Ribbons and Transient Response

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Audio transients are instantaneous sonic events with extremely short attack and decay times, and minimal sustain. Snare drum hits, kick drum hits, staccato piano, plucked strings, and slap bass are all good examples. Due to the low mass of the element, ribbons exhibit extremely fast transient response, often equaling or exceeding that of condensers, depending on the size and composition of the diaphragm or ribbon. Good transient response leads to clean, dynamic, punchy, and detailed recordings (the sound literally comes alive) the sound stage opens up and envelops the listener, often appearing wider than the playback speakers themselves. Poor transient response results in recordings that are dull, muddled, and ill-defined with a smeared stereo image where the listener struggles to hear each instrument in its proper context. Some sound engineers believe that condensers are always faster, but many times what they are hearing is overshoot - a disproportionate reaction to a transient common to condensers that results in higher output of the transient than its actual input. Overshoot leads to some nasty sonic artifacts and often contributes to the brittle, tinny high end found on some inexpensive condensers. Well-designed ribbons are not susceptible to overshoot. Considering the mass of the element, we can conclude the fast transient response of a ribbon mic is a matter of simple physics: The higher the mass, the more energy that will be required to excite air molecules in proximity to the transducer and cause it to move, hence its response to incoming sound pressure waves is slower. The lower the mass - you get the picture.

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