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Ribbon microphone Comparative and Test

Microphone Ruban Studio

Discover all the ribbon microphone reviews for recording studios. Ribbon microphones use a thin electrically conductive ribbon film, placed between the poles of a magnet to produce voltage by electromagnetic induction. Leading brands include AEA, Coles, Royer Labs, SE Electronics, Sontronics and Shure.

Good to know: Ribbon microphones are used for recording vocals and acoustic instruments in the studio, and often in situations where a silky, vintage sound is desired.

What's a Ribbon Microphone? 🧐

All microphones don’t pick up all sounds in the same way. Their choice will depend on the task to be performed and, above all, on the result expected by the user. In this article, we will focus on the ribbon microphone. It is one of the oldest types of microphone that has ever existed.

Functions and characteristics of the Ribbon Microphone 🛠

The ribbon microphone works on the same electrical principle as the dynamic microphone. The only difference is that the coil is replaced by a thin conductive ribbon which acts as a diaphragm and moving coil. In other words, it’s the electrical equivalent of a dynamic microphone, but with only one coil. For this reason, a very low electrical voltage will appear across the ribbon according to the sound that hits it. Since the electrical signal supplied by the Ribbon is very weak, a transformer must be inserted in the circuit. The objective of the transformer is to raise the output voltage to an acceptable level.

If a Ribbon microphone is well-designed, it’s likely to have a flat frequency response, easily exceeding 20 Hz. Because of the double-sided nature of the Ribbon, the microphone will automatically have a bidirectional polar pattern or figure of eight. This can be said to be a standard configuration, as the diaphragm is exposed to sound waves on both sides. It is important to note that some ribbon microphones do have more directional characteristics.

It might be tempting to say that, in view of its characteristics, the ribbon microphone cannot offer any real advantages. Indeed, compared to other microphones, it’s the most delicate. Nevertheless, as technology has evolved, ribbon microphones have improved over time. While they are still among the most delicate microphones on the market, they are relatively stronger. In addition, with innovations such as the “printed” ribbon, the reliability of the microphone and its frequency response have improved significantly. For some applications, professionals still prefer to use ribbon microphones, mainly because of the sound they produce. One example is the recording of classical music.

Microphone Sensitivity 🦻

The heart of the microphone is the metal alloy ribbon folded into an accordion shape and inserted into the axis of a cylindrical electromagnet. It will serve as a diaphragm and a coil at the same time. It’s this part that will make the microphone very sensitive. To preserve the diaphragm, we recommend that you don’t expose it to high acoustic pressure. It’s also extremely sensitive to shocks and wind.

Note: By the way, check out our guide to the best USB studio microphones. This guide suggests the best USB microphones to choose for your voice recording studio. This guide also introduces you to what a USB microphone is, its generalities, the essential tools to ensure the proper functioning of this microphone, criteria to base your purchase of this microphone, its directivity, and the selection of the best USB microphones.

Using Ribbon Microphones ✅

The sound reproduction of a ribbon microphone is simply extraordinary. It produces a very smooth and natural sound. The microphone doesn’t play well at frequencies above 10 Hz, so the sound produced will be warm with a vintage feel. It’ s a microphone that is not comparable to any of its competitors.

By the way, the majority of ribbon microphones all have a bidirectional directivity or figure-8 pattern. This type of directivity plays an important part in the sound quality of the microphone. In situations where a silky sound and the reproduction of dynamic and harmonic variations are desired, a ribbon microphone is used. This type of microphone is preferred for recording acoustic instruments. It can also be used for vocals, drum overhead, or as a guitar amplifier. However, in some cases it is advisable to protect the diaphragm by using a special windscreen or filter. However, this is not an exhaustive list of applications, and nothing prevents the microphone from being used in other situations. It’s always important to experiment, taking into account the specific characteristics of the microphone.

Ribbon microphones are widely used in the studio because they are so delicate. They must also be stored in a special way to prevent the ribbon from stretching. Under very high sound pressure, the ribbon may break. This is why you should move it away from the sound source.

For a few more gain 🙌

One of the main drawbacks of the ribbon microphone is its low output level. To overcome this, we recommend that you use a good preamp with a large amount of gain. The quality of the recording will depend on the quality of the preamp. If you use a poor quality amplifier, you should not expect a great result. You may have to push the preamp to the limit to get a suitable recording level.

In this situation, we advise you to use a Cloudlifter CL-1. It will boost the signal of your microphone by + 25 dB. Very practical, it’s not necessary to connect it to the mains. The phantom power of your sound card will allow it to work correctly. However, it’s very important to note that ribbon microphones don’t like +48 volts at all.

Technical Characteristics of a Ribbon Microphone 🎤

The ribbon microphone is a pressure gradient microphone, because the sound wave can attack both sides of the ribbon. For best results, the microphone should always be placed perpendicular to its sound source. In this way, the sound waves will strike the front of the Ribbon.

Ribbon microphones have a wide bandwidth. As a result, they are much more accurate than other types of microphones. The sound quality is very good. It produces a soft and warm sound, even in the high frequencies. This makes it possible to reduce the aggressiveness of some musical instruments or voices.

This is a much desired characteristic to compensate for the cold effect of current microphones. Usually, there is an attenuation from 14 kHz and a drop in low frequencies. The response curve also shows a noticeable increase in the level of low frequencies when the sound source comes within one meter of the capsule. At this distance, the waves are rather spherical.

The Proximity effect and the Microphone 🖐

By design, as pressure gradient microphones, the Ribbon model is affected by the proximity effect. This is characterized by an amplification of low frequencies. It occurs when the sound source is placed at a very short distance from the microphone. This is due to the lengths of the paths traveled to the diaphragm not being exactly the same. This proximity effect is very important and is a key element in the sound quality produced by the microphone. It helps the microphone to produce an incredible natural sound.

Sharing experience of using a Ribbon Microphone 🤝

A ribbon microphone is a transducer that offers high quality sound performance. The sound produced is very specific, it’s warm and unbelievably natural. The microphone’s bi-directional directivity also provides an amazing stereo sound image while remaining natural. This is an ambient microphone. It is designed to capture the sounds of a room. In the face of strong volume variations, the performance remains the same. It reproduces transients perfectly.

Applied to an acoustic guitar or a drum kit, the sound is simply breathtaking. In view of its performance, this is a microphone that could also be perfect for use in film or broadcasting. Its output level is very low, but it doesn’t accept +48 volts phantom power. This might make it completely unusable. For a little more gain, it’s recommended to invest in a good preamp.

However, the quality of the preamp and the quality of the sound are closely related. So if you want HD sound, invest in a very good preamp. It’ s very sensitive and can pick up sounds that even a good dynamic microphone will not. In other words, it is a microphone that can pick up distant sound sources. With a well-realized soundstage, the ribbon microphone becomes the best ambient microphone.

Do you want to increase the sound quality of your projects? Consider investing in a ribbon microphone. It is an essential piece of equipment for studio recording and voice recording. You can also use it for a bass drum or a snare drum, the result will be breathtaking.

Our Selection of Ribbon Microphones ❤️

The market offers a good deal of ribbon microphones. Here is our unofficial selection of the best ribbon microphones of all time:

  • SE Electronics X1R : The ribbon microphone which is meant to be within everyone’s reach.

The SE Electronics X1R is a very good microphone. It can be used on just about anything: drums, guitar amps, acoustic guitar, vocals, bass… It offers a clear, crisp sound. Like all other ribbon microphones, its sound has that sought-after vintage feel. Another of its features is that it is able to handle fairly high sound levels. Its output level is quite low. For optimal performance, a Cloudlifter can be used for an additional +25 dB of gain.

This microphone is very small and can be easily installed. It’s an absolute must-have for recording studios that already have a good preamp. The Beyerdynamic is a good all-round microphone that will produce a warm and heavy sound. Its double ribbon gives it a hypercardioid directivity unlike other microphones with a figure of eight. That makes it an excellent companion in the home studio. Its response curve is quite atypical, as it mixes smoothness and naturalness. The sound is characterized by a small hump that extends from 2.5 kHz to 9 kHz. The proximity effect is also very pronounced. It has a very good transient response, but doesn’t compete with professional condenser microphones.

It’s a very delicate microphone. An anti-pop filter or a windscreen is therefore mandatory for a vocal pickup, and even for picking up guitar amps pushed very hard. To guarantee its longevity, it should be placed horizontally in its case when not in use.

The exceptional characteristics of the Coles 4038 have attracted many professionals. Like all ribbon microphones, it’s delicate and sensitive. Despite this, it’s strong, which is why it has an exceptionally long service life. Indeed, it’s a microphone produced since the 1950s, it’s a big monster. The Coles 4038 is an absolute standard in terms of its musicality and its distinctive grain.

It’s an almost universal microphone. For voice recording, it produces a beautiful sound with a vintage, velvety feel. When applied to musical instruments, there is nothing to complain about. It magnifies them all (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, cymbals…). According to some users, it could even replace a dynamic microphone that can very quickly exaggerate in the treble.