Factory-installed transformer upgrades for Cascade, Oktava, MXL ribbon microphones

Monday, September 14th, 2009 | by

Transformer swaps for ribbon microphones are perhaps the commonest mod in the industry. Most ribbon-mic modders upgrade stock transformers as part of their service.

Manufacturers have noticed. Several now offer optional upgraded transformers on factory-new mics.

Fat HeadThe first such vendor I noticed was Cascade Microphones. Michael Chiriac offers Lundahl and/or CineMag transformer upgrades on most of the Cascade ribbon mics, such as the Fat Head, X-15 Stereo, and Vin-Jet.

R77Not long ago, MXL began offering optional Lundahl transformers on its new R77 Ribbon. The R77L is described by MXL as a limited edition. If it sells well, though, I’m sure MXL will expand its inventory of “pre-modded” mics.

Lundahl LL2912 transformerJust this week, Oktava-Online began offering the Lundahl LL2912 in all three current-production Oktava ribbon mics: ML-53, ML-52, ML-52-01.

Be sure to see the ML-52 profile for a before-and-after graph of the mic’s frequency response. The low-frequency response change is huge!

Swapping a ribbon-mic transformer is pretty easy, but not nearly as easy as buying a mic with a great transformer in the first place. I think this is a great trend; I love to see microphone manufacturers learning from the community of modders and DIY-ers to bake some of those aftermarket improvements into new products.

See all known mics that include Lundahl transformers or CineMag transformers.

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Posted in Microphones | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Factory-installed transformer upgrades for Cascade, Oktava, MXL ribbon microphones”

  1. Mike Lechmann

    September 15th, 2009 at 6:35 am

    I’d rather shell out up front for a mic that’s built right in the first place. If they cut corners on the transformer to keep the price low, I suspect they’ve cut corners on the other expensive part: the capsule. Oh wait, these are ribbons, which I imagine don’t differ much from the ones in even really expensive ribbon mics.

    I just changed my mind mid post. Thanks for the intriguing article. I may have to try one of these.

  2. matthew mcglynn

    September 15th, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Mike, most microphones are built to a price point, and that approach indeed requires that compromises be made during component selection. The number of compromises is inversely proportional to the number of significant digits to the left of the decimal point in the price.

    Passive ribbon mics are pretty simple devices; there’s a ribbon motor, a transformer, and not much else. But you will find substantial differences between, say, the Royer R-121 and an imported lookalike microphone.

    At the lower side of the price spectrum, you would more likely see sloppy machining on the magnets and motor pieces, bad alignment of ribbons and magnets, saggy ribbons, inferior corrugations, noisy or just plain bad-sounding transformers, long runs of cheap wire from the ribbon motor to the transformer, etc. All these little differences add up to a dull microphone.

    Consider just the ribbon: the mass of the material, the tempering process, the pitch of the corrugations, the tension, and the placement (front-to-back and side-to-side) within the magnetic gap all affect the mic’s frequency response, transient response, max SPL, and, ultimately, sound.

    Transformer quality can potentially have a significant impact on the sound of the mic, too, and it’s great to see mic vendors embrace the idea that upgraded parts can help differentiate their products. I like this trend, and I hope it continues.

  3. Willy Franklin

    September 10th, 2012 at 6:54 am


    Is there a way to find out what transformers go to what? Like, I just bought an R77 and would like to swap out the transformer, but how do I know what transformer to purchase?



  4. matthew mcglynn

    September 10th, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Will, the ribbon and transformer form a system. I’ve come to the conclusion that simply swapping the transformer tends to yield a minor improvement. In contrast, installing a ribbon and transformer together can yield a stunning improvement. I’d recommend reaching out to Samar Audio for assistance.

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