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Recording with a Pair Ribbon Microphones

Discussion in 'Playing' started by Paul Inglis, Mar 20, 2012.

  1. Paul Inglis

    Paul Inglis Senior Member

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    I’ve become very keen on recording lately and have been putting together a small project studio. Nothing fancy, just practical. A forum member has been very helpful in recommending various hardware and software as well as getting me through various teething problems. Thanks mate :D

    Since the weekend I’ve been devoting my time to getting a recording of both my Saxophone and Clarinet. I have resolved quite a few of my initial issues and end up with a decent recording. The main problem is I’m not achieving the sound I that want.

    I’ve tried a pair condenser microphones I’ve got but despite picking up a wide frequency range (Bass, Mid and High) the recordings are sounding quite sterile. On the other hand my dynamic microphones don’t have the same sonic range. It’s apparent that the emphasis is on the midrange which makes them better for rockin’ out than Jazz in my opinion.

    From what I’ve been reading, a pair of ribbon microphones might be what I’m after. Apparently they have the same wide range of a condenser microphone but have a softer top end. From records I’ve listened to the sound appears more natural. The only drawback I can see is the inability to handle high volume levels.

    I am after recommendations of which Ribbon Microphones would best suit my application bearing in mind I’m seeking a retro sound. I’d prefer a new and readily available ribbon microphone. I don’t mind second-hand if someone can recommend a reputable dealer and microphones that aren’t rare such as Pete’s vintage HMV’s.

    I’m assuming that plugging them straight into an audio interface is acceptable?

    Any thoughts, suggestions, ideas would be most appreciated!
  2. Paul Inglis

    Paul Inglis Senior Member

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    So this is going to be one of those threads then … >:)

    I’m ging to hire some various Ribbon microphones to test out (the ones that will give me a vintage sound).

    Anyhow whilst researching I came across this rather interesting article with sound files: $60,000 Ribbon Microphone Shootout :w00t:
  3. Chris98

    Chris98 Senior Member

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    Hi Paul,

    I'd love to play around with a ribbon mic, but I guess playing around is not the most appropriate thing to do with them as they are very fragile. Why do you want a pair of ribbon mics? are you planning on recording in stereo?

    You mention the frequency range of a ribbon microphone being as wide as a condenser mic, from my limited knowledge, only the SE Rupert Neve designed Ribbon mic has the same top end as a condenser mic, the rest are quite limited in the high frequencies.

    Most ribbon mics are passive and require significant gain at the preamp stage, which often necessitates an low noise high gain preamp between your mic and your interface, there are exceptions, I think the active ribbon mics can be used straight into an interface.

    Royer would be one make I'd look at, but I haven't got that sort of money!

    It will be good to hear what you think when you have had an opportunity to test a few out.

    Best wishes,

    Chris
  4. aldevis

    aldevis Surrealist Contributor. Cafe Moderator

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    In my experience, recording saxophones is usually a pain. Mostly when played loud: most microphones start enhancing an unpleasant frequency (2.600Hz).
    Strangely enough, the most useful microphone in a home environment might me an EV RE20 (or PL20, is the same). It is a large diaphragm dynamic microphone, largely used in American radio stations for speaking.
    Someday I will buy one. At the moment I had some surprises from sennheiser md 441 I normally use for posh live gigs.
    I also have a big condenser, but I often end up trying to get rid of the 2.600Hz.

    About the audio interface... a small tube pre-amp is strongly recommended: it will sort out a lot of peak issues.

    Ribbon mics can be wonderful, but I am not sure about a loudish saxophone, and you might end up trying to get rid of the room's resonance frequencies (another issue).
  5. Paul Inglis

    Paul Inglis Senior Member

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    Thanks for the input guy’s.

    From various articles I’ve read, ribbons microphones aren’t quite as delicate as one might think. A quote from: Ribbon Microphone Wikipedia

    From various articles I’ve read and Wikipedia recording high-frequencies with a ribbon microphone is one of the plus points. There seems to be a lot of contradictions on the web but most the the reliable resources tend to agree.

    From my limited understanding recording with a pair is more beneficial. However, I’m still looking into this to gain a better understanding. Stereo recording isn’t something I’m currently looking at.

    I would say that a pair of Royer or Coles are out of my budget and looking more at Beyerdynamic, Superlux, the t.bone, Oktava, etc …

    I agree that a pre-amp is needed and a tube sounds great. Love tubes!!!

    Ribbon microphones have been used extensively to record saxophones over the years and the Cole 4038 seems to be the most popular. Apart from being out of my budget they have a typical modern sound I’m trying to avoid, but might try a pair with a tube pre-amp.

    As for the room's resonance frequencies I’ve managed to sort out my absorption and diffusion with a couple of make shift blanket screens that I had originally as photography backgrounds! :w00t:

    I’m hoping to narrow my search down and hire several microphones and a few pre-amps to see which ones I’ll end up purchasing!
  6. Paul Inglis

    Paul Inglis Senior Member

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    A new development! I am fortunate that a friend has offered to bring round a Neumann U 87 Condenser round to my project studio as he reckons it's a much better mic than a Ribbon. Since they are so expensive I hope I don't like it as his chances of taking it back to work will be very slim :w00t:
  7. aldevis

    aldevis Surrealist Contributor. Cafe Moderator

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    Shame... I was looking forward to know about inexpensive ribbon microphones.
    Neumann is far over my budget.
  8. Paul Inglis

    Paul Inglis Senior Member

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    It's well over my budget too! I'm just trying the Neumann out as I can't kidnap the bloke can I ;}

    I'm making a short list of Ribbon Mics and have spoken to a company that's negotiating a week rental of six pairs with the prospect of buy one pair. Currently they are asking too much. Ideally I'd like the rental cost substracted from the price of the mics I buy but that probably is asking too much as well.
  9. Juju

    Juju Member

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    Hi Paul,
    you definitely won't need a pair of ribbon mics, one will do beautifully.
    We thought about the Coles but then we got a Royer 121 instead (The Coles is still on the wishlist, though..). The Royer the most "modern" sounding of the big three we've got, but also the most robust (we got it primarily for trombone/trumpet recording). Our first big ribbon mic was an AEA r84. Although we had a very good preamp there were slight problems with the top end which was a bit on the weak side and needed a bit of extra EQ. Then we got this baby http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr07/articles/aear92.htm and with the TRP ribbon amp we never needed any EQ, it's incredible, the signal is so clear and detailed, the top end is now beautiful and warm. Having found my dream saxes, my GAS moved on to vintage ribbon microphones and I went crazy and bought a vintage RCA 77dx on ebay. I was incredibly lucky, it arrived in one piece with the ribbon intact and it's a wonderful mic. The interesting thing about this one is that it's got different polar patterns (most ribbons only got a figure of eight pattern). Compared to the AEAr84 it's darker and a bit rougher whereas the AEA is slightly smoother and silkier.
    The preamp is definitely a very important factor, without a decent one ribbons are no fun. There is hope though for those on a small budget: http://tritonaudio.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=category&sectionid=4&id=17&Itemid=33 this little gadget basically turns your passive ribbon into an active one (careful, don't get the fethead phantom which passes phantom power on to the mic, you want the fethead that is phantom-powered). It amplifies the signal by about 20dB. A more expensive option is the Cloudlifter, but it pretty much does the same job.

    Now, the Neuman U87, great mic but to my taste sounds like a chainsaw on the sax! I suppose many like it because of the brightness, and it's probably ok for pop music etc where you want that extra edge, but having all those nice ribbon mics I would not choose the U87 for sax. We love it for the double bass, though!
    Here are two clips that Dave recorded a while ago, the first one is the Neumann U87:
    http://soundcloud.com/jujuoh/u87-afternoon-in-paris
    and here is the RCA 77dx through the TRP:
    http://soundcloud.com/jujuoh/rca77-afternoon-in-paris

    Re budget ribbon mics, we don't have any personal experience so far, but Dave is tempted to get a cheap Golden Age ribbon mic to take on gigs. There have been quite a few good reviews, but I don't know how they compare to the top of the range ones...
    Some more ribbons:
    http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/nov07/articles/ribbonmics1.htm#13
    They say about the Golden Age "The mic claims to be capable of coping with SPLs up to 165dB, so if you want to record a Boeing 747 with vintage '40s warmth this would be a good choice!" >:)
  10. Paul Inglis

    Paul Inglis Senior Member

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    WOW Thanks Juju :D Loads of information to take in!!

    I thought the U87 is pretty much the industry standard? I believe John Coltrane and King Curtis recorded with an earlier U47.

    I appreciate you letting me know one microphone will be suffice as Ribbons aren’t cheap.

    I’m on a hunt for a vintage sounding mic so I think I’ll be steering away from Coles and Royers!

    The FETHEAD Preamps look very nice. Out of the four on this website which one are you referring too: Fetheads.

    I’ll probably have more questions when it all sinks in :D
  11. Juju

    Juju Member

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    Hi Paul,
    the Fethead would be the first one (1301). You will still need a pre-amp with phantom power supply in addition.
    If you are after a vintage sound both the Coles and the Royer will sound far more vintage (and fatter) than a U87. The U87 is different from the U47 (and the U67), it's the brightest sounding of the lot. There is an upper mid boost with the 87 which gives it a crystal clear top end and that is what many people like. The nice thing with the ribbons is that they have got such a fat and detailed lower mid. The effect is similar to analogue (ribbon) vs digital (large condenser).
    Coltrane would have used a ribbon on earlier recordings (50ies) and probably a U47 or something similar in the 60ies. Here is a picture of him with an RCA 44 http://www.nextnewmusic.net/impulse...ars-of-jazz-innovation-with-reissues-box-set/
    If you want to look into an affordable U47 copy, here is one we have good experience of: http://www.aamicrophones.com/tube_mics/cm_47.htm. We don't use it on the saxes, though.
    Another consideration is that when people were making classic recordings with the U47 the audio path was U47 to analogue desk to analogue tape. Each of these stages had a fattening and warming effect. Ribbon to digital recreates a similar effect.
  12. Saxade

    Saxade Senior Member

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    Isn't she lovely Great info ... Passionate with a little GAS ;}
    Very helpful ..:thumb:
  13. Saxade

    Saxade Senior Member

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  14. Juju

    Juju Member

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    Hmm, maybe try some nice studio monitors >:)

    :D :D
  15. Chris

    Chris Well Known Cafe Moderator

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    The RCA77dx softer and warmer with good monitors( M-Audio BX5a's)..

    Chris..
  16. aldevis

    aldevis Surrealist Contributor. Cafe Moderator

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    This opens a new world!
    Have you tried it live with a dynamic mic?

    And while we are talking about mics, would you suggest any decently priced studio in London with good microphones and a grand piano?
  17. Pete Thomas

    Pete Thomas Chief of Stuff Cafe Moderator

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    I have two pairs of ribbon mics, Oktavas and HMV (EMI).

    I find them OK for piano, but for voice, saxophones, guitars and drums it's a fine line between warm/vintage sounding and stuffy sounding. I think they need some very expert and experienced handling, and are not suited to less than ideal acoustic situations.

    I may be selling mine as I rarely use them now.
  18. aldevis

    aldevis Surrealist Contributor. Cafe Moderator

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    It could be interesting...
    But what would be your microphone of choice in a home studio environment?
  19. Pete Thomas

    Pete Thomas Chief of Stuff Cafe Moderator

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    My main all purpose mic is an AKG C12VR.

    I also use an SM57, my cheap tandy electret, a vintage STC 4021 "Ball and Biscuit" (nice!) and a pair of Oktava MK-012 condensers:

    http://www.petethomas.co.uk/music-studio.html

    (A bit out of date now)
  20. aldevis

    aldevis Surrealist Contributor. Cafe Moderator

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    I used a vintage C12 on soprano in a couple of studios: mouthwatering.

    I guess I will have to wait for the ribbons (unless someone knows about the cheap thomann ones) and waste some money on cheap pre amps.
  21. Juju

    Juju Member

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    Haven't tried the Fethead live with a dynamic mic yet.. Dave tried it at home but he didn't like it because it accentuated the top end.
    Red Gables (Dick Hamnett) or Clown's Pocket (Derek Nash) would be your best bet on a budget (with good grand pianos)
  22. aldevis

    aldevis Surrealist Contributor. Cafe Moderator

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    Thank you a lot. I know very well a couple of artists that recorded there.
  23. Pete Thomas

    Pete Thomas Chief of Stuff Cafe Moderator

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  24. Paul Inglis

    Paul Inglis Senior Member

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    @Juju

    Thanks Juju! I’m going to try the 1301 Fethead :D The U47 copy looks a great mic and much cheaper than the newer U87!! You do make a valid point about anolgue and digital. Something I should bear in mind in selecting a mic.

    @Saxade

    Juju sure is :D

    I do agree with Juju and Chris about studio monitors. When I got mine I realised just how poor my 5.1 Surround Sound actually is :shocked:

    @Pete

    Thanks Pete! If you were to use Coles 4038 for recording a saxophone would you use one or a pair?

    I suppose the next question would be which tube preamp would warm the sound and help a 4038 attain a more vintage tone.
  25. Pete Thomas

    Pete Thomas Chief of Stuff Cafe Moderator

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    If a saxophone is going to be mixed in a track, I record with one mic. If it is solo or maybe in a duo setting I'd use a stereo pair.
    I wouldn't bother with a tube preamp, I'm very happy with my AEA TRP, especially fro ribbons (which it was designed for). Any vintagisation can be done post recording IMHO.
  26. Paul Inglis

    Paul Inglis Senior Member

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    Thanks Pete, just taken a look at the AEA TRP Ribbon 2-Channel Mic Preamplifier and it looks great. I think one mic should be suffice for the project I have in mind.
  27. Paul Inglis

    Paul Inglis Senior Member

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    Just wanted to say thanks for everyones input. So much to take in. I'll update everyone in a few days when I've had a chance to digest all the great info.
  28. Juju

    Juju Member

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    I agree with Pete, if you want to get the best sound out of your ribbon mic, use an AEA TRP (that sound clip wit the RCA 77 is also recorded through the TRP)...
  29. Paul Inglis

    Paul Inglis Senior Member

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    Thanks Juju :D Would you use the Fethead with that set-up? I'm guessing not.
  30. Juju

    Juju Member

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    Hi Paul,
    you can't use the Fethead with the TRP as the Fethead requires phantom power (which it won't pass on to the mic, so no worries...). But you don't need it with the TRP because the TRP a preamp especially designed for ribbon microphones so it's got all the gain you need with a ribbon mic. The Fethead is just a compromise solution for those who are on a tight budget but want to use a ribbon mic with their existing preamp.

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