The Ultimate Guide to Ribbon Mics – Part 1 – Continued

We continue our look at a vast array of Ribbon Mics at a variety of price points… Golden Age Project R1 Tube Active Price £288 Contact Golden Age Music +46 322 665 050 The R1 is also available with onboard valve circuitry, but there’s no pad or HPF. The specs are much the same but […]

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We continue our look at a vast array of Ribbon Mics at a variety of price points…

Golden Age Project R1 Tube Active

Price £288 Contact Golden Age Music +46 322 665 050

The R1 is also available with onboard valve circuitry, but there’s no pad or HPF. The specs are much the same but maximum SPL is an impressive 165dB and output impedance is 200 ohms. The idea of mixing a ribbon transducer with a valve preamp may seem like a perfect match, but the concern has to be noise levels.

Reports are that this valve version has a treble lift that aids clarity and gives a hint of valvey graininess combined with the fat lower midrange that characterises the classic ribbon sound. However, the noise floor of the valve circuit may be noticeable when used to record quieter sources. Mixed results are reported for vocalists, but the R1 Tube fares well on acoustic guitar.


Cascade Fat Head

Price £202/£282 Contact Studiocare 0845 345 8910

Although the Fat Head may appear to share the bodywork of the T-Bone RM700, there are some substantial differences. Most notable is the centred ribbon motor that ensures the Fat Head sounds the same from the front and back. So mid-and-side – as well as crossed figure-8 stereo – is back on the menu.

We have provided two prices because the Fat Head is available with a stock output transformer or an upgraded Lundahl transformer. Various colour options are available too, and the mic ships with a wood box and suspension mount in an aluminium case. The fat, clear and smooth sound has earned this mic a fanbase for guitar recording and more besides.


Samson VR88

Price £249 Contact Korg 01908 304600

The VR88 combines a 2-micron Japanese ribbon with neodymium magnets and active electronics. It ships with a suspension mount and a yoke mount for close placement. Samson offers a lifetime ribbon replacement service for the original purchaser and even suggests using the VR88 on kick drums. The frequency range is 30Hz–16kHz.

The high-frequency response really breathes and sounds not unlike a very smooth and unhyped condenser. The tone is well balanced; however, the transient response and detail isn’t quite up there with the very best and the top end rolls off above 6kHz, but it’s less coloured than most other ribbons in this price range.


Golden Age Project R1 Active Mk3

Price £193 Contact Golden Age Music – +46 322 665 050

The R1 Active MK3 combines a ribbon motor with a FET buffer amplifier and switches for low cut and 10dB pad. Output impedance is low at 50 ohms and SPL handling is high at 150dB.

Users report low self-noise with a natural, balanced tone that’s useful for mellowing harsh edges. The switchable bass roll-off is a welcome feature that overcomes the proximity effect and enables the R1 Active Mk3 to be used in a variety of close-mic’ing situations.


Oktava ML52

Price £235 Contact Oktava +49 711 5045 2415

The claimed frequency response of 20Hz–20kHz is somewhat misleading because there’s a substantial dip between 5kHz and 16kHz and it’s about 18dB down at 20kHz. The lesson here: be sure to examine the frequency-response graph when choosing a mic rather than relying on the raw figures alone. Two metal ribbons are suspended side-by-side for increased sensitivity and the onboard transformer provides 300-ohm output impedance.

It’s not the fattest or most detailed-sounding of ribbon mics, but the ML52 has an enjoyably ‘real’ quality while adding a little of its own tone and personality to the brew. Supplied in a plastic carry case with a rudimentary stand clip, an optional suspension mount is available.


Bigger bucks bring bigger expectations – and you won’t be disappointed…

Shinybox 46MX

Price £399 Contact KMR Audio 020 8445 2446

ShinyBox is the brainchild of Jon Ulrigg, who assembles ribbon mics and studio electronics in Washington State. The metalwork is done in China to his specifications, then he assembles each microphone – cutting, corrugating and tuning the ribbons to match ShinyBox’s various output transformers. There’s the stock item or, for extra bucks, a Cinemag or Lundahl transformer.

The 46MX kicks out an extremely healthy signal level with a nicely extended high-frequency response. It sounds pretty wonderful, with natural detail and controlled proximity effect. On vocals it’s present and intimate, and it cruised through our loud-guitar test.


Sontronics Sigma

Price £446 Contact Sonic8 08701 657456

The Sigma’s superb shockmount allows you to get this mic right up against the grille cloth of a guitar amp, and this active ribbon design is apparently capable of taking some punishment. The designers wanted to re-create the soft trebles of jazz-era American recordings and the Sigma is voiced accordingly.
It may seem odd to ‘design-in’ a sonic signature by reducing the top end of an already ‘warm’ microphone. On the plus side you get instant vibe, but on the negative side usefulness is restricted. Even so, the Sigma has its charms, produces instant results and the active electronics make it easy to use.


Peluso R14

Price £499 Contact KMR Audio 020 8445 2446

Based on the Alctron HRM-10, Peluso performs all the mods for you – including a redesigned head basket, a custom Cinemag transformer, and the installation and tensioning of a new ribbon. The R14 comes with a velvet-lined oak case and a suspension mount.

The front side combines fat mids with solid lows to produce smooth and big sounds. If you need to control boom or emphasise high frequencies, simply record into the rear. For vocals, the rear tames proximity effect and it’s superb for clean guitar tones. The front sounds smoother and more powerful, for rockier tones. Not quite as sparkly as some other ribbon designs, it’s still very natural and there’s a stereo version called the SR14.

Web www.peluso

Beyerdynamic M160 & M130

Price £420 Contact Polar Audio 01444 258258

We have included both these Bayers because they cost about the same. The main difference is that the M130 is a side-address figure-8 and the M160 is an end-fire hypercardioid. Together they’re ideal for mid-and-side stereo.

These dual-ribbon designs have also been around for decades and both sound very natural. With its wide and gentle presence lift, the M160 is popular for electric guitar and drum overheads. The M130 is smoother up to 8kHz, where treble roll-off begins. The M160 is down only 2dB at 18kHz.


Ribbons in this bracket should satisfy all but the most demanding recordist…

Coles 4038

Price £749 Contact Coles Electroacoustics – 01992 466685

This is the big beast of British ribbon mics. Output impedance is now standardised at 300 ohms rather than 30 ohms, but nothing else has changed since 1956 – they got it right first time.

The 4038 has an extraordinarily smooth and larger-than-life sound with better than average treble response and very healthy output level. Proximity effect can be extreme, so you may need to place this mic at a greater distance than usual. Even so, this was the standard BBC mic for decades and it seems incredible that one of the very finest ribbon microphones ever made can be bought brand-new for the price of mid-level condenser.


Royer R101

Price £660 Contact Funky Junk 0207 281 4478

Royer Labs has probably done more to rejuvenate ribbon microphones than any other company. Royer mics have become industry standards in pro studios and the passive R101 is the company’s entry-level model. Featuring an internally shockmounted offset motor and a 2.5-micron ribbon, the R-101 is built in California for home studio use and live applications.

The R101 has a multi-layered windscreen for superior protection from air blasts and plosives, and the patented offset-ribbon transducer has reduced proximity effect for close-mic’ing. The offset design also provides a dark/bright option and the brighter rear side is recommended for vocals, acoustic guitars and other stringed instruments.


Audio-Technica AT4080

Price £732 Contact Audio-Technica – 0113 277 1441

The AT4080 is an active dual-ribbon design with an extended high-frequency response, a specially designed acoustic baffle system and an extra-large output transformer to provide a natural low-frequency response with an extended dynamic range. Like the 4081, it ships with a suspension mount and case.
It’s a very sensitive ribbon mic with a big, larger-than-life presence, strong mids and huge bass.

However, extra detail and sparkle in the treble region are the characteristics that really set it apart. The 4080 achieves a wonderful sense of intimacy to create a convincing ‘being there’ impression of sitting in the room with the instrument.


BLUE Woodpecker

Price £749 Contact TC Electronic 0800 917 8926

By BLUE’s standards, the Woodpecker is unusual because it actually looks like a regular mic. BLUE promises the ‘warm, classic sound of a ribbon without sacrificing the bright presence of top end’. It ships in a wood box with a gold-coloured shockmount. It’s also active, having Class-A electronics.

The three-year warranty doesn’t cover ribbon breakages except those caused by manufacturing defects (good luck arguing that one). Reviews have been generally positive, although the frequency response is not particularly flat. Along with the 20kHz upper frequency, expect a fair degree of bass tip with an upper-mid boost.


Audio-Technica AT4081

Price £617 Contact Audio-Technica 0113 277 1441

The grille of the AT4081 is particularly eye-catching. Being made up of tiny circular holes in a wafer-thin metal, it allows you to see the motor assembly quite clearly. The 4081 is intended to be a general-purpose active ribbon microphone for use on horns, strings, drum overheads, orchestras and electric guitar amps.

The 4081 has a level of detail and transparency often associated with high-quality small-capsule condensers, but the smoothness and absence of hype is pure ribbon tone. With its brightness and well controlled bass, the AT4081 looks and sounds like an update on the ribbon theme for the digital recording age.


More to come soon!


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