we’re feeding have distortion as well, the
distortion is additive (actually, mathematically,
it’s worse; with noise, for example, you add
the squares). Many types of distortion are
non-linear—they sound dissonant. If you distort the distortion coming from the mic (with
electronics), you have audibly destructive fresh
distortion components. If you think your chain
is clean with a conventional microphone (and it
might be!), with a good ribbon and transform-er/preamp, it won’t be just clean, it’ll be
pristine. The ribbon microphone is the cleanest mic
out there. The primary reason is the low mass
of the diaphragm. Less inertia means an intrinsic ability to follow waveforms more accurately.
great with acoustic instruments. No matter
the music, ribbons rock.
Due to the large size of the “motor,” ribbon
mics have been large from day one. Not all
are large. Some look like regular hand-held,
dynamic moving-coil mics, while some look
like Johnny Carson’s. The old RCAs are dripping with vibe cosmetically and many companies emulate that look.
case closed with the mic inside). If a 48V
phantom power supply is specified, you can
expect higher output and higher impedance:
there’s circuitry on board. While most have a
figure- 8 pattern, some offer more coverage
options, so read the specs.
Ribbon mics ruled broadcast for years, and
recording studios always have ribbons available. Besides their natural spectral balance
and superb transparency, they also have
great pattern flexibility. Typically, ribbon
mics have a bi-directional sensitivity pattern. As you can see from the diagram,
when viewed from above, you have essentially identical pickup of sound front and
rear with good side rejection. If you use a
pair of these correctly, you end up with the
natural, open sound of the famous Blumlein
Pair microphone array. In addition, many of
today’s ribbons give you the option of cardioid, hypercardioid or even omni-directional
patterns. Some even allow you to set almost
any pattern you can dream up.
How Much Do They Cost?
In general, you get what you pay for. Many
cheaper designs are based on established
products—even those from Eastern Bloc
countries where engineering has always
been cherished. Not all of us require the
performance of a $2000 mic yet have an
appreciation for the strengths of a ribbon.
Even imperfect designs still have a certain
character that, in some applications, will be
impressive compared to a PA-style microphone. That said, there’s a commercial reason
for the higher price of the better brands: they
are great performers. There’s also a mechanical reason: better mics have tighter tolerances, leading to better performance and
consistency from unit to unit. Furthermore,
the actual physical construction has an effect
of the performance of any microphone.
At the entry-level, Nady offers a mic at under
$200 and it ain’t bad! Sampson has a $400
model. Groove Tubes does more than tubes,
as evidenced by their Velo line, with a couple
of models between $650 and $1000. They call
‘em Velo because ribbon mics were originally
called velocity mics. My favorite mic name has
to be the Blue Woodpecker. Blue has lots of
mics, and the Woodpecker sells for around a
grand. The famed Beyerdynamic line is also a
good value from $700 to around $1300.
At the higher end, companies like AEA ($900
to $3600) and Royer ($1300 to $4500), are
the equivalent of Gibson, Martin or even
D’Angelico guitars. It’s all a matter of your
requirements and priorities. As the man said,
(I’m paraphrasing) you can’t always get what
you want, but you can get what you need.
Some ribbon mics have long ribbons with
a short acoustic path around the magnets,
while others are the opposite. Pros select
mics with these parameters in mind, but for
many others purchase decisions are often
dictated by pricing rather than coverage
and pattern. In theory, a longer ribbon has
more limited vertical pickup pattern—better
for cleaner sound, as the reflective ceiling
and floor surfaces contribute less coloration
and reverb. There are applications, however,
when you want the added ambiance.
Aside from effective isolation from extraneous vibrations, the mic’s chassis and pop-shield must be optimized for low coloration.
An improperly designed pop shield can
behave like cupped hands, albeit to a lesser
degree. The most sophisticated manufacturers have the facilities and procedures in
place to design all aspects of the microphone for better performance in all areas,
while low-end mics are sometimes knock-offs
of existing designs—warts and all. As with
hi-fi speakers, guitar amps, pickups, etc.,
there’s no substitute for listening. Finally,
ribbons are prone to hum and noise, so try
to get a money-back guarantee, and test the
mic quickly after purchase.
Today’s ribbons can actually be used on
stage. Combining a variable pattern with
natural spectral balance and head-turning
transient response can give you the very
best of a good acoustic guitar—about
a bazillion times better than a “quacky”
onboard pickup. From oboes to piccolos,
from violins to French horns, ribbons work
As far as actual street pricing goes, imports
like Nady and Samson have much to offer
the amateur and semi-professional recordist.
Brands like Royer, on the other hand, can be
fairly expensive to really expensive. Some
come with nifty shock mounts; some have
cool wooden cases (don’t slam a ribbon’s