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Tell Me All About Ribbon Mics!!
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jdjustice
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6th November 2006
Old 6th November 2006
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Tell Me All About Ribbon Mics!!

i have never used a ribbon microphone and i am ignorant to their general purpose and usage. what do ribbon mics excell at and what are their drawbacks? i know they require a lot of gain and certain preamps may not provide enough. do they utilize phantom power?

also, what are some of your favourite ribbon mics, what source(s) do you like to use them on, and why?

thanks for helping me fill a gaping hole in my pro-audio knowledge.


J.D.
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6th November 2006
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just for a little info.. http://www.royerlabs.com/faq.html

outside of that, my absolute favorite pair of ribbons is Coles 4040..they sound just beautiful on anything and everything... never heard a sound like them. I particularly like them on bowed instruments, female voices(and high male), brass wind instruments, piano..



Quote:
Originally Posted by jdjustice View Post
i have never used a ribbon microphone and i am ignorant to their general purpose and usage. what do ribbon mics excell at and what are their drawbacks? i know they require a lot of gain and certain preamps may not provide enough. do they utilize phantom power?

also, what are some of your favourite ribbon mics, what source(s) do you like to use them on, and why?

thanks for helping me fill a gaping hole in my pro-audio knowledge.


J.D.
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6th November 2006
Old 6th November 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jdjustice View Post

thanks for helping me fill a gaping hole in my pro-audio knowledge.


J.D.


Nothing beats filling a gaping hole on a Monday afternoon!

To me, ribbons are when you want a source to sound more smoothed out than condensers (and often regular dynamics) can provide, and more so than reality.

Sources with a strident or potentially strident high mid or high frequency characteristic, or with an overabundance of harmonics in the higher frequencies...which could include any bowed string instrument, brass instruments (especially the higher pitched ones), electric guitar amps, voices (especially with sibilance or lacking in low mids or bass), accordian, pretty much anything that your imagination can come up with.

Even if the highs don't need to be 'smoothed out', they can give a natural but somewhat retro vibe to the sound, having a certain character to the mids and bass that condensers don't provide.

Some of the major long standing companies are Coles, Royer, AEA, Peluso, Beyerdynamic, Crowley & Tripp. All of their ribbons have different voicings and varying amounts of coloration. Some are more mid forward, some are fatter in the lows, some are quite rich, and some are relatively 'accurate' going for a more 'in the room' sound. Just with these 6 companies there are about 20 different varities. So once you determine what you are looking for, there is most likely to be one there that will do the job well.
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i have only a few ribbons in my home studio so i'm not really qualified to answer except for what i read on these forums.

cons:

fragile
need high clean gain
"dark" sounding

pros:

great for taming "harsh" or "sizzly" sounds (brass, drum overheads, some vocalists, some acoustic guitars)
more natural sound than condensers

recently, AEA has put out a ribbon (R92) that is tailored more for applications that would normally require a brighter condenser (vocals, acoustic instruments). i have one on order. can't wait. i have never like my acoustic guitars miked with condensers. am really interested in a more natural sound.

the folks at mercenary swear by the crowley & tripps ribbons. their second choice are the AEA's, Royer's, and Coles of the world.

bill
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Just try a cheap one at first. That will tell you the difference, vaguely, from condensers you have, even the budget ones are a whole different ball game than any condenser.

Save up and get a better one, once you know how they will benefit your situations.
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jdjustice
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6th November 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by T.RayBullard View Post
just for a little info.. http://www.royerlabs.com/faq.html
thanks for that link, T.Ray; it's very informative!

Quote:
Originally Posted by NathanEldred View Post
To me, ribbons are when you want a source to sound more smoothed out than condensers (and often regular dynamics) can provide, and more so than reality.

Sources with a strident or potentially strident high mid or high frequency characteristic, or with an overabundance of harmonics in the higher frequencies...which could include any bowed string instrument, brass instruments (especially the higher pitched ones), electric guitar amps, voices (especially with sibilance or lacking in low mids or bass), accordian, pretty much anything that your imagination can come up with.

Even if the highs don't need to be 'smoothed out', they can give a natural but somewhat retro vibe to the sound, having a certain character to the mids and bass that condensers don't provide.
thanks Nathan, that is very helpful. i think i just need to try one out and actually experience the difference. then i will know, as you said, what applications i will be able to use a ribbon on (i was hoping vocals since this is my primary application; from what you guys have said i think it is definitely worth seeing how a ribbon would suit my voice... i tend to be a bit sibilant and if a ribbon would 'cut' this and they take EQing well then maybe they could be just what the dr ordered).....


i just need clarification on two issues:

01. do some ribbons utilize phantom power and some don't?
02. also, how much gain do you need from a preamp to drive most ribbons?


thx again,
J.D.
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6th November 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jdjustice View Post

i just need clarification on two issues:

01. do some ribbons utilize phantom power and some don't?

Only the Royer actives require phantom power.



Quote:
02. also, how much gain do you need from a preamp to drive most ribbons?

It completely depends on the source and your gain structure. Trying to hit digital full scale is where I think a lot of people get into trouble and confusion. I've had the gain as low as 30db on amps, and on quieter sources as high as 70db. Average seems to be around 55-60db.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jdjustice View Post
thanks for that link, T.Ray; it's very informative!



thanks Nathan, that is very helpful. i think i just need to try one out and actually experience the difference. then i will know, as you said, what applications i will be able to use a ribbon on (i was hoping vocals since this is my primary application; from what you guys have said i think it is definitely worth seeing how a ribbon would suit my voice... i tend to be a bit sibilant and if a ribbon would 'cut' this and they take EQing well then maybe they could be just what the dr ordered).....


i just need clarification on two issues:

01. do some ribbons utilize phantom power and some don't?
02. also, how much gain do you need from a preamp to drive most ribbons?


thx again,
J.D.
Yes, ribbons can be very good for vocals. Many many classic recordings were made with ribbons. I find them generally less sibilant than most condensers or moving coil dynamics.

It is true that some newer ribbons utilize phantom power. My understanding is this is done to overcome some of the lack of gain problem.

I'd say 65-70dB of clean gain should work for most ribbons on most sources, although the more the better, especially for quiet acoustic recording. Also, keep in mind that ribbons can be a little picky about input impedance on your preamp.
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6th November 2006
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The newest US made ribbon mics have high output and don't require any more pre gain than a stage dynamic, for example, and in fact are hotter than many stage dynamics. The "low output" thing is still a problem with certain old school designs.

New professional ribbon mics aren't fragile. Not even close. Put them right up on a snare, for instance, or your cabinet, and wail away. They last for a long, long time. No worries or fears. Phantom power won't hurt them either except possibly in a miswired setup.

Ribbon mic technology has improved dramatically.

Bob


http://microphonium.blogspot.com
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6th November 2006
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The thing I like most about my ribbons (R84 and R121) is the off axis response. This makes them great for distance micing IMO. Also, when you put one in front of a guitar speaker, it pics up the whole speaker without effecting the off axis sound hitting it. This gives a more natural sound.

What I don't like about ribbon mics is that you can kill them with phantom power. I understand that it is not a problem if the mic is already connected when you apply the PP, but if you plug via XLR into a pre that already has the PP turned on, and the + and - pins don't meet at exactly the same time, you will fry the ribbon.
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6th November 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NathanEldred View Post
Nothing beats filling a gaping hole on a Monday afternoon!
As long as you are ribboned for her pleasure, sure why not.

War
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Most ribbons are figure 8 pattern, which means they're 'bi'. Oh wait. I was thinking about the previous post. It means they pick up sound from both directions, but reject sound from the sides. So if you're in a small room, you have to be aware of what the back side is pointed at. On a guitar amp, it doesn't matter, because the sound is so loud on one side, the other side of the mic doesn't hear much. And they usually have a serious proximity affect, which makes close-miking tricky. The AEA R92 is engineered to minimize the proximity affect, but it is pretty mid-forward. The shiny box ribbons sound pretty natural, as long as you get the modded ones with the upgraded transformer.
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