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Ribbon Shootout?

Discussion in 'Microphones' started by BobRogers, May 1, 2009.

  1. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Well, Blue Microphones is offering a $200 rebate on their Woodpecker ribbon mic. Tom Bethel and others have given this mic good reviews. I've been thinking about getting a better ribbon lately since my Cascade Fat Head II ribbons have been doing working out surprisingly well on acoustic instruments. I'd like to see if I can get that "ribbony" smoothness in a more precise mic. I expect so from the recordings I hear with better ribbons.

    So here is the middle of the ribbon landscape as I see it sorted by rounded off street price.

    Beyer 130/160 - $700
    AEA R92 - $800
    Blue Woodpecker - $1000-$200 rebate
    AEA R84 - $1000
    Royer R-121 - $1300
    Royer R-SF-1 - $1400

    Am I missing anything obvious? I see that Groove tubes is offering ribbons in this range but have not heard anything about them.

    So I'd like comparisons of these mics from people who have tried more than one of them. Clips would be nice if you have them.

    If I really am going to do this I probably have to figure a way to audition them all at the same time. (Or at lease those I settle on.) Anyone know where I can rent several of these?
  2. iamfrobs

    iamfrobs Guest

    In my very limited experience with high end gear, I've heard the AEA R88 used on piano and acoustic guitar, very very nice sound. I'm not sure if it's two R84s, but if the R84 is anything at all like the R88 I don't think that would be a wrong decision.

  3. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    That's what I meant by the "middle" of the ribbon landscape. At about $1700, the AEA R88 isn't really on my radar right now. In fact, if I decided that I really wanted the Royers over the other mics I'd probably have to hold off for a while and save some pennies.
  4. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    I have the woodpecker and am growing to like it. It took me awhile to dial it in properly. (Gain staging through the proper pre and all that). Although I haven't been the engineer on the sessions, I have sung through a number of high end ribbons and Neumann condensors (classics beyond your stated budget) and will say that I am very pleased with the sound that I am able to get from the woodpecker.
    It's definitely not the vintage RCA sound, but the sheen of the woodpecker (although pretty silky) seems to cut through with less effort than my LDC. (typically a K2 these days).
    I hate trying to describe sound - hence the signature line

    Bottom line is I don't think you'd be dissapointed but I can't help you more than that.

  5. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    I am dying to get my hands on the new Rupert Neve ribbon mic as welll as the other new mic's he is involved with.
  6. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey Bob -
    First thing to note is that Lynn Fuston did do a ribbon mic shootout on 3dB audio boards. Most of the mics or a close variant are included in his shootout - the woodpecker being the obvious omission. Also consider Coles ribbons and Crowley and Tripp - both great alternatives to what you've got listed.

    As one who owns or regularly uses most every mic on that list, I'll give you a little summation -

    AEA R88 (sorry - I don't have the R92 or R84, but the 88 is darn near identical to the 84 and only a bit "weightier" than the 92). This is a "BIG" sounding mic. On guitar and bass cabs or even upright bass, there's not much better. It has the typical rolled-off sound, but not too much. It does sound a tad on the dark side overall. I don't particularly care for this mic on acoustic guitar (it exaggerates the boominess that may already be present). It's fantastic on chorus - usually my first choice for that. Other good applications - trumpets/bones, saxes of all varieties (Tenor or Bari preferred - probably good for you...)

    Royer SF1/SF12 - a VERY refined sounding ribbon. It's smooth and not too dark and takes EQ very well. Where the AEA makes things bigger, the Royers make things very real and present. This mic is the quintessential acoustic guitar mic. It's also fantastic on drum overheads. It works okay on guitar cabs (not so much on bass), but there are better mics for this. This mic sounds great over a good orchestra in a great venue.

    Beyer M130/M160 - one of the best, most versatile and cheapest combinations on the planet. A 130/160 MS pair works fantastic in front of drum kit, chorus and orchestra. The 160 is one of my favorite studio vocal mics - also a great mic for acoustic guitar, guitar and bass cabs. It's pretty darn nice on sax and trumpet too. A blumlein pair of 130s are fantastic for mallet percussion and both mics are great for spots on strings, winds and brass. The off-axis rejection is VERY predictable and quite usable.

    Any time you're up for the road trip, bring an amp, your axe and maybe drag your daughter and her bari up the road. I'll gladly let you play all day long with my R88, SF12, 130s and 160s.

    FWIW -
    If you're looking at a fantastically versatile setup, grab a pair of 130s and a single 160 - the set would be a little outside the range you've suggested here, but dang it would be a versatile setup.

    During the summer, I'll gladly send that exact setup to you for a week or so if you'd like to try them out.
  7. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    sE RNR1 - Active Ribbon - Rupert Neve and sE Electronics

    Woa... thanks for sharing that one AG.

    Check out this link.

  8. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member


    I was thinking along the same lines. Alice gets home next week and VT graduation is on the 16th. Might be a good time for a road trip after that. Did I mention that Alice switched her major from Music Ed to Music Technology Performance. She can probably work a ribbon shootout in as a class project somewhere along the line.

    I was thinking of working with a retailer to send me a Woodpecker with the understanding that I could send it back if I wanted the Beyer instead. Those are the top two contenders in my mind as of now.

    How consistent are the Beyers? Is there any problem buying one 130 this summer and pairing it with another purchased at a later date?
  9. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I've got two that I bought 3 years apart. I can't distinguish one from the other.
  10. eriatarka

    eriatarka Guest


    best ribbons I've heard in a while!
  11. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    ShinyBox Ribbon Mic

    Daniel Lanois - $400 mic being compared.

  12. dkelley

    dkelley Active Member

    FYI, the shinybox ribbon mics use the motor and basic circuit from the apex 205 and other resold versions of that mic.

    yes the shinybox is better due to optional upgraded transformers (although the stock tranny is what he sells in his base model) and he does his own ribboning and removes the inner grill system which slightly improves phase linearity over the high frequency range at the expense of hf output being down a couple of db.

    it's a chinese ribbon mic with improvements. that same stock chinese ribbon mic without the improvements sounds VERY similar and VERY good. I use them daily for professional recording (apex 205 model, imho better than the larger bodied apex 210 model for several reasons but otherwise similar sounding).

    the fatheads, also chinese, are a different ribbon motor design and have MUCH less hf sensitivity and are more "colored" I suppose you could say.

    the mics Lanois talks about can be found with virtually the same sound for about $100 at music retailers everywhere as apex 205 or nady rsm-1. if you open them up and remove the smaller inner mesh (carefully) around the motor you'll get the same basic sound as the shinybox models. depending on the condition of the ribbon in the stock one it might then end up being virtually the same mic in fact, however some stock chinese ribbons are rather poorly tensioned and need adjustment right from the factory.

    anyway, you dont' need to buy a $1000 mic to get what Lanois is raving about (although shinybox are relatively cheap too, but much more than the stock chinese mics that I am raving about here).

    the mics I'm describing have a very good hf output compared to the fathead and are relatively flat over the entire frequency range. a bit too much deep bass imho but that's easily fixed with eq. terrible shockmounting in the mic so you need to use a good stand and preferably some kind of spider shockmount. anyway, that's been my solution.

    to me it's a cross between the coles 4038 and 4040. warmth of the 4038, a bit of the brightness of the 4040.

    and far far superior to the fatheads which I personally don't like much really.

    as always, imho :)

  13. MC3DPCS

    MC3DPCS Active Member

    R-121s on piano, electric and acoustic guitar and voice

    I've got some experience with the R-121s on piano, electric and acoustic guitar and voice. It's been a mixed bag when working with people that are impatient because I've seen them to be so placement sensitive that they can't be rushed into action. But given the time to set up carefully, I don't have the usual complaints with the lack of HF extension.

    For example, I recently recorded a blues band whose lead guitarist had a very aggressive clean tone. With the amp in a very damped environment (surrounded by gobos) I listened to the mic as a function of position since he had an old Boogie I'd never worked with before. Then I moved the gobos away and started moving the amp and mic towards a diffuser set up along the studio wall. With the back of the amp at ~18" from the diffuser and ~12" off the floor, the highs came up just perfect and I got just the right amount of room slap.

    We also had a Blue Pecker at that session and I never managed to get it to equal the Royer. It sounded like it had a dip in the mid to high 2KHz range that I just couldn't get past. In working with the two tracks, just a slight touch of high shelf had the Royer singing but I have not managed to get the Blue track quite happy.
  14. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    dkelley -same "motor" ??
  15. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Just a FWIW -

    Did a session last night on a 75+ yr old former professional opera singer who still has a huge sound.

    The Woodpecker gave me nice subtlety and handled the peaks quite well.

  16. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    The term "Motor" in a ribbon mic is what would otherwise be called the capsule/assembly in a condensor or dynamic mic. (Not sure exactly how they came up with the term, but it's been around since the things were invented).

    It comprises the set of magnets inside of which sits the ribbon itself. (ribbons are a fairly simple design, when you get right down to it.)

    As for Cascade mics, I have a pair of the Fathead IIs with the stereo/MS bar, and really like them on brass, woodwinds, etc. I also have a lone Fathead I that i keep hand for all kinds of things on live gigs. I'd like to check out the stereo unit as well.

    The single most important thing about ribbons, IMHO, is a good preamp.
    Without one, you're simply mismatching the mic and cranking up hum and noise.
  17. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    My daughter Alice and I traveled to Jeremy Cucco's studio to do a ribbon mic shootout yesterday. It was a lot of fun meeting Jeremy in the flesh for the first time.

    We tested

    Blue Woodpecker
    Beyerdynamic 130
    Beyerdynamic 160
    Royer SF12 (one mic)
    AEA R-88 (one mic)
    Cascade Fat Head II
    A "mystery mic"

    I provided the Woodpecker and the Cascade, Jeremy all of the other mics. We did comparisons on Bari Sax, fingerpicked steel string acoustic guitar, and female vocals. I'm sure Jeremy will post details on the procedures of the test when he posts the clips.

    We will put up clips in the near future so you can hear for yourself, and see what you think. We will do it in a separate post so that it will be separate from these initial reactions. First, The Woodpecker was not to my taste, and I am sending it back. It had a very aggressive sound, easily the most "condenser-like" of all the mics. Highest noise floor of aall the mics. I'm going to wait until I get a CD of the clips so I can listen to them on my own monitors, but I'm probably going to order the 130/160 bundle in place of the Blue. The Beyers (one or the other) were either first or second in all categories, and given the price and the versatility of buying the pair I am leaning that way. Very smooth "ribbony" sounding with a nice touch of color. The AEA and the Royer showed very well. The AEA has a very distinctive big sound. Lot of color that worked well on some things - not as well on others. The Royer the most neutral - lovely smooth sound - awesome on guitar - but for most other things I probably want the color. The Cascade did surprisingly well. It was hanging in with the big boys on bari and guitar. The bass is a bit sloppier than the high-priced mics, but overall a very good sound. On vocals it finally sounded like a cheaper mic. Still, at less than $200 it showed very well.

    It was a very interesting exercise for me. I think you'll enjoy the clips.
  18. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Clips and pics are uploading at the moment. As soon as I can, I'll get Chris to make a sticky in the new "Microphone" forum and I'll get the write up going in there.

    It was a great experience - one that I'm sure will be quite surprising to a great deal many people. The results, while somewhat predictable, were far more dramatic and drastic than I could have possibly expected.


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