If you’re a musician or a music producer, then you’ve probably heard of ribbon microphones. But what is a ribbon microphone? And why do you need to buy one? Ribbon microphones are designed to capture audio in a very natural way. They’re often used for recording acoustic instruments and vocals because they can pick up all the subtle nuances of the sound.
Simple At Their Core
Microphones were used for broadcasts and recordings from the middle of the 1930s to the mid-70s. Mics have always had a simple design. Each mic is made up of a thin piece of corrugated aluminum suspended between two magnets connected to a transformer.
A Bit of History
The first ribbon microphone was invented by Dr. Erwin Gerlach and Walter Hans Schottky, both German scientists.
The original ribbon microphone definition was created with a conductive diaphragm moving in a magnetic field, creating an audio signal. A thin conductive ribbon suspended in a magnetic structure could produce an electric signal that drives according to the sound waves around.
The 1930s saw the availability of magnets strong enough to make the ribbon microphone possible for audio production.
Harry F. Olson, RCA, was a key player in developing and applying ribbon mic technology.
The RCA PB-31 was designed by Harry F. Olson, the first-ever commercially available ribbon microphone. The PB-31 microphone was first released in 1931 and had a limited production of 50 units. This is a significant milestone in microphone advancement.
It was able to outperform condenser microphones in the frequency range, clarity, and realism.
In early 1932, the PB-31 was replaced by the improved RCA 44-A (precursor to the famous 44-BX), which inspired many other ribbon mic designs.
What is a Ribbon Microphone?
This is the simplest definition of a product:
Microphone transducer for audio conversion using a thin, electrically conductive ribbon-like diaphragm suspended in a magnetic structure.
A mic signal is electromagnetically induced across the diaphragm as it moves within the permanent magnetic field.
Like their dynamic counterparts ribbon microphones explained, they use electromagnetic induction to transduce energy.
Ribbon mics can be called ribbon dynamics mics for this reason.
However, ribbon mics are often referred to as dynamic microphones, while moving-coil mics are more often referred to as dynamic mics.
Ribbon diaphragms are often made from thin, corrugated aluminum.
This ribbon-like, folded shape ensures that the conductive material is strong and can be moved easily. Corrugation allows the ribbon to be suspended in the magnetic structure, which strengthens the diaphragm.
These are the key features that make aluminum a great ribbon choice:
Aluminum conducts (3.77×107 Siemens/meter), but is less than copper (5.96x107Siemens/meter).
Aluminum is extremely light at 2.7 grams per cubic meter (3.75 g/cm3), allowing the diaphragm’s reaction even at lower tensions.
The ribbon is suspended in a magnetic structure which is suspended within a magnetic system. This voltage is the mic signal.
This is the working principle and defining characteristic of microphones. There’s much more to ribbon microphones.
How Does A Ribbon Microphone Work
Ribbon mics are a typical dynamic microphones. Ribbon mics are not connected to a moving coil that vibrates in a magnetic field. Instead, the diaphragm of a dynamic microphone is attached to a thin metal strip (mostly aluminum).
The ribbon functions as both the microphone’s diaphragm and as the transducer element, giving it the same sensitivity and transient response that you would expect from condenser mics. However, the ribbon has a completely different character.
The microphones are passive devices, meaning they don’t have any active electronics or preamplification. The mic’s sound will depend on the impedance of its preamp input.
Too low an impedance can cause a change in frequency response, especially at the bottom end. The product could become dilated, which will result in lower high frequencies output.
Although you may view changing frequency response as a detractor, it can also produce a wide range of good sounds. It could even be considered a low-frequency EQ option.
Let’s take an example. Let’s suppose you have a passive microphone mounted on a source. The sound is too bassy because of the proximity effect or any other factor.
To adjust the sound, you can use an equalizer or plug the mic into a preamp with variable input impedance to lower the impedance.
This will decrease the microphone’s low-end frequency response and could produce the exact sound you are looking for. The proximity effect’s low-frequency boost can be minimized by moving away from the microphone.
What Makes Different Ribbon Mics Sound Different From One Another?
All of our ribbons are tuned to 16.5 Hz. This resonant frequency is the same as RCA’s 44BX microphones. Almost all AEA microphones use the same ribbon as the RCA 44 series.
This is crucial because it makes all AEA microphones sound the same, even though they have their personalities.
We’ve covered each type of ribbon microphone, how they work, and the main working principle without getting into it.
We must understand electromagnetic induction to comprehend ribbon microphones fully!
What is electromagnetic induction? Induction is the generation of voltage across an electric conductor under a changing magnetic field.
Michael Faraday, 1831, discovered this process. It has been used in many electrical components, including microphone transformers and ribbon mic transducer elements.
Three situations are possible for electromagnetic induction to occur:
- A ribbon microphone baffle/element is a combination of a stationary magnetic field and an active conductor.
- Fixed conductor and a variable magnetic field: This happens with microphone transformers (both step up and step down).
- Any situation in which there is relative movement between the conductor and a magnet field
The diaphragm of a ribbon mic moves in a magnetic field created by the mic’s magnetic structure. Because it is changing relative to the ribbon, we will experience an electromagnetically induced current and mic signal once we close a circuit with it.
In other words, Micheal Faraday’s Law of Induction can be viewed:
Faraday’s Law of Induction says that the electromotive force or induced voltage in a closed circuit depends on the rate of magnetic flux change through the course.
Three factors determine how much voltage will be induced across a via electromagnetic. These are:
- Conductivity is the measure of how conductive the ribbon is. The greater the conductivity, the greater the potential to induce voltage.
- The speed of the ribbon: By increasing the velocity, we can move through the magnetic fields faster and have a faster rate change in the magnetic flux.
- Magnetic flux strength: When field lines run perpendicularly to an area, the power of the magnetic field increases. Therefore, the potential for magnetic flux changes is more significant.
The number of coils in a conductor can also play a significant role in producing a voltage. The conductive coils of dynamic microphones make them capable of producing mic signals under magnetic fields. However, ribbon diaphragms have a more challenging time producing electrical signals.
The fixed conductivity of ribbon microphone diaphragms is maintained by their magnetic structures, which have a constant magnetic field. The voltage across the moving coil is affected by the speed of the ribbon microphone diaphragm.
Therefore, stronger mic signals will be stronger if there are faster and more intense variations in sound pressure (i.e., transients).
Active vs Passive Ribbons
A new type of active ribbon mic was introduced recently. What advantage does this bring? Active ribbons have onboard electronics which allow the mic’s full potential to be delivered to a preamp, regardless of its input impedance.
Active ribbon mics have greater consistency with different preamp input impedances than passive ribbon mics. They also produce higher output levels. When used with the proper preamp, active ribbon mics can produce an excellent sound quality than passive ribbon mics.
Ribbon Mic Characteristics
Ribbon mics are known for being fragile and delicate. The thin ribbon material is suspended in the magnetic gap, this is partly why it is fragile. The ribbon material is extremely thin, and most people don’t know this.
The ribbon thickness on the Coles 4038 is 0.6 microns. On AEAs, it is 1.8 microns. Royers are 2.5 to 4 microns thick. This is a comparison: a human hair is approximately 100 microns thick (0.001 inches), or 50 times thicker than the ribbon in an AEA R84.
It’s clear why the delicate aluminum ribbon needs to be treated with care and kept away from plosives or blasts of wind.
Although engineers are careful to avoid letting phantom power get near the mics, they still use phantom power for their electronics.
Some newer mics like the active Royer R-122 MKII, AEA R84A, or Cloud Microphones44-A utilize phantom power. Shure’s KSM313/NE is almost indestructible thanks to the phantom power of carbon-nanotube Roswellite Ribbon.
Ribbon mics are also known for being quiet and dark. This is not surprising. The output level of classic ribbon mics is lower than that of contemporary condenser microphones.
They also have a higher sensitivity to input impedance, which can make them sound darker. The right preamp can make a big difference, such as the AEA TRP2 ribbon Pre, RPQ2 ribbon Pre or an inline amplifier device like the Cloud Microphones CLZ Cloudlifter or the SE Electronics DM1 Dynamite or the Soyuz The Launcher or the Royer booster.
The reason ribbon microphones sound darker is due to the way ribbons react with waveforms at different frequencies. The lower frequencies have a greater effect on ribbon microphones than the higher frequencies.
This results in smoother roll-off and decreased output at higher frequencies with shorter waveforms. This is a good thing because ribbon mics can take EQ very well, and all high frequencies are present, even if they’re slightly muted so that you can bring them out. Although this is not true for all mics, it can be done.
Types of Ribbon Mics
The AEA A440 and similar designs have immortalized classic ribbon microphones like the RCA 44B. However, many ribbon microphones are now available that can be used for a variety of purposes and applications.
While some microphones, like the smaller Beyerdynamic M 160, are easily distinguishable from others, modern designs such as the SE Electronics Rupert Neve RNR1 look nothing like traditional ribbon mics; others, like the Beyerdynamic M 160 and the smaller Beyerdynamic M 160, are virtually invisible.
There are also ultra-tough ribbon microphones, such as those from Shure KSM313/NE and KSM353/ED, which allow you to take modern ribbons onto the live stage. You can also use versions of your favorites, such as the Royer R-121 Live, specifically designed for live use.
Different Uses And Applications of Ribbon Microphones
The ribbon microphone can record any sound, whether a vocal, an instrument, or ambient, in any room. It has a figure 8 polar pattern, which allows for the balance capture of sounds from both ends.
The polar pattern ribbon also features a vast low-end pickup. It also has a natural high-frequency roll-off. It can pick up sounds like an ear.
A ribbon microphone is an excellent option if you want to capture the sounds of your instrument. The ribbon mic is perfect for those who wish to capture the sound of their instrument in its natural state.
This mic allows for the most natural-sounding and warmest recording possible.
The ribbon microphone has the advantage of capturing sound with high dynamism, high fidelity, and incredible detail.
This mic can record clear high frequencies and lows with great accuracy. This mic is unrivaled in terms of accuracy and high fidelity. Experts feel it adds a darker presence to the recording.
The bidirectional polar pattern of the camera allows it to capture recordings with a natural, vibrant feel. The tapes have a high spatial sound level.
This microphone is flexible enough to create the perfect setup. This mic is great for mixing multiple miking techniques.
The ribbon microphones were a popular choice, but they are now firmly established on the modern stage.
Modern ribbon microphones can be used for different purposes. These are some of the most common uses and applications of ribbon microphones.
Drum Overhead Recording
It can be challenging to capture or record the overhead drum sounds. Because drum overhead sounds can be harsh and strident, capturing or recording them can be challenging.
You can reduce the short and cacophonous sounds from drum overheads by using darker microphones.
Stereo recording can also be made more accessible by the polar pattern of ribbon microphones. The ribbon mics can be used to create a stereo field that is tailored to your specific needs.
Capturing the Electric Guitar Sound
Ribbon mics are a popular choice for guitarists who want to record and capture the sound of their instruments. Ribbon mics capture the sound of electric guitar in a very pleasing manner.
This mic can be used to reduce the power of amplifiers and create better recordings.
It is perfect for those who want to capture the natural sound of their instruments. Sound engineers can also mix dynamic and ribbon mics to achieve the ideal sound quality during recording.
Brass Sound Capturing & Recording
Because brass instruments are loud, they can sometimes be unamplified in big band arrangements. Even if amplified, the loud brass instruments can still cut through the mix.
You should choose the correct mics if you want to capture their sounds. The best mic for recording and capturing the sounds of brass instruments is the ribbon mic. Ribbon mics can bring out the warmer and woodier character of brass instruments.
Since the 1960s, large-diaphragm condenser microphones have been used to record vocals.
If you prefer a more unusual-sounding vocal recording, the ribbon microphones explained can be used to replace condenser mics. The ribbon mics can be used in certain situations and applications.
As Room Microphones
A room microphone can be used to improve the quality of your recordings. If the area you are recording is not acoustically treated, it may not be a good idea.
A room microphone can cause frustration and make it difficult to hear what is being said. You may find your recording too bright and unflattering.
A ribbon microphone can be used if you want to add a room mic to your recording. You can use it to smoothen even the most distracting sound reflections. You can get a warmer, more natural sound to your recordings.
Many ribbon microphones can pick up transients and produce a satisfying sound. Ribbon microphones can provide a delightful representation for the quick hits of toms or snares.
The mic is ideal for recording Blumlein techniques. Blumlein creates a feeling of realness. Blumlein technology makes an acoustic sound field that feels like you’re there. The perfect choice for Blumlein is the polar pattern of ribbon mics.
This technique offers stereo separation and control over any ambient. Two microphones of similar polar patterns with figure-8 are required to set up this setup.
They should be interconnected at the correct angles. They should be as close as possible.
The figure-8 polar pattern offers a complete rejection of the off-axis. These polar patterns of mics pick up almost all of the coincident stereo fields.
Blumlein can capture the ambiance of a room. Your setup should be placed near the source of your sound and away from the rear wall.
This will create a stereo sound system that is completely isolated from the surrounding environment.
The Mid-side stereo technique can also be used. This technique requires one cardioid microphone and one figure-8 microphone.
You can achieve mono compatibility with phase coherence using this stereo technique.
How To Protect Your Mics
Ribbons users need to be aware that a strong gust of wind or air can cause damage. Although it is rare, mics can be damaged if this happens. However, there is a simple way to damage the ribbon that doesn’t happen.
It is possible to protect your ribbon by performing a simple hand test. To capture drum overheads or kick drums, place the ribbon microphone in front of loud amps to protect it.
Before placing the microphone in place, you can test whether air is blowing by placing your hand in front. To feel if there are air currents, move your hand away from the source until it is gone. Place the mic in this position. It’s that simple.
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This type of mic can produce great original instrument sound with high quality. However, it is very sensitive to shocks, be careful when using it.
Hopefully, the article has given you a complete overview of the Ribbon microphone. What are you waiting for without adding a ribbon microphone in your studio to experience its characteristic features?
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. We will answer questions and update the article as quickly as possible.