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Ribbon vs Condenser, which mic is best for singer

Discussion in 'Microphones' started by DonnyThompson, Apr 4, 2015.

  1. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Ribbon vs Condenser, Please help choose which mic is best for singer

    Here are two versions of the same song, written and performed by a client of mine.

    We decided to try two lead vocal tracks during pre - production, ( we're not sure of either one yet) - on one take we used a condenser on the vocal, and on the other, we used a ribbon.

    There are certain/different things that I like - and mildly dislike - about each one of them.

    I'd like input on which vocal track sounds sonically best to you.

    THIS IS NOT A FINAL MIX - and as such, I'm not really looking for mix critiques; we're still working with this song and its arrangement. I would like to know, at this point in the song, which mic you would choose if you were producing/engineering this song.


    LV using Ribbon:

    LV using Condenser:

  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Whoops... sorry.. probably should have mentioned the mics used. The condenser is an AKG 214 and the Ribbon is an MXL 860.

    Oh, and the Preamp was a Presonus.
  3. freightgod

    freightgod Active Member

    Condenser please.
  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Noted. Thanks for taking the time to listen and for providing your input. :)
  5. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    Hi Donny...
    I much prefer the ribbon on this voice. The crispness of the condenser I find a bit strident to my ear. I'm not familiar with either of these mics, but the sound of the ribbon seems more balanced across the frequency spectrum and more pleasant.
    Hope this helps!
  6. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    What were the mouth-mic distances in the two cases? Any effects in use on the vocal channel?

    Of the two tracks you posted, I prefer the MXL 860 ribbon, since to my ear the AKG 214 condenser has either more room sound in it or more effect. The ribbon track would give me a better starting point for a mix.

    BTW, there's something a bit odd about the stereo spread on the piano reverb!
  7. freightgod

    freightgod Active Member

    I actually prefer the condenser for the crispness.
  8. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    around 4-5 inches.

    yes. some hall reverb. Same on both, same kind, roughly same amount, same aux return.
    There may be more room on the condenser, which is a bit strange in that the ribbon is a Fig 8 and should have picked up the same amount - if not more. But they are two completely different takes, so it's possible he was closer in proximity to the ribbon.

    Yes, there is. It's a sample I'm not crazy about, one of the Independence pianos, ( there are also a few cases of distortion caused by me not paying attention to the VSTi level). The piano is strictly there for cue purposes. I think the piano track will likely end up being an EP - Rhodes or Wurli, we haven't decided yet.

    Right now I'm leaning towards the ribbon for the "darker" warmth. I understand the attraction to the condenser because of its presence peak, but there are spots I find it to be just too much with his voice. He's got a rasp that seems to exaggerate around 6 k or so, I had to pull quite a bit of that out on that track because it was just too much... or, maybe that's also an inherent character of the AKG 214. This is the first time I'd used that mic, so I didn't really know what to expect with it.

    Thanks all for taking the time to listen, and or your input. It's greatly appreciated. ;)
  9. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    To my ears, the ribbon is by far the better choice.
  10. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I feel the condenser sound unnatural and accentuate HF too much but could be what you are looking for depending on the type of production you're doing (with a good EQ curve) :).

    The Ribbon sound more balanced but I would choose it only if it can take a bit of HF boost well. I know some ribbon does and some don't.
    audiokid likes this.
  11. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Fwiw, the condenser has that same edgy sound that I've heard in quite of few of your tracks. Do others agree?
    I'm wondering if its the same mic, combo or something else that I would without doubt, stop using. There is a distinct sound of it thats doesn't sound natural. In fact, it sounds "broken, or very wrong like a bad electronic component. Does the ribbon mask? Is the condenser accentuating whatever it really is, which may not be the condenser? Not sure...
    I'm thinking that mic is problematic. Hope that helps.
  12. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I do agree of hearing this HF airy sound on some other of Donny's recording.
    It would be very interesting to compare the 214 to another one and hear if they all sound like that. For it to be broken would be a drastic and surprising find.
    My instinct tells me that they might be all like this and are one of those mics that need a push from a nice warm pre that would sweeten the HF.

    When I bought my 2 KSM44, I partly did it upon some comments that said that it was less bright than the 414. Some said that with warm preamps or classic console and tape recording it was ideal but with digital recordings, it could be too clear.. Of course I'm not saying I believe this for a fact, but it was enough to doubt them enough to get a shot at the 44. 2 years later, I now think about trying a 414 since I aquired better preamps.
    I'm saying all that because if the 214 is anything close sounding to the 414 it might have retain this bright side in the conception process.
    We all know that budget gear conception often try to apeal to newcomers with extremely bright sounding units.
    If only everyone could understand that : Bright doesn't equal Quality !

    I'm very curious about the sound of the 214 Donny !! Hope you get back to us on this ! ;
  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    The thing is, I have that transformer based ADK Pre, ( not exactly what I'd call "budget", LOL) but this time decided to bypass it and go directly into the Presonus. And, I have a 414EB, but wanted to see what thw 214 could do (the 214 isn't mine, it was borrowed, just to try something diffeent) Maybe I should have used the ADK and the 414... I'm not minding the ribbon mic version though...
  14. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    This might sound weird but the ribbon mic sounded like the vocal and the mix were in the same geometric space - like the singer was bundled in a blanket. where the condenser placed the vocal outside (and above - as in height) for me - like he was singing from above and downward on the mix. I liked the blanket better
  15. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    @audiokid @Boswell , @DogsoverLava , @pcrecord , @thatjeffguy @freightgod

    The responses have shown it to be about 50/50... I'm also including the opinions of some other people I've asked outside of this forum - colleagues of mine - and the general consensus is about the same, 50/50, which shows that it really is a personal preference thing.

    The ribbon has an inherent "darker" sound, which is kind of the point and what you are going for when you use it for vocals. I like to refer to it as a "syrupy" kind of sound.
    But, just as many prefer the condenser, because they like the brighter sound, more presence.

    Truthfully, it's still a coin toss for me. There are things that I like and dislike about both for this song.

    I decided to not use any compression or limiting on the 2-bus. The RMS is pretty low on this, which results in the dynamic range being really wide.
    A LUFS meter measurement put this in the ballpark of -20db or so, with a true peak of -6.5. This is a pretty big DR (15db) and, is intentional - for the time being - I want to keep the dynamic range as big as possible on this track.

    Eventually, it's going to be professionally mastered anyway, so I'll let the M.E. decide what's best at that time, but speaking in "averages", I'd like to see this ultimately sitting at around -12 to -13db RMS (or so) with a True Peak of -0.3.
    I'd be happy with a dynamic range of 12 to 13 db for this track, because it's very dynamic by nature. I don't see any need to squash it. It's not that kind of song that demands "power".

    Here's the latest update for it. We're still not completely done - we're still working with the string arrangement, and the vocal. Songs like this can be really tough to get right, because there's not a whole lot going on, there's nothing to "hide" behind, performance wise
    Everything has to be really solid and sound like it belongs where it is, and, that's not always easy. That's where the art and skill of arrangement comes into play, (and IMO, a side of the craft that I fee;l has gotten lost a bit over the years).
    On a song like this one, the accompaniment has to be complimentary yet subtle, and shouldn't distract the listener away from the vocal. LOL ... "The focal is the vocal". ;)

    As a side note - we tracked this lead vocal without headphones, choosing to instead place a speaker behind the the mic as close as possible to the null. And, I didn't crank playback, either. I kept it soft - just loud enough for him to use it as a cue.
    This version is a condenser, Neumann U89i. We still haven't made a final decision yet on which mic we feel is best.

    So - arrangement wise, performance wise, mix wise...we're not there yet ... but we are getting a little closer each time we work on it. ;)

    This Longing 1 April 18 2015 MP3 320kb.mp3


    Attached Files:

  16. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    The vocal is sounding great Donny, in fact the whole song is.
    The only thing I like a little less is the high violins which sound appart from the rest. (the sound unnatural an with some small roomy reverb)
    But hey, I know it's not finished.. ;)
    Great so far job !!
  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I'm right there with ya pal. The strings have been the thing(s) that have been giving us the most headaches on this track.

    I like the actual parts ... and it's not like it's really even an EQ thing, either.... it's the quality of the sounds/samples that I'm not crazy about.

    These are Garritan Personal Orchestra samples, 1st version, I think - 32 bit, probably like 10 years old now - and while I remember liking them okay back when they first came out, I don't think they stand up as well these days, to what I've heard with better sounding sample libraries being available now.

    Thanks for listening and commenting :)
  18. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I wonder if you have a preference? The reason for asking is that you've heard the voice for real, so hearing the two mics, AND the voice you are perhaps best placed to hear the benefit of the end result, while we just hear subtle differences. Maybe that isn't important because everyone judges on the end result, but as you say - you have a 414, and chose not to use it, when perhaps you know it very well.

    I always knew what I like, but rarely know why! (for me, by the way, it was the ribbon - which I usually do not like??)
  19. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    If you send me a midi file I can make you a couple string tracks you can choose from ;)
  20. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Thanks Marco...That's a very generous offer. We have one more session planned for the arrangement, to make sure that the parts are exactly what we want. I will be in touch after that, I'd hate to send something to you now and have it not be the exact part we want.

    As I said Paul, there are things I like and dislike about both. For this song, for this context, and for this voice on this song, I'm leaning toward the ribbon... but when I say "leaning", I mean not really by much - like I'm 51 % in favor of the ribbon and 49% in favor of the condenser...so it's almost a coin toss.

    I chose 214 strictly as a test - I wanted to see what the 214 sounded like, as opposed to the 414 " sound" that I was already familiar with.
    Although, I will say that so far, I'm not crazy about the sound of the AKG 214 on his voice for this particular song. I felt that it was hyped too much in the upper frequencies, and lacked the fullness and warmth desired for a performance of this nature.

    As a side note, a personal observation: For those thinking that the 214 is just a 414 without the bells and whistles, well, in my opinion, it's not. Features aside, when it comes down to strictly the sound of each, the 214 is not as nice as the 414 is sonically. That's not to say that the 214 isn't a decent mic for the money, but, if anyone is considering buying the 214 with the expectations of getting the sound of the 414 (without the features), you'll be disappointed.

    The most recent update you heard was the Ribbon mic through the ADK AP1 pre, using a Jensen JT110 XFO, and a John Hardy 990C OpAmp. Terry was very close to the mic on this take ... 3-5". This made the track very warm sounding, but being closer also helped to preserve some of the sibilance that ribbon mics are normally known to attenuate; although I did end up having to do a fair amount of EQ'ing it the upper frequency ranges to enhance this, along with the 'air". LOL... it's funny, because 99% of the time I'm trying to get rid of sibilance, not enhance it... ;)

    When we recorded it, I set up a three sided "box" around him, made of hanging packing blankets; I wanted to be cautious about how much room reflection we might possibly pick up.
    @DogsoverLava mentioned in his post that he felt it sounded as if "the singer was bundled in a blanket" - so actually, he wasn't all that far off in his description. LOL ;)

    In the end, I probably would have been able to just get the sound I wanted with my old 414EB through the ADK pre, but... I also really wanted to see what the ribbon was capable of... it was almost as much a test of the mic - and its potential sound - as it was getting the right sound for the song.

    I think this most recent vocal version sounds very nice, and is appropriate for the song. Sonically, I think it sounds good (everything except the strings), I've listened to it on several different playback systems other than my studio monitors - a pair of auratones, 2 car audio systems, 2 home theater/audio systems, an old boombox I have, and my iPad with cheap ear buds - and it translates evenly, and sounds very nice through each.

    When it comes time to master this, I'm going to make it very clear to the M.E. that I really want the dynamic range to be preserved on this song. I don't mind some limiting, or an increase in RMS, but, even after those things, I'd still want a DR of no less than 12 db. If it has to end up being the last song on the album for that to happen, and so that it "fits" better, then so be it.

    FWIW :)


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