What is a Ribbon Microphone?

A Beginners Guide to Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon microphones are the most natural mics that you can use to capture the sound of an instrument, a voice, and even the ambience of a room. Due to their figure-of-8 polar pattern, massive low-end pick-up, and natural high-frequency roll-off, ribbons really hear more like your ears than any other mic out there.

If you’re a musician and have struggled to capture the natural sound of your instrument, it’s time to try a ribbon mic. Maybe you’ve gone to recording studios, friend’s houses, and you’ve even bought some mics, but you’ve struggled to truly record your instrument the way you hear it. A ribbon mic will fix that. Ribbons are the warmest, most natural sounding mics in the world.

Ribbon Mics
Simple at Their Core

From the mid-1930s until the mid-70s, most recordings and broadcasts were made using ribbon microphones. The basic design of ribbon mics has always been simple. Each consist of a thin strip of corrugated aluminum suspended loosely between two magnets connected to a transformer.

Why am I Just Hearing About Ribbons Now?

During the 1970s, however, with the rise in quality of condenser microphones, ribbons fell out of favor. This was mainly because recording methods changed and the era of magnetic tape was upon us. Condensers sounded brighter than ribbons on tape because of their high resonant frequency. This helped when compensating for the high-frequency roll-off of older mixing consoles, tape machines, vinyl records, and radio. In this period, RCA closed its ribbon mic manufacturing, causing ribbon market to collapse.

A Ribbon Resurgence

In the 1990s, with the advent of digital recording, ribbons made a comeback due to digital recording’s transparent sound. Now it was condensers that suffered because they often brought out harsh sounds in cymbals, brass and string instruments. Ribbons are known for taming these sources and working extremely well with digital recordings. Many great engineers — who never forgot ribbons — returned to the more natural ribbon sound in the digital era.

How Did AEA Get Involved With Ribbon Mics?

AEA started repairing, restoring, and manufacturing spare parts for RCA ribbon mics in 1976. By 1998, we had created 100% of the spare parts needed to make an RCA 44 from scratch. With our 20 years of experience working with the RCA44s and the newfound demand for new ribbon mics, we decided to release an updated reproduction of this classic design called the R44C.

What Makes Different Ribbon Mics Sound Different From One Another?