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Ribbon Shootout Results - with audio clips

Discussion in 'Microphones' started by Cucco, May 29, 2009.

  1. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    The subject of this shootout - Ribbon microphones!

    For this round, we chose a few "ubiquitous" ribbons that you might find floating around common studios or at least some close relatives of those mics. Also, for this shootout, we chose mics that were readily available to us, within our very own mic lockers. While we did speak with a couple vendors (notably Crowley & Tripp and Royer Labs), we weren't able to get any of their ribbon mics for this go around. (The exception would be the Royer SF12, which was in the closet ready to go).

    The candidates for this trial were:
    Blue Woodpecker
    AEA R88 (close brother to the R84)
    Royer SF12 (identical to mono SF1 and similar on a few levels to the R121, but different enough that direct comparisons should not be inferred through this evaluation)
    Beyer M130
    Cascade Fathead II
    Beyer M160
    And, a single "other" type of mic that we'll refer to as a mystery mic. The reason for including this particular mic in the shootout was because it adds a slightly different flavor, yet still retains some of the characters of a ribbon mic. This mic will sound different than the ribbons, but once you discover what it is, you may be quite surprised.

    The tests were conducted on Bari Sax, gently picked guitar and female vox - all instruments provided and played by Alice Rogers (BobRogers talented daughter). While this variety won't suit everyone's tastes and invariably, we'll get the traditional "Why didn't you test it on..." questions, or "Why is that style of guitar what you recorded...", the test was originally and ultimately intended as an aid to a purchase decision for a particular user and these are the most common types of music he will be recording. However, given the variety and the clarity of the results, it should be easy for readers/listeners to discern enough of a difference that assumptions to their own applications can easily be drawn.

    Each mic was fed into an independent channel of a True Systems Precision 8 preamp (with a high, but not ultra-high input impedance of 5500 ohms - likely higher than the average users' preamp, but not as high as a Millennia or Grace). Each channel of the preamp was fed directly into an analog input on an RME Fireface and recorded into Sequoia DAW at 24 bit, 44100 Hz.

    The mics were level matched at the preamp, rather than inside the DAW to avoid the impact of altering the digital signal to unequal degrees. To calibrate the mics, a 1kHz test tone was fed through a single Focal Profile 928 speaker with an output level of -14dBFS. The signal in the room measured 85dB at 1 meter directly on axis with the tweeter of the speaker. Each mic was placed exactly 13.5 inches in front of the tweeter and the center of the ribbon element was placed 39" off the ground (even with the tweeter). (Yes, I know that a 1kHz tone would be eminating from the mid-range; however, the tweeter is much easier to align to without causing potential damage to the drivers.) From there, the preamp gains were matched to make the input signal reach a -20dBFS level (+/- .25 dB). This provided enough headroom in case of accidental peaks. The gain levels are as follows for each mic:
    Beyer M130 - ~49dB of gain
    Beyer M160 - ~51dB of gain
    Royer SF12 - ~46.5 dB of gain
    AEA R88 - ~45.5 dB of gain
    Cascade Fathead II- ~43dB of gain
    Mystery mic - ~28dB of gain
    Blue Woodpecker - ~22dB of gain

    The first evaluation was for bari sax. In this evaluation, each level-matched microphone was placed 50" from the ground, 17" from the instrument and aimed directly at the instrument. Alice stood in the same location each time as indicated by gaffer's tape indications. Minor fluctuations should be expected, but all attempts were made to ensure that placement was identical for each mic. The first half of the excerpt is quieter with the second half noticably louder. Both halves showcase different elements of each mics' respective performance.

    The second evaluation was for lightly picked steel-string guitar. In this evaluation, the mics were each placed 33" off the ground and 22" from the instrument. Each mic was placed on the same axis - directly in front of the fingerboard roughly at the halfway point. Each mic was then aimed at where the neck meets the body, just above the soundhole. For this evaluation, every clip was increased by 10dB in the software to compensate for quieter levels.

    The thrid evaluation was focused on female vocals. The vocalist and the pop-filter remained in the same place providing a constant for measuring. Each mic was placed on a stand so that the middle of the element was aimed at the area between the singer's top lip and the bottom of her nose. Each mic was 3" from the rear of the pop-filter. For this evaluation, each mic's gain was again raised 10dB inside the DAW to compensate for quiter amplitude.

    Every mic was mounted on the same stand - a Latch Lake MicKing 2200. Where possible, the same cable was used for each mic (barring those with captive or proprietary cables - AEA and Royer). The ambient noise level in the studio is a constant 19dB and remained so throughout the evaluations. Humidity is measuring at 54% based on the analog hygrometer in the studio and the temperature measured between 71 degrees farenheit and 75 degrees farenheit throughout the course of the evaluations.

    The various files are located at:
    (Dead Link Removed)
    There are separate folders for MP3, 16 bit Wave and 24 Bit wave as well as a Key and limited photos (key and photos coming soon!) from the event. The key will be made available once everyone has made their own objective evaluations and any pertinent comments.

    The participants for this evaluation were:
    Robert Rogers
    Alice Rogers
    Jeremy Cucco
    Charles Hall
    Donald Spaulding

    Cheers -


    PS -
    Anyone who guesses the mystery mic correctly will win a free 25' thin Canare mic cable (only in the Continental US - sorry everybody else...)

    The possible contenders for the mystery mic:
    Blue Bluebird
    Schoeps CMC6 MK4
    Oktava MC012 (cardioid)
    Neuman 184
    Royer R121
    Beyer M260
    Shure SM57
    Mojave MA-100 (cardioid)
    Rode NT5
  2. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Just want to say again how good an experience this was. I hope that lots of people find these clips useful even though they were aimed at the things I record most often (to the point of Alice playing guitar and singing in the style of people in my bands rather than her typical style).
  3. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I thought I'd add some price information. Here are the "basic" prices for "non mysterious" mics in order of increasing price. Note: For the two stereo mics, I've given the price of the "closest equvalent" mono mic.

    Cascade FAT HEAD II: $219
    Beyerdynamic M130: $700
    Beyerdynamic M160: $700
    AEA R84: $990 (AEA R88: $1705)
    Blue Woodpecker: $1000
    Royer SF-1: $1395 (Royer SF-12: $2695)

    These are all internet list prices. Better deals may be available. Many are cheaper as part of stereo pairs. The Woodpecker has a $200 rebate available until July 31, 2009.

    The price of the "mystery mic" will, of course, remain mysterious for the moment.
  4. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    well I aint gonna even try to guess which was which....But i will tell ya what I liked and why.

    I listed my top three picks in each category. I listened to the 24 bit.

    Guitar. F. Clearly the most open on the top end by a long shot. Articulated in a good way considering the distance of the mic from the source. G. Not as much top but the bottom was tight and defined.
    B. Again, a matter of the bottom and the low-mids having some punch.

    Bari Sax: A. Articulate and even though the highs sounded like they were ready to give it up when she pushed the attack a bit, it was the brightest of them all. F. This was actually a better sounding mic overall than the mic on A. for this application but I lost my notes for a moment and I dont have anyone to clean up after me and that means that I cant......urp. E. This was a nice sound too. I could use this in a mix with a whole horn section and get what I wanted out of the Bari.

    Vocal: F. By far the most articulate. I could hear the variances in her voice. All the shimmer of her being a bit careful and the spit buildup(sorry hun...just a listener!) This would be a great mic for a dense mix where the girl-voice might get buried in a bunch of rock guitars and extraneous crap. B. This is probably the Royer.But I could be surprised. G./E. Either one of these. At this place. A good backing voice mic that could use some compression and EQ if needed. Probably the smoothest of the vocal sounds. Good body to the voice and good articulation of the low-end of her vocal spectrum.

    And dont tell me the 'mystery mic' was the 57.I didnt hear a 57 anywhere even through that nice preamp. Since I've heard 57's through the True I dont believe it to be part of this test. I dont mind being wrong BTW!!!!

    Ok, since I get to win something with a guess heres my mystery mic supposition: Mojave MA-100. Just send me the frickin cable Jeremy or the Monkey gets IT!!!
  5. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey Dave -
    Nice observations. I suppose I should say that the order of the mics wasn't intended to be a surprise. My bad. The order they're listed in for the gain structure is their actual order.

    Btw- the mystery mic is mic F. I see you liked it a lot! And you're right on both accounts, it was not a 57 and of was an MA-100.

    Your cable's on its way. Pm me your address.

  6. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Yeah- My first thought on Dave's post - he likes condensers a lot more than ribbons. Alice liked the Mojave best on vocals as well, and I think I agree. I definitely want to hear the 200 and the 201.

    One big lesson of this experience is how much difference the monitors and the room make. On my JBL LSR6238P 's the difference in the Beyers is highlighted. The difference in the AEA and the Royer is narrowed. During the test I listened using Sony MDR-7506 headphones during trackng, Jeremy's monitors during playback. (Another very different experience). The basic differences are all there - but the degrees are very different.

    P.S. Alice heard the spit buildup as well as all the other clams. No need to be gentle. She's a music major and has to sit through juries every semester. BTW (I'm her dad, I might as well defend her) we gave her only one take per mic per instrument.

    But if you get too personal, remember, I saw Taken last week.
  7. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Great Job Guys!
  8. Kladivo

    Kladivo Guest

    For me the mystery mic is mic C. Vocal is nice. A,B /a less transparent hiss, sibilant/ and F,G /little bit light/ mics are also very good. Ribbon mics are closer reality. Thank you for your job.
  9. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    Thanks for this guys, I am now thinking I need to buy a beyer M160! For vocals I liked Woodpecker (all be it too bright for some singers). For Guitar The Beyer M160 was very nice. For sax it was a bit more tricky, AEA R84 was nice, but again the m160 was good.

  10. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Well I ended up getting the Beyers as a pair. Had a trumpet player over tonight and we ended up going with the 130. Best he's ever sounded. I've been busy this week. Next week I'll set them up in MS and use them on guitar.
  11. buzzjoe

    buzzjoe Active Member

    Can someone please post the key?

  12. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Welcome to RO Oliver!

    It's kind of hidden in the other text of the page.

    So here's the key: (also quoted from Cucco)

    The gain levels are as follows for each mic:
    Beyer M130 - ~49dB of gain
    Beyer M160 - ~51dB of gain
    Royer SF12 - ~46.5 dB of gain
    AEA R88 - ~45.5 dB of gain
    Cascade Fathead II- ~43dB of gain
    Mystery mic - ~28dB of gain
    Blue Woodpecker - ~22dB of gain
  13. buzzjoe

    buzzjoe Active Member

    Thank you very much :) Great test! This is the only A/B test incl. a SF-12 and a R88 with samples that I found so far. Does anybody know if there are some other comparisions with sound files of this two mics IN STEREO (because I want to buy either the SF-12 or the R88 mainly for stereo applications)? Here I like both - the SF-12 better on guitar, the R88 better on vocals; both are great on sax (each in a very different way).

  14. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey Buzzjoe -
    Welcome to the crew!
    I'm glad this comparison worked out well for you.
    I'd be glad to entertain questions about the 2 mics for you as I own both of them and use them rather regularly. For certain, there couldn't be 2 more opposite ribbon mics on the planet.
  15. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    DaveDog -
    Did you ever send me your address? I never sent your cable. (hanging head in shame...)
    I still owe it to you and still have them in stock!

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