I then tried them in the studio with some ribbon mics, directly comparing to the Cloudlfter. I would say there was very little difference. Subtle. Both absolutely fine.

    With my main studio preamps I don't need these as they have enough clean, quiet gain to start with (and variable input impedance), but I do use a small Focusrite Scarlett on my mobile/overdubbing rig, and those preamps definitely benefit (they only have +50dB gain available). Trying to use these with ribbon mics or low output dynamics means running them maxed out. Not so once you add a Cloudlifter, Fethead or Boost Barrel. The difference is huge. Instead of being cranked all the way up, the input trims are running comfortably at less than 1/3 of the previous level, even with very low output passive ribbons. No complaints at all... though note that the Marti Audio device does 'flip' the phase - the Cloudlifter and Triton Fethead don't. No problem as you can flip it back easily. I also tested them with the built in preamps on my Tascam portable recorders... again, very good results.

    I have one of the LRM-2 No Hype ribbon mics currently, but I am thinking of getting a second for some interesting stereo possibilities. They are superb. Highly impressive. This is mine...

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Far and away the nicest "low cost" ribbon mic I have encountered so far. I'd put it on a par with some that are 10X the price. Really - that good. The guy who puts them together was previously designer for ADK.. and he knows his stuff....

    No mandolin content... but if you look closely at the stereo pair on first violin here, those are LRM-2's.

    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Gibson F5 'Harvey' Fern, Gibson F5 'Derrington' Fern
    Distressed Silverangel F 'Esmerelda' aka 'Maxx'
    Northfield Big Mon #127
    Ellis F5 Special #288
    '39 & '45 D-18's, 1950 D-28.

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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    "I have one of the LRM-2 No Hype ribbon mics currently, but I am thinking of getting a second for some interesting stereo possibilities. They are superb. Highly impressive. This is mine..."

    Stock or Lundahl?

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Mine is stock. The standard transformer seems absolutely fine to me, though I have not compared them side-by-side.
    Gibson F5 'Harvey' Fern, Gibson F5 'Derrington' Fern
    Distressed Silverangel F 'Esmerelda' aka 'Maxx'
    Northfield Big Mon #127
    Ellis F5 Special #288
    '39 & '45 D-18's, 1950 D-28.

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    Registered User pit lenz's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    This has made me curious.
    Just ordered one...

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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Thanks for the good information, @almeriastrings. The LRM-2 + FETHead is just what the doctor ordered to record an octave mando, without paying for a Coles or Royer.

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Let us all know how you get on with them... I must say, I really like the LRM-2. I'll try and get a sample mandolin recording done this weekend using one. Unlike many modifiers, JP (Gerard) even has his own metalwork done for the housing, and hand wires them internally using really high grade components. I said JP "was" the design engineer behind ADK - correction - he still is.
    Gibson F5 'Harvey' Fern, Gibson F5 'Derrington' Fern
    Distressed Silverangel F 'Esmerelda' aka 'Maxx'
    Northfield Big Mon #127
    Ellis F5 Special #288
    '39 & '45 D-18's, 1950 D-28.

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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    I've never used a ribbon mic but I heard long ago that they more fragile than other mics. Maybe things have changed but if that's the case, I'll stick with my condenser mic.
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Quote Originally Posted by DHopkins View Post
    I've never used a ribbon mic but I heard long ago that they more fragile than other mics. Maybe things have changed but if that's the case, I'll stick with my condenser mic.
    If you mistreat them they can be damaged. They are certainly more fragile than an SM57....

    However, if you use them sensibly, and take care of them, they can carry on working perfectly for decades. Generally, the short ribbons are the most robust, like this Beyer M160:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    With the long ribbons, store upright, as this reduces the prospect of ribbon sag.

    i have several ribbon mics, some owned for a long time and have not ever had a failure.
    Gibson F5 'Harvey' Fern, Gibson F5 'Derrington' Fern
    Distressed Silverangel F 'Esmerelda' aka 'Maxx'
    Northfield Big Mon #127
    Ellis F5 Special #288
    '39 & '45 D-18's, 1950 D-28.

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    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Quote Originally Posted by DHopkins View Post
    I've never used a ribbon mic but I heard long ago that they more fragile than other mics. Maybe things have changed but if that's the case, I'll stick with my condenser mic.
    Ribbons are essential, IMHO...
    Just wonderful tools...
    They compliment condensers and dynamics...it's like cooking...

    ...but mostly I love ribbons for what they don't do...
    Like picking up bow noise on a fiddle, or unwanted noises associated with even good pianos...

    But most of all, their patterns...
    I can hang a figure 8 ribbon (usually a Coles 4038) over a drum set, have the electric guitar and bass play while adjusting the mic to reject them, and wind up with a drum track that is pretty pure and uncontaminated by the rest of the band...
    How does it do that??

    I'm convinced that many of the seminal bluegrass recordings feature a banjo player hiding in the null, only to pop out during the solos...
    It's a powerful tool, that null...

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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Quote Originally Posted by Spruce View Post
    Ribbons are essential, IMHO...
    Just wonderful tools...
    They compliment condensers and dynamics...it's like cooking...

    ...but mostly I love ribbons for what they don't do...
    Like picking up bow noise on a fiddle, or unwanted noises associated with even good pianos..







    But most of all, their patterns...
    I can hang a figure 8 ribbon (usually a Coles 4038) over a drum set, have the electric guitar and bass play while adjusting the mic to reject them, and wind up with a drum track that is pretty pure and uncontaminated by the rest of the band...
    How does it do that?? :disbelief

    I'm convinced that many of the seminal bluegrass recordings feature a banjo player hiding in the null, only to pop out during the solos...
    It's a powerful tool, that null...
    That's the beauty of using one in live PA's. You can get the vocals with the instrument being almost silent and just move a little to add a fill. Also in small to medium halls or rooms the speakers can be placed in a line with mic and be in the dead spot, feedback is easier to control. In a one mic system the are the cat's meow as for as I'm concerned.

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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Interestingly.... two of the best microphones we see in that 'Golden Age', and which were a mainstay of WSM's Grand Old Opry were neither normal ribbons, or dynamics - but both in one! This allowed a whole range of patterns to be selected, and internally, they combined a ribbon element and a moving coil dynamic. The famous Western Electric/Altec Models 639A and 639B.

    Lots of fascinating background here.

    What a microphone!

    Despite so many now going for "the look" using LD condensers... condenser mics were almost never used in those days. It was virtually always either ribbons or dynamic microphones, except when it was a 639 and then it was both.
    Gibson F5 'Harvey' Fern, Gibson F5 'Derrington' Fern
    Distressed Silverangel F 'Esmerelda' aka 'Maxx'
    Northfield Big Mon #127
    Ellis F5 Special #288
    '39 & '45 D-18's, 1950 D-28.

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    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Ribbons ARE more fragile but treat them with care and you're fine. Dont blow into them
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete Martin View Post
    Ribbons ARE more fragile but treat them with care and you're fine. Dont blow into them
    They don't like other major pressure changes either, like being in an airtight case with the lid slammed shut. It's important to use a correctly wired XLR cable, and ribbon mics should be bagged when not being used, because the strong motor magnets will suck up any microscopic ferrous dust floating in the air. With those basic precautions, and with the normal care you'd treat any expensive studio mic, I haven't had any problems with ribbon mics in a studio.

    However, using them on the road for a stage show is a whole 'nother thing. There are ribbons made specifically for that application now, a bit tougher and less prone to damage. Also the tried-'n-true Beyerdymanic M160 is a good mic if you absolutely must use a ribbon on stage. I would never use my studio Royers on a gig, but I might consider one of those if I had the kind of monitors and stage setup where a ribbon would work, instead of the better feedback control of a unidirectional mic.

    Back to ribbons in the studio.... I use them as part of my tool kit alongside condenser mics, both for tone and for the null zone advantages Spruce mentioned when recording a group "live-in-studio." However, I'd caution anyone brand new to home recording to learn about mics and mic placement with a decent small diaphragm condenser mic first. It's just easier to get a good recording in the kinds of rooms and with the type of preamps most amateurs start with.

    Get a ribbon mic as your second or third mic, and make sure you have a good preamp (or inline pre like a Cloudlifter) so you have enough gain. Dedicated preamps with impedance and gain designed for ribbon mics, like the AEA TRP I use, can really make a difference. The room acoustics become much more important with a figure-8 mic too. Most beginners don't record in rooms with great acoustics. I wasn't able to do justice to a ribbon mic recording until my home recording space got a lot larger and with better reflection control when we moved into our current house.

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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Quote Originally Posted by almeriastrings View Post
    The famous Western Electric/Altec Models 639A and 639B.
    Lots of fascinating background here.
    What a microphone!
    What a great find, thanks a lot, almeriastrings!

    ...by the way, my NoHype arrived today, very fast service! I'm thrilled to try it out tomorrow...

  26. #19
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Heh heh, I'm expecting mine in a day or two, just in time for some weekend picking!!

    Back in my studio days, we used to record horns with the wonderful RCA-77DX . Another great instrument.

    Quote Originally Posted by pit lenz View Post
    What a great find, thanks a lot, almeriastrings!

    ...by the way, my NoHype arrived today, very fast service! I'm thrilled to try it out tomorrow...
    Last edited by bbcee; Aug-30-2016 at 4:18am. Reason: Fixed hyperlink

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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Quote Originally Posted by bbcee View Post

    Back in my studio days, we used to record horns with the wonderful RCA-77DX.
    This is a pic of one of my favorite recording memories, a horn over-dubbing session....
    (A lousy pic, but a good example of how ribbons can work...)

    An RCA 44Bx on the 'bone, an RCA BK11 on the sax, and an RCA BK5 on the trumpet...
    The tune is blasted on a single JBL EON, so it feels like a gig...
    All ribbons set to reject the EON, and they do...
    No headphones, so communication is easy...

    Just a great way to do session like this, for so-ooo many reasons...
    And sonically, it sounded wonderful...

    This is essentially how I do most overdub sessions--sans headphones--if a ribbon is a first choice to do the job...
    They reject that well...

    And folks seem to play/sing/communicate better without the cans--I know I do...

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    I've posted this photo before, but it's a reminder that you can hedge your bets with a combination of ribbon tone for "meat" and condenser tone for "sparkle" (and in this case, stereo imaging) then mix to taste:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I always mic every instrument in stereo when I can get away with it, and this is a neat way to do that, while still getting some ribbon tone in there. You have to be careful about phasing with spaced pairs, but once you have a standard rig like this and have tested for problems (by listening in mono), you're good to go.

    Edit to add: BTW, Chris Thile in that session (Goat Rodeo) was mic'd with two small diaphragm condensers, no ribbon mic.

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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Super cool "ribbon heaven" pics, guys!

    I'm just happy for my budget, good ribbons like the NoHypes & Cascades exist. It really is worth having at least one in the arsenal.

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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    I cant comment about the lower cost ribbons as I dont own one, but with the besr ribbons Ive used, you can boost eq a LOT in the high end and make them sound very condenser like. My Royer SF12 is terrific for this.
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    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete Martin View Post
    I cant comment about the lower cost ribbons as I dont own one, but with the besr ribbons Ive used, you can boost eq a LOT in the high end and make them sound very condenser like. My Royer SF12 is terrific for this.
    Why would you want to. I love the sound of a ribbon. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

  33. #25

    Default Re: Ribbon Mics

    I've never seen the 639 used in a session, although I've seen them in countless photos. Do they inspire the passions that vintage RCA ribbons do among modern recording folks? A quick look on ebay suggests that they are not as expensive or as commonly found.

    Quote Originally Posted by almeriastrings View Post
    Interestingly.... two of the best microphones we see in that 'Golden Age', and which were a mainstay of WSM's Grand Old Opry were neither normal ribbons, or dynamics - but both in one! This allowed a whole range of patterns to be selected, and internally, they combined a ribbon element and a moving coil dynamic. The famous Western Electric/Altec Models 639A and 639B.
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