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Ribbon Microphone 

Comparison and Test
Studio Ribbon Microphone

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

Namely: ribbon microphones are used in recording vocals and acoustic instruments for studio recording, and often when looking for a silky, vintage sound.

What is a Ribbon Microphone ? 🧐

Not all microphones capture all sounds equally. Their choice will then depend on the task to be accomplished and especially 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 microphones to ever exist.

Operation and features of the Ribbon Microphone 🛠

The Ribbon Microphone works on the same electrical principle as the dynamic microphone. Only, the coil will be replaced by a thin conductive ribbon which will act as a diaphragm and moving coil. In other words, it is the electrical equivalent of a dynamic microphone, but equipped with a single turn. As a result, a very low electrical voltage will appear across the Ribbon depending on the sound that hits it. As the electrical signal provided by the Ribbon is particularly weak, a transformer must therefore be inserted in the circuit. The objective of the latter is to raise the output voltage to an acceptable level.

If a Ribbon Microphone is well designed, it is likely to have a flat frequency response easily exceeding 20 Hz. Due to the double-sided nature of the Ribbon, the microphone will automatically have a bidirectional polar pattern or figure in eight. We can say that this is a standard configuration, because the membrane is exposed to sound waves on both sides. It is important to note that some ribbon microphones still have more directional characteristics.

One might be tempted to say that given its characteristics, the Ribbon Microphone cannot offer any real advantages. Indeed, compared to other microphones, it is the most fragile. However, with the evolution of technology, ribbon microphones have seen improvement over time. Certainly, they are still among the most fragile microphones on the market, but they are relatively more solid. In addition, with innovations such as the “printed” ribbon, the reliability of the microphone and its frequency response are significantly improved. For certain applications, professionals still favor the use of the Ribbon Microphone mainly thanks to the sound it produces. As an example, we can cite the recording of classical music.

Microphone Sensitivity 🦻

The centerpiece of the microphone is the metal alloy ribbon folded into an accordion and inserted into the axis of a cylindrical electromagnet. It will act as a membrane and a coil at the same time. It is this part which will give the microphone its very high sensitivity. To preserve the microphone membrane, we advise you not to expose it to high acoustic pressure. It is also extremely sensitive to shock and wind.

Note : By the way, also discover our guide to the best USB microphones for studio . This guide suggests the best USB microphones to choose for your voice recording studio. This guide also presents what a USB microphone is, its generalities, the essential tools to ensure the proper functioning of this microphone, criteria to base on the purchase of this microphone, its directivities, 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 soft and natural sound. The microphone poorly reproduces frequencies above 10 Hz, the sound produced will then be warm with a vintage appearance. It is a microphone that is not comparable to any of its peers.

Furthermore, the majority of ribbon microphones all have a bidirectional or figure-8 directivity. This type of directivity plays an important role in the sound quality of the microphone. In cases where we are looking for a silky sound and a restitution of dynamic and harmonic variations, we use a Ribbon Microphone . We favor the use of this type of microphone for recording acoustic instruments. It can also be used for vocals, drum overhead, or as a guitar amplifier. That said, in certain cases, it is advisable to protect the membrane by using a windshield or a special wind filter. That said, this application is not exhaustive, nothing prevents the use of the microphone in other cases. It is always important to try, to experiment, while taking into account the specific characteristics of the microphone.

Ribbon microphones are widely used in studios because of their fragility. They must also be stored in a special way to prevent the Ribbon from stretching. Faced with very high acoustic pressure, the Ribbon risks tearing. This is why you will need to move it a little away from the sound source.

For a little more winnings 🙌

One of the main drawbacks of the Ribbon Microphone is its low output level. To overcome this, we recommend using a good pre amp with a large amount of gain. The quality of the recording will depend entirely on the quality of the preamp. If you use a poor quality amplifier, you shouldn't expect a stunning result. You may need to crank the preamp all the way to get a decent recording level.

In this case, we recommend using a Cloudlifter CL-1 . It will boost your microphone signal by +25 dB. Very practical, it is not necessary to connect it to the mains. Phantom power to your sound card will allow it to function properly. However, it is very important to point out that Ribbon microphones do not like +48 Volt ones at all.

The Technical Characteristics of a Ribbon Microphone 🎤

The Ribbon Microphone is a pressure gradient microphone because the acoustic wave can attack both sides of the Ribbon. For optimal results, you should always place the microphone perpendicular to its sound source. Thus, the sound waves will strike the front side of the Ribbon.

Ribbon microphones have a wide bandwidth. As a result, they are much more precise than other types of microphones. The sound quality reproduced is then of very good quality. It produces a soft and warm sound, even in the high range. It thus makes it possible to attenuate the aggressiveness of certain musical instruments or certain voices.

This is a highly sought after feature to compensate for the cold effect of current microphones. In general, we observe an attenuation from 14 kHz and a drop for low frequencies. The response curve also shows a significant increase in the level of low frequencies when the sound source approaches less than one meter from 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. The latter 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 explained by the fact that the lengths of the paths traveled reaching the membrane are not completely identical. This proximity effect plays a very important role and is a key element of the sound quality that the microphone produces. Indeed, it helps the microphone to reproduce incredible natural sound.

Sharing experience using the Ribbon Microphone 🤝

A Ribbon Microphone is a transducer providing high-quality sound performance. The sound produced is very specific, it is a warm and incredibly natural sound. The bi-directional directivity of the microphone also offers an astonishing stereo picture while remaining natural. It's an ambient microphone. It was designed to capture sounds in a room. Faced with a strong variation in volume, the performance remains the same. It reproduces transients perfectly.

Applied to an acoustic guitar or drums, the sound is simply breathtaking. Given its performance, it is a microphone that could also be perfect for use in cinema or broadcasting. Its output level is very low, but it does not accept +48 Volt phantom power. This risks rendering it completely unusable. For a little more gain, it is recommended to invest in a good preamp.

However, the quality of the preamp and that of the sound are intrinsically linked. Also, if you want HD sound, invest in a very good preamp. Very sensitive, it can pick up sounds that even a good dynamic microphone won't be able to pick up. In other words, it is a microphone that manages to capture distant sound sources. With a well-designed sound plan, 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 essential equipment for studio recording and for vocal recordings. 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 around ten Ribbon microphones. Here is our unofficial selection of the best ribbon microphones of all time: