You really can make your own ribbon mic. The site has a testimonial from Bob Crowley and a real frequency response report.
I was an early adopter and the makers have made the kit a lot easier since then. The most difficult part, the plastic truss that holds the magnets and ribbon, is now a prefab piece of plastic. You don't have to source the parts yourself. And the video tutorial is a cinch to follow.
The ribbon is made of aluminum leaf from Michael's craft shop. Handling it takes practice. But once installed, it doesn't blow out easily. And you'll have a mic you can service yourself since you made it.
It sounds luscious. It has reach and the figure 8 pattern is consistent. So if you haven't treated your tracking room, you can still get some good sounds through careful mic positioning.
I've used it on everything. Percussion, acoustic, electric cabs, singing. Try sending it down a hall with the nulls facing the walls. One of my favorite positions is over the right shoulder of a violinist, facing the instrument.
I feel like I'm dinging the mic on "Ease Of Use" but it's a KIT. Once you've made it, ease of use is a 10.
Patience and perseverance are well rewarded by this DIY kit
The Austin mics are fairly high quality ribbon mics made from simple, available, and therefore low-cost components. The main differences between the $10 plans + $100-$175 in parts and the $199 - $299 kits are having the parts sourced (possible savings on shipping), and having the mic's body (which is made from brass pipe) pre-cut and nicely machined (as well as painted, hope you like a purple and gold color scheme), along with the connecting piece you need to plug in an xlr cable. I gather that the plastic mounting harness is also now pre-assembled by Rickshaw records or some company they do business with, so the kit cuts this step out as well.
Materials and assembly
I purchased two of the cinemag transformer equipped kits ($275 each), and Rick was kind enough to throw in a somewhat valuable (?) tube wringer for corrugating the ribbon. I was rather unimpressed with this tool, though it does function passably well. The kits also provide a wooden dowel you can use to corrugate the ribbon if it is laid out on a spongy surface like a mousepad, and I found that this method was easier for getting consistent results, although the corrugations were not as deep.
Kit assembly consists of gluing some very strong neudyminium magnets on a plastic harness (be sure to get the gorilla glue very wet if that's what you are using! Failed gluing attempts cost me about 8 hours of assembly time), bending and soldering some mesh screen to form the wind screen for the microphone (this part was the third most challenging part of assembly), cutting a ribbon (Very difficult to get right! I eventually found that sandwiching the ribbon material between two pieces of craft paper helped to prevent tears, which cut down on the amount of material I rendered useless), corrugating the ribbon, loading the ribbon in the motor (most swearing occurred in this part), and finally wiring and assembling the microphone (piece of cake).
Room for improvement
The instructions provided with the kit are pretty good, and Rick is on point with support, answering most emails in a matter of a couple hours, but the instructions do leave a fair amount of room for error, and with such finicky processes (cutting 0.6 micron ribbon material) this can lead to a great amount of frustration. You'll also probably want to buy a 25 sheet supply of immitation silver leaf from michaels or someplace (about $8), because it's very easy to burn through the single sheet of ribbon material provided with the kits while you are still learning how to handle it. I also found shielding tape to adhere better after soldering wires than the material provided in the kit.
Once the microphones are correctly assembled, you get a pretty great sounding mic, that definitely has the vintage, warmish sounds associated with the microphone type, but also a pretty true high frequency response up to 20 khz. I really love the way the mics handle percussion and bassy acoustic instruments. I often find that my condensers and dynamics can make percussion tracks overly clicky and obscure the actual sound of the instrument you are trying to capture. These ribbons give the full sound of shakers, tambourines, and various drums, with transient impact, but also all the rest of the instruments' textures. They are pretty nice on vocals as well. The back of the mic is noticeably more scooped in sound (as well as lower output) which I imagine could be useful in some situations.
An additional bonus, and one that actually instigated my original decision to purchase these kits, is that building these makes you competent to repair other damaged ribbon mics, since you will be working with essentially the most difficult ribbon material in this project. After completing these, I repaired a samson vr88 that I had accidentally railgunned with a detachable screwdriver shaft while attempting to retension it. Now it is working again, with a properly tensioned, lighter ribbon material that sounds better than what was originally in the mic. Awesome!
Here's a cheesy cover of a WWII era song I did in a tiny bedroom as a hanukkah present to my grandma. Everything was recorded with one of the mics I built, and little processing has been applied. Pardon my performances
I have one word to describe Austin Microphone kits, KILLER. At the end of my project I had a great feeling of satisfaction. I bought the Lundahl 2911 transformer kit. Immediately after the ribbon mic was built I ran a recording session. I recorded vocals and 2 electric guitars to a pre-existing drum track recorded earlier in the week. Everything recorded was amazingly clear, silky and warm. I was surprised to see it had more output than an SM57.
Rick was quick to email me back whenever I had a question. Terrific guy!