Top-notch sound quality for middle-of-the-road prices…
Peluso TR14 (valve active)
Price £899 Contact KMR Audio 020 8445 2446
Peluso combined the motor of the R14 with a valve gain stage to create this active microphone. We know from experience that Peluso knows his stuff when it comes to valves and the result is ‘enhanced gain and added harmonic complexity’. The kit includes a wooden box, shockmount, power supply and seven-pin cable, all packed in a flightcase.
Described as combining elements of a valve condenser sound with old-school ribbon smoothness and silkiness, the TR14 exhibits less proximity effect than the R-14. Peluso mics offer excellent quality at affordable prices and the TR14 is the most intriguing ribbon in the company’s product line.
Price £899 Contact 01202 236862
The size and weight of most classic ribbon microphones made them hard to set up for crossed-8 (Blumlein) stereo. Powerful but lightweight neodymium magnets have led to the development of smaller and lighter ribbon mics, and now Sontronics has managed to shoehorn two ribbon motors into an active stereo microphone.
It’s supplied in a carry case with a special cable that splits into two XLR-terminated cables labelled upper and lower.
We achieved very solid stereo imaging with Blumlein stereo on an acoustic guitar trio and a drum kit. For solo instruments, the Apollo performed best in mid-and-side mode to produce spacious yet focused recordings with an almost tangible physical presence.
Price £800 Contact Coles Electroacoustics 01992 466685
Coles wisely avoided trying to upgrade the 4038, choosing instead to develop an entirely new model. Sharing the 4038’s ribbon and output transformer, the 4040 also has a neodymium magnet to focus the magnetic field, internal shockmounting and an extended high-frequency response courtesy of a redesigned body shape.
On grand piano, the 4040 has airy delivery, cleanly etched notes and sheer low-end scale. As a drum overhead it produces solid snares, fat toms and tames open hats superbly. In essence, it’s just like a 4038 with cleaner top end and slightly higher output. Coles’ first new studio ribbon was worth the wait.
Web www.coles electroacoustics.com
SE Electronics VR2 Voodoo (active)
Price £815 Contact sE Electronics 0845 500 2500
Both the passive VR1 and active VR2 have a stated frequency response of 20Hz–20kHz and sE’s goal was a ‘traditional yet detailed and natural ribbon mic sound’. Featuring a two-micron ribbon, the VR2 has a sensitivity rating of 10mV/Pa -40 ± 1.5dB with a 200-ohm output impedance and a figure-8 pattern. It ships with a suspension mount.
The general consensus is that sE has really nailed it with this mic. Users report that they have achieved a far greater sense of openness without sacrificing any of the sonic qualities that people admire about classic ribbon mics.
Price £828 Contact KMR Audio 020 8445 2446
The R92 is designed specifically for use with electric guitars, having windblast protection and reduced proximity effect to allow for close placement. The C-shaped stand bracket incorporates elastic suspension mounts at the top and bottom of the body, and a two-metre XLR cable is hard-wired.
Sounding brighter from the front than from the rear, you can spin the R92 around if a guitar sounds too edgy. But the R92 isn’t just an electric guitar mic: you can get that in-yer-face moving-coil vibe with extra fidelity, brightness and refinement, but we’d prefer to own one as part of a collection rather than our only ribbon mic.
Now for some Midrange options that will suit all recording situations…
Price £1,128 Contact KMR Audio 020 8445 2446
Known for the scrupulously accurate RCA 44 replicas, AEA started with a 44-style 1.8-micron ribbon, then designed a completely new microphone from the ground up to create the R84. The ribbon is centred in the magnetic gap but the front and rear of the R84 produce slightly different sounds due to differences in the blast protection. The R84 is available in various different versions for recording and voiceover work. You can also order matched pairs.
The frequency response peaks around 150Hz then drops off at each side. Bass is down by about 3dB at 20Hz, and while this can be bumped-up through close-mic’ing, the proximity effect is relatively low. Owners reports a big, rich and extremely natural sound that suits a wide variety of instruments.
SE Electronics RNR1
Price £1,499 Contact sE Electronics 0845 500 2500
Ribbon microphone designs have been evolving of late and many of the manufacturers have been attempting to extend high-frequency response. SE claims a 25kHz upper limit with only a slight roll-off above 16kHz. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the RNR1 has an onboard preamp designed by the legendary Rupert Neve.
Our tests showed that the RNR1 gives you all the smooth low end and larger-than-life character of an R44 or 4038, but the extra presence makes it more versatile and natural. It even pushed a vintage Neumann U47 very close in an acoustic guitar test.
Price £1,500 Contact Coles Electroacoustics – 01992 466685
Is it one microphone or two? The answer is both, because the 4050 has two microphone sections that are held together by magnetism alone. The sections can be swiveled for easy Blumlein and mid-and-side setups and they can be separated for use as mono mics. In fact, the 4050 is based on the motor and transformer used in the Coles 4040.
The sound quality is terrific, with super-smooth transients and a very natural character. The 4050 is particularly recommended for electric guitar and drum overheads. However, it needs a very sturdy mic stand. It also performs superbly on percussion, flute, double bass and cello, and it’s an excellent choice for room mic’ing. Best of all, it’s far cheaper than two 4038s.
Web www.coles electroacoustics.com
Price £1,139 Contact Funky Junk – 0207 281 4478
AEA and Royer are the two US companies that kick-started the ribbon revival. While AEA focused on replicas, Royer took a new approach to ribbon motor design to reduce weight, increase sensitivity and improve resilience.
Some users report that the R-121 doesn’t have the same scale as old RCAs and the 4038, but much of this is due to reduced proximity effect. The R-121 can therefore go where other ribbons fear to tread and they’re often first choice for close-mic’ing guitar cabs.
Price £1,255 Contact Shure 01992 703058
For many years Shure made ribbon microphones, but then they stopped. Sometime in 2009 they tested Crowley & Tripp’s ribbon mics and liked them so much they bought the company. This is basically a re-branded Naked Eye with the ‘Roswellite’ ribbon. It ships in a wood box with a suspension mount.
Sounding different front and back, the ‘A side’ has an uncommonly natural and smooth midrange while the ‘B side’ adds detail and airiness. The healthy output compares favourably with the Coles 4038 but there’s far less proximity effect. We got some wonderfully intimate acoustic guitar and vocal recordings with this one.
And finally we turn to the serious investments that will do your recordings proud…
Royer SF-24 stereo active
Price £3,750 Contact Funky Junk 020 7281 4478
The SF-24 is the active version of the SF-12 stereo ribbon microphone. It’s 14dB more sensitive and the custom-designed FET electronics have self-noise lower than 18dB. The SF-24 consists of two matched ribbon microphones placed one above the other in a coincident pair, each aimed 45 degrees from centre in the classic Blumlein configuration.
The SF-12 and SF-24 are equally well regarded as drum overhead mics for their clarity, fine detail and crisp imaging. However, the SF-24 is preferred for acoustic guitar, piano and percussion due to its sensitivity and higher output. There’s a valve version, too, if your pockets are deep enough…
Price £2,404 Contact Shure 01992 703058
Shure’s flagship ribbon microphone is essentially a re-badged Crowley & Tripp El Diablo. However, two years after acquiring Crowley & Tripp, Shure upgraded both their ribbon mics with a new mechanical design to accommodate the ShureLock Thread and an innovative wire rope suspension mount.
The Roswellite ribbon and output transformer remained the same. The ribbon is made “from a new class of advanced materials called ‘Supermatter’, which is engineered with nano-scaled structures that provide incredible strength and durability”. It also “retains a memory for its original shape”, so both Shure ribbons are known to be among the most robust microphones of their type.
Price £2,340 Contact Funky Junk 020 7281 4478
The R-122 is Royer’s solid-state active ribbon mic and the ‘V’ designation indicates that this is the valve version. The military-grade 5840 valve operates at high voltage to provide maximum headroom. While some manufacturers use valves to create a sonic effect, Royer aims for clarity, detail and airiness along with high SPL handling.
User reports suggest that they have succeeded because the R-122V performs superbly on all types of guitar, percussion and piano. On vocals it captures a silky top end with reduced sibilance. A subtle hint of compression also occurs when the output transformer receives a lot of signal. Matched pairs are available at no extra charge.
Price £3,000 Contact KMR Audio 020 8445 2446
AEA’s R44 is a more vintage-correct RCA 44 reissue than the R44CE, but it’s even more expensive. The R44CE has all the same internals but it’s made from lighter external materials and has a simplified paint job. Features include authentic ribbon material, a custom transformer and 140dB maximum SPL handling above 200Hz. Accessories include a custom storage/shipping case, stand adapter, manual and hard-wired cable.
Essentially this is the original ribbon microphone that set the standard by which all others are judged. It sounds as big as it looks, it’s super-smooth and hyper-real. You get the sound without paying extra for the cosmetics.