What is a Ribbon Microphone? An Ultimate Guide 2022

Have you ever heard about ribbon microphones? If you’re wondering what a ribbon microphone is, read on. Or are you in search of the best microphone? Then you are at the right place as I’m here to discuss the best microphone.

So, when we talk about microphones, the ribbon microphone comes up as one of the most popular and suitable mics. It’s also known as a ribbon velocity microphone.  Ribbon microphones were introduced by Walter H. Schottky and Erwin Gerlach at Telefunken in the early 1920s and the first commercially available ribbon mic, known as the Photophone Type PB-31, was first introduced in the early 1930s by Harry F. Olson at RCA.

Vintage collection of standing professional microphones with wire on white background in realistic style isolated  illustration Free Vector

When it comes to choosing a microphone for your recording room, you must know all of its uses and the sound quality that it can produce. That’s how you can choose the perfect one as per your requirements. The company named Microphone Globe is the review site that helps you in this regard. 

We can say that ribbon mics are the latest kind of condenser and dynamic microphone. Their ability to pick up the smallest details in high frequencies makes them different from other mics. Ribbon microphones have become the most popular choice for the broadcasting industry and engineers due to their numerous characteristics and popularity.

The founder of the AEA microphone, Wes Dooley, has given one of the most accurate definitions of the ribbon microphone. To him, ribbon microphones “listen like your ears”. 

Due to their extensive qualities, ribbon microphones are considered better than dynamic and condenser mics.  Ribbon microphones are the family’s black sheep because they have always been at the top of the mic list.

I prefer ribbon microphones. Because they give you the most natural, pleasing, warm, and detailed sounds which can not be produced by other microphones.

Let’s dig deep into the topic to find the most important information about the ribbon mic. After reading this article, you will have a better understanding of what a ribbon microphone is, what applications it has, and how to use it effectively.

How does the Ribbon Microphone work?

Instead of a moving coil, such microphones use a very thin metal ribbon as a conductor (this ribbon can be aluminum, Dur aluminum, or nanofilm). It’s installed between the positive and negative poles of a powerful magnet.  The metal ribbon will capture sonic vibrations and turn them into electrical signals as it acts as a diaphragm and transducer. The ribbon mics are also known as velocity microphones as the current induced over the ribbon is generated by the airspeed coming from the sound field. Their quality of picking up the smallest details at high frequencies has managed to get the attention of the recording and broadcasting studios. As a result, ribbon microphones have become extremely popular in all of these industries.

The sound of the ribbon microphone

When it comes to sound quality, ribbon microphones are the best option. As compared to other microphones, ribbon microphones recreate a very natural, smooth, and transparent sound. Wes Dooley, the founder of AEA founder, says that ribbon microphones “listen like your ears”. When you want your recording to sound natural, ribbon microphones are the best option.

Directivity of the ribbon mics

Another specification that differs the ribbon from other microphones is that it’s bidirectional as it has a figure 8 polar pattern. The bidirectional pattern means that the force of the sound can be captured from both sides, front and back. That’s the reason ribbon microphones were preferred by hosts on the old radio and TV talk-shows, as a single mic can capture the voices from both sides of a conversation.

Passive Ribbon Microphones

Since ribbon mics are equipped with an internal transformer, they are passive devices, which means they don’t need phantom power or any source of electrical power to operate them. So be careful when using them as they can be damaged by phantom power. On the other hand, they demand a very quiet microphone preamp with tons of clean headroom and gain as they have a low output signal.

When and Where to Use Ribbons?

The transparency of any sound that ribbon mics recreate makes them more demanding. They have several applications. Let’s find out when and where the ribbons can be used.

Ribbons for electric guitars

The latest generation of ribbon mics can generate a smooth, incredible, and powerful sound on electric guitars. They work really well whether you use them in the studio or on stage. That is why ribbon mics have become the first choice of musicians, producers, and engineers.

Ribbons for Vocals

Ribbon microphones tend to produce more accurate and warm sounds than other mics. So the question is if they work for the government in some way or not, and the answer is, of course, YES! The ribbon mics work great for recording vocals as they have the quality to complement your voice in many unbelievable ways and they still allow you to increase the high-frequency input while editing your vocals. For stereo recording, ribbon microphones are the most commonly used. The Blumlein-pair technique is extremely popular for these types of recordings. Alan Blumlein, an electronics engineer, developed this technique in 1931, under which you will require two bidirectional microphones, angled at 90 degrees from each other.

Ribbons for Drums

If you are a drummer, then you must be interested in knowing if the ribbon mics offer the best result for the drums or not. Don’t worry, as the ribbon mic will give you the best quality sound. All you’ll need is one extra kick drum microphone to record a high-quality sound. So just pick the right microphone to get the results you want.

Ribbons for horns, woodwinds, and brass

The ribbon mic produces the best results when it comes to capturing the sound of horns, woodwinds, and brass. lets you improve your performance as well as your skills. Such microphones are considered one of the best microphones to record original, soft, and warm sounds. If you want to record such types of sounds, then you must go for the ribbon mic to get the best results.

Ribbons for strings

The ribbon mics, such as the stereo AEA R88 or mono R84 are considered the best kind of ribbon mics for recording strings. If you want to record a sizable string section in a smaller, atmospheric room, then ribbon microphones are the best pick-up. Ribbon microphones are intended for use with softer sounds; they can add warmth and character to the sound, but their accuracy may be compromised.

Ribbon Microphone Advantages

Ribbon microphones have several advantages due to their unique characteristics that other microphones do not offer. Let’s find out why ribbon mics are preferred over other mics.

  • One of the main reasons why ribbon microphones are the first choice is their sonic characteristics. Because of their sonic characteristics, they produce a warmer, rounder, smoother, and more natural sound than other microphones.
  • Another characteristic of ribbon mics is their bidirectional polar pattern. Bidirectional patterns let them pick the sound up from both the front and the back of the mics.
  • Another advantage of using ribbon mics is their ribbon diaphragm, as they can generate different sounds than other mics.
  • Another advantage of ribbon mics is their multiple applications, as they can give you great results on the piano, vocals, guitars, etc.
  • Another advantage of having a high-quality ribbon microphone is that it can offer you the same applications as condenser mics do.
  • Ribbon mics don’t need phantom power.

However, ribbon microphones have so many advantages, but every product has its own pros and cons. So, ribbon mics also have a few cons.

Disadvantages of ribbon microphones

  • They are considered extremely delicate and fragile due to their thin aluminum diaphragm. That’s the reason they should be used with caution.
  • They are more expensive than dynamic and condenser mics.
  • Ribbon mics have low output.
  • Ribbon mics require extra care to be handled to avoid breakage or damage.
  • Ribbon mics may bend over time if you don’t store them in an upright position. The horizontal position can distort its shape and, ultimately, it may affect the sound results.

Care tips for ribbon mics

As ribbon mics are so expensive, delicate, and fragile, they need some extra care to avoid any damage. Let’s talk about a few tips you can follow to avoid any damage:

Because these microphones are made of a thin metal ribbon, they are extremely fragile, so you must exercise extreme caution when handling your ribbon microphone.They can be affected by almost anything around them, like position, temperature, contact, and the wind.

  • Keep it away from heat, light, or dust.
  • To avoid dust and any other damage, always keep your mic in a safe plastic bag when not in use.
  • Avoid putting your mic on the floor without covering it, as the strong magnets in a ribbon microphone attract small metallic particles that can affect your recordings.
  • When using a ribbon on an instrument with a strong directional blast of air, such as a kick drum, the ribbon angle should be 45 degrees to the source.
  • To avoid any damage, use the pop filter properly when miking the vocals.
  • Try to use a mic stand to avoid any damage.
  • Keep your ribbon mic vertical instead of lying down as this position can distort its shape and ultimately it may affect the sound results.
  • Avoid sneezing or coughing in front of the mic.

Conclusion: 

I hope, after finishing this article, you can answer “what is a ribbon microphone?” Ribbon microphones are the best type of mic, but they are extremely fragile and more expensive than other types of microphones, such as dynamic and condenser mics. But in the end, ribbon mics are the best option as they give you a warm and natural sound. That’s the reason they have become the number one choice for engineers, producers, and artists in no time. The only thing to keep in mind is ‘always try to handle your ribbon mics with some extra caution’.

Alen Parker

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