THE VENERABLE BEYERDYNAMIC M 160 MIC BY RICH TOZZOLI
When a mic that’s been around since 1952 is still
in production, there must be
several good reasons. With the
Beyerdynamic M 160 ribbon
microphone, there certainly are
many. It has a small physical
footprint and, with a street price
inexpensive. And, of course,
it sounds damn good! That’s
why Eddie Kramer used it on
every Hendrix recording he
engineered. It has been used by
the likes of Pink Floyd and John
Mayer. David Bowie used it as a
vocal mic, and Andy Johns used
nothing but a pair of M 160s
to capture the classic Zep drum
sound on “When the Levee
Breaks.” So let’s take a look at
this classic and some of its uses.
Ribbon mics are famous for
their warm, natural sound. They
work great when recording guitar
amps, acoustic guitars, strings,
woodwinds, pianos, vocals, and
even drums. What makes the M
160 a little different than other
ribbon microphones is that it features a hypercardioid polar pattern.
Most ribbons have figure- 8
polar patterns, which capture
audio from both the front and
the back of the mic. The hypercardioid pattern captures only
the sound directly in front of it,
so it can also be used onstage—
where it’s crucial to reject sound
from the sides and back in
order to minimize feedback—as
well as in the studio.
The M 160 is also unusual
in that it features two ribbons,
one arranged above the other.
This provides a hotter output
than some other ribbon mics,
so you can use less preamp gain
and therefore have less noise in
your signal. As an interesting side
note, I learned that the ribbon
transducers are so close to each
other (0.5 mm apart), that they
are wired by hand, and only three
ladies at the Beyerdynamic factory
are capable of doing the job.
Left: A staple of recording studios since 1952, the Beyerdynamic M 160 uses two closely spaced ribbon transducers to capture sound. Photo courtesy of Beyerdynamic right: The M 160’s hypercardioid polar pattern allows it to
pick up sound from the front (0 degrees) and reject it from the sides and back. For example, at 90 and 270 degrees
(perpendicular to the mic’s front), a 1000 Hz signal is reduced by about 15 dB. Graphic courtesy of Beyerdynamic
While I’ve known about this
mic for years, I never actually
used it until I picked one up a few
months back, and its been a go-to
mic ever since. The day it arrived,
I put it up on my old Magnatone
M-10A 1x12 combo, and it was
truly magical. I thought, “Ah, no
wonder so many people love this
mic.” The guitar tones the M 160
captured sounded creamy, thick,
warm, and yet balanced. The
mic delivers more top end than
I expected from a ribbon design,
especially one that’s been around
since the ’50s.
I usually use multiple mics to
create a blend, though, because
that approach offers the most
flexibility during mixdown.
When I paired the M 160 with a
Shure SM57 dynamic through a
good tube preamp, I realized I’d
found a classic setup for recording
guitars. I also used it in conjunction with a Sennheiser MD 421
dynamic, and that combination
delivered an even meatier tone.
After panning the mics virtually
on top of each other, I raised the
M 160’s fader high enough to
deliver the primary mic sound,
and then simply brought in the
MD 421 (or SM57) enough to
thicken the tone.
Interestingly, I found that
my usual habit of compressing guitar mics with either a
touch of Universal Audio 1176
or Empirical Labs EL7 (in
the mix, not in the recording)
was unnecessary. The ribbon
sound was almost compressed
already, so adding more actually removed some of the highs.
I’m sure a lot of it had to do
with the fact that the amps were
heavily distorted and, therefore,
were already compressing.
The M 160 also worked
great to mic the body of a
vintage ’30s Gibson acoustic.
It captured that old, woody
tone, and I actually added some
additional treble at 8-9 kHz to
brighten the sound a bit more.
One of my favorite applica-
tions for this mic is on drums.
Borrowing the Andy Johns trick
of using M 160s and a heavy
dose of the aforementioned UA
1176 compressor, I used one in
front of a kit when recording
some TV cues—heavy, live blues
cuts—and I placed a single M
160 about six feet in front of the
kit, and about five feet off the
floor. The drummer, Vincent
Miraglia, has an excellent drum
kit made of African bubinga
wood, and it was a good-sound-
ing room to boot.
RICH TOZZOLI is a
Grammy-nominated engineer and mixer who has
worked with artists ranging
from Al Di Meola to David
Bowie. A life-long guitarist,
he’s also the author of Pro
Tools Surround Sound Mixing and composes for the likes of Fox NFL, Discovery
Channel, Nickelodeon, and HBO.