A ribbon mic is a dynamic microphone that uses a thin strip of metal, usually aluminum metal, in the place of the dynamic microphone’s diameter. The aluminum metal strip is generally suspended in a strong magnetic field, where it acts as a transducer element and the diaphragm. The metal offers a similar transient response and sensitivity similar to that of a condenser when they possess entirely different characteristics.
Ribbon mics can either be passive or active. The passive mics are the most common between the two, and they lack onboard active electronics and pre-amplification. However, passive ribbon mics produce a sound dependent on the preamp’s impedance with which the mic is connected. Low impedance results in low-frequency output.
Ribbon mics have been a regular sighting in prominent recording studios as they are among the best mics you can use to record vocals or instrumentals. These mics offer a fantastic quality sound output by softening the highs and evening out the lows of a recorded instrumental or vocal jam. They are majorly preferred for their ability to tame harsh sounds and add velvety smoothness to any track they get to record.
Narrowing down the best ribbon mic in 2021 can be a bit stressful, considering the plenty of choices in the market right now and the few individual preferences you have to check out before you rest on one piece. However, before you hit the market for your dream ribbon mic, here are a few reasons why you should invest in a quality microphone.
- Ribbon mics are compact in design, even when they are not made from heavy or large material. Moreover, their compact design allows for their easy positioning and portability, especially when carrying them around.
- Versatility – Ribbon mics can be used with multiple sound sources to bring out a smooth and precise sound output.
- Very few recording microphones can beat ribbon mics’ clarity, owing to the accuracy and balance of low and high tones.
Having that in mind, check out our guide on the best studio microphones if you are not specifically looking for a ribbon mic.
Also Read – Best Studio Microphones
Properties of a good ribbon microphone
Polar patterns significantly affect the sound recording quality and should be considered when looking for a good mic. The figure-8 polar pattern of ribbon mics is responsible for picking up sounds from both the mic’s front and rear but canceling out the back’s sounds. Several ribbon mics use this pattern, with other large-diaphragm microphones and condenser mics also adopting the same technology.
It is crucial to consider your mic’s frequency response as it determines how much frequency your mic will work comfortably with. A ribbon mic can either be of high or low frequency. Therefore, you must specify the type of recording you will choose a mic within the desired frequency bracket. Some ribbon mics have a flat frequency that captures all frequencies equally, while others will boost or cut various frequencies.
Some vintage ribbon mics have an element that can be destroyed by phantom power. However, other ribbon mics are phantom-powered, making them practically indestructible to phantom power. It is, therefore, imperative that you determine the response to the phantom power of the ribbon mic you want to obtain to prevent any damages.
Sensitivity and Maximum SPL
You need to check the maximum level of SPL your ribbon mic can handle. If, for instance, your mic has a high SPL tolerance, then you can use it to record different sound sources without exaggerating low frequencies. On the other hand, sensitivity refers to how easily the mic can pick up sounds within a specific space and how loud they need to be most effective. Most ribbon mics are less sensitive and, as a result, aren’t the best for detailed recordings. However, some like the Royer Labs R-121 can capture clear sounds with no background noises.
Consistent Output Impedance
Ribbon mics with a consistent output impedance are much more reliable when you want to perform a recording as they are less dependent on their preamps. As a result, they will sound uniform when used with different sound sources or instruments.
Of course, there are other factors that you will have to consider before purchasing a ribbon mic, like durability, cost, and many more. However, assessing every element, the following ribbon mics stand out from all the rest.
Best Ribbon Mics
The AEA R84 tops this list for all valid reasons. AEA has made a name for itself from its collaboration with RCA ribbon mics. The R84 is made to assume the character and tonality of the RCA R44 but gives a more modern-sounding voice. To enhance the proximity and clarity of the sound, the AEA R84 has a high-end frequency feature. That makes the mic more effective when you get closer during recording as it hits the lows with power and the high ends with brilliant detail. Moreover, you can easily adjust the mic’s proximity feature to precisely put the bottom-end sound of instrumentals like drums.
The AEA R84 is enhanced in terms of sensitivity, output impedance, and signal-to-noise-ratio, making the output sound clear and as natural as possible. That improvement makes it possible for the mic to be connected to any professional preamp without worrying about any alterations to the ribbon mic’s frequency response.
The R84 has a U-shaped Yoke mount that mechanically isolates the mic for superb sound isolation. Moreover, the yoke enhances the maneuverability of sound in tight recording spaces as it allows for installing the mic on any stand. You don’t have to worry about damaging the R84 as it uses phantom power to run its amplifier circuit.
The AEA R84 comes with a permanently installed 3m Accusound audio cable. Moreover, it spots a lightweight character that makes the mic easy to move around and easy to install on any mount. It has received praise for its excellence in close-recording, making it a favorable choice for ambient miking applications.
|Key Specs||Frequency Response – 20 Hz-20,000Hz|
Output Impedance – 92 Ohms
Polar pattern – Bidirectional
Self-Noise – Not specified
Sensitivity – 6.3 mV/Pa(-52dBV/Pa)
Ribbon thickness – 1.8 micron
Connector – XLR-3M
|Advantages of using the AEA R84||Durable and lightweight design|
Superior sound quality
Rode is well-known for their high-quality condenser mics. The NTR is one of Rode’s flagship ribbon mics, and its design makes it suitable for recording musical instruments and vocals. The NTR is distinct among other ribbon mics as it can be connected to all phantom-equipped mic preamps, owing to its in-built custom transformer and active electronics. Moreover, the NTR offers a high-frequency response, and unlike most other ribbon mics, this one doesn’t need much EQ to achieve a more balanced and detailed sound.
The NTR offers low impedance and high sensitivity levels, making it one of the best ribbon mics with regard to quality output. Besides, the mic is not dependent on its connected preamp. This makes the output of the Rode NTR brighter than most other ribbon mics, as its extended frequency response provides a brilliant frequency range that the rest might not find easy to achieve.
The Rode NTR is bidirectional and heavy-duty, relieving you of the frustrations of minor accidents during recording. The mic has other quality features like the internal shock-mounting system that makes the mic more reliable to professional users. Besides, this ribbon mic can be used in situations like live performances where there’s too much noise. If you consider having a premium-quality ribbon mic that offers outstanding warm voices, then the Rode NTR is the ultimate choice for you.
|Key features||Frequency Response – 20Hz-20kHz|
Sensitivity: -30.5dB re 1V/Pa
SPL – 130dB at 1kHz
Self-noise – 15 dBA
Output impedance – 200 Ohms
Ribbon thickness – 1.8 micron
Polar pattern – Bidirectional
Connector – 3-pin XLR
|Advantages of using the Rode NTR||The ribbon mic is more affordable than its same-level alternatives|
The mic is well built and physically distinctive
The mic’s combination of vintage tonality and the high-and-low frequency extension brings forth an amazingly clear output.
Royer Labs is a worldwide famous brand, and some of its quality products include the R-121, which happens to be their flagship ribbon mic. The R-121 spots a compact design that strays from the heavy and sizeable fragile ribbon mics. However, the somewhat smaller design does not compromise the capability of this ribbon mic. The Royer R-121 is equipped with a transducer system that positions the mic’s diaphragm towards its front. That comes with benefits like a brighter response to the mic’s rear, a higher maximum sound pressure than other ribbon mics, and a more-natural bi-directional sound pattern. Moreover, the R-121’s transducer system aids in eliminating high-frequency phase distortion.
The Royer Labs R-121 is made durable to withstand knocks and scratches and receptive enough to offer crisp audio quality. For that reason, this ribbon mic is well preferred for use in recording electric guitars, brass instruments, and a myriad of other musical instruments like drum sets and strings. The R-121 has a low sensitivity rated at 4.5mV/Pa, making it compatible with few high-end preamps. However, a high-gain preamp would work best for you.
|Key specs||Figure-8 pick-up pattern|
Frequency response – 30Hz-15kHz
Max SPL – 135dB
Output impedance – 300 Ohms
Connector – XLR
|Advantages of using the Royal Labs R-121||The microphone is durable|
The mic easily copes with high SPLs
Low residual noise
The MK2 is a vintage high-performance quality ribbon mic. It offers a unique natural sound that is likened to classical microphones like RCA 44 and 77, which are among the best in the game. The Golden Age Project R1 MK2 is best suited to record sounds from various sources, including vocals, strings, horns, acoustic instruments, and live sound applications, to mention a few. With its figure-8 pattern, the MK2 offers you the ability to focus on the target sounds by placing the unwanted ones in the zero pick-up directions.
Owing to the mic’s small ribbon width, its horizontal pick-up pattern becomes wide. As a result, the MK2 becomes a smaller but more robust alternative when compared to the large-capsule condenser mics. However, it would be best to invest in a quality preamp due to its relatively lower output. Otherwise, if you are looking for a versatile ribbon mic with outstanding quality and clarity in output, the Golden Age Project R1 MK2 will work best for you.
|Key Specs||2 microns thick ribbon|
Figure-8 directional pattern
Ultra-high SPL (-160dB)
Output impedance – 600Ohms
Recommended load impedance – >3000 Ohms
|Benefits of using the MK2||Smoothness and clarity in the sound|
Fast and life-like sound reproduction
It comes with a microphone cable and a travel case
Suitable in recording various sound sources
The RNR1 is designed to break the stereotype of typical ribbon mics’ frequency response. The ribbon mic picks up a frequency of up to 25,000Hz, surpassing the human range of hearing and thus making it brighter and more defined than other standard ribbon mics in the market. Unlike most mics centered around a maximum frequency limit of 15kHz, the RNR1 extends the limit to 25kHz, making it one amongst the high-accuracy and clarity ribbon mics in the market. This frequency range allows the mic to perform seamlessly in several applications, making it a more versatile choice.
The sE Electronics RNR1 spots a 2.5 microns thick aluminum ribbon that yields a perfect balance of stiffness and flexibility that the mic needs for exceptional performance. The low-noise characteristic of the RNR1 can be attributed to its phenomenal phantom-powered amplifier circuit. Moreover, to eliminate unnecessary noise, the mic comes with an easy-to-use shock mount that helps to dim any mechanical noise. The ribbon design of the RNR1 makes it a perfect choice for recording brass and guitar instruments and vocals. The mic’s improvement on high-frequency reception opens it up to a myriad of more applications.
Quick review on the sE Electronics RNR1
|Key Specs||Frequency response – 20Hz-25kHz|
Output impedance – 200 Ohms
Polar pattern – figure-8/bidirectional
Self-noise – 18dBA
Sensitivity – 22.39Mv/Pa
Filters – 100Hz-6dB/octave
2.5macons thick ribbon
|Benefits of using the RNR1||It gives a pleasant sound in a wide range of applications|
Produces natural-like sound
Settling on a single ribbon mic can be an arduous task, especially when you know very little about them. However, this list should guide you in picking a quality mic, and the additional info also guides you through purchasing a quality substitute if your preferred mic is not on the list.
With that said, we’ve covered a wide range of ribbon mics here, and you should have an option that is suitable for your needs.
Jeremy has been running several online businesses behind his laptop for the past 5 years and he has worked as a freelance web developer previously. A trained marketer by profession, he also has Ruby on Rails and web development knowledge. His forte lies in eCommerce, SEO and content marketing. He’s been featured on Vice, Thrive Global, YFS Magazine, Forbes and several other publications. He prefers to connect with people on LinkedIn.