Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 | by matthew mcglynn
[This is part II of the $60,000 Ribbon Mic Shootout.]
A few mics didn’t make the photo, for various reasons: the AEA R84, the RCA KU-3A/10001, and Ryan Canestro’s Apex 210.
I’m willing to bet very few of you can name every mic in this photo. By way of contrast, Randy, Ryan and myself can probably name them all blindfolded.
Following is a brief introduction to the individual microphones we tried. Follow the links for additional descriptions, photos, specs, and “where to buy” links.
The AEA KU4 was one of two unidirectional ribbons in this test. It was modeled after the other non-bidirectional ribbon here, the RCA KU-3A/10001.
The AEA R44C was the heaviest, most monumental microphone in the lineup. Ours was the R44CX, which has higher output (and if I had to guess, another 2 lbs of weight just for good measure).
The AEA R84 is sort of a lightweight R44, with the same long-geometry ribbon but a different magnet structure. This mic gets frequent use at the Disney Character Voices studio.
The AEA R92 was designed with reduced proxmity effect, enabling it to be used as a close mic without excessive bass buildup.
Ryan’s Apex Electronics 210 was the only “modded” mic in this lineup. He’d swapped the stock transformer for a Lundahl, and upgraded the wiring to Mogami.
Audio-Technica AT4080 is the larger and quieter of the two active A-T ribbons (the other being the AT4081).
The beyerdynamic M 130 was the smallest microphone in the lineup. It has the shortest ribbon of the bunch too, measuring less than one inch in length.
The Blue Microphones Woodpecker is an active ribbon mic with Blue’s distinctive visual styling, and a distinctive, arguably non-ribbon-like sound.
The Cascade Microphones Fat Head II had a Lundahl transformer, supplied by Cascade.
The Cascade Microphones VIN-JET also had a Lundahl transformer upgrade. It uses a long-geometry ribbon like the ShinyBox 46U (presumably) and the AEA R44 and R84.
Cloud Microphones JRS-34 was designed by Stephen Sank, son of the RCA BK-11’s inventor, Jon R. Sank — for whom this microphone is named. The JRS-34 is available in active or passive styles; ours was passive.
The Coles Electroacoustics 4038 shared the title for “scariest magnets.” This mic picked up stray wrenches, metal washers, and other nearby microphones.
The Coles Electroacoustics 4050 was the most versatile mic in the lineup, in that it is a separable stereo pair with a unique magnetic mounting system.
The Karma Audio K6 was the least expensive active ribbon mic in this test (street price ~$200).
The RCA KU-3A, aka the “10001,” is a rare and cherished vintage mic from the 1940s, still in weekly use by voice actors who seek to emulate the sound of old animations and movie sets.
The Royer Labs R-101 is Royer’s new entry-level ribbon.
The Royer Labs R-121 is perhaps the best-known passive ribbon microphone on the market. Iconic in design, it’s the mic that launched a thousand guitar tones.
The Royer Labs R-122 is the active-electronics version of the R-121. It is a bit brighter-sounding than the R-121.
The Royer Labs R-122V is the tube version of the R-122.
The Samar Audio Design MF65 pair shared the “scariest magnet” title with the 4038. These two mics, in the words of Corey Burton, would “pull the mustache off your face.” We had serial numbers 5 and 6, which differed only in the type of corrugation on the ribbon. We tested both mics on all sources (although we used them as a pair for the drum overhead test).
The SE Electronics RNR1 is the result of the Siwei Zou/Rupert Neve collaboration; the mic has two Neve-designed transformers and active electronics.
The SE Electronics Voodoo VR1 is sE’s passive entry-level ribbon.
The SE Electronics Voodoo VR2 is the active-electronics version of the VR1.
The Shinybox 46U is Jon Ulrigg’s latest handcrafted passive ribbon mic (built in Washington state).
The Shure KSM313 is Shure’s two-voiced passive ribbon, formerly known as the Crowley & Tripp Naked Eye Roswellite. It is a dual-voice mic, with distinct front and back voices. We recorded both in our tests; they’re audibly different.
The Shure KSM353 is Shure’s premium passive ribbon mic, formerly known as the Crowley & Tripp El Diablo. Like the KSM313, it has an indestructible “Roswellite” ribbon.
The Sontronics Delta is an active ribbon designed primarily for live use, and for miking guitar cabinets.
The Sontronics Sigma is an active ribbon with a vintage tone, suitable for quiet sources only.
The TNC Audio ACM-3 is a cheap (~$50) imported mic, purchased direct from a Chinese factory (via “group buy”), and no longer commercially available in the US. It is a visual near-clone of the Royer R-121, made with cheap parts and sloppy tolerances. “Included just for contrast.”
Not listed above: a new Royer Labs prototype microphone, about which we’ll tell you more as soon as we’re able. Update: It has a name! We can call it the “Production Prototype SF-2.”
The Shootout in Numbers
|Total # mics||42|
|Distinct # mics||30|
|Distinct # manufacturers||17|
|Most mics from 1 vendor||Royer Labs, with 5 microphones|
|Last-minute award||Coles/Independent Audio –
the mics arrived during the guitar session
|Total # of mics dropped||none!|
|Total # of ribbons blown||none!|
|Total # of mics hung||139|
|Total # of mic mounts cursed at||1 (guess which)|
|Total $ value of mics (MSRP)||~$67,000|
We did not initially intend for this to be a comprehensive test, but once we’d gathered all the interesting ribbon mics we realized we were 95% of the way there. Given a bit more time and determination, I’d have liked to include the Peluso R-14 and the MXL R77L. Alas.
Did we overlook anything else? Leave a comment, in case we decide to do this whole thing over again. (Hint: not gonna happen. Still, let us know where we missed.)
Ironically, I learned in the 48 hours prior to this test of two new ribbon mics coming on the market soon. One is from Gauge USA, and the other from Bees Neez. I tried to get a sample of each, but neither vendor responded to my last-minute request. Which frankly is just as well, because we already had an obscene number of microphones to deal with.
By the way, the inclusion of two unidirectional ribbons was not part of the original plan, but we are planning a Cardioid Ribbon test later this year — with an ML-19, KU-3A, KU4, and the Silvia SC-5C.