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Author Topic: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?  (Read 11735 times)

dennis1127

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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.
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klaus

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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!
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dennis1127

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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
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klaus

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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!)


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bodtbody

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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.
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venlig hilsen JP

dennis1127

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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.
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David Satz

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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
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dennis1127

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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?

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David Satz

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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
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dennis1127

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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.
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klaus

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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!
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dennis1127

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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?

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halocline

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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.

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klaus

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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.
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didier.brest

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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.
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dennis1127

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #15 on: December 02, 2011, 04:52:34 pm »

I should add something. I am not likely to have room choice. I am lucky to find people to play my music at all, and I have to take what I am given.

It is likely that many of the recordings will be in practice rooms or small rehearsal rooms. I got a comment from James Boyk that figure-8 microphones are best for small rooms. I don't know if that is right, but I do understand that a small room presents the problem of comb filter effects through reflections, so a highly directional mic is desirable.

I also want to clarify my tastes, which have developed a lot through my audiophile hobby. I don't demand that these recordings be acceptable for commercial releases. They don't need to be free of "quirks", they don't need to be smooth and without obvious faults. What I would like is something that preserves dynamics and musical beauty. That's more important than, say, balance. I also tend to like natural perspective rather than close perspective. There are so many commercial releases that sound perfectly balanced and detailed, but they obviously put a mic on every instrument (even for as few as two instruments) and so each instrument exists in its own "acoustic space." I find that far more distracting than natural perspective. Heck, I'd take a mono recording over a close-miked recording. It seems like so many recordings are produced with a "typical consumer" mindset.

I'll take a rolled-off recording if it still has musical beauty. This is not the mindset of most classical producers as far as I can tell. They want a big, bold sound.. and they'll try to get it at the expense of natural dynamics and beauty.
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klaus

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #16 on: December 02, 2011, 05:00:53 pm »

The preservation of 'musical beauty' as you call it, is the highest goal for any audio component between the source and the ears. That quality is also the hardest to come by, and virtually impossible to come by with cheap, inexpensive components.

As a matter of fact, the market puts a high premium on those devices that are capable of transmitting musical beauty: no microphones are more expensive than those which can achieve that goal.

There is a stark parallel between microphones and any other commodity designed to deliver sensory satisfaction. Take wine: the more a wine can transport olfactory and gustatory beauty to the taster, the more expensive the wine. Nothing else determines price.

So start saving your pennies, if that is your ultimate goal.
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dennis1127

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #17 on: December 02, 2011, 05:25:30 pm »

I'm not asking "what is the ultimate system," I'm stating my priorities when evaluating what's available at a given price level.

In my experience, there's no agreement on what constitutes beauty so there isn't a correlation to price. There are plenty of super-expensive stereo systems that are sterile, while a simple tube circuit can make an amp with beauty to spare.

I don't even agree that everyone is trying to achieve beauty. Or at least their notion of it is so different than mine, I can't tell what they are trying to achieve.

Don't get me wrong-- if I want "beauty + resolution" I expect to pay a lot. I haven't found any cheap equipment that does that.
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klaus

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #18 on: December 02, 2011, 05:34:51 pm »

I have found: there is no beauty without resolution. Human beings uniformly respond positively to complexity in the delivery of sensual information. (Think wine, again.)
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Nob Turner

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #19 on: December 02, 2011, 08:27:49 pm »

To get back to one of your earlier posts, I definitely don't believe that figure-8 mics are "best for small rooms;" quite the contrary, because small rooms don't typically enhance the sound of acoustic instruments, you'll have fewer problems with a cardioid. The figure-8 by nature picks up more of the ambiance of the space you're in, and if it's not pretty, you'll hear it.

Also, forget the discussion of mic self-noise. Most of the noise you're going to deal with will come from your preamp. If a ribbon mic needs 20-40db more gain than a condenser, the noise will come up proportionally. Given that you indicate you don't care to close-mic, a low-output mic (like a ribbon) will be an issue. Significant hiss can be distracting from an otherwise attractive recording.

Also, I got the impression that your total budget for mic(s) was $400. If so, you're going to have a hard time finding a pair anything decent for your budget. If you're willing to buy used, I'd encourage you to look for an AKG C460B with CK61 capsule (the CK62 is the omni equivalent). These have a smoother sound than their predecessor, the C451, and if you can stretch your budget and bide your time, you may find a pair for $5-600. They have a pleasant character, are relatively quiet, and can accept a range of different capsules. Their output is hot enough to work under low-volume conditions. At this price point you definitely aren't into "sexy mic" land, but I believe these will fit your requirements better than ribbons.

dennis1127

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #20 on: December 03, 2011, 01:03:22 am »

Thanks Nob, sounds like something I should consider.

I had another thought. Maybe I could rent a mic for those few times I will be making a critical recording. The rest of the time, something "adequate" is all I need. I live in the LA basin so there has to be a pro audio rental shop somewhere nearby.

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dennis1127

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #21 on: December 03, 2011, 04:16:29 am »

By any chance, for someone who prefers distant miking, is it best to get a mic with a bright sparkly high end? I think that high frequencies drop fastest with distance, do they not?

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David Satz

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #22 on: December 03, 2011, 06:16:59 am »

("sparkly" high end for distant recording?) If you'll be using omnidirectional microphones, then yes; otherwise, probably not; and in any case it's important to keep this all in proportion to your recording distance and the actual absorption in the hall.

This is because it's not so much about high-frequency absorption of the direct sound, which we're all used to hearing in live music anyway. (If you try to compensate for those losses you will end up with screechy recordings.) Rather, it's because at large distances in normally reverberant spaces, very little of the sound that you pick up will be direct no matter what pattern of microphone you use. Nearly all of it has been reflected off of room surfaces one or more times, and high frequency energy is absorbed on every bounce, to varying degrees depending on the surfaces involved.

The reason for singling out omnidirectional microphones is that they--at least the ones quiet enough to use for distant recording of wide-dynamic-range material--aren't truly omnidirectional at high frequencies for reasons of sheer physical size. You can see this from the manufacturers' polar patterns. The on-axis response might be nice and neutral but then the off-axis response physically has to roll off; alternatively their total, integrated response might be neutral but that would require their on-axis response to rise. So if you're far enough from all direct sound sources that the angles of sound arrival at your microphones are nearly random, then you need flat integrated response, which (in a usable omni) goes with rising on-axis response.

This effect basically doesn't occur with other microphone patterns, so while there are omnis appropriate for close-up ("free-field") recording and omnis for distant ("diffuse-field") recording and omnis for in-between, there aren't (for example) cardioids or figure-8s classified in that way--or at least there needn't be from the standpoint of physical acoustics.

--best regards
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didier.brest

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #23 on: December 03, 2011, 02:02:29 pm »

If a ribbon mic needs 20-40db more gain than a condenser, the noise will come up proportionally.

This is obviously not exact : there is not 20-40 dB more noise from a ribbon mic than from a condenser mic. See my previous post about how determining the equivalent acoustic noise expressed in dB SPL from the ribbon mic sensitivity and the preamp EIN. It may be lower than 20 dBA.

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).
You mean Oktava MK-012 ?
For this kind of budget (< 300 € for a pair), I prefer the Line Audio CM3.

I do not agree that a multi-k$ preamp would be required for making a ribbon mic work properly. The AEA Ribbon Mic Pre, specially designed for ribbon mic costs less than 900 $.
 
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klaus

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #24 on: December 03, 2011, 03:54:25 pm »

This thread is starting to drift into "Gearslutz" territory: Everyone has his favorite mic recommendation and the thread starter soon will not know up from down if this continues (I, too, should have never gone for the bait.)

RE: Ribbon noise:
There is little or no doubt in the professional audio community that noise is a concern when deciding whether to use passive ribbon mics. Because of the noise (it's largely academic whether the noise is generated at the mic or from the gain make-up required), ribbon mics in modern recording studios are relegated to high output sound sources, which, in addition, need to be recorded fairly close to the mic, to keep the signal high.

Regarding the absolute level, in dB, of that additional noise:

When using a -70dBV passive ribbon mic, there is not a 20dB or more increase in noise compared to a condenser mic- but in the course of making up gain, even as little as 6dB of additional white noise is quite objectionable for most recording situations. Unfortunately, objectionable noise on a recording is not easily quantified in an objective manner: the frequency components of the noise matter a lot. I sometimes reject, for example, a tube with a noise signature that has strident frequency (hiss) components but is otherwise on par with the noise of another tube whose objectionable noise band is an octave lower.

Maybe we can agree on this conclusion: at equal SPL measured at the monitor speakers or headphones, a passive ribbon mic will always generate an audibly higher noise floor than a common use, professional condenser microphone.

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didier.brest

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #25 on: December 03, 2011, 04:55:15 pm »

Yes we can agree than in general ribbon mics are noisier than condensers. But certainly not at a point than they could not be used for professional recordings even of quiet material like encountered in classical music. The active version of the SF-12 noise level is less than 18 dBA according to Royer ; this figue is rather well in accordance with my own evaluation for the SF-12 coupled with a quiet preamp: 19 dBA. An active ribbon is nothing else than a passive coupled with with a fixed gain quiet preamp. The noise level specified by DPA for the 4006, a standard for classical music recording is  15 dBA typ, 17 dBA max.

Example of professional recording of a string quartet done with a SF-12.

Note that -70 dBV applies to vintage ribbon microphones not to modern ones, the sensitivity of which is higher than -60 dB re. 1 V/Pa.
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klaus

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #26 on: December 03, 2011, 05:28:42 pm »

I understand the desire to beef up the low gain of a passive ribbon by packing a tiny mic pre inside the mic's housing. But: how good can this mic pre be? Why spend thousands on a high res, musical external gain make-up amp if the built-in pre is so great?

And: to what extend does this dilute the beauty of the ribbon mic? After all, if the internal mic pre must be fed into an external mic pre/board, for further processing, would that not mean a further dilution of the original pure ribbon sound into a mish-mash of the passive ribbon + (low priced?) fet + transistor/op-amp processor?

This reminds me a bit of the Neumann issues with digital mics (i.e. an analog mic mated to a D/A built into the mic's housing: is this convenient "all-in-one" package tonally and musically the best we can do, specs be damned?
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Klaus Heyne
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didier.brest

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #27 on: December 03, 2011, 06:57:48 pm »

I don't know whether internal amp in a ribbon microphone is a real advantage or not but I could see the reason why it could be :

* perfect matching of the integrated electronics and the passive part of the microphone,
* allowing a longer cable to the preamp without a risk of SNR loss,
* allowing the use of any preamp,
and last but not least
* answering the reluctance from some users about low sensitivity and potential damage caused by phantom power.

In the Neumann digital microphones, the signal from the capsule is digitalized without being amplified. The gain setting available in the control software is a numerical gain that does not impact the AD conversion, which covers the full dynamic range of the microphone (~130 dB).  Preamplification is a requirement from full analog recording era.
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Didier Brest

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #28 on: December 03, 2011, 07:27:38 pm »

If you're in a small highly reflective room then ribbons (or any figure 8) are definitely NOT what you want to record with. In my limited experience, there is simply no substitute for a good sounding room to record acoustic and especially classical music. The room is in essence part of the source, so you can have the best, most musical microphone in the world and you will not get anything that sounds better than the room. Sorry...

To get the best possible representation in a bad acoustic environment, my guess (as I said, I have limited experience in this) is to use mics that are as directional as possible, like hypercardiods, and get them as close as possible. I really think, given your budget, you seem to be concerned about things that are not likely to have near the impact as learning good mic placement techniques and above all using a nice sounding room.

Maybe your best bet is to rent some really nice mics and a preamp, try them out, try some different rooms, and you'll be able to determine for yourself. Best of luck!
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halocline

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #29 on: December 03, 2011, 07:33:19 pm »

By any chance, for someone who prefers distant miking, is it best to get a mic with a bright sparkly high end? I think that high frequencies drop fastest with distance, do they not?

Distant mic placement and small, reflective rooms like a practice room are more-or-less mutually exclusive, I'm afraid.

I hope that you can enjoy, as I have, the process of learning the basics of making nice sounding, musical recordings of classical music. One thing that I learned quickly is that even slight differences in room sound and placement FAR outweigh even radical differences in microphone type and quality, once you get past the really inexpensive consumer products.
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klaus

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #30 on: December 03, 2011, 08:20:07 pm »

In the Neumann digital microphones, the signal from the capsule is digitalized without being amplified. The gain setting available in the control software is a numerical gain that does not impact the AD conversion, which covers the full dynamic range of the microphone (~130 dB).  Preamplification is a requirement from full analog recording era.

The impedance conversion (down from ca. 10 gig ohms) is an entirely analog process, and one of the most critical aspects of artifact prevention or creation. Therefore, the conversion from an analog to a digital signal is downstream from that process. It is arguably a very good impedance conversion that Neumann uses. The issue of integrating the A/D into the mic body is controversial, and, to some not ideally implemented in Neumann's D- mics.

But that is a side issue, and not germane to the discussion here. Your first three points are debatable, and should be debated, for the sake of separating promotional claims from user experience or fact.

* perfect matching of the integrated electronics and the passive part of the microphone,
- Who says they are perfectly matched? The manufacturer?

* allowing a longer cable to the preamp without a risk of SNR loss
- Since when are cable lengths an issue in most recording studios?


* allowing the use of any preamp
- come again? What restrictions are there, otherwise?

 

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Klaus Heyne
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David Satz

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #31 on: December 04, 2011, 12:59:03 am »

Klaus, ribbon microphones don't have a constant output impedance across the audio frequency band. At their resonant frequency the output impedance reaches a peak value that may be considerably higher than the specified impedance.

The Royer SF-1 mentioned earlier had a specified output impedance of 300 Ohms, but at its resonant frequency (ca. 60 Hz) its actual impedance reached ca. 1.2 kOhm. Thus a preamplifier with typical 1 kOhm - 2 kOhm input impedance would cause an easily audible response dip around 60 Hz.

But if this microphone is provided with an internal preamp (as in the SF-24 stereo version), then the full low-frequency response of the microphone could easily be obtained, and the output impedance of the active circuit could be lower and relatively constant across the audio spectrum--thus isolating the microphone from cable and preamp loading effects.

--best regards
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bodtbody

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #32 on: December 04, 2011, 07:57:22 am »

Excited about the technical discussion, but there is also a practical angle:
A modern ribbon microphone, with modern magnets and best transformer, has a higher output than the classic ribbons.
I (therefore) do not think, that noise is a common problem with modern quality ribbon microphones, but something you should be aware of in connection with the equipment used with.

The Danish national TV station, TV2, often uses ribbon microphones in a weekly broadcast with acoustic music; TV2 has a selection of (condenser) quality microphones, Neumann Schoeps. etc.

The choice of the ribbon microphones is a matter of taste, and does not lead to problems with noise.
(In a ribbon mic) the technician also has a microphone that is easily positioned and allows the performer to move in relation to distance and angle.

Two old Danish hippies are singing on this recording softly, and not very close to the microphone.

Link to the recording :
http://www.tv2lorry.dk/artikel/56049?autoplay=1&video_id=52020
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venlig hilsen JP

Marik

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #33 on: December 04, 2011, 07:20:56 pm »

I just spent an hour and half typing and everything disappeared in a cyber space--very frustrating. In any case, will try to do it short and concise.

There are quite a few myths and misconceptions about ribbons, including "ribbons don't have a sparkle". As David put it, it has only one foot in reality. Even fig8 ribbons can go as high as 30KHz (which BTW, none of the condensers I know of could do in fig8).


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. 

It might be true for the old/vintage microphones with extremely inefficient motors and ceramic or Alnico magnets, which on top of that long lost most of their field.
The modern microphones use Neodymiums, which by far are more efficient and the output is usually in the neighborhood of -55--60dB, so most of the modern 60--65dB preamps will have sufficient gain (if it is quiet enough is completely different issue). 

I recorded the last V. Feltsman Chopin complete Waltzes and Impromptu album with ribbon microphones with (of course) distant miking (the mics were about 6' out the open lid) and did not have any noise problems.

Here is sincerely yours in Non Stop Music studio in Salt Lake City on Samick piano (clearly, it is not  a Steinway D, by any stretch). The hall is pretty small, but since formerly the building was a church the ceilings are high. The mics are set in Blumlein about 6' high and 3' out of piano. No EQ or processing of any kind.
 
Somewhere over the Rainbow:

http://samaraudiodesign.com/RibbonA.wav

You can judge for yourself if there are any noise or "lack of sparkle" problems.


And: to what extend does this dilute the beauty of the ribbon mic? After all, if the internal mic pre must be fed into an external mic pre/board, for further processing, would that not mean a further dilution of the original pure ribbon sound into a mish-mash of the passive ribbon + (low priced?) fet + transistor/op-amp processor?


Klaus, you certainly have a very good and valid point here re: mish-mash". However, I don't see a problem using the electronic circuit if it optimizes, beautifies, and pulls out all the best qualities of the ribbon. After all, we are interested not in how it's been achieved, but in a final product, i.e. a tool which helps to make beautiful sound on the recording.

I am all for a ribbon microphone, where the ribbon part and electronic circuit are an integral system, parameters of which are chosen to compliment each other. Such microphone will have just as good of the noise floor as any professional condenser microphone (and certainly better than most of tube mics).

After all, one of the main points of H. Olson defending and promoting ribbon microphone technology was very low noise. And (as always) he was right. The problem is not in topology, but implementation.

Best, M
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soapfoot

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #34 on: December 05, 2011, 09:12:52 am »

Dennis,

I would encourage you to put aside temporarily any absolute preferences you have developed from your interest the audiophile/playback realm (an enthusiasm which I most definitely share).

In your price range and for your application(s), something far more practical may be in order when shopping for a microphone to make your demonstration recordings.

Suppose one of your non-audiophile friends were to say to you: "I need a recommendation for an .mp3 player to listen to while I jog, but I want something very fast with great transient performance and sparkling dynamics. It needs to create that holographic imagery of the performer that pulls the listener in. My budget is about $300." 

It would be not only exceedingly difficult to find a recommendation that would satisfy, but also a bit beside the point, as it would be extremely hard to achieve those objectives under the conditions (lossy compressed file, earbuds, jogging) at any price point.

I believe this is what many here have tried to tell you with regards to room acoustics, instrument quality and condition, microphone technique and placement, etc.  The microphone itself is but one link in the chain.

Going back to the audiophile world-- It's obvious that a modestly-priced playback system of quality placed in a well-designed room with the speakers configured carefully would achieve superior playback results in nearly every regard over a $20,000 system with the speakers stacked on top of each other in the corner of a square, concrete room--regardless of the design philosophies, topologies, and technologies implemented.

So it is with recording.  Since your budget limits you, frankly, to what are commonly referred to as "prosumer" microphones, I'd suggest taking one of the recommendations (Klaus's is a good one), going from there, and realizing that under the conditions you have described, the microphone is not in your case going to be the weak link in terms of getting the "dynamics, musical beauty, and natural perspective" you seek.

Is that to say that those things wouldn't be better with a sterling pair of KM54s?  No.  But the budget needed to get to the echelon where the mics are doing you 'favors' is quite a bit above what would be practical for you to afford at this time.

Best of luck!!



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bodtbody

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #35 on: December 05, 2011, 04:54:00 pm »

First, sorry I will fill your thread with views on ribbonmicrophones. :o

Then I would recommend MBHO microphones (over your budget but quality at a very moderate price).
Also I would also suggest the AKG 451 and Oktava.
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venlig hilsen JP

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #36 on: December 05, 2011, 10:50:56 pm »

Yes, I am convinced everyone, I will set aside any convictions about audio I have formed from my audiophile hobby and casual encounters with the recording process. I have a lot to learn about many aspects of recording, but actually even more than that, I have a lot to learn about locating musicians to play my pieces and locating rooms or venues. So it seems a bit premature to purchase any expensive recording equipment.

I do own this Audio Technica 813a condenser cardioid mic, and together with the Mini-Me I can record things that are noise-free and sound more or less like real instruments, so that's a good start. And run everything from batteries, which adds flexibility.

I think I need to focus more on composing and networking for a while.
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Piedpiper

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #37 on: December 06, 2011, 12:06:44 am »

To synopsize if I may:

Your aspirations are worthy.

There are better and worse choices at any price point, both in terms of quality and suitability for the job at hand, although it does get a lot more interesting over $1k.

Battery power can make a difference in the quality of the sound.

The hall will be the biggest determinant in your sound by far, along with mic placement.

I got way into esoteric audiophile recording techniques as well as playback. I've since expanded my practical vocabulary.

Look me up if you wanna talk...
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soapfoot

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #38 on: December 06, 2011, 08:12:16 am »

Yes, and to add--

ultimately, many of the same concerns you enjoy attending to with audiophile playback DO, in fact, apply in some way to the recording side as well, especially for certain aesthetics-- just perhaps not at $400.  To everything there is a season, and right now your energies are probably best focused on the 'source' side of things.

Many of us love minimalism, well-designed tube gear, and are particular about high quality equipment down to the component level, right down to individual brands of capacitors and resistors (as an enthusiast of audiophile playback, I'm sure that sounds familiar to you). Please don't think I'm trying to say these things are unimportant or foolish-- quite the contrary, actually.  However, all of this does have its place within the grand scheme of things, and as in the audiophile world, it has its price point as well-- usually quite high for gear of any quality.

Ultimately, "you get what you pay for," and I can assure you that if you enjoy the audiophile hobby, as your recording experience matures you will likely revisit this notion when you are prepared to make a bit more of an investment.

Good luck!!
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dennis1127

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #39 on: December 08, 2011, 06:35:13 pm »

A guy is available to record my latest piano composition. We have to use a "studio" on campus which is a large office. Carpeted and fairly dead.

There's a pro audio rental store near me, with microphones:


http://www.audiorents.com/rental/14/group/Microphones.html

Through renting I can get some experience with a mic before buying it.

When I eventually buy something, it has been suggested that I get a used mic at a fair market value, and if it doesn't work out, I can resell it.
 

One of the mics at this rental place (see link) is the AKG 451 preamp/body with CK 1 capsule. I've gotten some suggestions I might like this one or find it useful.

One of my questions is: how would you recommending miking the piano for mono and for stereo?
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halocline

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #40 on: December 10, 2011, 01:28:17 am »

I think you'd want to rent a pair of the mics and I guess do a co-incident or near co-incident stereo pattern. There are lots of websites that describe those. There are, of course, a million opinions about this, but either the X/Y or ORTF set ups are pretty standard and probably a good place to start. One thing that's nice about this is you can put both mics on a stereo bar on one stand, and then move it around the room until you find a place that you like. You set it up, record someone playing 30 seconds or so, move it, record the same excerpt, repeat that several times, each time making a note as to where your mics are, listen to the excerpts, and choose what sounds best to you. By far the most valuable thing about this is that you will begin to develop an ear for the mic placement.

The 451s are pretty standard small diaphragm condensers. Personally I would rent 414s; they're the standard AKG large diaphragm condenser; but the choice is yours. If you got a pair of each you could then also learn about the difference in the sound of the mics. Doesn't that sound fun?

What are you connecting the mics to? You'll need a good preamp to discern much about the mics. Maybe the guy rents those too. Sorry to keep spending your money!!!

I don't know a thing about mono recording, but maybe someone with more experience and knowledge can chime in.
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dennis1127

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #41 on: December 10, 2011, 01:40:27 am »

You're not spending much of my money.. the standard mics are $10/day. (The vintage mics are much more.)

I have an Apogee Mini-Me combination mic pre and A/D. I've done some minor mods to it, things I learned from my audiophile hobby. Mainly giving it clean power and shielding some things. I've tested it with an Audio-Technica 813A condenser mic I have at home and the Mini-Me sounds okay to me. Not great but a good start, I think.

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soapfoot

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #42 on: December 10, 2011, 08:56:41 am »

you could do a lot worse than the mini-me in the "all in one interface" department. Should be more than adequate to rent some mics and learn a thing or two about placement!

There are a lot of mics on that list that would be educational to rent for a nominal charge. Perhaps if interested you could rent a different pair (or two) each week. You could learn so much about microphones that way!
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halocline

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #43 on: December 10, 2011, 10:29:27 am »

You're not spending much of my money.. the standard mics are $10/day. (The vintage mics are much more.)


From what I see on the list, the 451s are $20 ($40 for a pair?) the 414s (B-ULS and newer) are $35 each, and KM84s are $30 each. I don't see anything worth renting for $10....but there certainly might be something I've missed. So a pair of each of those would be $170/day. Would the guy throw in cables, a couple of stands, and a stereo bar? If so and he'd let you keep them for a weekend, and you could get a pianist to play the same excerpt a hundred times (hehe) it would be worth it to learn so much about the sound of these mics.

If your room is really small, dead is better than live. Most small room reflections, IMO, are just terrible for recording classical music.
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Tim Campbell

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #44 on: December 10, 2011, 12:58:45 pm »

Well Mark (marik) I for one think your mics sound wonderful! Keep up the good work.
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Marik

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Re: Ribbon Mics: Suitable For Purist Recordist On A Budget?
« Reply #45 on: December 11, 2011, 05:15:23 pm »

Well Mark (marik) I for one think your mics sound wonderful! Keep up the good work.

Thank you Tim for your nice words!

To the OP,

If you have a fairly dead room then my first choice would be whether SD true omnies (maybe even with Jecklin disk), or ribbon Blumlein setup. Those will probably give you the most natural piano sound in your conditions. I always try to stay away from cardioids on piano and use them only in some special cases (like for example in especially bad room, recording live in smaller halls to separate the audience noises, or as a spot mic).

Best, M
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Mark Fouxman
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