Ribbon Microphones 101
The history, usage and appeal of ribbon mics
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How Much Do They Cost?
In general, you get what you pay for. Many
cheaper designs are based on established
products—even those from Eastern Bloc
countries where engineering has always
been cherished. Not all of us require the
performance of a $2000 mic yet have an
appreciation for the strengths of a ribbon.
Even imperfect designs still have a certain
character that, in some applications, will be
impressive compared to a PA-style microphone.
That said, there’s a commercial reason
for the higher price of the better brands: they
are great performers. There’s also a mechanical
reason: better mics have tighter tolerances,
leading to better performance and
consistency from unit to unit. Furthermore,
the actual physical construction has an effect
of the performance of any microphone.
Aside from effective isolation from extraneous
vibrations, the mic’s chassis and popshield
must be optimized for low coloration.
An improperly designed pop shield can
behave like cupped hands, albeit to a lesser
degree. The most sophisticated manufacturers
have the facilities and procedures in
place to design all aspects of the microphone
for better performance in all areas,
while low-end mics are sometimes knock-offs
of existing designs—warts and all. As with
hi-fi speakers, guitar amps, pickups, etc.,
there’s no substitute for listening. Finally,
ribbons are prone to hum and noise, so try
to get a money-back guarantee, and test the
mic quickly after purchase.
As far as actual street pricing goes, imports
like Nady and Samson have much to offer
the amateur and semi-professional recordist.
Brands like Royer, on the other hand, can be
fairly expensive to really expensive. Some
come with nifty shock mounts; some have
cool wooden cases (don’t slam a ribbon’s
case closed with the mic inside). If a 48V
phantom power supply is specified, you can
expect higher output and higher impedance:
there’s circuitry on board. While most have a
figure-8 pattern, some offer more coverage
options, so read the specs.
At the entry-level, Nady offers a mic at under
$200 and it ain’t bad! Sampson has a $400
model. Groove Tubes does more than tubes,
as evidenced by their Velo line, with a couple
of models between $650 and $1000. They call
‘em Velo because ribbon mics were originally
called velocity mics. My favorite mic name has
to be the Blue Woodpecker. Blue has lots of
mics, and the Woodpecker sells for around a
grand. The famed Beyerdynamic line is also a
good value from $700 to around $1300.
At the higher end, companies like AEA ($900
to $3600) and Royer ($1300 to $4500), are
the equivalent of Gibson, Martin or even
D’Angelico guitars. It’s all a matter of your
requirements and priorities. As the man said,
(I’m paraphrasing) you can’t always get what
you want, but you can get what you need.