Fancy getting that warm, vintage tone in your recordings? Then you should consider investing in a ribbon microphone. Once seen as a thing of the past, ribbon mics are making a comeback and are loved for their ability to capture a natural, detailed, and expressive sound. But with so many ribbon mics out there, it can be tough to pick the perfect one. Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. We’ve rounded up the best ribbon mics, as well as some close contenders to help make your search easier.
This guide not only reviews top-performing mics but also includes their key benefits, pricing, and even the pros and cons. Whether you’re an aspiring musician or a seasoned sound engineer, this comprehensive list is your ticket to achieving that rich, vintage sound you’re after. Embrace the past to enhance your future recordings!
The Royer R-121 is a respected ribbon microphone known for its excellent midrange detail, low self-noise, and superb transient response. Designed in 1998, this state-of-the-art microphone features a unique offset ribbon design, allowing it to handle high sound pressure levels without damaging the ribbon. It is a versatile and reliable choice that is highly regarded by engineers and studios worldwide.
- Exceptional midrange detail, low self-noise, and excellent transient response
- High sound pressure levels without damaging the delicate ribbon element
- True figure-of-eight polar response with equally sensitive front and back lobes
- Side-address design with a slotted grille area for versatile placement
- Suited well for capturing amplified electric guitars, acoustic instruments, vocals, and suitable for stereo applications
- Resilient to harsh sounds, perfect for recording high treble metal guitars, cranked up rock riffs, and thumping drum solos
- Excels in smoothing out harsh upper-mid tones in vocals
- The ribbon element is not affected by heat or humidity, maintaining consistent frequency response regardless of distance
The Royer R-121, being a well-engineered, versatile microphone offering high-quality sound and versatility, is an investment for any studio setup. It comes with a wooden box, microphone clip, and a lifetime warranty, underscoring its value.
The R-121 indeed stands out for its ability to handle high sound pressure levels, making it a top choice for recording electric guitar, brass instruments, and acoustic guitar. It can be particularly effective in smoothing out harsh upper-mid tones in vocals which can enhance the overall recording quality. Moreover, the true figure-of-eight polar pattern allows for versatile placement and isolation of sound sources.
However, there are a few considerations when using the R-121. The microphone can be a little sensitive to vocal pops, though this problem can be mitigated with the use of a pop filter or foam windshield. The microphone can also be susceptible to mechanical noise transmitted through the microphone cable or stand, so careful handling and placement are key. While the R-121 has a low output impedance, it is sensitive to the impedance of the microphone preamp it is connected to so keep in mind to pair it with a compatible preamp.
While it’s not recommended for live stage use due to its fragility, the R-121 excels in studio environments. Also, to prevent the ribbon from sagging over time, it is advised to store the R-121 vertically. Despite these minor caveats, the R-121 remains a versatile and reliable ribbon microphone that delivers a warm and smooth sound quality, making it a worthwhile addition to any recording setup.
The AEA R84 Ribbon Mic is a high-quality studio microphone. Specifically designed with a “large ribbon geometry”, it’s optimized for a variety of recording applications including brass, strings, percussion, electric and bass guitar, and vocals.
The ribbon used in the R84 is claimed to be twice the size of those used in other modern ribbon mics, contributing to its unique sonic character that is smooth, detailed, and natural. The microphone comes in a lightweight design and includes a padded nylon bag for safe storage.
- Large ribbon geometry design for high-quality performance.
- Optimized for close working applications, giving versatility in recording various instruments.
- Unique sonic character that provides a smooth, detailed, and natural sound.
- Comes with a padded nylon bag for safe storage.
- Wide usable area in front and behind the mic, increasing its efficiency.
- High-frequency response increases as the source moves off-axis in the horizontal plane.
The AEA R84 Ribbon Mic is priced at around $1900, offering excellent sound quality and versatility at a competitive price point compared to other ribbon mics on the market.
The R84 Ribbon Mic has garnered praise from music industry professionals for its ability to deliver high-quality sound across a range of applications. It’s particularly effective for capturing the sound of strings, horns, woodwinds, and percussion.
The mic features a figure-8 polar pattern, allowing it to capture sound from both the front and back, which can make the recording space sound bigger. This tool has an extended top end compared to microphones from the 1930s and can be adjusted to have a flat response up to 25 or 30 kilohertz. This makes it a great choice for those interested in capturing a natural acoustic sound.
One of the standout features of the R84 is its integrated shock mount, which reduces structure-borne noise and eliminates the need for an additional shock mount. This is a valuable feature that increases the mic’s overall functionality.
While the R84 has many merits, it has a low output level which may prove challenging for some recording scenarios. However, it’s still considered practical for close-miking applications. The microphone’s frequency response has a peak around 150Hz and a smooth bass response which may not suit all sound profiles.
Overall, these characteristics give the R84 Ribbon Mic a unique, rich tonality that is often preferred by many musicians over high-end condenser mics.
The AEA KU4 Ribbon Mic is a highly directional, smooth-sounding reinvention of the classic RCA KU3A, a renowned Hollywood studio microphone. This medium-sized ribbon mic combines the smooth sound of a classic ribbon with a unidirectional pattern and reduced proximity bass boost.
It is particularly interesting for vocals and stringed instruments due to its unique upper midrange presence. Its supercardioid polar pattern rejects bleed from other instruments, making it almost impervious to room tone. Handcrafted in Pasadena, CA, the KU4 is known for its consistent sound quality and unique sonic characteristics.
- Supercardioid polar pattern that rejects ambient noise and bleed from other instruments
- Smooth midrange that doesn’t accentuate sibilance
- Bright and direct sound, making it a popular choice for live performances
- High sound pressure level handling without distortion
- Versatile application for vocals, instruments, and various sound sources in professional recording environments.
- Handcrafted with attention to detail and precision
The AEA KU4 Ribbon Mic is regarded as more affordable compared to other ribbon mics in its class.
The AEA KU4 Ribbon Mic shines when it comes to delivering a rich low end, warm detailed mid range, and smooth top end. Its unique design makes it an ideal choice for capturing warm analogue sounds, particularly heart sounds of instruments like trumpets, baritones, and strings. This microphone can handle the lowest audible base frequencies, making it a great pick for artists known for their powerful vocals.
The mic’s figure-8 polar pattern allows it to capture sound from the front and back, offering a diverse range of applications. With a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz and a sound pressure level of 135dB, this microphone is ready to handle practically any sound source you can throw at it.
Furthermore, the KU4 is lightweight, weighing only 2 pounds, and comes with a protective hard case, making it a portable and sturdy choice for those on the go. Its versatility makes it suitable for a wide array of artists, from singer-songwriters to drummers and guitarists.
However, not everything about the KU4 Ribbon Mic is positive. While it is more affordable than other ribbon mics, its price may still be out of reach for some home studios. Plus, the fact that it’s a passive ribbon microphone means that a high-quality preamp with a high impedance is recommended for optimal performance, adding to the overall cost.
The Telefunken M160 is a notable microphone for its unique design and exceptional sound quality. Being a ribbon microphone, it features a double ribbon element that allows for smooth and natural sound reproduction.
It is recognized for its figure-eight polar pattern, picking up sound equally from the front and back, making it ideal for recording instruments and vocals in a studio setting. It covers a wide range of frequencies, from 40Hz to 18kHz, and has a high SPL handling capability, allowing it to capture loud sound sources without distortion.
The M160 is celebrated for its ability to capture the subtle nuances and details of a sound source, thus being used by many professional musicians and recording engineers in various genres of music.
- Delivers a smooth and natural sound reproduction owing to its double ribbon element.
- Covers a wide range of frequencies (40Hz to 18kHz), capturing subtle nuances and details.
- Has a high SPL handling capability, enabling it to capture loud sound sources without distortion.
- Comes with a protective case, ensuring easy transportation and storage.
- Its figure-eight polar pattern picks up sound equally from the front and back, making it ideal for recording in a studio setting.
The Telefunken M160 is priced at $695. It’s a part of the Telefunken M60 series, renowned for high-quality sound.
On the plus side, the M160 is famed for the fantastic sound it delivers, particularly when recording acoustic guitars, banjos, mandolins, and upright bass. It excels in drum overheads, choir applications, and sound effect and foley work, owing to its high-quality output transformer and a small new old stock vacuum tube.
However, it’s worth noting that while the M160 shines in these applications, it is not recommended for recording voice. This may limit its versatility for some users.
As part of the Tele line of microphones, the M160 is often compared with other models such as the T11, TF39, and TF51. All these microphones have impressive build quality, sound, and accessories. The T11 is known for its flat frequency response, while the TF39 is suitable for pop-style vocals due to its sharpness. The TF51 is recommended for its warmth, detail, and crispiness, making it a versatile choice for different vocalists.
While the M160 might come with a higher price tag, it’s worth the investment for the sound quality and performance it offers. But it’s always best to consider your specific recording needs and budget before making a choice.
The Shure KSM353/ED is a ribbon microphone, a type of velocity microphone, which has been specifically designed for studio and concert hall applications. Manufactured by Shure, a company that re-entered the ribbon microphone market in 2009 after acquiring Crowley and Tripp’s ribbon mics, this microphone is marked for its durability and ability to produce more level than vintage ribbon mics.
Like other ribbon microphones, the Shure KSM353/ED generates voltages by way of electromagnetic induction, using a thin conductive ribbon placed between the poles of a magnet. Its frequency response is uniform and symmetrical, and it successfully maintains the warm, velvety tone characteristic of ribbon mics while offering a rising frequency response providing a degree of clarity similar to condenser microphones.
- Utilizes Roswellite ribbon material, which is stronger and more responsive to high frequencies than conventional aluminum ribbons
- Designed for studio and concert hall applications
- Offers a neutral sound for voice-overs and a smooth sound for vocals
- Known for its indestructibility and similarity in sound to the Neumann U 47 fet
- Hand-assembled in the US and comes with a two-year warranty
- Provides a natural and pleasing sound quality that can’t be replicated by other microphone types
We reccomend checking with official retailers for up-to-date pricing.
The Shure KSM353/ED shines particularly when recording guitars, both electric guitars on amps and cabinets. Its dual voice feature allows the front and back to produce slightly different voicings, and when centered on the dust cap, this microphone provides a classic ribbon sound. Its versatility can be seen in how well it captures the highs and lows of the sound and how it blends with other microphones like the Shure SM57. It can prove useful on a variety of sound sources, excelling not just on cleaner sounds but also on acoustic instruments, vocals, and upright bass.
However, there are some areas where the Shure KSM353/ED has room for improvement. Its included shock mount is said to be less than reliable and may need to be replaced. Moreover, while the microphone has been redesigned to fit securely into the new shock mount, which uses wire rope instead of elastic bands for sturdier support, this does not completely offset the unreliability of the shock mount.
Despite these minor drawbacks, the Shure KSM353/ED remains a robust, versatile, and efficient ribbon microphone. Its new packaging, which replaces the wooden box with a padded flight case, and its lint-free storage pouch are well-designed and add value to the overall package. Its ability to produce a sweet spot sound without needing to add another microphone makes it a great option for anyone seeking a ribbon microphone.
The Warm Audio WA-87R is a revised version of the WA-87 capacitor microphone, designed to mimic the sound of the renowned Neumann U87 but at a more affordable price. This large-diaphragm condenser microphone features switchable cardioid, omni, and figure-8 polar patterns, an 80Hz high-pass filter, and a -10dB pad.
The microphone boasts of a nickel-plated brass enclosure reducing handling noise and a larger basket surrounding its capsule. With an increased output level, the WA-87R provides a slightly brighter and more modern sound while maintaining the midrange characteristic important in microphones.
- Replicates the sound of the original Neumann U87 at a lower cost.
- Switchable cardioid, omni, and figure-8 polar patterns provide flexibility.
- An 80Hz high-pass filter and -10dB pad offer additional control.
- Nickel-plated brass enclosure reduces handling noise.
- Larger basket around the capsule for better sound capture.
- Comes with a sturdy shock mount, a fixed mount, and a wooden case.
- High-quality build and design.
- Suitable for home recordists and professional studio engineers.
The Warm Audio WA-87R is priced significantly lower than the original Neumann U87. This makes it an accessible option for those seeking a U87-like sound without the hefty price tag.
The Warm Audio WA-87R is a robust microphone with a nickel-plated brass body and rigid grill, ensuring it has a solid and hefty feel. The build quality is excellent, and it comes with additional accessories such as a shock mount and a wooden box, adding to its value for money.
One of the main strengths of this microphone is its versatility. It can be used for various applications, including vocals, drama overheads, and brass sections, delivering a warm and rich sound that is particularly suitable for singing.
Despite its excellent features, when compared to the original Neumann U87, the WA-87R shows some slight differences. While it captures the important midrange characteristic, the tonality can be subtly different, with a slightly brighter sound. The differences in sound become more noticeable in the mid-range, where the original U87s had a richness and command that the WA-87R lacks. Despite this, the microphone remains a versatile and affordable studio microphone in its own right.
In conclusion, the Warm Audio WA-87R is a great investment, offering durability, flexibility, and quality, making it a useful tool in any recording studio.
The Golden Age Project R1 MKII is a high-quality microphone known for its versatility and ability to deliver a warm, smooth sound. This microphone is designed with a ribbon element, which is a key factor contributing to its characteristic sound.
With a maximum SPL of 135dB, this microphone is capable of handling loud sound sources without any distortion. This makes it an ideal choice for recording instruments such as guitar amps, brass instruments, and drums.
In addition, the R1 MKII features a figure-8 polar pattern, which means it picks up sound from the front and back, while rejecting sound from the sides, enhancing its adaptability to different recording situations.
- High quality sound reproduction
- Versatility in recording different sound sources
- Warm and smooth sound, thanks to its ribbon element
- High SPL handling capability (up to 135dB)
- Figure-8 polar pattern enhances adaptability to different recording scenarios
The Golden Age Project R1 MKII is a top performing microphone that comes at a competitive price point, considering its premium quality and features. It provides great value for its price, providing high end performance to studios of various budgets.
From the standpoint of a professional in the audio industry, the Golden Age Project R1 MKII offers many advantages. Its high-quality sound reproduction, the warm and smooth sound it delivers, and its versatility in recording different instruments and vocals, puts it among the top choices for many professionals. Its high SPL handling capability is a major plus, allowing it to handle loud sound sources without distortion.
Moreover, its figure-8 polar pattern enhances its adaptability to different recording situations, offering a wide range of uses from studio recordings to live performances and even broadcast applications.
However, the R1 MKII may have some shortcomings. For instance, it might not be as detailed at the top end as some other mics, which may affect its performance when it comes to recording certain instruments or vocal styles. Furthermore, it might be a bit more distant sounding and less detailed compared to others, which is a factor to be considered based on the specific needs of each recording situation.
In conclusion, the Golden Age Project R1 MKII is a highly versatile, high-quality microphone that has the potential to deliver great results in a wide range of situations. However, its performance may be influenced by the specific requirements of each recording situation.
The Beyerdynamic M 160 TG is a dynamic microphone known for its double ribbon design, allowing it to capture sound with exceptional detail and accuracy. It was released in 1957 and has since been used by legendary musicians for its unique sound characteristics.
With a frequency response of 40 Hz to 18 kHz, it is suitable for capturing a wide range of instruments and vocals. The microphone also has a high SPL handling capability, making it ideal for loud sound sources without distortion. Despite its niche sound, it offers a versatile and high-quality performance, making it a worthy addition to any microphone collection.
- Unique double ribbon design for capturing sound with exceptional detail.
- High SPL handling capability which allows it to capture loud sound sources without distortion.
- Versatile performance suitable for both live sound and recording applications.
- Wide frequency response of 40 Hz to 18 kHz, making it suitable for a diverse range of instruments and vocals.
- Compact and rugged construction, making it durable and suitable for use in various environments.
- Aesthetically pleasing with a sleek and stylish design.
- Compatible with a variety of microphone stands and accessories.
The Beyerdynamic M 160 TG is priced at $799. It is a German-made microphone known for its precision components and delicate workmanship, offering a quality performance that justifies its price point.
From a personal perspective, the Beyerdynamic M 160 TG offers a unique sound that is smooth, warm, and detailed. It is particularly efficient at reproducing rough sound sources in a gentle and elegant way. This microphone has a strong proximity effect, which can be beneficial when capturing the attack of spoken words without sounding sharp or over-boosted.
The microphone is well suited for capturing electric and acoustic guitars, and spoken word. However, it may require some EQ adjustments for singing, particularly to control the boxiness around 200 Hz. Despite it not being the ideal choice for capturing vocals without a pop filter, it still maintains its appeal for higher-pitched voices.
On the downside, some might find the Beyerdynamic M 160 TG to be a niche microphone with a specific sound coloration. It also has a low sensitivity to off-axis sound and may not reject vibrations well without the use of a shock mount.
Comparatively, the sE Electronics Voodoo VR2 and the Sennheiser e945 are alternatives to consider. The Voodoo VR2 offers a similar ribbon microphone design with a strong mid-range presence, while the Sennheiser e945 is known for its reliability and signal stability in different climates.
Overall, the Beyerdynamic M 160 TG provides a unique and organic sound, making it a favored choice among musicians and audio professionals for various recording applications. Despite some limitations, its versatility and high-end sound quality make it a distinguished performer that is worth considering.
Ribbon microphones, like the ones you’ve seen reviewed, can significantly enhance the tonal quality of your recordings. They’re particularly loved for their warm and natural sound. This is mainly because of their unique design, which includes a thin, electrically conductive piece of metal ribbon suspended within a magnetic field that turns audio signals into sound waves. This design allows them to reproduce sound in a way that’s accurate and organic.
What sets ribbon mics apart is their emphasis on low-end frequencies. They add a certain depth and weight to your recordings, especially vocals, without causing coloration. This characteristic boosts the overall warmth of the recording and results in a richer and fuller sound output. Plus, they roll off high-end frequencies, taming harsh tones and ensuring a smoother output.
Another standout feature of ribbon mics is their bi-directional or figure-8 polar pattern. They can record sounds from both the front and the back while ignoring sounds from the sides or top of the microphone. This feature is great for capturing room ambience and gives your recording a natural feel with a sense of spatial sound. As a result, they’re perfect for recording strings and can add a cinematic and spacious sound to your recordings.
But remember, ribbon mics are delicate and need to be used under somewhat controlled circumstances to protect the ribbon. Also, while most ribbon mics don’t need phantom power or a preamp, those that are passive will need a preamp with at least 65dB of gain due to their low output compared to condenser mics.
So, if you’re a serious recording musician or engineer, a ribbon mic can add a natural, warm, and rich tone to your sound. They’re a versatile and powerful recording tool that’s definitely worth considering.
A ribbon mic, or velocity mic as it’s also known, is a type of dynamic microphone that turns sound waves into an electrical signal. This tech was first invented in the early 1920s and has been on the market since the 1930s. The mic uses a super thin strip of conductive metal, called a ribbon, which is suspended in a magnetic field. Because the ribbon’s so thin, the mic can capture sound with a high level of detail, especially in high frequencies, and with an excellent transient response.
You’ll recognize ribbon mics for their unique bidirectional or figure-8 polar pattern. This means they pick up sounds from the front and back while ignoring sounds from the sides. That’s why you’ll find them more often in studio setups than on live stages. They’re typically used for recording electric guitar amps, brass and woodwinds, strings, and drums.
Ribbon mics can be either passive or active. Active ribbon mics come with onboard electronics and need phantom power to work. No matter the type, ribbon mics are sensitive to input impedance and might need a preamp with high input impedance for the best performance. They’re delicate instruments, so you’ve got to handle them with care to avoid damaging the ribbon element. But despite their sensitive nature, ribbon mics are loved for their natural sound quality and their unmatched ability to capture fine details and transient response.
Ribbon microphones have been around since the 1930s, yet they’re still a staple in audio recording, keeping up with the ever-evolving changes in technology. They’re highly regarded for their unique sound reproduction. Ribbon mics offer a warmth and smoothness that’s often missing in other types of microphones. They add color and depth to your recordings, breathing life into every audio you capture.
Studios worldwide have embraced their magic, making them an integral part of the recording process. Whether it’s the smooth midrange of the Royer R-121, the powerful sound capture of the AEA KU4, or the versatile performance of the Warm Audio WA-87R, each one of these ribbon mics brings its own unique flavour to the sound.
What’s more, the advent of active ribbon mics and those made with resilient materials have made these microphones more rugged and versatile, opening more doors for their use. They’re not just for the controlled studio environment anymore but are making their way into the hectic, high-energy world of live performances.
But remember, ribbon mics are more than just tools. They’re musical instruments in their own right. You need to use them with care and understanding, appreciate their nuances, and utilize their strengths to their best effect. And while they may require a bit more attention and care than your average dynamic or condenser microphone, the sound they produce is truly refreshing.