Notes from the Shore

Work, marriage, kids and music

Should I Hold a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony?

I think that I’m done acquiring for a while. Here’s the latest:

After losing an unacceptable number of auctions for various ribbon microphones on Ebay (many by 1 bid), I bit the bullet and ordered a new one from Front End Audio, who sell this Apex 215 for a remarkable $129 with free shipping. That’s literally cheaper than this same mic was being offered on Ebay by some sellers.

How about a little on ribbon mics? Well, these are an old style of microphone, originally developed for movie stage work. They have a very strong figure-8 pickup pattern, which means that reject most of the sound coming from the narrow sides, top and bottom of the mic. Then they pick up well from the front and the back. This side rejection allowed them to be placed above a soundstage such that the noisy movie camera was in the null and the actors which we want to record were in the sweet spot.

I don’t know why they fell into disfavor for so long. People went mostly with dynamic and condenser mics for live and studio recording for many years. It’s only fairly recently that the ribbon is making a comeback.

It’s a really simple design – a thin aluminum strip (2 microns in this case) is suspended between two permanent magnets. The electrical signal generated by the strip vibrating between the magnets is sent to a transformer and then out the mic cable. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

One of the reasons ribbons have made a recent resurgence may be due to the development of low-priced, very strong magnets, simplifying design and construction.

One of the typical drawbacks to a ribbon mic is that they put out a very low signal, and require a powerful preamp to get the signal up to a usable level. I was worried that the preamps on my Behringer mixer wouldn’t be up to the task, and fully anticipated needing a preamp to get a decent sound from this mic. I’d even picked one out. But, this mic is a “dual ribbon” design, with two ribbons side-by-side. It puts out quite a bit more signal than a typical single-ribbon mic, and it turned out to be plenty for my board. Good news!

Anyway, they are also supposed to have a fairly “colored” sound to them, which favors wind instruments and some voices. People also use them for mic’ing guitar cabinets and drum set overheads. this is because they’re supposed to have a really smooth response to high frequencies – not attenuated precisely, but for some reason less strident and annoying.

Here’s a link to the Wikipedia page, and here’s a link to the product page on the Apex website. Now that I have this, I’m going to finish tracking Father’s World and begin mixing it down.

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