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Classic Ribbon Mics

Discussion in 'Microphones' started by MrPhaSe, Dec 21, 2011.

  1. MrPhaSe

    MrPhaSe Active Member

    What are some classic ribbon mics you guys are fond of/have heard good things about..
    why?

    I am interested in learning more about ribbon mics to record upright piano with.
     
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Ribbon mics are more like our ears. High quality ribbons produce a smooth and natural sound. They also take EQ really well. But I've only owned two brand, Beyer and Royer. Royers are wonderful mics. I own a few R122's and an SF24. I love them and want more.

    Lower end converters and recording gear in general tends to be harsher. Digital recording can be less forgiving. Ribbon mics are a great match for digital recording because they are warm and smooth..

    I've owned and used lower end ribbons and hated them. They can sound dull and wooly. High end ribbons are like silk. If you have great preamps, great ribbons work like nothing else.

    Sorry I'm not more detailed here but that's my take on it, in a nut shell.
     
  3. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    Echoing audiokid's nut shell... I love my RCA 44BX, although due a re-ribboning and cleanup, it's still a favorite for several applications... especially vocals.

    My AEA R84 is my first choice for a room mic... it's also killer as a vocal mic, front of kit, guitar, electric guitar, horn and string mic.

    The Royer SF12 is my go to for my baby grand. It's a stereo blumlein that makes my 5'-1" 1942 baby grand sound like a newer C6. The SF12 also serves as a fine stereo OH mic, singer/songwriter mic and even does s nice job on Hammond/Leslie.

    I also have a Beyer M130 that's a nice ribbon for just about anything that you want to put in front of it, but I especially like using it as the figure 8 in a mid-side.
     
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I've been using the Beyer M-160/130's since the early 1980s. I didn't get my RCA 77 DX's until the early 1990s. I found a Cascades Fat Head to sound a bit boxy but attributed that mostly to the Chinese transformer. That same microphone is available with a $100 option for a Cinemag, which I think would make all the difference in the world. I did find that even with the Chinese transformer, it still had that BX 44 like long geometry ribbon quality. And some of these classic ribbon microphones utilize either single ribbons or dual ribbons regardless of age or manufacturer. Notice how all of the microphone companies have all gone back to building ribbon microphones because of the harshness of digital. And right they should. Back in the 1980s when I started digitally recording in 1983, I was really wondering when these things would come back again? It was obvious to me as to their advantage in digital recording. But it's taken everybody nearly 30 years to figure this out! I mean how stupid can you get? All in the pursuit of " clean, transparent, neutral " which ribbon microphones ain't! They're highly flavorful. So after nearly 70 years, what's old is new again for all of those that have listened with their eyes & printed specifications along with advertising hype. In the early days of digital recording I almost felt like we had gone back to black-and-white television and called it better. After all, the French had high definition black-and-white television before we ever had any color television at all. The early French black-and-white television was 800 lines of resolution. Whereas the American & British standards were 525/625 lines of resolution. And I always felt that the 50 Hz/25 frame per second value of European television outweighed the better 60 Hz/30 frame per second look of American television. It had that more filmic like quality to it. And where are we today with video in high definition? 24 frames per second that's where we are! What's that tell you? I actually convert most of my video (American video standard) with 3:2:2:3 pulldown to 24 frame progressive and back again for the American television standard to 29.97 (30). With that you get different kinds of motion artifacting that come closer to mimicking film. But it does become a bigger deal when panning left to right or is that right to left? I forget? Panning does appear smoother at 29.97 (30) along with its interlacing in comparison to 24 P. So it's something one has to take into consideration with anything that has lots of action occurring. Thankfully, most Symphony Orchestra's, choral groups & rock 'n roll bands don't go running much back and forth across the stage except an opera productions. So they are, you have to live with the artifacting unless you're actually shooting at 24 progressive frames per second to begin with. And not trying to fudge 29.97i to 24P & back again. Either way it works fairly well with a rock 'n roll band.

    I'm good at video also
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  5. Paul999

    Paul999 Active Member

    I avoided ribbon's for quite some time. I tried them out and wasn't that interested even in the royers and RCA stuff. This started to change when I years ago when I got some good mic pre's and saw how much better they responded. The thing that sealed my change of heart is when I stopped recording to tape for most projects. Then there relevance was apparent to me as Remy noted above.
     
  6. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    The Cascade ribbon mics are a good place to start, if you're on a limited budget. The RCA mics are wonderful, but cost a lot, and although they're great for collectors, you can still get good, if not great results from most ribbons out there.

    The Audio Technica 4081 is a wonnnnnderful new mic; dual ribbon, works with phantom power, so it's got more level right off the bat. (Good preamps are still suggested, but it'll help you get going much easier.) Audio-Technica AT4081 | Sweetwater.com

    I often use mine as the core (sides) of a Mid-Side setup; with a KM-84 or similar SD cardioid condenser for the center pickup pattern. It's wonderful.

    It's a good time for buying ribbons, there's lots and lots of flavors and sizes out there.
     
  7. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Several of my early recordings were made using STC4038 ribbons, usually in X-Y. Unfortunately, these were not my mics, and I was sorry when they were no longer available to borrow from that source. Coles took over the manufacture of this BBC design, and they are still available today. They are a classic studio standard.

    Nowadays, I use several different ribbon setups. The Beyer M130/M160 combination is a standard set that I use mainly on moderately close sound sources. I have also made some really nice-sounding recordings using my vintage B&O BM5 stereo ribbon, particularly in MS-Blumlein mode (one ribbon central and the other sideways). Since you mention piano, I can tell you that it works well as the room mic for a grand piano in conjunction with a pair of quality SDCs in A-B over the hammers.

    A little while ago I picked up a Beyer BM85 vocal ribbon with radio body which I got relatively cheaply because the radio part was dead. The ribbon section was fine, and I believe it is the same as or very similar to that in the Beyer M500. I built a 20dB phantom-powered pre-amp into the microphone body instead of the radio section, and it is is now lovely as a standard wired studio mic, especially for certain female voices that can be hard to tame using dynamics or condensers.
     
  8. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I haven't chimed in here since what I have to say is so similar to the comments above. I started out with a pair of Cascade Fat Heads. I liked the sound on several things (horns, guitar cabinets) but didn't think much of them on vocals. Moved up to the Beyer 130/160 - much better for acoustic string instruments. Got the AEA R84 (wonderful on vocals) and now the Royer SF12 (everything). Along the way I picked up the Aventone (inexpensive, but much better than the Cascades - probably go on guitar cabinet in full band sessions.) I bought and returned the Blue Woodpecker. (Too harsh. Made me (probably unjustly) skeptical about active ribbons.)

    If you are going to be using a lot of ribbons, you will want a high gain preamp. I've had great luck with the AEA TRP. Not that expensive. High clean gain. Takes EQ well. Not much color. (That's a bit of a negative for me. But I have other pres with color.)
     
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    As Bob indicated, while I think some of the phantom powered ribbon microphones have a distinct advantage (since they cannot be destroyed by a bad microphone cable) I find them sounding more like condenser microphones. That can be very pleasant sounding but that's not generally the reason why I grab for a ribbon. And while people feel you need a preamp with lots of gain because of their lower output, that doesn't necessarily ring true. It's more pertinent in situations where you may be making orchestral recordings and the microphones have been flown in the air and are more than 20 feet above and behind the conductor. This generally isn't the case with most studio oriented recording where far less gain can generally be more than satisfactory for proper recording levels.

    There is also this folderol that one needs adjustable impedance capabilities for your ribbon microphones. This too isn't always necessarily true. Some microphone preamps may be rated for 50/150/300/600/1500 ohms. Old-school preamps are frequently in the 50-150 ohm vicinity whereas newer, frequently transformer less microphone preamp inputs frequently lie between 300-1500 ohms. These different loadings on the microphones, particularly on ribbon microphones can create a vastly different sounding character to the microphone. But a good preamp still sounds like a good preamp regardless of its input impedance with a ribbon microphone. Noise doesn't really become a big factor until you are too far away from the microphone which will cause you to crank for maximum gain. Not necessary when you are within 1 foot to 3 feet where most any preamp will be fine. Including a single $3-5534 IC chip microphone preamp front end. Where a 1500 ohm input with only about 50 DB of gain is generally more than adequate for studio recording. And the passive ribbon microphones be it long or short geometry ribbons all exhibit that beautiful natural roll off starting around 5 kHz. That's one of the things that make them so magical. These are some of the earliest quality technology microphones dating back to the early 1930s. So flat simply meant flat to 5 kHz. Anything beyond that was both a luxury and generally unnecessary, UN-recordable, UN-broadcastable, with the bandpass of 5 kHz for AM radio and not much beyond that for 78 RPM recordings. Besides you're only about 10 DB down at 10 kHz when used with most modern equipment & recording gear. And that's what you want. Otherwise you have a ribbon/condenser microphone which sounds more like a condenser microphone than a ribbon. That's sort of like putting a V-8 engine in the back of the 1968 VW Beetle. Plenty of power but where is your gas mileage? So it might look like a VW beetle but it ain't anymore.

    Better doesn't necessarily mean better it only means different.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  10. mberry593

    mberry593 Active Member

    I will chime in on this thread too. I have extensive experience with RCA ribbon microphones.

    tip #1 - Be careful! These things are safe when they are on a stand but when you take them off keep them away from your credit cards. The have very strong magnets and can erase the mag stripe on a card even if it is a few inches away.

    tip #2 - No smoking! Cigarette (and other substance) smoke is a bad thing for equipment in general but it is especially bad for ribbons. Believe me. I have extensive experience with cigarette tar coated 77s, 44s, & BK5s. It does NOT do good things for them.

    tip #3 - Shock Mount. The 'Cushion mount' supplied with the RCA microphones isn't good enough. I fashioned a mount with some bungee cords for my BK-5s.

    tip #4 - Try them on brass. The last time I used my BK5 was on a bugle. I was so happy with the result that I didn't use any eq.

    tip #5 - If you want to be really cool, there is a guy who sells bags on ebay. He can print the logo upside down if you wish so it looks correct on a boom. RCA Manual Microphone Manuals, Books General items in Audio Literature Time Machine store on eBay!

    tip #6 - Let me pick up on Remy's impedance discussion. All of the ones that I am familiar with have a transformer with a tapped secondary. You get to choose 30, 150, or 250 ohms. I recommend that you check the wiring. The selection has a significant effect on level. If you are short on gain (see my Mbox 3 rant elsewhere) it is desirable to use the 250 ohm choice.

    tip #7 - Please enjoy your microphone!
     
  11. FlametopFred

    FlametopFred Active Member

    I wonder about this sometimes.

    Now, don't get me wrong, I hate smoking and loathe smokers :)
    But I do think about (as we all do) elements that went into the great sounding records of the 1950's and 1960's.

    Sure, you had talented (and trained) engineers working in well-equipped and well-built studios. You were recording true talents that worked their balls off (even the ladies).

    But I wonder . ... you see old photos of Frank Sinatra with a cigarette in his hand while he is singing, as the fading smoke from the studio ashtray drifts up to the microphone. You see old photos of the Beatles in the studio or control room ... smoking.

    So ... if everybody smoked back then (as they did) there was a lot of nicotine residue in the air. Some of that found it's way onto amplifier tubes.

    Q: would that have contributed in part to the vintage sound that we think of or imagine?
    Q: would nicotine film residue on tubes make them run just a titch hotter, and thus, make them sound better?
    Q: would nicotine film residue on a RIBBON MICROPHONE make it sound better ... maybe by reducing just a titch of the harsh top end?

    I wonder about this in some degree of seriousness. Maybe we should have manufacturers send all recording gear to countries where smoking is still permitted, is unregulated and even encouraged. Keep new gear there for a couple weeks, THEN ship it to consumers.

    The reason I ask is not just to be flippant. My first Hammond / Leslie came from a working musician that play clubs in the 1960's and 1970's.
    When I bought the organ (I was 16) the whole thing reeked of cigarette smoke .. and the tubes were coated in a yellow nicotine film.

    Now that Hammond always sounded better than any subsequent models I got "from non-smoking studio environment". Maybe.
    Any thoughts on this ... any experiences from the old engineers here?

    Maybe nicotine is something that could be recreated virtually in ProTools ... a new Nicotine patch (pun intended) plugin :)
     
  12. FlametopFred

    FlametopFred Active Member

    The Beatles in the Studio: Beatles Smoking

    It was what everyone did back then .... and with all those people smoking all those cigarettes all those hours .... SOME of the nicotine residue must have coated ribbon microphones, tubes ... even guitar strings.

    Yes ... it was a very disgusting and unhealthy habit ..... but possibly, maybe added a certain "mojo" to the sound back in the day.

    John+&+Ringo+1967.jpg (image)
     
  13. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Great pics!

    John%u00252B%26%2BRingo%2B1967.jpg

    I'm starting to wonder if this isn't what a lot of people are thinking gives even the vintage U87's their sound. People sang with smoke coming out of their mouths for Gawd sakes all the time!!

    I think you've nailed something here.

    I stopped performing in 1992 for a few reasons and one of them was I couldn't stand the smoke in the bars anymore. Smoke was everywhere in our lives.
     
  14. FlametopFred

    FlametopFred Active Member

    Just something to think about ....

    If any tube companies are paying attention they could probably just come up with a 'nicotine dip' for their tubes :)
    I am sure you could get a subsidy from Benson & Hedges

    I still remember how my old Hammond and Leslie would smell when I turned them on ... those old tubes had a certain aroma to them. Probably not healthy ... but a combination of dust and nicotine.

    Anyway ... just a little food for thought there. Maybe refurbishing and cleaning an old U-47 is the worst thing you can do :)
     
  15. FlametopFred

    FlametopFred Active Member

    Naturally this will become the next race in vintage audio .... NOS Marlboro boxes found in some old warehouse. Rolling out your wheezing, dying relatives to smoke in a room where you've laid out your brand new Neuman, brand new tube amplifier, speakers taken out of the Marshall ... "Granny, here's a whole box of Camels I got you for your birthday. Share them with your friends." :)
     
  16. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Smoke cured Neumanns lol!
     
  17. FlametopFred

    FlametopFred Active Member

    Worth stalking old studio engineers to see what they have (untouched) in their closet, workshop, studio out-buildings

    Here's a good survey topic: what recording bands currently smoke while recording, and do those CD's sound any different?
    ( Reggae studios would probably be in another category for a different kind of smoke residue )
     
  18. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I remember playing 6 and sometimes 7 nights a week in clubs in S. Jersey and Philadelphia in the late 70's and early 80's.

    I was always a nut for cleaning & taking care of my gear; banks of keyboards, amps, leslies, mics, mixers, etc. At least twice a month, sometimes as often as once a week when we'd rehearse on Tuesday afternoons, I'd tune all my analog keyboards (Rhodes 73 stage/suitcase piano, MiniMoog, Vox Jaguar, Elka String machine, Arp Synths, etc.) and break out a bottle of windex and clean the built-up nicotine stains on all the gear; amp knobs, mic grilles (we used to soak all our SM58s and 57 wind screens in a bath of windex & soap to clean 'em!)

    I can't prove it, but the gigs immediately following the "cleanup" & tuning days alwasy felt special; the gear worked up to spec, and we sounded (so I though!) great.

    Life was simpler back then, no doubt about it.
     
  19. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Ah, I did that too Joe! And you know what, we all felt we sounded better and we played better. I think it was more the overall vibe from being together and all caring about our gear and the band, and just passion. hmmm...

    Can't polish VSTi or chips. Different world indeed. Now we clean off the ear smudge lol.
     
  20. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    My NEVE was nearly killed by all the guys smoking cigarettes in the control rooms at NBC-TV. I didn't smoke any cigarettes near the console I later purchased. Instead, I would wait for a sports package to roll and I would get up from the console, go behind the rack in the control room and blow a Doobie instead. No one ever knew because it was like a smoky nightclub in the rest of the video control room. And my smoke never came anywhere near the console I was using and later purchased. But when I cleaned that thing out, in the ultrasonic cleaner, the water turned dark brown from nicotine. It was disgusting. My console was much happier after I gave it a good bath. It even worked and sounded better. And it didn't have any pigtails to wag.

    I was wagging my tail instead
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     

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