Monday, July 18th, 2011 | by matthew mcglynn
The next chapter of the $60,000 Ribbon Mic Shootout involves a Marshall JCM-2000 head, a vintage Orange 4×12 cabinet, and a lifetime supply of ribbon mics.
Test Setup and Signal Path
We were once again fortunate to have Doug Doppler contribute a short riff for this test, composed specifically for our shootout:
Knowing that the track was going to be re-amped into a Marshall I went for a relatively consistent range of dynamics with enough gusto that in theory it would cause the front end of the amp to distort more on loud notes, but still deliver rock tele chime on the softer ones. Like the clean clip I wanted to establish a range of textures that a guitar player might go to over on the course of a whole track with a single sound to give a broader sense of how each mic would respond to differing but relative bits of musical information.
Besides the change in amp and cabinet, the test setup was identical to the “clean” guitar test: Doug played his Nash Tele direct into Pro Tools; we reamped through the Pro RMP, and miked the cab with single mics at 8 inches. We used True Systems P-Solo Ribbon pre’s for the passive mics and Yamaha preamps (at minimal gain) for the active mics. See the earlier post for more details on this signal chain.
Here is the direct-recorded track that we reamped:
Hear the direct track
Here is what the cab sounded like through an SM57 at 8 inches:
Reamped with SM57
The MP3s below are 320kbps mono files, converted via ‘lame’ from the 24-bit/44.1kHz originals. You can listen blind using the player controls below, then click the button at the bottom to reveal the identity of the microphones (which are presented in random order).
(Download the 24-bit AIFF files here.)
I noted before that the guitar tracks here were the least revealing of all our sessions. Be prepared to listen closely through decent monitors (or better yet, headphones) to identify the subtle differences here.
Like the “clean guitar” session, this set of files presents a somewhat more demanding listening test than I expect we’ll have for the sax, drums, and voice sessions. In short, a screaming 4×12 cab at 8'' is basically a whole lot of loud, and despite significant differences in these mics’ components and physical construction, many of these mics sound pretty similar.
Especially if you’re listening through crap speakers. I’ve got my HD650s on. Ante up!
I hear a couple basic EQ profiles in this set of microphones. Take the beyerdynamic M 130. This mic is unapologetically ballsy. It sounds like it was low-pass filtered! It’s not something I’d reach for as a single mic on guitar cab — at least not in this position — but as a second mic (paired with something that will bring out 3–5kHz), it would rule. I bet it would be great on bass guitar cab too.
The Coles 4038 is similar. It’s even darker and thicker than the M130, if that’s possible.
The sE Electronics Voodoo VR1 is more open and less colored, a sound I think of as relatively neutral (among this set of mics, anyway). Other mics in this category: Cascade Vin-Jet, Cloud JRS-34-P, Sontronics Delta, both Samar Audio MF65s, the AT4080, and most the Royers. All these mics sounded good to me — balanced, full, rich, and still heavy.
Some of the others are sonically different enough to warrant attention. The Shinybox 46U has an amazing ability to recreate the air around the cabinet. Maybe it’s just a boosted high end, but it works for me. Compare it to the Vin-Jet on the chords at the beginning of the melody. The VJ sounds great, but the 46U has the edge in communicating the space of the live room.
The 46U does something else I really like in this clip: it nails the gritty high-mids that make Doug’s chords sound so aggressive, without burying them in mud. The AEA R92 and the MF65s do this, too.
As we heard in the Fender session, the Blue Microphones Woodpecker is arguably the least-traditional-sounding ribbon of the bunch (by design, apparently). It’s a distinct sound for a ribbon, and it probably fits more easily into a mix than some of the bassier mics here.
The Woodpecker was on the verge of overload, though. The Karma K6 couldn’t take the SPL either. Both of these mics (like the Sontronics Sigma) prefer a quieter source, or more distance from it.
Finally, I want to call out the R-122 and R-122V for having all-around great tone. They’re understated and unhyped, but they deliver the goods with growling authority. The R-122V is particularly gutsy; I could listen to that sound all day.
Kudos, once again, to Doug Doppler for playing something I don’t mind hearing 50 times in a row! \m/
Other stories from the $60,000 Ribbon Mic Shootout:
- Ribbon mic lineup and group photo
- Fender/Clean guitar session
- Marshall/”Dirty” guitar session
- Drum Overhead session
- Alto Sax session
- Character Voices / Voiceover session
- Acoustic Guitar Session
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