Microphones

Can my SF-12 stereo microphone be upgraded to an SF-24?

An SF-12 cannot be upgraded to SF-24 specification. Although the SF-12 and the SF-24 share the same transducer assemblies and have similar sonic characteristics, they are two very different microphones. The impedance matching transformers that are integral to each model are very different electrically and physically. The SF-24’s active electronics will not work with the SF-12’s transformer set, and the transformers will not fit in the SF-12’s slim housing.

The large housing of the SF-24 is designed to accommodate the bigger transformers and provide magnetic shielding for them as well as provide the room needed for the active electronics circuit boards. The cost to make all of this work with an existing SF-12 would economically and physically unfeasible.

Can the SF-12 also be used as a mono mic?

Yes, in two different ways. The SF-12 sums to mono extremely well, so you can combine the outputs of both channels into one channel for a mono track. Or, being that an SF-12 is made up of two identical mono ribbon elements, positioned one above the other, you can use either side of the SF-12 as a mono mic with no negative effect. The mic cable is labeled “Upper” and “Lower”, so just plug in whichever ribbon transducer you’d like to use.

I’ve got an electrical buzz on one side of my SF-12.

Some preamplifier designs are prone to developing internal ground loops when used in conjunction with stereo microphones such as the Royer SF-12. A ground loop manifests itself as unwanted noise, buzz or hum (usually 60Hz or 120 Hz). The problem may be more apparent with lower output microphones such as dynamics or passive ribbons because of the high gain required for normal operation.

Ground loops are brought on when the left and right transducer elements of a stereo microphone are plugged into two inputs of a stereo or multi-channel preamplifier. Stereo microphones usually have a multi-conductor cable that carries the two independent, balanced signals and then splits them to a pair of standard three-pin XLR outputs. This pair of three-pin connectors usually shares Pin-1 as ground. If the grounding scheme within the preamplifier is poorly designed (or the distances to internal ground are too great), a ground loop may develop.

You can perform a simple test to check for ground loops (preferably done with a pair of headphones to avoid feedback). Plug one side of the stereo microphone into either preamplifier input. Listen to the output of the preamp. All should be quiet except for the mic signal. Now plug the second side into the next preamplifier input. If a noise or buzz develops, you have a ground loop. The ground loop may be very slight or more pronounced, depending on the preamp. Battery powered preamps usually do not exhibit this problem, and neither do well designed, AC powered mic preamps.

The simple fix is to disconnect one of the microphone’s two Pin-1 ground connections. A better method is to make a small ground lift adapter from a male-female XLR barrel adapter. Switchcraft makes a nice one, and it takes less than five minutes to wire it up. Simply connect Pin-2-to-Pin-2, Pin-3 to Pin-3, and leave Pin-1 disconnected. Insert the adapter between one of the microphone’s outputs and the preamplifier input. Correcting the problem at the preamplifier would be preferable, but is often more difficult and/or expensive.

Is the SF-12 a stereo mic with the two figure-8 ribbons 90 degrees apart?

Yes. The SF-12 has two ribbon elements spaced at 45 degrees from center, which is the classic Blumlein configuration. Being that the SF-12’s ribbons are positioned at 90 degrees apart (X-Y position) you can also rotate the SF-12 by 45 degrees and use it for M-S recording. For a detailed explanation of how this works, you can download a copy of our SF-12 Owners Manual.

Is the SF-12 a stereo version of the R-121?

No. The magnet system and ribbon elements of SF-12’s and R-121’s are entirely different, and the response and recommended uses for each mic are somewhat different. In my opinion, the SF-12 has a slightly smoother response and somewhat better figure-8 pattern.

What is the difference between Royer R-series and SF-series mics?

The best way to explain the differences between R-series mics (R-121, R-122 MKII, R-122V) and SF-series mics (SF-12, SF-24, SF-1) is to take a look at their ribbon transducers (the transducer is the magnetic frame or assembly that the ribbon element is housed in).

This is the R-121 transducer (also used in R-122 MKII’s and R-122V’s). It has a long, wide, thick (2.5 micron) ribbon element. The transducer is a “flux frame” design; basically one frame that the magnets are secured to and the ribbon element sits in. It’s a tough ribbon design that can handle sound pressures that would blow most ribbon mics (135 dB SPL at 20 Hz). This design makes the R-series mics tough enough to use in live applications (see Are ribbon mics recommended for live use?)

The R-series transducer has a slight upper midrange rise (see frequency response) that gives it a little extra presence and “character.” Our R-series mics have become “must haves” for the recording of rock, pop, jazz, and country music.

This is the SF-12 transducer (also used in SF-24’s and SF-1’s). Compared to the R-series transducer, it has a shorter, narrower, thinner (1.8 micron) ribbon element. The transducer is a more “classic” design, utilizing separate magnets at the four corners and two pole pieces that the ribbon sits between. While SF-series mics can handle 130 dB SPL (at 40 Hz), they are not recommended for extremely loud applications.

The SF-series transducer gives a warm, flat response and extends a few kHz further into the high frequencies than our R-series mics. Its more purist sound lends itself to strings, woodwinds and other classical applications. The stereo imaging and realism of the SF-12 and SF-24 is uncanny – excellent for ensambles, drum overheads, choirs, acoustic groups, etc.

What is the difference between the R-121 and the R-122 MKII?

The R-122 is basically a phantom powered version of the R-121, coupled with a larger transformer and active electronics. This gives the R-122 13 db more level without any increase in noise (all of the extra level comes from the larger transformer; hence that wonderful thing called “free gain”). The extra level is useful when recording low level sound sources like acoustic instruments, vocals, soft percussion and spoken word. Both mics utilize a 2.5 micron aluminum ribbon and are capable of handling a maximum SPL of 135db (at 20 Hz!). The R-122 is also more forgiving with regard to preamplifier input impedance and long cable runs. The R-121 is generally favored for loud sound sources, such as loud guitar amplifiers, toms and kick drum.

Why does the back of the R-121, R-122 MKII and R-122V sound different than the front?

Our R-series mics have a patented offset ribbon design, created to help them do a better job of handling high SPL’s. Because the ribbon is in a different physical space when you use the back side of the mic, there is a slight tonal difference between the two sides (see Recording With The Back Side). This only takes place at close distances – at distances of more than 3 feet, both sides of the mic sound identical. At three feet or less, the back side will be a little brighter than the front, which can be nice for vocals, acoustic guitars, and other applications.

SF-series mics use a traditional design – the ribbon is centered and the front and back sides sound the same at all distances.

 

Recording

Are ribbon mics recommended for spoken word, like voiceovers?

Ribbon mics can be excellent for voiceover work. Their proximity effect gives the big bottom that VO artists love and their smoothness and lack of sibilance make the engineers happy. Due to their consistent off-axis response, ribbons are especially useful if the VO artist is moving around. As the artist moves, the pickup remains uniform (as opposed to the tonal changes that take place when an artist goes on and off axis on a condenser mic).

Our active R-122 MKII and SF-24 mics, with their higher output and impedance matching circuitry, are especially recommended.

Can I use R-121 or R-122 MKII on drums?

Yes R-121’s and R-122’s are great on drums. The R-121 is highly recommended for kick, toms, room mics, high-hat and ride cymbals. It’s good for snare as well, but care must be taken to place it where it won’t be hit. For kick use, angle the mic at approximately 45 degrees. Depending on placement, a PS-101 windscreen may be required.

The R-122 is a killer overhead mic. Try a spaced pair. It’s also excellent for rooms. Here’s a hint from David Bianco: Place an R-121 on the beater side of the kick. Aim the mic toward the beater, with the backside of the mic pointed toward the bottom of the snare drum. Flip phase at your mic pre to match the main kick and snare mics and compress to taste. Print this on a separate track and use to liven up the drums in the mix.

Can phantom power damage a ribbon mic?

Under normal working conditions, phantom power will not damage a Royer ribbon. Phantom power is actually required for operation on our active R-122 and SF-24 microphones. The two exceptions are miswired cables and “live cross patching” on a patch bay. When a mic line is crossed-patched at the patch bay, there is a temporary short that occurs as the jack is being inserted. If 48volts are present, a damaging voltage spike can be sent to the microphone. This can cause excessive stretching of the ribbon. This is also not recommended for condenser microphones.

Solution – make sure the mic is unplugged or phantom is turned off before cross patching mics at the bay.

Also see Ribbon Microphones and Phantom Power.

Does a ribbon mic need to be as close to a speaker cabinet as a dynamic mic to get a big bass response?

The bass response of most ribbon microphones on guitar cabinets is much better than that of dynamic microphones. Traditional ribbon microphones will be damaged if you position them too close to an extremely loud guitar cabinet, but our R-series mics were designed to take high SPL’s and can handle close miking duties on a loud cabinet.

Cabinets develop more bass resonance as you move away from them, so an R-121 one, two, three, even six feet back can give you the bass response you’re looking for. Ribbons have a strong proximity effect, so placing a ribbon mic any closer than 4 inches from the cabinet grill cloth will result in a bass-heavy sound. While that’s probably too thick a sound for a guitar track, it can be a useful effect. Some engineers put an R-121 close on a cabinet for exaggerated bottom end, then blend it with an SM-57 for the aggressive top end of that mic. This can give you a huge rock tone.

R-121’s and R-122’s record bass guitar well, but if the bass is loud, best results will be achieved with the mic placed at least two feet from the cabinet. Miking a loud bass guitar cabinet closer than 6″ is not advisable, as the low frequencies at high volume can exceed the mic’s handling capability of 135 dB SPL possibly damaging the ribbon.

Do not close mic electric guitars with our SF-series microphones, as the ribbon elements in SF mics are finer and can be damaged by excessive SPL’s. They work well at a distance, however.

How about putting a couple of EQ switches on your mics?

We’ve kicked that idea around because ribbons handle EQ so well. Ultimately a decent outboard EQ unit or a good EQ plug-in will do a better job of shaping your tone, while giving you more options.

Always remember the value of good miking technique – many times a slight change in mic placement will give you the change in tone you are looking for. Take a cue from one of the master engineers of our time, Al Schmitt. We’ve noticed that on tracking dates, most of his EQ’ing is done by making small adjustments to mic positions.

How do I minimize pops and mouth noise when using a ribbon mic?

Use a quality pop screen. Our PS-101 metal pop screens are excellent choices, but any quality pop filter will do.

Nylon popper-stoppers and foam mic covers are pop filters. They often affect high frequencies. PS-101’s are pop screens and have no appreciable affect on high-frequency information – their screens simply redirect wind downward and away from the microphone.

How would you recommend using an SF-12 for ambience recording of an audience in a live environment?

The SF-12 gives an excellent pickup of an audience in a live recording. A classic technique for recording an audience is to use several bi-directional microphones above the audience, each positioned so that their fronts face down toward the audience and their backs face the ceiling. The BBC has long used this method. The result is a clean pickup of the audience and a strong discrimination against sounds from the set, particularly if the mics are arranged carefully so that the “dead” sides of the mics face the set.

I’ve always heard phantom power is bad for ribbon mics. Is it okay to supply phantom power to the R-122 MKII?

Phantom power is actually required for operation of the R-122 and will not damage it in any way.

For more information visit Ribbon Mics and Phantom Power.

I’ve always heard that ribbon mics are fragile. Can I really use my R-122 MKII on a loud guitar amp?

The R-122 MKII can handle SPLs of up to 135db, which is really loud! At high levels, care must be taken in placement – a 45 degree angle is helpful. Also, mic pre overload becomes a possibility, due to the high output of the R-122 MKII’s active circuitry (see When I use my R-122 MKII on loud sources, I hear distortion. How do I deal with it?). For extremely loud amps, we recommend using the R-121.

What is the maximum cable length that should be used with a ribbon mic?

One of the advantages of our active microphones (R-122 MKII, R-122V, SF-24) is their ability to drive long cable lengths, up to 100-200ft. without signal loss. The limiting factor would be the quality of the phantom power being supplied to the mics. A high quality phantom system should provide a solid 48 volts at level of 10 milliamps. Maximum recommended cable length for any passive microphone, including the R-121, SF-12 and SF-1, is 50-75 ft. The louder the source, the less any loss would be evident.

When I use my R-122 MKII on loud sources, I hear distortion. How do I deal with it?

The R-122 MKII is a high output microphone. When used on loud sources, the possibility exists of overloading the input of your microphone preamp. An easy fix is to use an inline attenuator between the mic and the input of the mic pre. Inline attenuators, such as those made by Switchcraft, AudioTechnica, Shure and ProCo, are inexpensive and readily available through your pro audio dealer. Often times, simply moving the mic back slightly will clear it up and yield a more balanced sound.

Which Royer mic would you recommend for recording vocals?

While most engineers automatically reach for a condenser mic for recording vocals, you can get excellent results from using the right ribbon microphone. Many of the great classic vocal performances were captured on ribbons. Ribbons are great for sibilance problems, singers with a harsh tone, or any time you want a little more color and warmth in a vocal.

Ribbons take EQ extremely well and can be shaped to approximate the frequency response of a condenser mic. Even with intense EQ’ing, good ribbons will not be harsh or sibilant. Two great examples of vocals on a highly EQ’ed ribbon are “Kiss Me” and “There She Goes Again” by Sixpence None the Richer, recorded by Russ Long on a Coles 4038. The mic sounds like an extremely smooth condenser microphone.

Royer R-series mics have an offset ribbon design that creates a tonal difference between the front and the back of the mic (see Recording on the Back Side). At close distances the back side is brighter than the front. Most engineers we hear from prefer the back side for vocals. The active R-122 MKII is a good match for vocals due to its higher output level and slightly brighter response. The SF12 and SF-24 are especially useful for recording vocal groups in stereo.

Why do ribbon mics take EQ so well?

Ribbons take EQ extremely well because they generate virtually no self distortion. When you boost any frequency, even by extreme amounts, you increase only the musical response you’re looking for, not unpleasant distortion artifacts. Well designed ribbon mics all share this trait. Due to the cheaper components used in many of the less expensive ribbons showing up lately, they don’t handle EQ as well.

Why do ribbons sound less edgy on digital recordings than other mics?

Good ribbons generate a signal that is extremely low in distortion artifacts and transformer ringing, so A/D converters have an easier job tracking and translating the signal. The frequency response of ribbon mics is also important. Ribbons are naturally warm microphones, with a roll off in the highs that is closer to the sounds we hear in real life.

Your mics are rated to handle 135 db SPL. I’ve seen other ribbons rated for 165 dB SPL. Why are your mics rated lower?

We call this “The Horsepower Race.” That 165 dB SPL rating is a bit misleading – it’s for signals at 1 kHz. While that is very loud, it’s not generating a massive amount of sound pressure. Our 135 dB SPL rating is at 20 Hz – a huge signal that generates a lot of sound pressure.

 

Repair and Service

Are the ribbons field replaceable?

If your ribbon ever needs replacing, it should only be done at our factory by a skilled technician. Re-ribboning is both an art and a science, requiring use of our proprietary ribboning and test gear. It also gives our technicians a chance to evaluate the other components in your microphone.

How can I tell if my ribbon is blown?

It’s obvious when a ribbon is “blown”, the mic will suddenly lack highs and lows, and its level will drop substantially (6 to 8 dB). You may also hear mechanical rattling sounds, which comes from the ribbon element scraping against other parts in the ribbon transducer. There’s usually no doubt when a ribbon is blown – you’ll know it when you hear it. A completely blown ribbon (ribbon element torn apart – very rare) would have no output.

Fortunately, replacing the ribbon element will bring the mic back to new condition.

Ribbons are designed to stretch over time with no negative effect. A little ribbon fatigue can actually sweeten a ribbon mic slightly. With normal use, ribbon elements will last many years before needing replacement. The mic will perform to spec until the ribbon is overly stretched, at which time its performance will fall off rapidly and you’ll know it’s time for a re-ribbon.

The #1 way to blow a ribbon mic is to loan it out! Engineers who own ribbon mics and read their manuals know how to handle them and rarely damage them. The person you loan your ribbon mic to probably doesn’t have your level of ribbon expertise, or possibly won’t be as careful with it because it doesn’t belong to them. Watch who you loan your ribbon mics to, or which engineers in your studio you allow to handle them.

Other common ways to blow ribbon mics are dropping them, exposing them to wind (using them outside without a wind filter, placing them near vents or doors, etc.), and exposing them to phantom power (see Can phantom power damage a ribbon mic?).

What if my Royer mic needs repair?

Check out the Repair & Service section on our web site for detailed shipping instructions and an RA (Return Authorization) form. You can also contact us at or call us at (818) 847-0121.

After being issued a Return Authorization number and packaging your mic well, you will ship it to:
Royer Labs
2711 Empire Ave.
Burbank, CA 91504

 

Traveling With Your Microphones

Ribbon Microphones and Air transport

Air travel can be an especially challenging prospect for microphones. Never treat them as if they were just everyday luggage. Microphones should be hand-carried and brought into the aircraft as a carry-on item. Since the cargo-hold areas of aircraft often experience extreme changes in air pressure and wild temperature fluctuations, NO high quality microphones should be there. Although temperature changes do not affect ribbon microphones, they can have disastrous affects on many condenser mikes, particularly “vintage” ones. Further, drastic pressure changes are not good for studio microphones, particularly “vintage” tube condenser mikes, so be forewarned.

 

Matched Pairs and Upgrades

If I already have a Royer ribbon mic and I’d like a matched pair, can you match the existing one?

Matched pairs of Royer mics are consecutively serial numbered and shipped together as a perfect match. Consecutive serial numbering adds value to the pair and shows that they’re matched. Technically, two mics that are separated by more than one serial number cannot be “matched.” However, Royer mics are extremely consistent. Any two Royers of the same model should work well as a pair.

We keep records on every Royer microphone. If you’d like a mic that closely matches one you already own, chances are we can find one for you in stock.

(Note: The sensitivity of Royer mics has gone up over the years, so if you have an older Royer and want it matched to a newer one, we may have to work on your current mic to bring it up to newer spec. This is not necessarily recommended, as older un-modified microphones tend to increase in value.)

 

Live Use

Are ribbon mics recommended for live use?

Yes! Most ribbon mics are too fragile or large to take on the road, but our R-series mics are being used extensively on live stages. Their lack of harshness and tight polar patterns have helped many FOH engineers get better sounds and a better handle on mic leakage.

Royers will travel well as long as they’re kept in their wooden jewel boxes in-between gigs. For outdoor recording or any place where your Royers will be exposed to wind (including air conditioning vents, breezy doors, etc.), be sure to use the Royer wind screen designed for your mic (they’ll stop even high winds from reaching your microphone, with negligible attenuation).

A few bands using Royers for live work…

  • Aerosmith (six R-121’s on Joe Perry’s three stereo guitar rigs)
  • Matchbox Twenty
  • Keith Urban
  • Harry Connick Jr. (four R-122’s on the brass section)
  • Wayne Shorter (R-121 on Wayne’s saxophone, R-122’s on drum overheads and kick drum – see pictures)
  • Thursday (R-121’s on guitar cabs)
  • Whitesnake (R-121’s on guitar cabs)
  • Tom Petty (R-121’s on guitar cabs)
  • Phil Lesh (R-121’s on guitar cabs)

For more on using ribbons live visit Ribbons On Stage.