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Ribbon Microphones vs Condenser
Old 20th September 2012
  #1
Gear Head
 
megaratch3t's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Ribbon Microphones vs Condenser

Why do people use ribbon micophone? do they give a sound similar or better then condenser? Can someone please explain the usefulness of ribbon microphone to me?
Old 20th September 2012
  #2
Lives for gear
 
Howie J's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
I don't think they are really comparable to be honest. Maybe if you had a really nice tube condenser. Kind of apples and oranges comparison. Ribbons are technically dynamic mics, just with a ribbon element instead of a moving coil element.

Ribbons are many times used for things that are harsh, bright, edgy. I bought mine to record my trumpets with....especially piccolo trumpet which is super bright. They can work well on guitar cabs too, usually in conjunction with another mic. The ribbon can capture the lower/heavy part of the sound. By nature, they are smooth to dark sounding. (My Cascade Fatheads are SUPER dark sounding)

There are a few places where I guess they could interchange. It just depends on what sound you're going for. Many ribbons also take EQ very well. The majority of ribbons are fixed figure 8 pattern as well, so you have to account for that as well. They work well in a Blumlein pair.

The biggest thing about ribbons is you need a pre with LOTS of CLEAN gain. Otherwise things can get noisy quick...or you have small signals....especially if you're doing something like choir/orchestra or any distance micing.
Old 20th September 2012
  #3
Gear Head
 
ROBOCOPROBOT's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Think of your mics kind of like paint brushes. Each one does something different, and when tracking, you're kind of painting a picture.

As Howie J said, it's an apples and oranges comparison. A ribbon is a different tool than a condenser. Almost like a pen vs brush sort of thing.

Ribbon microphones tend to be "warmer," and "smoother," sounding than condensers. They usually don't have the annoying high frequency bump that condensers have that gives them a "bright," and "clear," sound.

Use a ribbon when you want something to sound vintage or just have some extra warmth. Once again, as Howie J said, they can cut harshness from a signal source.

You will need a nice preamp to go with the mic, ribbons have a very low input signal. Tube preamps tend to compliment them more than solid state ones (though keep in mind, there are no hard set rules in audio engineering, so use whatever mic pre achieves the best sound for the situation).

Also, never run phantom power into a ribbon, it can damage it.

Hope that helps!
Old 20th September 2012
  #4
Lives for gear
 
Lotus 7's Avatar
To add to the excellent descriptions of the differences between ribbon mics and capacitor mics posted by Howie J, and ROBOCOPROBOT, another factor that influences their "sound" is the ribbon's output transformer. All ribbon mics need a transformer to match the very low impedance and signal voltage of the ribbon element with the mic pre input. The design of the transformer has a significant effect on the sound. It is also one of the components that is often "corner-cut" in the many, low cost ribbon mics on the market, since it's probably the single most expensive part of the mic.

Some inexpensive ribbon mics can be significantly improved by simply replacing the output transformer with a better design. Some ribbon mic manufacturers even offer their mics with a choice of optional transformers factory installed. Each transformer has its own characteristics. Some companies that make high-quality ribbon mic transformers are: Cinemag, Lundahl, Peluso, Samar and Sowter.

As ROBOCOPROBOT said, ribbons need a good mic pre, and ribbons are typically more sensitive to the mic pre input characteristics because of interaction with the transformer. There are several mic pre-amplifiers designed for optimal performance with ribbon mics and they usually have a setting that raises their input impedance for less loading of the mic transformer.

Another way of enhancing the operation and sound of a ribbon mic is to use an in-line low noise local pre-amp to unload the transformer, reduce noise and increase gain at the ribbon mic itself. Several companies produce their best ribbon mics with internal local amplifiers (those are called "active ribbons"). Those "active ribbon" mics need phantom power. Excellent "add-on" local ribbon in-line mic-pres are the amazing Triton Audio "Fethead" and the very good Cloudmicrophones "Cloudlifter".
Old 21st September 2012
  #5
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 5 years
ribbon mics were originally used for radio back when condesors wernt invented. if you want a warmer darker sound with a bit of bite use a ribbon. if you want more clarity and frequency depth use a condensor. one tip i learnt if your recording electric guitars is to put a ribbon behind the cab wih the back open as thats where all the warmth is. then put a condensor further away at the front for the room sound and then a cardiod dynamic close to the cone. thats how i wish to do my stuff but currently i only have two mic pres.

as for most of these questions there answered with whats your preferance. id say own two the one i own is a cheapy Se ribbon there around £130.
Old 21st September 2012 | Show parent
  #6
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Lotus 7's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by LaoTzu ➡️
ribbon mics were originally used for radio back when condesors wernt invented. ...
Interestingly, ribbons mics and condenser mics were actually developed during the same time periods. Ribbons were widely used in the United States and the United Kingdom for radio, while in Germany and Austria, capacitor mics (then called "condenser") were, by far, the more popular choice. Many photos of Adolph Hitler taken in the 1930s show him standing in front of a Neumann "condenser" mic.

The first "mass produced" commercially available capacitor microphones (the CMV-3) were produced by Georg Neumann in Berlin in 1928. The first experimental ribbon mics were invented by Schotty & Gerlach in 1922, but were not mass produced until the RCA PB-31 in 1931 and the RCA-44 in 1932.

It's a testament to the quality and "ahead of their time" designs of the CMV-3 and the RCA-44 that there are companies today that still produce close replicas of those mics 80 years later.
Old 21st September 2012 | Show parent
  #7
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lotus 7 ➡️
Interestingly, ribbons mics and condenser mics were actually developed during the same time periods. Ribbons were widely used in the United States and the United Kingdom for radio, while in Germany and Austria, capacitor mics (then called "condenser") were, by far, the more popular choice.

The first "mass produced" commercially available capacitor microphones (the CMV-3) were produced by Georg Neumann in Berlin in 1928. The first experimental ribbon mics were invented by Schotty & Gerlach in 1922, but were not mass produced until the RCA PB-31 in 1931 and the RCA-44 in 1932.

It's a testament to the quality and "ahead of their time" designs of the CMV-3 and the RCA-44 that there are companies today that still produce close replicas of those mics.
i stand corrected
Old 21st September 2012
  #8
Gear Nut
 
4 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
we just had a drum recording session, where the engineer used a ribbon coles 4038 pair as overheads.

best sounding overheads i have ever heard - i should get a pair of them.. but they're not the cheapest..

jst my 0.02 €
Old 21st September 2012 | Show parent
  #9
Lives for gear
 
Lotus 7's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by LaoTzu ➡️
i stand corrected
I'm corrected by my wife every day. Welcome to the club!
Old 21st September 2012 | Show parent
  #10
Lives for gear
 
Lotus 7's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by chrizzle ➡️
we just had a drum recording session, where the engineer used a ribbon coles 4038 pair as overheads.

best sounding overheads i have ever heard - i should get a pair of them.. but they're not the cheapest..

jst my 0.02 €
It's interesting that it's possible to buy a complete Chinese ribbon mic for less than the wholesale cost of a good Lundahl ribbon mic transformer. Makes one wonder what they're using.

There are hand assembled ribbons like those from Jon Ulrigg (46MXL) which use some Chinese components like the magnet assembly, but with special ribbons and Cinemag or Lundahl transformers. They sound amazing, but are not as expensive as a Coles, Royer or AEA. I have a pair and when used with Triton Fetheads, they sound fantastic.

The 4038s have a great reputation as drum overheads, and a lot of people get outstanding results with 4038s as spot mics on cellos. The ribbons that seem to be "turning heads" these days and getting high praise are the Shure (previously Crowley and Tripp) Models KSM-353 and KSM-313. The KSM-353 is supposed to be THE drum and horn mic, and they are also supposed to be the most "rugged" ribbon available because of their "Roswellite" composite ribbon construction.
Old 14th December 2012
  #11
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lakeshorephatty's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by megaratch3t ➡️
Why do people use ribbon micophone?
To make things sound awesome

Or for those with a technical background: to increase the awesomeness quotient.

Russell
Old 14th December 2012
  #12
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lakeshorephatty's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Ok after my late night generalized fun comment here's the reality of ribbons.

The best ribbons such as the 4038 or RCA44 do pick up a bit too much low mid and extreme low frequencies at times, but everything above about 500hz is represented darn near perfectly on almost any instrument.

Once you get used to how these mics handle transients and the flatness of their sound you very much realize it worth using them on most things and carving out a little mud to get this amazing upper half of the spectrum. My best condensers, and I have some great ones, really do not come close in this regard. Its making me rethink my mic cabinet.

I have a good selection of great gear, but before I owned a serious ribbon, in my case the R44, I still sort of believed in the "analog vs digital" stuff and that there was something missing in the capture chain.

Tape plus ribbons together in the old days may have been smooth plus smooth equals way to mellow but since most of us are not using tape these days the top end on ribbon mics is really a magic bullet.

If you are touching the treble end with EQ on ribbons rather than nailing the lows and low mids you are probably missing how natural they can be.

So get out there and enjoy a ribbon. Start getting the most "there in the room with you" presentation of instruments you've ever heard, and love it.

Russell
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