Skip to main content

Ribbons on String Quartet, What's your take?


I have an upcoming String Quartet session where I'll be able to test both an SF24 and a AEA R88. Having had little to no exerience with ribbons I was wondering what Your's where? Especially regarding recording String Quartet.

Reading through the forum talk on Stereo Ribbons, there's loads of mentioning of the SF24 but really nothing on the R88, any special reason?



Pro Audio Guest Sat, 06/10/2006 - 13:41
I think that condensers are fine. One has to be in a room with a lot of
"bloom" to use ribbons. The reason is that I want plenty of air and room ambience in the sound. Ribbons, by their figure of eight response, are able to
pick up a nice room from behind. But a dull room is rendered in brutal honesty.

Ribbons on quartet sound dull to me.
Mics of choice on string 4 tet are Schoeps CMC521, always with a cello accent mic.

I always use additional mics farther back too.

DavidSpearritt Sat, 06/10/2006 - 14:43

Yes, I agree with Plush as well. I recorded the Takacs quartet with a borrowed demo pair of DPA 4015's and it was very nice indeed, a little fizzy but the SF24 gives better image and depth. I didn't need to EQ the 4015's though. After this demo I bought a pair of Schoeps CMC521's and have used them on a couple of SQ recordings, also very nice, these flat response sub cards are the only condensers I would consider using on SQ.

However, one option I am still to try is some dark omnis like MK2 or MK2H with a Jecklin disk. I think this may be the answer, but its going to be hard hanging it in the concert hall and not annoying the audience sight lines.

I agree that the Royer can sound dull, and this is why high EQ is required, but when its EQ'd right and the mic is the correct distance from the group it can sound stunning. The room I use is full of bloom and its beautiful for all classical music. I would post a sample but these groups would never give permission.

Probably the best SQ recording I have done in my life, was a single SF12 on Quatuor Mosaïques. I listen to it often.

ptr Sat, 06/17/2006 - 07:39
Thanks Guy's and Ms. David!

Much food for thought..

There will be som extencive experementation for myself. I'm planning to get some regular stereomikes (like an SM-69 or a AKG C-426) in my trials, that if I can track some down. I've been promised a loan of a pair of [[url=http://[/URL]="…"]Pearl ELM-B's [/]="…"]Pearl ELM-B's [/] fig of 8 line source mikes, that will be an interesting challenge.

Any suggestions on stereo mikes to test are very welcome (And no, unfortnunatly I cant afford a Brauner VMS 1.. :cry: ) - Are FX. the Studio Projects LSD2 any good??


JoeH Sat, 06/17/2006 - 09:13
ptr wrote: Thanks Guy's and Ms. David!

Much food for thought..

Any suggestions on stereo mikes to test are very welcome (And no, unfortnunatly I cant afford a Brauner VMS 1.. :cry: ) - Are FX. the Studio Projects LSD2 any good??


Ptr; I've been wondering the same thing myself for a while. Every time I got close to considering a purchase, I was scared off by the sheer size of that thing, pluse the not-so-sleek overall packaging. (Honestly, up-close, it looks like something we used to build in the garage/shop from a kit. ;-) ) I've heard it's being redesigned or repackaged, but so far, no other info about it.

Down in that same price class, there's the Rhode NT-4, which is a nice point-and-shoot stereo mic, that sounds a lot better than I ever thought it would, at least in a pinch.

I do find it interesting and VERY heartening to read such similar results about ribbons and condensers (For string quartets) from people all over the world posting here. It's indeed fascinating and a good testimonial to listening and everyones' "ears" that so many (myself included) have gotten similar results with this mic selection on string quartets in world-class spaces.

I'm not going to add my own comments - which run about the same as Ben and David's - but it's been the same situation here. When I can do it, I go with an SF12 or SF24 for the mains, a pair of condenser flanks, and ALWAYS a spot on the cello, at least for serious recordings. WHen I'm being hassled about sightlines and visual matters, then I have to start making tougher choices.

ptr Sat, 06/17/2006 - 12:15
Recording concerts, there's always someone complaing about Mikes beeing in the wrong spot, rearly the musicians tho..

I used to record most of my chamber group gigs with a rental AMS (Soundfiled) ST-250 (+ omni outriggers/ambiens mikes) with very fine results. Unfortunatly it is no more, as someone at the rental company had the misfortune to run over the mike case with their truck! Ouch... Total demolishment and beyond repair... And as I was about the only one renting the baby, they decided aganist getting a new one and I cant afford one myself.

Hence I've spent the last few years in spaced-omni-land, not that I dislike it (My trusty TLM-50's almost always work), but still; there are stuff to reDescover and even more to just Discover!


Simmosonic Sat, 06/10/2006 - 20:07
I agree with all that has been said here. In fact, my experience with ribbons run very, very parallel with Mr Spearritt's. We've both had SF12s, we both moved on to SF24s at the same time (the first two brought into Australia, in fact) and we both record the same string quartets in live concerts, albeit in different but excellent venues. Some points worth noting:

1) My best string quartet recordings have been made with the SF12 and the SF24. But they are difficult to get right and there are so many factors you need to have on your side, many of them beyond your control (room acoustics, quality of instruments, and so on...)

2) I have also made string quartet recordings with condensers and appreciate the extra 'air' you can achieve without needing EQ. My most recent string quartet recordings have been made with Schoeps bidirectionals in MS Blumlein - lovely. A bit on the bright side, but condensers capture the room sound with so much more detail and sparkle. Given a choice under optimum circumstances, I prefer the sound of the ribbons on strings. Condensers, however, reliably and consistently deliver an acceptable result. In this respect, I think ribbons are for art, condensers are for commerce!

3) The choice also depends on the style of music. For baroque and chamber music, I much prefer the ribbons (again, assuming all is optimum) because they suit the mellowness of the music. But for contemporary compositions (Bartok, et al) I find the colder and 'harder' sound of condensers tends to serve the music better. Serving the music is, after all, the primary purpose of our role as sound engineers...

4) The AEA R88 and the SF24 are very different beasts, the former being passive, the latter being active. So... it's not really fair to make comparisons between them beyond size! I reviewed the AEA R88 for AudioTechnology magazine some time ago, and decided to compare it against the passive SF12. Here's an excerpt from that review:

"After level-matching all the recorded files, I spent considerable time listening to the differences between the two microphones. On complex music, rich in harmonics and with reasonably fast tempos (i.e. 120bpm upwards), the R88 did a great job of resolving detail, particularly in the lower midrange where fundamentals and lower-ordered harmonics remained clearly defined despite the musical complexity. In comparison, the SF12 tended to substitute low midrange detail with a pleasant sensation of acoustic warmth. The R88 also sounded brighter and more dynamic than the SF12. It would definitely be my preference for recording complex and harmonically rich music. On less complex music and at slower tempos it would be a matter of professional taste – choosing between the warmer lower midrange of the SF12, or the detailed delivery of the R88. This is not to say that the R88 is not warm because it certainly is, in much the same way that those big old RCAs are warm. It also possesses a touch of that rare quality I’ve recently begun calling ‘bigness’, and which I hope is self-explanatory…"

Now, if you consider that in light of the differences between the SF12 and the SF24 (discussed elsewhere on this forum?), you can start to get the picture. The SF24 has better detail in the lower midrange than the SF12, in my opinion.

I know you weren't specifically asking for a comparison of the two, but there you go.

5) Here's another excerpt from that review which is of general relevance when setting up any Blumlein pair, but especially with ribbons because the ribbon elements are so long:

"Let’s not forget that this is a stereo microphone, and a Blumlein stereo ribbon microphone at that! The R88’s stereo imagery is excellent, as expected, although it does take some time to get the focus correct by adjusting the angle of the microphone’ vertical axis. I’ve learnt this from many years of using Royer’s SF12 – the correct alignment of the microphone’s vertical axis (typically perpendicular to the focal point of the sound source) is crucial for ‘dialing in’ the imaging. When you get it right, the stereo image snaps into focus, delivering a wonderfully three dimensional soundstage. This is an area that the SF12 excels in, so I was keen to see how the R88 fared. After a bit of experimenting I was able to achieve some truly impressive pinpoint imaging from the R88, although the SF12 provided a marginally better sense of depth."

6) As for positioning, whenever I'm using a stereo technique or mic I'm not familiar with, I imagine a 45 degree line starting from the acoustic centre of the ensemble and projecting upwards and forwards. I begin by placing the mic on the axis of that line, trying to make it equidistant from each instrument. Then I listen and adjust to get the right balance, typically starting with distance for direct/reverberant ratio, then height for tonality. Once I've got it sounding as good as I think I can, then I fine-tune the angle of the microphones themselves so that the focus is correct. This last step is critically important for both the SF24 and the R88. And... it's not always as easy as I made it sound there.

I hope some of that may be useful...

FifthCircle Mon, 06/12/2006 - 15:00
I like ribbons on string quartet, but with a couple of stipulations... I will rarely use it as the sole pickup. I usually will put out a flanking pair of omni condensers to open up the sound and also help with the top end. I like the somewhat slower and less detailed sound for a closer pair, but it needs to be ballanced. Also, if the room has too much low end in its sound, it can have problems that may or may not be solvable with EQ.

My last quartet recording turned out quite well using a wide spaced pair of CMC5MK21's (about 15 inches or so and 100 degrees) with MKH80's in omni as flanks. All going through Millennia pres.


DavidSpearritt Sat, 06/10/2006 - 00:25
I am still undecided after 5 years of recording some of the world's best string quartets in a world class hall with the SF12 and mostly the SF24.

I find the imaging and depth absolutely the best one can hope for, but I am still mucking around with EQ to get the top end correct and you need a spot on the cello. Admittedly some of the "problems" come from how far back the two rear positions sit, some of them sit metres from the others.

Condensers on their own do not give the right sound either, they are too crispy and strident and the imaging is inferior.

My preference is still to have the SF24 as a main, but with some condenser outriggers and spot.

As I record mostly live concerts, the SF24 is relatively unobtrusive hanging in the hall, but the AEA is probably too big and funny looking for live concerts. People sitting under it might be nervous. For studio sessions as you say you are doing its probably on par with or better than than the SF24, due to its greater output. I would love to try two Coles 4040 in Blumlein, which I think would be the ultimate string quartet mics. They are still on my shopping list.

RemyRAD Sat, 06/10/2006 - 11:07
Thanks to DavidSpearritt, I absolutely agree on the "crispy" sound one gets from condensers that I don't find all that flattering on stringed instruments either.

I think those Royer's sound incredible. I found that they almost sounded like condensers to me? I haven't purchased any yet but they are on the list.

I think that you will find that the AEA "vintage" style microphones will have that more classic ribbon sound with that gentle role off that starts at 5kHz. Great for that "classic" sound. Warm but certainly not state-of-the-art. And huge and heavy. Just make sure you tell the people that are sitting below one of those that if the microphone were to fall on their head, they shouldn't shout out in pain as it would ruin the recording.

Ms. Remy Ann David

Did anybody get the number of that truck???