R/E/P Community

Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
Advanced search  

Pages: [1] 2 3 4  All   Go Down

Author Topic: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?  (Read 11768 times)

dennis1127

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 23
  • Real Full Name: Dennis Raddle
Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« on: November 29, 2011, 07:45:03 pm »

I'm an experienced audiophile (i.e. playback) but just starting out in recording.

I know a guy named James Boyk who is a pianist and he produces and engineers his own recordings. I really trust his musical sense.

I own an inexpensive mic based on his recommendation-- the Audio-Technica 813A.

However, he says ribbon mics are very nice and I'm interested in getting one. His ultimate recommendation, the Coles 4038 is a bit beyond my budget. He used to recommend the Beyer M-260 but apparently the production design changed on that, and he no longer recommends it (I think it's now specialized as a close mic).

So I'm wondering if there are any other good ribbons in the neighborhood of $400, maybe something similar to how the M-260 used to sound.


EDIT: if you are wondering why I don't ask James himself, it's because he doesn't do audio consulting anymore, and he doesn't give answers without thoroughly researching the topic.
Logged

klaus

  • Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 1662
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2011, 12:37:31 am »

Hello Dennis, let's start the conversation.

I am personally fond of ribbon mics, because they are able to translate a certain level of aural humanity in their timbre that other mics are not able to translate quite as well. Especially reed instruments shine with ribbons (the voice, a reed-instrument, included!)

Now comes a big BUT: the extremely low gain of genuine ribbon mics (more about hybrids below) are a pest which is very hard to fight against in today's recoding environment that demands lowest noise floors of all recording gear.  Piano or pianissimo passages  in music would show up that dastardly white noise of the mic amps straining to everyone's consternation

I personally would find it extremely hard to record piano with ribbons (if I interpret your inquiry- piano recording is your aim?), because, in order to keep a decent s/n, the mics would need to be very close to the piano strings, which is not an ideal position for a good blend of harmonics or any type of natural piano sound, therefore negating much of what you are aiming at by wanting to record with ribbons.

Because of the extremely low gain of a ribbon mic (in the neighborhood of -70db, which is about 30-50dB lower than the output of classic or current-generation condensers), some new ribbon mic manufacturers have combined the ribbon element with a built-in transistor amp, to boost the level up. This type of passive and active hybrid is an interesting idea which, in my opinion waters down some of the purity of a ribbon mic's timbre and purpose. 

If your mentor has mastered ribbon applications in piano recordings, he owes it to the rest of the recording community to share his secrets, I feel. The argument you cite at the end of your post is poor, in my opinion, because you seem to indicate that he has indeed not only investigated but mastered this very difficult approach to piano recording. So, let's hear from him!
Logged
Klaus Heyne
German Masterworks®
www.GermanMasterworks.com

dennis1127

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 23
  • Real Full Name: Dennis Raddle
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2011, 01:58:45 am »

Thanks, Klaus. It could be any instrument, not just piano. I currently own a modest mic, an Audio-Technica 813A cardioid. It gets power from an internal battery. My recording needs will vary.. first let me say these are not meant to be commercial releases.. they are purely for demo purposes, so if I'm applying to a grad school or competition, I can send a recording. All it has to do is vaguely represent the music. Sometimes I'll just be laying down the sound of a single instrument playing in a small room (say a carpeted office), and sometimes I'll want to mic a small ensemble in a hall.

I wouldn't call him my mentor-- I was present at several of his recording sessions and I love the sound on his albums. He published a little book in which he gives mic recommendations, and all I'm saying is that I like his own albums enough to give some weight to the recommendations.

Boyk has made six or seven albums of himself playing piano, and I believe all used the Coles 4038 ribbon mic in a blumlein pair arrangement.  I'm trying to remember the mic placement (this was over 20 years ago). I think the mics were mounted about seven feet off the ground and, I don't really remember, something like 8 feet from the middle of the soundboard, aimed directly into the piano (with lid fully open).

See recordings here:

http://performancerecordings.com/albums.html

Book where he gives mic recommendations here:

http://www.performancerecordings.com/tohear.html
Logged

klaus

  • Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 1662
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2011, 02:24:18 am »

In this case, it is entirely up to your budget what level of excellence you will be able to achieve- ribbon or otherwise.

Without budgetary information the discussion will become aimless and meandering. So please provide how much you are willing to spend on two recording mics, and I am sure people will be helpful (or confuse you with too many  and contradictory choices, as is often the case on microphone forums without a filter!)


Logged
Klaus Heyne
German Masterworks®
www.GermanMasterworks.com

bodtbody

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 22
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #4 on: November 30, 2011, 10:49:43 am »

One should mention that the noise is  not derived from the microphone , when talking about microphones of good quality.
Good ribbonmicrophones is not noisy , less noisy than any other microphone types.
It only contains a ribbon, magnet and a transformer.
The noise comes from the signal path and many preamps are noisy.
I think this is important to mention.
So you need a good preamp if you are going to record low sounding instruments.
Logged
venlig hilsen JP

dennis1127

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 23
  • Real Full Name: Dennis Raddle
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2011, 11:08:02 am »

Let's start with a budget of neighborhood of $500. This includes any necessary accessories like transformer, preamp, power supply. (But doesn't have to include the mic stand, that can be separate.) This could be just one mic, but if you happen to know of a good reason to attempt stereo and there is a good stereo option at the price, that would be good too.

I may not need a preamp: I just purchased an Apogee Mini-Me which has a built-in preamp, but I don't know if it's adequate to the job. Specs on the Mini-Me:
   
mic amp gain range: 12 - 65 dB
mic input impedance: 1.2 KOhms

It doesn't have to be a ribbon.

Also, note that I already own the Audio-Technica 813A, and heck maybe that's all I need for now.
Logged

David Satz

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Online Online
  • Posts: 122
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2011, 08:42:38 am »

Two professional-quality ribbon microphones that cost considerably less than the Coles and have smooth, flat response suitable for classical music recording would be the Beyer M 160 and (at a somewhat higher price point) the Royer SF-1. I can't find the SF-1 listed on Royer's Web site any more, so perhaps it is available now only in stereo versions such as the SF-12 and SF-24.

I've used both of these microphones--or rather, I used the Royers for a while, but was never able to get a usable recording from the Beyers because of continual problems with radio-frequency interference. Probably those could have been solved eventually, but the very low output of these microphones makes their signals more vulnerable to interference than microphones with higher output levels. In fairness, when these microphones were designed, personal mobile devices weren't in everyone's pockets. But that excuse won't satisfy the producer and the musicians when a recording fails.

There is a certain mythology about ribbons, although like many myths it has one foot in reality. The myth is that ribbons are inherently smoother sounding, with less "hype" or "peakiness" or "edginess" to the sound, than other microphones. Certainly ribbons have the lowest moving mass of any type of dynamic microphone, and the best-known "classic" ribbons don't have the artificial brightness or forwardness of the best-known condensers.

However, that's not a sound quality inherent in the type of microphone. Market forces have a large say in what is actually made available to end users, and in the end it comes down to the particular characterstics of particular models. There are condenser microphones that don't have significant artificial brightness or presence added to their sound quality, but they don't usually sell as widely or get revered as much as the ones that have more coloration. That probably says more about engineers than it does about the different kinds of microphones, though.

--best regards
Logged

dennis1127

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 23
  • Real Full Name: Dennis Raddle
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2011, 11:36:58 am »

Thanks, David. I would be interested in comments on how the directivity pattern affects me. Some of my recording will be done in small rooms, perhaps a carpeted office (it's a large office, but still a small room compared to a hall). My understanding is that directionality is good in small rooms because you get less of the reflections off walls (less comb filtering effect).

Apparently the M-160 is hyper-cardioid. Is that one of the most directional patterns?

So what you are saying is that ribbon manufacturers tend to make smooth, mellow mics because that's what the market expects? And same for "presence" in condensers?

Logged

David Satz

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Online Online
  • Posts: 122
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2011, 10:11:41 pm »

Dennis, I'm glad you brought up the issue of directional pattern. Figure-8 microphones aren't suitable for all recording applications, but you seem to be interested mainly in classical piano recording and that is one of the applications that they can do well with. I'm sure you know about the classic "Blumlein" arrangement with two figure-8s crossed at 90 degrees--of course you still have to find the best distance and height for the microphone pair in the particular hall.

Hypercardioids are a compromise between a figure-8 and a cardioid. Like figure-8s they have a rear lobe, but it is not as sensitive (or as wide) as the rear lobe of a figure-8. And yes, they are more strongly directional than either a cardioid or a figure-8, in terms of their exclusion of random-incident sound relative to sound arriving on axis. For two-mike stereo recording I prefer to space them apart slightly and angle them outwards at an angle somewhat greater than 90 degrees.

I don't want to launch into a whole essay about why (in my opinion) condenser microphones have the response characteristics that they typically have, but would just like to point out that some condenser microphones are every bit as neutral, smooth and uncolored-sounding as the best ribbons. Measurement microphones, including the very flattest and lowest-distortion microphones available, are invariably condensers, and if you visit the factories where ribbon microphones are made, you'll find that all their acoustical measurement setups are calibrated with condenser microphones  So if many (or perhaps even most) condensers have more added brightness and "presence" than you or I might prefer, that is a matter of their specific design, and not because of some limit inherent in the condenser principle.

--best regards
Logged

dennis1127

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 23
  • Real Full Name: Dennis Raddle
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2011, 10:25:20 pm »

Let me clarify something. I'm NOT only interested in piano recording. It could be any instrument, solo, or small ensembles. Not likely to be large ensembles. It could be in a small hall if we get lucky enough to use one, or it could be in one of the classrooms/offices.

I mentioned piano with regard to my former teacher James Boyk, and only elaborated on that when someone wanted to know why he would use ribbons to record piano.

Okay, I'm glad some condensers are smooth, but can you tell me which ones, in, say, the $400 neighborhood?

Can you make good stereo with two hypercardioids? Is that what you are describing?

One of my considerations here is that I might like to get one mic to start, then a second when I can afford it. So I don't want to get stuck with a single mic that I can't use later for stereo.
Logged

klaus

  • Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 1662
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2011, 10:31:10 pm »

In the price range you mention I would purchase one, and if you are lucky, two, used AT 4033. These mics I find consistently to be outperforming anything in that price class in terms of rounded musicality. I would hunt for the original ones, not the recent re-issue.

No, they are not in the next price/performance class, or the one above that- there is no free lunch- but they are easily at the top of their class!
Logged
Klaus Heyne
German Masterworks®
www.GermanMasterworks.com

dennis1127

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 23
  • Real Full Name: Dennis Raddle
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2011, 10:39:17 pm »

Does it have active circuitry in it? As a purist I want to minimize the number of active stages. I'm also a tube guy--I can like a well-executed transistor amp but it is rare. A preamp and D/A is necessary, but I hope to have those modded by a certain electronics wizard I know.

What type of stereo does it do? Does it work well in small rooms?

Logged

halocline

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 20
  • Real Full Name: Matt Dunne
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2011, 11:08:09 pm »

Dennis,
It sounds like you're a serious classical musician who wants to get into recording to record your own music, and you want to spend a relatively small amount of money to do so.

I'm actually in a similar situation, but I have spent some time and money, and I've made some decent sounding recordings. I suggest that your first pair of mics should be a pair of condensers; maybe a small diaphragm like the Oktava MK2. These are fairly versatile, good value mics that will give you an opportunity to learn about mic placement, room choice, etc...things that matter MUCH more than the actual mics themselves (within reason).

There's a great deal of hype associated with certain mics and mic types; and while the differences between mics can be crucial to very experienced sound engineers who do everything right, for the rest of us the main arbiters of success in our recordings will be our ability to A) find the best environment for our recordings and B) utilize the gear we have.

One problem with ribbons is that you really need a specialized preamp to get the most out of them, and that's going to blow your budget out of the water. Another is the figure 8 pattern; this REALLY changes the impact of your room.

If you buy smart, you can get mid-level versatile condensers that will teach you a lot about recording, then you can sell them for about what you paid when/if you need more specialized mics.

Logged

klaus

  • Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 1662
Re: Beyer ribbon mics
« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2011, 01:58:02 am »

Excellent advice.
To which I might add: Purist considerations are a bit out of place in a $400.- per mic price range.

As halocline alluded: you cannot minimize the level of amplification or number of active stages when using a ribbon mic. The execution of these stages is all-important to retain the purity of a passive, low output mic. Hence the $5000 + price tag for a well-executed multi-stage pre like a Neve 1073.

I keep emphasizing in my consultations with musicians and engineers the starting point of every consideration for a new microphone acquisition: Determine your budget. Everything flows from there.
Logged
Klaus Heyne
German Masterworks®
www.GermanMasterworks.com

didier.brest

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Offline Offline
  • Posts: 15
Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2011, 02:01:38 pm »

Hi,

Passive ribbon microphone self-noise is only the thermal noise from their equivalent resistor. Then the recording noise level is determined by the equivalent input noise EIN from the preamp with such a resistor at its input, which is about -127 dBu unweighted for a quiet preamp and 150 ohm input resistor. It varies like 10*log(impedance), that is + 1 dB for a 200 ohm microphone and + 3 dB for a 300 ohm microphone.

This noise level is equivalent to the one from a microphone the unweighted noise level of which  is EIN - S + 94 dB SPL, S being the microphone sensitivity expressed in dB re. 1 V/Pa. For Beyerdynamic M 130, M 160 and Royer SF-12, the impedance and the sensitivity equal respectively 200 ohms/-60 dB, 200 ohms/-57.5 dB, 300 ohms/-52 dB re. 1V/Pa. So the equivalent microphone unweighted self-noise for such a ribbon microphone and quiet preamp association is between 22 dB SPL and 28 dB SPL. It is white noise, hence its A-weighted level is between 19 dB SPL (A) and 25 dB SPL (A). Not as quiet as quietest condensers but still usable IMO.

I like a lot the M 130 and the M 160 for their natural and relaxed sound. I did not test SF-1 (now discontinued) or SF-12.
Logged
Didier Brest
Pages: [1] 2 3 4  All   Go Up