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Ribbon Novice Needs Reassurance

Discussion in 'Microphones' started by rcastiglione, Dec 10, 2006.

  1. rcastiglione

    rcastiglione Guest

    I am considering the plunge into the world of ribbons.

    Whenever I am thinking of a new direction I have often come back to this forum for some ideas and a bit of inspiration. That is how I ended up with two gefell 296s (hey no regrets there!!) and Schoeps MK21 (again totally happy - who wouldnt be?).

    But a certain dissatisfaction with the digital domain has always been there. Can there be a softer less etched sound? Hence my interest now in ribbons and also in a valve amplifier . In relation to the valve am I am thinking of a Pendulum preamp. Has to be clean as I record acoustic stuff including choirs singing classical.

    Now to Ribbons. I am thinking of venturing into the world of ribbon mics again. Bought the Beyer M160 some time ago and was appalled when I tried with my grace design V3 and then through my Metric Halo ULN-2 - I THINK I heard a distant signal a long way off but cannot be sure.

    I am now thinking of AER R88 as a vocalist mic (apparently there is a slight mod for close up vocal work) together with the AER ribbon preamp which claims to have over 80 db of clean gain (alternatively the Lavry Blue Mic Pre?). Has anyone used this combo and give me some reassurance that you actually get a usable signal. Sorry if this is a naive question but I was a bit shocked by my first and unsuccessful venture into the world of ribbons. If this works out I might even go ahead trying a stereo pair of AER R88s.

  2. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    I am a big fan and frequent and happy user of ribbons, I love them for classical chamber music, choral and voice particularly.

    I have a Royer SF24 and two Coles 4040 and an AEA TRP. The TRP has been a real eye opener, such a lot of really noiseless gain that one never needs to worry about ribbons and noise again, and I am talking ambient miking of quiet classical sources.

    The TRP is a bargain in anyone's language, but I know the Coles have a pretty healthy output. Others like Rich Mays have written positively about it as well with the SF12 which has a lower output than the Coles.

    I am sorry I cannot offer any advice regarding the AEA mics, but the TRP is made for them, surely! Ribbons are a wonderful cure for digititus and the often overly crisp condenser renditions of the acoustic field.
  3. Duckman

    Duckman Active Member

    Dear Rob,

    I have the R88/TRP combo and, although I have used it only a little so far, I have been very happy with the gorgeous, rich, silky sound. I've used it on a small choir, and the naturalness of the voice reproduction is quite stunning. There is no harshness or scratchiness to speak of. I needed some eq to bring out the top end though.

    AEA's prices are pretty modest too, comparatively speaking.

    Best wishes,

  4. Duckman

    Duckman Active Member

    PS I've got the ULN2 also and was able to achieve a decent clean signal from the R88 using the MH pres. I wonder why you could hardly hear it. Nevertheless, The Ribbon Pre is definitely several steps up in sound quality over the ULN2 pres when used for ribbons. You get a much fuller sound.

  5. MasonMedia

    MasonMedia Guest

    First, a disclosure. I know Wes Dooley. At last months AES meeting, we chatted about some recent news and I learned that Telarc is using AEA ribbons and the AEA pres on a number of classical recordings including both large and small ensembles. There are some photos of a session with the Turtle Island Quartet at Skywalker Ranch on the AEA website. Wes said Telarc used a number of R84s on choir, too.


    Also, in June, I used the AEA TRP (pre) on a performance recording and found it delivered a clean quiet open signal from a classic Shure 330 ribbon. We used it to pick-up a solo trumpet during a choral concert.

  6. rcastiglione

    rcastiglione Guest

    Many thanks for the replies. As always helpful. Clearly, I am heading in the right direction!

    Looks like its the R84 and the TRP for starters.

  7. rcastiglione

    rcastiglione Guest

    Just a additional note on my Ribbon quest.

    I have also just bought myself the extraordinary little box, the Sound Devices 722 and last night had the chance to try two fairly cheap chinese ribbons (Nada?) on the 722 preamps. The sound overall was great. The preamps on the 722 are excellent - surprisingly good and seemingly more than adequate to handle the low output of ribbons. I recorded a musical performance on "Ruined Piano" and we immediately played back the results out of the 722 outputs on two giant horn speakers in the same room. Everyone was startled by the realism and lack of noise. I also compared them to the Grace Design V3 preamps. The 722 preamps do seem darker but my god they seem to actually hold up pretty well with the Grace Design which somehow upset me.

    Cant wait to try out the AEA !!

  8. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey Rob -

    Congrats on the whole "ribbon discovery!" Seriously...it is a good place to be - finding oneself using ribbons (especially good ones at that) on recordings. I've reccently dropped a large sum on adding more ribbons to my mic locker (particularly a LOT of Beyer 130s and 160s! I know they're "less expensive" than some of their more elite bretheren, but I must say, in many cases I prefer the smoother, albeit slightly darker flavor of the Beyer. I find they take quite well to good EQ as well if one finds them too dark on some sources.)

    Peter -

    Just curious- have you heard some of the recent Telarc releases with the all-ribbon setups? I have their recording of the Mozart Requiem. In all, it's a phenomenal disc. Smooth, buttery and rich with some amazing depth. Occassionally I find it a tad too dark and muffled (particularly on all string passages where no voice exists.)

    They're also using a new pre the Sonic Lens (IIRC)?? I'm curious - I haven't seen anything on this!

  9. rcastiglione

    rcastiglione Guest

    Thanks Cucco.

    I seriously wish now that I had not sent my Beyer 130s and 160s back now.

    One really interesting thing I discovered on the 722 based on another thread: going line level out of the analog stage in to the Sound Devices line level rather than say sending a digital signal into the 722 does I think reveal that the Grace Design has a better sound (different anyway) from the 722 and that it is worth keeping afterall. This ensures that you can use very low levels of gain on the Grace which seems to be the place it likes to be. Seems to get a bit thin on higher gain levels.

    Tangentially, I am just about to order the DAV BG 1 from Mick - has anyone tried that preamp with ribbons?

  10. Scoobie

    Scoobie Active Member

    I use my cheap ribbon mic all the time...................
    I have a Oktava ML53, with a cheap pre. The studio projects VTB-1 . On the cheap side it works rather well.

    When I have tried everthing in my modest home studio, and nothing seems to work. The ML53 and the VTB-1 usually will work wonders. It's just different.

    Love my cheap ribbon, one of the best cheap mic's I got.

  11. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Ribbons are getting a hugely positive rap on this board lately; crikeys, anyone would think you can't make a decent recording without them.

    I'm a big fan of ribbons myself, but they are not for every one, nor are they for everything. In the last 10 minutes on this board I've read posts from Duckman being unsatisfied with his ribbons (purchased after a thread of advice that was long enough to reach the moon and back), and a post from yourself saying how you were unsatisfied with the Beyers (quoted above).

    Tread carefully and don't get wet from all the ribbon ejaculation splashing off this screen. Don't purchase ANY ribbons without trying them first in your application. I've owned and/or used quite a few different types of ribbon microphones. With the exception of the Beyers, they are all bidirectional (to the best of my knowledge) and that means you only have three stereo options: Blumlein, MS Blumlein, and Faulkner stereo. Cool (not!).

    I love the sound of ribbons, although many of my clients don't - they say they're dull and they prefer the brighter sound of condensers. No point investing all that money in something that sounds beautiful if your clients don't like it...

    At the moment I don't own any ribbon mics, and, to be honest, I don't miss them at all. Since getting rid of my ribbons a couple of years ago, I cannot think of any jobs that would've benefitted *significantly* from using ribbons. I also REALLY, REALLY, REALLY don't miss all the extra 'support' gear needed to get a decent sound out of them. I mean, do you really want to own a microphone that needs a special preamp? And that can't drive more than a few metres of cable without having a hernia? Why not buy a dog with two legs and a bowel disorder instead? It's cheaper than ribbons, and every time you take it for a scrape around the yard for a change of scenery it will look up at you with those big brown doggy eyes as if to say "I love you". A ribbon isn't going to do that...

    You also mention that you've got a 722. Unless your choice of ribbon mics sounds good on that device, it's likely you'll be wanting an external preamp. It'll most likely be mains powered, and that means you're going to need powerboards and extension leads and so on - the entire entourage of crap. And after lugging all this 'ribbon support gear' around for a while you'll start resenting it, especially when you know you could be running a nice and simple condensor mic rig off battery power!

    And when you add up the cost of the ribbons AND the special preamp, you might realise that you could've bought a pair of very nice condensers instead - the kind that don't sound etched and harsh and all the things you are trying to avoid by using ribbons...

    Sorry to sound negative, but I think someone has to put an opposing point of view here, just for balance. I am sure you've thought this through, and I'm sure some of what I've said isn't applicable to your situation. But maybe some of it is?

    (I love the sound of Blumlein ribbons through tubes, FWIW. It is almost three-dimensional.)
  12. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Awesome advice Greg! Thank you!

    Ribbons should merely be considered a tool. One which is used to obtain a specific color or palette of colors - not the end all be all.

    Everyone would do well to listen to Greg!

    This is so often the case with most every cool (and highly useful/effective) gadget that hits the recording market. Many people talk about how awesome a new product is, then everyone rushes out and gets it, then manufacturers make cheaper versions so EVERYONE can get it, then the high-end pros who started the whole craze to begin with move onto something else dragging the whole entourage of followers along to the next purchase.

    Tube gear was the last big offender, ribbons the current big offender.

    Frankly, I find it funny that some major studios are doing some major recordings with nothing but ribbons. No offense to Michael B, but they recently did a recording of Mozart's Requiem in which they list only ribbons on the liner notes. To my ears, this recording is quite dull and lifeless - definitely NOT a representation of their usual quality. It took me a while to come to that conclusion, but after numerous listening sessions, that's the only conclusion I could draw.

    If you take nothing away from what Greg has said above, understand that you should choose gear based on what you NEED, not what others use or have.

  13. aracu

    aracu Active Member

    The problems are, 1. condensers sound edgy and metallic
    compared to ribbons which sound dull compared to
    condensers. 2. EQ takes away some audio quality so
    one would rather not have to use it.

    So perhaps it´s better to use both and try to mix the
    stereo pairs.

    By the way Simo, I loved your comparison of the r88
    to the sf12 (on a different thread).
  14. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I'm REALLY enjoying this thread; I have to confess I don't own any of my own either; I rent/borrow an SF12 and SF24 from time to time.

    I AM, however about to get an R84 ribbon & new preamp from AEA for review, as well as looking at finally getting my own pair of Beyer 130/160's combo. (Been meaning to buy my own for a while now anyway, tired of borrowing & renting those as well...)

    But I laughed out loud at some of Greg's comments about ribbons vs. condensers, and agree quite strongly with most of them. Left to my own devices, I'm fine with my collection of "just" condensers - sans ribbons. I can't deny, however, that I've heard some wonderful stuff done with ribbons, and although I suspect a lot of it had to do with the room & the performers more than anything else, the ribbons sounded gorgeous.

    I'll give the AEA a good workout and see if I want to keep it or not, maybe even get a pair of 'em. Stay tuned....
  15. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Well, I didn't think people were going overboard and getting out of "balance". Not having ribbons in the collection isn't exactly balanced either. Of course one can "get by" with all crispy condensers in the mic locker. Of course one has to buy a special preamp, since when has this been a "problem" with a mic choice.

    All us ribbon fans are saying is that they solve a variety of sonically objectionable problems particularly with classical chamber and choral music. Sopranos and strings in particular, and brass for that matter and ...

    Of course they sound dull, if you use them incorrectly, ie as the only mic in a main pair with a crap preamp and no care or time in getting the location right. Of course condensers are easier for the novice, and they can be wacked up willy nilly and you will get a usable recording. And what's so terrible about applying a little high EQ to lift them up a bit.

    Like everything, one has to learn how to use them, make mistakes and continue to explore. They are not the answer to everything, but neither is an ORTF pair just thrown up in the vicinity of a few musos.
  16. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member


    I stand by my previous caveats, but you are, as always, absolutely correct Mr Spearritt. A good and healthy microphone collection will have condensers, dynamics *and* ribbons, allowing you to choose the most appropriate flavour and technology for the situation. I use a Royer SF24 from time to time (it's an active ribbon and therefore less fussy about preamps), when I think it will be the right microphone for the job.

    On that topic...

    An Australian ethnomusicologist recently showed me some low-res video footage of natives in the highlands of Papua New Guinea playing log drums in ensemble, and I cannot forget the driving sound they created. My intention is to go there in the near future and record them. Considering the humidity of PNG, condensers probably aren't going to be the right technology - I've had humidity problems with my Schoeps in the jungles of Nepal and in Thailand, resulting in useless recordings.

    I'm contemplating taking a stereo pair of dynamics and/or ribbons, because those microphone technologies are not affected by humidity. Possibly a pair of Electrovoice RE50 handheld omni dynamics (a la David Lewiston), an MS pair of Beyer ribbons, or a Royer SF24 Blumlein stereo active ribbon.

    The sound produced by the log drums is not soft, so the lower sensitivity of dynamics and ribbons is not going to be a problem. Fortunately, the EV RE50s and the Beyer ribbons are relatively cheap, so perhaps I can take both. I like the extended LF and open spacious sound (read: 'bigness') produced by a spaced pair of omnis, but I also like the pin-point imaging and directionality offered by the MS technique. Both technologies may be a bit dull compared to condensers, but with linear phase EQ I don't think that's an issue any more.

    The ribbons will, of course, need windshielding to prevent damage, but I'd be using that anyway.

    Decisions, decisions, decisions...
  17. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    ...and the sad part is that quite often the cheaper versions don't offer what the pros found attractive in the first place. As you said, tubes are a good example. Good tube equipment sounds very nice, imo, but much of the more affordable tube stuff simply exaggerates the warm and fuzzy sound. So it is like sprinkling sugar on everything you eat; it tastes good at first, but after a while your teeth hurt. It succeeds from a sales point of view because you liked it just long enough to buy it...
  18. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Touche, again! I have recommend ORTF many times on this board. Hmmm...

    Dessert at my place tonight? I'll be eating humble pie.
  19. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    My father used Sennheiser condensers straight into an Nagra IV S for the Sepik flute and drum recordings in the early 70's. I am not sure of the model but they were pretty reliable. Will find out for you. The recordings are excellent, still today, and the insect buzzing and crickets recorded showed they had extended HF response.

    I would take both if I was doing this sort of trip Greg. Perhaps some RF condensers wouldn't be a bad idea, I think they are more immune to humidity than the Schoeps appear to be.
  20. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    There are plenty of occasions when I feel an overall brightness buildup from too many condensers needs to be tamed a bit. For example, on a large choir (100-150 voices) I may have as many as four AT 4050's across; (two in the center and two farther out left & right). The buildup of high end (and sibiliance) can be considerable. I even have a specific EQ setting in Sequoia for just this sort of thing, for a couple of local choirs that are prone to too, esp in harsher/brighter sounding spaces. Before I work on anything else in the mix, I make sure the choir is "Warm" vs. "Crispy". It can make a huge difference in blend and sound.

    I also occasionally use a tape emulation plug in for little warmth as well, and that too can help round things out a bit.

    I'm not terribly worried about top end too much these days; it's something of a given now. We have plenty of "Bright" to go around - thanks to razor accurate digital recording specs. We no longer have to worry about losing high end from analog tape and signal path. Add to that the inherently bright sound of most good condenser mics (and pre's) avaiable now, it's easy to end up with a crispy, overly bright recording when too many condensers are in play.

    With all that mind, I often ask myself: Is this whole thing actually coming across as too bright? Very often the answer is YES. That's when I begin some gentle rolloff and add a little warmth. Even without ribbons, it's amazing what this subtle difference can make. When handled properly, either direction - ribbons or condensers - can certainly get you in the warmth zone.

    Sometimes less IS more.

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