1. Why is my dBooster not working?
  2. Various Set-ups
  3. Ukrainian Radio Television Orchestra
  4. Introduction to Recording Orchestra
  5. Multiple Miking
  6. Miking Up
  7. Introduction to Recording Acoustic Guitar
  8. Introduction to Recording Piano
  9. Cymbals
  10. Ride Cymbal
  11. Hi-hat
  12. Snare
  13. Kick Drum
  14. Toms
  15. Room Mics – Front of Kit
  16. Overheads
  17. Minimalist Miking
  18. Introduction to Recording Drums
  19. Miking a Horn Section
  20. Miking Solo Brass
  21. Introduction to Recording Brass
  22. Ribbon Microphones and Air transport
  23. Why do ribbon mics take EQ so well?
  24. 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?
  25. Are the ribbons field replaceable?
  26. What if my Royer mic needs repair?
  27. How can I tell if my ribbon is blown?
  28. What is the maximum cable length that should be used with a ribbon mic?
  29. If I already have a Royer ribbon mic and I’d like a matched pair, can you match the existing one?
  30. How about putting a couple of EQ switches on your mics?
  31. Why does the back of the R-121, R-122 MKII and R-122V sound different than the front?
  32. Why do ribbons sound less edgy on digital recordings than other mics?
  33. Can phantom power damage a ribbon mic?
  34. How do I minimize pops and mouth noise when using a ribbon mic?
  35. Does a ribbon mic need to be as close to a speaker cabinet as a dynamic mic to get a big bass response?
  36. Are ribbon mics recommended for spoken word, like voiceovers?
  37. Which Royer mic would you recommend for recording vocals?
  38. Are ribbon mics recommended for live use?
  39. What is the difference between Royer R-series and SF-series mics?
  40. Can my SF-12 stereo microphone be upgraded to an SF-24?
  41. Can the SF-12 also be used as a mono mic?
  42. How would you recommend using an SF-12 for ambience recording of an audience in a live environment?
  43. Is the SF-12 a stereo version of the R-121?
  44. Is the SF-12 a stereo mic with the two figure-8 ribbons 90 degrees apart?
  45. I’ve got an electrical buzz on one side of my SF-12.
  46. I’ve always heard that ribbon mics are fragile. Can I really use my R-122 MKII on a loud guitar amp?
  47. When I use my R-122 MKII on loud sources, I hear distortion. How do I deal with it?
  48. I’ve always heard phantom power is bad for ribbon mics. Is it okay to supply phantom power to the R-122 MKII?
  49. Can I use R-121 or R-122 MKII on drums?
  50. I’ve always heard that ribbon mics are fragile. Can I really use the R-121 on a loud guitar amp?
  51. What is the difference between the R-121 and the R-122 MKII?
  52. A Note Regarding All Phantom Powered Microphones
  53. Electrical Outages
  54. Damaged or Worn Out Connectors
  55. Cross-Patching Microphone Tie Lines
  56. Shorted, Miswired or Damaged Microphone Cables
  57. Intro
  58. Preamplifiers We Like
  59. The Bottom Line
  60. To transformer or not to transformer?
  61. Tubes or Transistors?
  62. Headroom
  63. Preamplifier Noise
  64. Preamplifier Input Impedance
  65. Preamplifier Gain
  66. What types of preamplifiers work best with ribbon microphones?
  67. Recording Electric Guitar
  68. Summary
  69. Storing Ribbon Mics
  70. Ribbons and Wind
  71. Ribbons and SPL
  72. Ribbons and Phantom Power
  73. Ribbons and EQ
  74. Ribbons and Mixing
  75. Ribbons and Proximity Effect
  76. Ribbons and Transient Response
  77. Ribbons and Off-Axis Response
  78. Ribbons and Polar Response
  79. The Ribbon Sound
  80. The Ribbon – A Better Mousetrap
  81. The Condenser
  82. The Dynamic
  83. What is a Ribbon Microphone?
  84. But really, why ribbons?
  85. A Musician’s Story
  86. Hears Like Your Ears

Why is my dBooster not working?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOzC-9ROhqw]

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Various Set-ups

Orchestra miking
Here’s another shot from the Henry Mancini Orchestra session showing an R-122 as a spot mic on the sax soloist.


Orchestra miking Orchestra miking
In this photo from the same concert, an R-122 was used to capture the solo violinist. The gold SF-24 stereo ribbon microphone to the right of the violinist was used for choir pickup in a later song.


Orchestra miking
For this small orchestra, all sections were spot miked and a Royer SF-24 stereo ribbon mic was placed over the conductor’s head, an excellent location for getting a realistic audio picture of the orchestra and bringing cohesiveness to the final mix.


Orchestra miking
Close up on the conductor and SF-24.


Orchestra miking
Two Royer R-122s spot miking the French Horn section.


Orchestra miking
Scoring session at Sony with an R-122 spot mic on the timpani.


Orchestra miking Orchestra mikingOrchestra miking
Decca Trees are often used when recording orchestras. Developed in the early 1950s by a team of engineers at Decca Records, this method involves using a spaced stereo pair of mics with an added center fill, usually placed over the conductor. Scoring engineer Alan Meyerson often uses three R-122V’s on the Decca tree, with a backline of condenser mics behind the conductor. This picture was taken during the scoring session for Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest.


Orchestra miking
Two R-122V’s as overhead mics on the woodwind section. In this position, the R-122V’s figure-8 pattern picks up the woodwind instruments and also rejects the brass section which is positioned behind the woodwinds.


Orchestra miking
Another view of the R-122V’s as overheads on the woodwind section.


Orchestra miking
An additional R-122V is placed behind the bassoon.


Orchestra miking
A single R-121 was used to capture the three seat trumpet section.

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Ukrainian Radio Television Orchestra

Audio Clip

audioUkrainian Radio Television Orchestra
This outstanding audio clip was provided by Russell Dawkins, who used one SF-12 to record the Ukrainian Radio Television Orchestra (sorry, we have no pictures of the recording). The recording chain was: one SF-12, 35 feet Monster cable, Studio Technologies mic pre, 6 feet Monster cable, Apogee A/D converter, coaxial cable, digital in on a portable DAT machine. Recorded at the studios of the Ukrainian Radio/Television Orchestra, Kiev.


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Introduction to Recording Orchestra

Engineers use a wide variety of techniques when recording orchestras or small ensembles, from simply placing one stereo microphone just above and behind the conductor’s head to using several spot mics for each instrument section in conjunction with one to several ambient microphones.

In this section we’ll look at sessions where Royers were used to capture full orchestras as well as smaller ensembles.

Orchestra miking

Here’s an example of a simple miking technique for full orchestra using one stereo Royer SF-24. The placement is 4-5 feet behind, and several feet above, the conductor.

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Multiple Miking

Some engineers like using multiple microphones when they track acoustic guitar. Blending microphones with different sonic personalities is an alternative to eq’ing – rather than tweaking frequencies, you simply choose from the different sounds available to you through the mics you’ve chosen. You can blend the tracks as you record, or record the mics to separate tracks and decide how you’d like to blend them at mixdown.

There are many ways to combine microphones. One simple way to go is to position an R-122 at the 12th fret (shown above), then add a small or large diaphragm condenser mic off the body of the guitar, aimed at slightly behind the bridge.

Another suggestion is to record a track of ribbon mic and a track of direct signal from the guitar pickup (if your guitar has one). You’ll get the warmth and natural response of the ribbon, with the more immediate feel of the pickup blended to taste.

Here are a few other methods to try.

Space a pair of R-122’s wide apart, one mic near the top of the neck and one near the end of the body, then add a large diaphragm condenser mic (Mojave Audio MA-200 shown) around where the neck of the guitar meets the body. Blend to taste.

acoustic guitar miking acoustic guitar mikingacoustic guitar miking

Now try the same setup, but with a small diaphragm condenser (Mojave Audio MA-100 shown)acoustic guitar miking acoustic guitar miking

Try the SF-24 overhead setup with a large diaphragm condenser positioned in front of the guitar.acoustic guitar miking acoustic guitar miking

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Miking Up

A mono R-122 usually sounds best when it’s positioned at about the 12th fret, 5 to 10 inches off the neck. The back side of the R-122 produces a slightly brighter sound than the front side of the mic due to its offset ribbon design, so we recommend turning the mic around and trying the back side for tracking acoustic guitars. We’ve seen this method used on countless sessions and we highly recommend that you try it – it’s our favorite way to track acoustic guitar! (Note: this method applies only to our R-series mics, not our SF-series mics.)

electric guitar miking electric guitar mikingelectric guitar miking


electric guitar miking electric guitar miking
Steve Page of Barenaked Ladies tracking with a backward R-121.

An excellent method for tracking the acoustic guitar in stereo is to use two R-122’s positioned head-to-head in a Blumlein pair (X-Y). The two mics are positioned at 90 degrees apart, one facing the body of the guitar and one facing the neck. We suggest using the back side of both mics, remembering to flip phase at your pre’s.

electric guitar miking electric guitar mikingelectric guitar miking electric guitar miking

A spaced pair of R-122’s will give a nice, wide stereo recording. Again, we suggest using the back side of both mics, remembering to flip phase at your pre’s.

electric guitar miking electric guitar mikingelectric guitar miking

electric guitar miking
Joe Garcia tracking at Milestone Recording & Post. Engineer, Annie Miles.

When using an SF-series mic, try the same position on the neck (12th fret) but at least a few inches further back from the guitar. If you’re using an SF-12 or SF-24 stereo ribbon mic, also experiment with the mic out in front of the guitar for great stereo acoustic guitar tracks.

electric guitar miking electric guitar mikingelectric guitar miking electric guitar miking

electric guitar miking
Pierre Bensusan tracking with an SF-24 and two small diaphragm condensers.

Another technique is to place an SF-24 stereo ribbon several feet above the player, positioned horizontally like a stereo drum overhead mic. It’s an extremely natural sounding position that picks up the guitar more from the perspective of where the guitarist hears the instrument.

electric guitar miking electric guitar miking

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Introduction to Recording Acoustic Guitar

In this section, we’ll focus on mic choices and basic mic placement for recording the acoustic guitar. These mics in these positions have been proven on countless sessions around the world, so they’re a great starting place for anyone tracking the acoustic guitar.

A good ribbon mic (or a pair of ribbons for recording in stereo), properly placed, will give you extremely natural sounding acoustic guitar recordings. You can easily capture all the warmth, size and detail you want for full, lush sounding tracks, or thin the tone out for more percussive or sparkly sounding tracks. All of the Royer ribbons perform well on acoustic guitars, although we recommend different positions for R-series and SF-series mics. Due to the gain requirements of acoustic instruments, we usually recommend that you use our more sensitive Active Series powered ribbons (unless you’ve got a slammin’ mic pre with lots of gain). All of the R-series mics will give good results on acoustic guitar, but for this writing, we’ll refer to the R-122 phantom powered ribbon.

Ribbons handle EQ very well! Acoustic guitars can be shaped beautifully with a little bit (or a lot) of eq’ing. The complexity of the track you’re recording, how many other instruments and vocal tracks your acoustic guitar will be sharing space with, the overall sound you’re looking for, etc., will determine the amount of equalizing you’ll want to do. Generally, it’s good practice to roll off some low end at about 100 Hz. Boosting at 10-12 kHz adds a nice sparkle, as well as helps the guitar cut through a dense mix. Don’t be afraid to boost as much as 8 or 9 dB of high end to achieve a more condenser-like response if you need it. Even with such drastic EQ, Royers will retain their smooth high end.

The closer to the guitar you place the microphone the warmer the sound will be, so if you find that your track is overly warm or boomy, back the mic off an inch or two at a time until you achieve the balance of warmth and top-end you’re looking for. It’s important to note that ribbon microphones tend to sound better when placed a little further back from where you would normally place condenser mics.

These are a few good starting points. Experimentation is always the key to your own unique sounds! The acoustic guitar is a beautiful instrument and ribbons will help you bring out the best in it.

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Introduction to Recording Piano

The piano can be recorded in a variety of ways, with different miking methods yielding markedly different results. Classical recordings often benefit from some degree of room ambiance, achieved by placing the microphones outside of, or at a distance from, the piano. Pop and rock recordings often call for closer miking of the piano’s soundboard to give a tighter, more immediate response. Placing mics over the hammers yields an even brighter, more percussive recording. Removing the piano lid allows for miking the soundboard with no lid “bounce”, while opening the lid at full stick and placing mics just outside of the lid can give a fuller bodied, more natural sounding recording. The piano is a wonderfully complex instrument and the possibilities for recording it are endless!

Engineers around the world are using Royer ribbons to record piano, from classical and scoring to rock and country. We’ve been fortunate to attend a number of sessions where engineers have let us photograph their miking techniques and we share them with you here. As always, these are good starting points, but experimentation is the key to getting the sound you’re looking for.


Piano miking
This is a wonderful technique for recording classical piano. Position an SF-24 active stereo ribbon mic just outside of the open lid of the piano, leaned forward toward the soundboard.
Piano miking
Producer/Engineer Chuck Ainlay’s SF-12 positioned at the outer edge of Chuck Leavell’s piano.
Piano miking
You can also try pulling the mic back further to bring in more of the natural ambience of the room. In this picture, engineer Giovanni Di Simone was beta testing a prototype SF-24V (tube) stereo ribbon microphone for us – it’s on the stand next to a stock SF-24 at a live concert.


Piano miking
Japanese artist Hiromi being recorded by Telarc Engineer Michael Bishop. Michael used an SF-24 and two condenser microphones on the piano. The mics are placed outside of the piano, just far back enough to not be under the lid.
Piano miking
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell 3 Recording Session
This multiple mic technique is one of the most useful methods for recording rock/pop piano. Here we have a spaced pair of R-122s alongside a pair of Neumann U-67s, although any quality condenser microphone should yield decent results with this method.


Piano miking
Two R-122s – Spaced Pair
Live piano during a Henry Mancini Orchestra performance.
Open the piano lid to full stick and place one microphone about 12 inches above the hammers, half way between the lowest key and middle C. Place the second microphone at the same height, between the highest key and middle C. This technique gives a brighter, tighter sound which is usually preferable for rock, country, and pop.You might also try panning the mics hard left and right.
Piano miking Piano miking
Two R-121s – Blumlein
Blink-182 Recording SessionPlace a stereo pair of R-series mics in Blumlein (one mic above the other at 90 degrees apart) directly in the middle of the sound board over the hammers for a tight, percussive sound. You can also try this position with a stereo Royer SF-12 or SF-24.

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Here’s a great technique that might come in handy. Place an R-series mic between the cymbals, pointing the front toward the ride cymbal and the back toward the crash cymbal. The mic should now be at a 90 degree angle to the floor. Ribbon mics are bi-directional, picking up to the front and to the back. A bonus is that they have a strong null-point to the sides. In this configuration, you can get a lot of cymbal coverage without much snare. Try it – you’ll be amazed.

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Ride Cymbal

Sometimes it’s a good idea to close mic the ride cymbal, just in case you find you want to bring out some detail in the mix without affecting the overall drum balance. It’s better to print it and not use it than to need it and not have it. Ride cymbal miking on a session engineered by Steve Kempster.

Drum miking

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R-series mics are wonderful on hi-hat and can handle all the hi-freq eq boost that you can throw at them. You can get all the sizzle you need without the sound getting grainy or harsh, or leave the track non-EQ’ed and have a warm, natural high hat. Place at a 45 degree angle and leave room for those drum sticks. This is Bruce Swedien’s high hat miking technique.

Drum miking Drum miking

Drum miking
Richie Hayward’s kit on a home recording session.

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Although ribbon mics sound great on snare drums, they’re a bit tricky to use without endangering the ribbon mic. Here are some tips:

Place an R-series mic underneath the snare with the rear of the mic facing the snares and front of the mic facing the beater side of the kick drum. Remember to flip phase with this mic so it will be in phase with the top mic as well as with the front kick mics. Compress to taste! This is engineer Dusty Wakeman’s snare drum setup.

Drum miking Drum miking

Drum miking Drum miking
This snare is from an MXPX session, produced by Dave Jerden.

For a jazz or vintage setup, place an R-series with the front facing the snare and the back toward the hi-hat (remember, ribbons are bi-directional).

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Kick Drum

For a modern sound, combine an R-121 with a dynamic mic. Angle the R-121 downward at 45 degrees, and position it 10-14 inches from the kick drum head. To protect the ribbon from blasts of air, be sure to position the mic away from any holes cut in the head. The 45 degree angle protects the ribbon element by allowing it to take the low frequency, high SPL kick drum impact unevenly down the length of the ribbon, letting the ribbon flex without stretching it out. The sound of the R-121 in this position has often been compared to a FET-47. Add a dynamic mic, such as a D-112, 421, or even an SM57 placed inside the drum, to pick up the attack of the beater. Balance to taste!

Drum miking

Important Note:

Royer R-series ribbons have excellent side rejection which extend to the top and bottom sides of the mic as well. If you were to talk into the null points (the ribbed sides) of an R-121 or R-122, or directly at the top or bottom of the mic, you would hear next to nothing. This pattern is extremely useful for rejecting unwanted sounds in your recordings. Because the top of the mic is a null point, leaning the microphone forward – which points the top of the microphone directly at the rest of the drum kit – gives you a well isolated kick drum, almost as if you had a blanket over the kick and the mic for isolation.

For a more “vintage” sound, skip the dynamic mic. Brian Blade’s live drum miking – R-122 on kick, R-121’s on overheads, R-121 on high hat.

Drum miking Drum miking

Position the mic a little further back for a nice jazz kick drum.

Drum miking

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R121s and R122s both sound great on toms! Position the mic at a 45 degree angle, pointing at the center of the drum, making sure to leave enough room for the drummer’s sticks. Here’s another Bruce Swedien setup with R-121’s on toms and high hat.

Drum miking Drum miking

Drum miking Drum miking
Sean Beavan’s drums with R-121’s on toms and kick, SF-12 overhead.

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Room Mics – Front of Kit


It’s a great idea to use one or two mics in front of the kit; after all, that’s usually how we listen. Here are a couple of options:A single R-series mic 3-4ft. high about 4ft. in front of the kick. This will pick up the overall sound of the kit and can support your other tracks nicely – compress this mic to stun to add hugeness and compressor pump. Here is Richie Hayward’s kit miked up for a home recording. This method also works very well in large rooms.

Drum miking


An SF-12 or SF-24 stereo mic placed 3-4ft. high, 4-8ft. in front of the kick generates a nice stereo image.

Drum miking

Kenny Aronoff’s kit miked by Ross Hogarth- SF-24 in front of the kit with a Coles 4038 ribbon mic under it. 


Drum miking Drum miking

Engineer Steve Kempster’s setup – SF-24 8 feet in front of the kit, R-122’s overhead, R-122 on ride cymbal.


Now try the same position with the SF-12 or SF-24, but 6-8ft high. Engineer Steve Churchyard’s mic setup on a Meatloaf Bat Out Of Hell 3 session.

Drum mikingDrum miking

A pair of R-series ribbons split tight or wide in front of the kit as room mics.

Drum miking
Drums set up in Chuck Ainlay’s studio with R-122’s split out wide.


Drum mikingDrum miking
R-122’s close together in the room on a Train session, with an SF-24 overhead.

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Minimilist miking is good for some things, but most engineers today use a number of mics on the kit and at least a pair of mics in the room. Here we’ll look at miking the drums on a more individual basis and show you how a number of engineers use their Royers.


A great place to start is with the overheads, as they establish the imaging and the natural balance of the kit. Your overhead mics can be spaced closely or spread out for a wider stereo image. The R-122 is excellent for drum overheads – engineer Bruce Swedien’s favorite overhead mic setup is a pair of R-122 phantom powered ribbons. For Omar Hakim’s kit, Bruce used a pair of R-122’s for overheads, an R-122 on the ride cymbal and an R-121 on high hat.

Drum Miking

Elliot Scheiner also uses R-122’s for drum overheads. This pic of the kit was taken during a Jane Monheit session. 

Drum Miking

Mono overhead miking can be very effective. To capture a “cannibal vibe” in Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Alan Meyerson put one R-122V tube ribbon mic over each of three kits on the Sony scoring stage in LA. The drummers – Vinnie Colaiuta, JR Robinson and Abe Laboriel Jr. – played together simultaneously.

.Drum Miking

The stereo SF-12 and SF-24 are perfect for single point X-Y stereo miking, capturing the kit in perfect stereo without any phase cancellation. Pointing the microphone’s logo at the snare drum centers the snare in the stereo image. Moving the mic higher and lower can make a lot of difference, giving the kit an immediate, punchy sound (close) or a more open ambient sound (further).

Drum miking Drum miking

SF-12 for drum overheads on The Dirty Dozen


Drum miking
SF-24 for overheads on Train, being recorded by Don Gilmore. Notice the high ceiling at NRG Studios, which allowed for higher placement of the microphone without ceiling reflections.

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Minimalist Miking

Many legendary drum recordings were made with few mics on the kit, capturing full kit sound and minimizing phase issues due to interaction between many close microphones. Legendary Beatles recordings had a Coles 4038 ribbon mic overhead, an AKG D19 on the snare and an AKG D20 in front of the kit – the classic Ringo sound. Old Motown records employed similar minimal miking techniques; since many of the sessions were done live with the musicians in one large room, minimal miking was necessary and it helped reduce leakage. Eddie Kramer used three or four mics on John Bonham’s kit on some of the biggest sounding Led Zeppelin’s tracks. There’s no arguing with sound that good! Minimal miking is a great place to start.

Simple Setups:

MONO – Place one R-series mic 5 feet in front of the kit (closer or further depending on the size of the room), waist high. Add compression – maybe an 1176 or Distressor. Done.

electric guitar miking

R-122 in front of kit in home studio


STEREO – An overhead stereo ribbon mic gives an extremely realistic picture of any drum kit. Point the logo at the snare to center the snare in the stereo field. The L-R imaging is excellent and the drums record very much like what the drummer is hearing. Due to the realistic sound pickup, cymbals won’t be as bright as with condensers. Opening up the higher frequencies with EQ will give the cymbals more sparkle and cut without affecting the pickup of the rest of the kit.

Place an SF-12 or SF-24 over the kit and an R-121 or R-122 about 1 foot off the front kick drum head, angled 45 degrees toward the drum (this protects the ribbon elementand reduces kit bleed into the kick drum mic). Adjust positions of the two mics for desired ratio of kit to room sound.

electric guitar miking electric guitar miking electric guitar miking

If the ceiling is low and you have too much ceiling reflection getting into the back side of the mic, move the mic toward the front or the back of the kit and angle it at 45 degrees. This picture of an angled SF-12 is from a session Al Schmitt recorded. The low ceiling of the isolation booth was dealt with by angling the mic.

electric guitar miking

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Introduction to Recording Drums

Ribbon microphones excel on drums. They have an extremely natural sounding pickup, capturing the power, tone and nuance of all components of the kit. One Royer stereo ribbon mic on drum overhead gives an amazing image of the kit, with fast transient response and the added advantage of handling EQ beautifully. Today, engineers are using Royer ribbons all over the drum kit and as room mics. See examples below.

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Miking a Horn Section

When miking a full horn section, engineers often use one R-121 per musician at a distance of 1 to 2 feet. Grouping two players on one mic also works well – the off-axis response of a good ribbon is excellent, so having two on one mic can yield great results.


Once you’ve spot miked the instruments, adding an overall section microphone can add greatly to the fullness and cohesiveness of your recording. Royer SF-12 and SF-24 stereo ribbon mics do a beautiful job. Position the mic over and in front of the section, then position to taste. Consider how much room sound you want, since this will determine how close you position the mic.


Brass Set-up
R-121’s on brass section on Sony scoring stage, Los Angeles.

R-121 Ribbon Mic
Brass section setup for Arturo Sandoval big band. Four R-121’s on trumpets and four R-121’s on trombones.

Brass Set-up

2007 Academy Award pre-records at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles. Brass section recorded with four R-122V’s on trumpets, four R-121’s on trombones.

Brass set-up
SF-24 active stereo ribbon mic used for the room mic during the 2007 Academy Award recordings.

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Miking Solo Brass

Capturing good brass recordings is not overly difficult when the players are good and the right mics are up. Let’s start with miking a single brass instrument with an R-series mic.


A good starting position is to place the microphone anywhere from 2 to 5 feet in front of the instrument and about 6 inches below the line of sight of the bell. While monitoring through headphones or taking direction from someone listening in the control room, reposition the mic (or have the player adjust his position) until you think it sounds best.


Royers are forgiving of off-axis input and will give consistent results at various distances and angles, so anchoring the player to one position is not necessary. Many microphones will distort if brass is played too close to them, but Royers won’t.

R-121 Ribbon Mic

Arturo Sandoval at Capitol Studios soloing on an R-122. See video of Arturo Sandoval recording trumpet.



Arturo Sandoval on the Los Angeles Sony scoring stage soloing on an R-122, with an SF-24 distant mic.


 R-121 Ribbon Mic
Wayne Bergeron soloing on two R-122’s during the recordings for his release Plays Well With Others.


R-121 Ribbon Mic
Maynard Ferguson soloing on two R-122’s. Producer Gary Grant looks on.


Brass Set-up Brass Set-up
Live trumpet mic setup for a Barry Manalow concert. One R-122.


R-121 Ribbon Mic
Dirty Dozen Brass Band solo tuba recorded on an R-122.

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Introduction to Recording Brass

If we had to pick one instrument that benefits the most from ribbon microphones, it would be the trumpet. Complex, powerful, loud and on the higher-end side of the frequency spectrum, the trumpet is an emotional, moving and exciting instrument – there’s nothing like a great trumpet solo or a powerful brass section letting it rip!


Brass can be one of the more difficult instrument groups to record, often sounding overly bright and thin on recordings and in live performances. Brass benefits greatly from the use of ribbon mics – the smooth high end response of a good ribbon makes a major difference, capturing all of the detail and brilliance with none of the harshness or peakynessthat is often associated with brass.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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?).

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 a suitable pop filter such as a Beyer Dynamic WS-58, or equivalent, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I’ve always heard that ribbon mics are fragile. Can I really use the R-121 on a loud guitar amp?

Traditional ribbon microphones will be damaged if you position them too close to an extremely loud guitar cabinet, but the R-121 was designed to take high SPL’s and can handle reasonably close miking duties on a loud cabinet. Ribbons have a strong proximity effect, so placing a ribbon mic any closer than 4 inches from the cabinet grillcloth will result in a bass-heavy sound. While that’s usually too thick a sound for a guitar track, it can still be a useful effect when blending mics. Some engineers put an R-121 close on a cabinet for an exaggerated low end response, then blend an SM-57 for the aggressive top end. You can get a massive rock tone like this.

R-121’s also 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 R-121’s handling capability of 135 dB SPL and possibly damage the ribbon.

R-122’s are often preferred on bass guitar cabs. Their larger transformers bring more focus and tightness to low frequency sound sources.

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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.

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A Note Regarding All Phantom Powered Microphones

Modern equipment contains sophisticated power-regulating mechanisms that minimize the chance of voltage spikes ever reaching a microphone. They provide a soft-start and smooth ramp-down when AC power is turned on or off at the console or mic-preamp. With older or faulty equipment, problems like leaky electrolytic blocking capacitors, faulty components, shorted diodes or regulators, etc. can lead to uneven power being supplied to the microphone. Because microphones are designed to work within balanced conditions, uneven power can create a number of hard-to-pinpoint problems like low output, distortion, degraded frequency response, and other performance issues.

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Electrical Outages

Electrical blackouts, brownouts, and power surges can raise havoc with microphones of all types – ribbon, dynamic and condenser types included. Modern consoles have well designed, regulated supplies that turn power on gently even if power is removed momentarily, but many older boards and preamplifiers were designed with unregulated supplies that can surge wildly when power is first applied. In the case of a brownout, voltage “spikes” can damage any gear that is connected, including microphones. With ribbons, a serious voltage spike can blow the ribbon element to pieces, just like a fuse. If this happens, a re-ribbon servicing will be required to restore the mic to new working order.

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Damaged or Worn Out Connectors

Damaged or worn out XLR connectors can create problems, particularly when phantom power is present, due to a higher potential for short circuits. Always replace connectors that have any appearance of damage or that are obviously worn out.

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Cross-Patching Microphone Tie Lines

This is the leading cause of blown ribbons in professional studios!

Many studios use patch bays for the convenient routing of signals. The microphone/mic-preamplifier section of a patch bay normally has two rows. The upper row corresponds to lines that run to various microphone panels (studio, isolation booth, etc.) and this is where the microphone is connected. The lower row represents the microphone preamplifier inputs. This upper row is “normaled” to the lower row. Each insert is a full-break patch point, which enables an engineer to crosspatch or redirect microphone lines to various mic-preamp inputs.

The microphone/mic-preamplifier section is the only portion of a patch bay that has DC power present in the form of phantom power. If phantom power is on, ribbon microphones can be damaged when cross-patched through a patch bay.

Here’s what happens. Patch cables utilize “tip-ring-sleeve” connectors. When a patch cable is inserted into either the upper or lower row, the phantom power is momentarily shorted to connections that phantom power should not be applied to. In other words, as the connector is inserted, it is, in effect, acting (temporarily) like a miss-wired cable and applying phantom power to the wrong leads. Ribbon mics are particularly intolerant to this because, in the brief moment that a patch cable is being inserted into a phantom-power-charged patch bay, phantom power is applied directly to the ribbon element through the transformer! Each brief patching-related jolt of phantom power across the ribbon element is equivalent to a year or more of recordings made on the mic. A ribbon element that is designed to last ten or fifteen years before replacement can literally be blown overnight by patch bay mishaps.

The only safe way to reroute mic tie-lines that are present at the patch bay is to be certain that phantom power is deactivated before patching. Cross-patching these lines while “hot” often results in damage to ribbons and even some condenser microphones. Since DC voltages are present on these lines, cross patching with the volume control up can also result in damaged monitor speakers and shaken eardrums!

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Shorted, Miswired or Damaged Microphone Cables

Electrically shorted, damaged or improperly wired microphone cables can allow phantom power to damage a ribbon element. If ground (Pin-1) is accidentally miswired, or shorted, to leads two (Pin-2) or three (Pin-3), damaging phantom power can reach the ribbon element. Make certain that your microphone cables are in good working order, in proper phase reference, and that Pin-1 is always at ground potential.

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The ribbon elements in some vintage ribbon microphones can be harmed or even destroyed by the presence of phantom power. For this reason, it is commonly recommended that phantom power be turned off when using ribbon microphones. Leaving phantom power on can result in a stretched or completely blown ribbon. In some cases, the microphone may still operate, but at a greatly diminished capacity.

Royer ribbon microphones are not usually affected by the presence of phantom power. However, we still recommend that you deactivate phantom power when Royer microphones are being connected or disconnected simply because other abnormal conditions may exist that could cause problems. Turning the phantom power on or off after the mic is connected should pose no problem whatsoever.

Note: Our phantom powered models are not included in this discussion. They require phantom power to operate and obviously will not be damaged by phantom power.

Here are a few conditions that should be avoided, as they can damage any ribbon microphone regardless of brand or type:

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Preamplifiers We Like

As a mic manufacturer, we’ve had the opportunity to work with many brands of preamplifiers. Some stand out as real winners.

Here are a few we’ve had good results with, in no particular order:

  • Millennia Media HV-3 series (especially for classical work)
  • Grace 101, 201
  • Great River MV-2NP, MP-4
  • Phoenix Audio DRS-2
  • Sonosax SX-M2 (for portable or field work)
  • John Hardy
  • Neve
  • API
  • Universal Audio
  • Chandler
  • Rupert Neve Portico
  • Summit Audio 2BA-221
  • Trident Audio
  • Avalon
  • Daking Mic Pre/EQ 52270
  • Gordon Instruments

For tube lovers:

  • Manley
  • A Designs MP-2
  • Pendulum Audio MDP-1
  • Groove Tubes Vipre

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The Bottom Line

The main points to consider when choosing a microphone preamplifier for use with a ribbon microphone are;

  1. A suitable preamplifier should have lots of clean gain. Choose a preamp that has enough gain to suit your recording needs. For example, loud rock recording requires less gain capability than classical recording. We recommend 60 dB (or greater) total gain capability.
  2. Make sure that the input impedance of the preamplifier is high enough to impose a minimal load on the microphone. The rule of thumb is that the input impedance should be at least 4 to 5 times higher then the output impedance of a given microphone.
  3. Choose a preamplifier that offers very low noise performance, especially at the higher gain settings expected with ribbon microphones.
  4. Coloration. This is strictly optional and at the users discretion.

There are many excellent preamplifiers on the market today. Choose one that fits your budget and offers good performance, but remember that you get what you pay for. If you have an opportunity to audition one or more preamplifiers before you buy one, do it. Microphones and preamplifiers work together as a team and some matches are just better than others.

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To transformer or not to transformer?

Many modern solid-state preamplifiers have eliminated the traditional input-coupling transformer altogether, and in many cases the output coupling transformer as well. This not only saves space, weight and money, but also offers a more direct route for the signal to travel as it makes its way through the signal path.

So, do transformerless designs sound better? Not necessarily! Transformers add their own special alchemy to the mix. Call it coloration, but transformer coupled designs tend to sound punchy and full-bodied. Transformers also offer the benefit of true electronic isolation. This greatly enhances a preamp’s ability to interface with other equipment with minimal noise, RF, hum or induced interference. Once again, it’s a matter of taste and, in some cases, budget. Transformer coupled amplifiers usually cost more than their ironless cousins.

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Tubes or Transistors?

There are two basic types of electronic circuit topographies utilized for analog signal processing; solid-state (transistorized) and vacuum tube. The debate over which style sounds better will go on forever, but what it boils down to is taste and practicality. Each design offers something special or unique.

Vacuum tube preamplifiers sound punchy, warm, yet wonderfully airy and transparent. Vacuum tube circuitry is also renowned for its ability to bring digital recordings to life. On the other hand, vacuum tube preamplifiers are generally not as quiet as solid-state preamps, because electron emissions from tubes tend to convey more “thermal” noise than transistors do. Vacuum tube preamplifiers require a bit more maintenance and are less practical for remote recording. In addition they produce heat that must be adequately vented.

Solid-state preamplifiers tend to sound very clean (some say clinical) and offer the least coloration to the signal. They usually run cooler, travel better, and require less maintenance. You can expect less “personality” from a solid-state pre, which may be good or bad, depending on what you’re looking for. It comes down to your preference, taste, budget, and need for convenience.

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A good preamplifier will have plenty of headroom. In other words, it won’t distort or change its tonal character if it is suddenly required to handle an instantaneously loud signal. The preamp should sound clean and unencumbered, regardless of the intensity of the source signal. Fortunately, most modern preamplifiers fare very well in this area.

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Preamplifier Noise

The more gain a preamplifier is called on to produce, the harder it is to keep noise down. Even with modern electronic advancements, designing ultra-low noise preamps is no easy trick. Manufacturers need to invest a considerable effort in the R&D department, and ultra-low noise components don’t come cheap either, so expect to pay more for higher quality preamplifiers. Pay particular attention to the preamplifier’s noise characteristics – the lower the better!

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Preamplifier Input Impedance

Ribbon microphones need to be mated to preamplifiers with suitable input impedance. An impedance mismatch will degrade the performance of any ribbon mic. 

A ribbon microphone needs to be paired with a preamplifier that has high enough input impedance that it won’t load down the microphone. The lower the input impedance, the more the ribbon becomes damped, meaning that its movement is restricted. An overly damped ribbon tends to sound dull, with rolled off bass and slightly diminished highs. The output of the mic will also be reduced, requiring more preamp gain, which in turn adds more noise to the recording.

In order to deliver its full frequency response, a ribbon microphone needs to see an input impedance of at least 4-5 times its output impedance. For example, if a microphone has an impedance of 300-Ohms, the preamplifier should have an input impedance of 1200 to 1500 Ohms, or greater.

Don’t confuse preamplifier input impedance with rated microphone impedance. Many preamps will specify what microphone impedance they are designed for, but this does not necessarily translate into the preamp’s actual input impedance. If the input impedance is not specified, contact the manufacturer to find out what it is.
Other Considerations

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Preamplifier Gain

Ribbon microphones produce low level electrical signals and need preamplifiers with enough gain to amplify that signal without degrading it. 

The preamplifier you use needs to have enough gain to amplify the microphone to a suitable level to efficiently drive the recording equipment (equalizers, compressors, A/D converters, recorders, etc.). If the gain is too low, the signal will not be strong enough to operate the following stages at their optimum level. The resultant performance will be lackluster, devoid of punch and possibly noisy. Obviously, for recording loud sound sources like guitar amplifiers, horns or drums, more signal is produced by the microphone and less gain is required from the preamplifier. But if the source signals are soft, as is often the case with acoustic instruments or voices, much more gain is needed. For maximum versatility we recommend that a preamplifier have at least 60 dB (or more) of usable gain capability. For very quiet sound sources, 70+ dB of gain may be required.

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What types of preamplifiers work best with ribbon microphones?

All ribbon microphones, regardless of brand, share certain fundamental characteristics and have similar preamplifier requirements. The only exceptions are active ribbon microphones, which are similar in operation (but not in sound) to modern phantom powered condenser microphones.

The two most important preamplifier issues to consider with ribbon mics are gain and input impedance.

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Recording Electric Guitar

Royer R-Series ribbon microphones are known around the world as the first-call mics for electric guitar. From Foo Fighters (R-121s & R-10s), Green Day (R-121s), Aerosmith (R-121s), Van Halen (R-122Vs) and Muse (R-122s) to Johnny Marr (R-121s), Dianna Krall (R-121s), Kenny Chesney (R-121s), Rita Coolidge (R-121s), Sam Smith (R-10s), Lana Del Rey (R-121s & R-10s) and countless others, Royer is what engineers choose to capture the biggest, fullest, most natural-sounding electric guitars possible.

Aerosmith – R-121’s on Joe Perry’s live rig


R-121 on Johnny Marr’s Fender Deluxe
R-121 on Johnny Marr’s Fender Deluxe


R-121’s on Kings X guitar cabinet
R-121’s on Kings X guitar cabinet


R-121/SM57 in Royer AxeMount dual mic clip
R-121/SM57 in Royer AxeMount dual mic clip


Before Miking Up

Knowing what you’re trying to capture is important before putting a microphone up. If you’re creating smooth clean tones, miking with an R-121 alone is perfect. If you’re looking for a distorted rock tone with body and bite, or if it’s major aggression you’re after, blending an R-121 with an SM57 is legendary.

With 4X12 speaker cabinets, many times you’ll find one speaker is the best of the four. Find and mic that one. Don’t be afraid to experiment with moving the mic around – you don’t know what you’ll get until you try.


Miking Electric Guitars in the Studio

Here are a few great starting places for miking guitar cabs with R-121’s, R-10’s, R-122 MKll’s and R-122V’s. For this writing, we’ll stick with the R-121, but each of the other mics is excellent and worth your time to try out.

For the brightest sound, position the R-121 on the center of the speaker dome, anywhere from 2 to 6 inches from the grille cloth. This is the brightest position on the speaker and it’s often a perfect spot. While positioning, it’s helpful to use a small flashlight to clearly see the dome.

Using a flashlight to find the speaker dome
Using a flashlight to find the speaker dome
R-121 on amp
R-121 on amp
R-121 on amp - Melissa Etheridge session
R-121 on amp – Melissa Etheridge session


It’s good to know the above position and sound before moving on.  Like a tone control, as you move the mic away from the center and towards the edge of the speaker, the sound will become progressively meatier and less bright.


Distance Miking

You’ll also find that the sound changes as you back the mic away from the cabinet, often developing increased tonal complexity and low end at distances over a foot and up to a few feet away. The recorded sound at a distance isn’t as immediate and you’ll hear more of the room.

R-121 at a distance
R-121 at a distance


Blending mics

The most popular way to mic rock and pop guitars is to blend an R-121 with a dynamic mic like an SM57 or a 421. The R-121 gives you all the body and fullness of tone your speaker is producing, like what it actually sounds like in the room, and the SM57 gives an aggressive midrange and top-end bite that blends beautifully with the R-121. Dial-in your desired tone by blending the two mics to taste.

Other mics can be blended too. A nice-sounding blend is an R-122/SM57/421, and blending a condenser mic with an R-121 is common practice as well.

R-121/SM57 blend
R-121/SM57 blend


R-121/SM57/421 Blend on Coal Chamber cabinet
R-121/SM57/421 Blend on Coal Chamber cabinet


R-121/SM57/Mojave MA 301 blended on John Petrucci’s guitar cabinet
R-121/SM57/Mojave MA 301 blended on John Petrucci’s guitar cabinet


R-121/Mojave 201 blended on Brian Setzer’s live guitar cabinet
R-121/Mojave 201 blended on Brian Setzer’s live guitar cabinet


R-121 and condenser blended on Mana guitar cab.
R-121/Mojave 201 blended on Brian Setzer’s live guitar cabinet


R-121 and condenser blended on Mana guitar cab.
R-121 and condenser blended on Mana guitar cab.


How to Position an R-121 and SM57

Here is Grammy-winning producer/engineer Ross Hogarth blending an R-121 and 57 on session guitarist Tim Pierce. It’s amazing to hear how much variety of tone this gives you!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXlvfek4YwE]

It’s important to position the R-121 and SM57 properly and in phase. Ross Hogarth walks you through exactly how he does that in this educational video.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksm9hUpbkdQ]

R-121’s like to see an input impedance of 1.5K from your mic pre. Even 1.2 is fine, but if the impedance is much below that you’ll start losing sensitivity and low end.

There are several excellent mic pres available – Great River, Manley, API, Neve… One of our faves for electric guitar is the Chandler TG2. It has a great overall tone, and the hi-lo impedance switch is very useful. In the low impedance setting the input impedance is only 300 ohms, which is technically a bad match with an R-121, but it wipes out so much low end that you can super-close-mic a cab and get virtually no proximity effect, leaving plenty of low end without rumble, with great mids and highs.

Listen to Kings X, with close-miked R-121’s plugged into TG2s set for 300 ohms. Using low input impedance this way is not a common practice, but you can’t argue with the sound! Engineer Michael Wagener told us he flipped the switch and after some mic position adjustments, really liked what he got. Ears before technical perfection!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHqHQA1-6Vo]


Here are a few more photos of pro setups. Look and learn!

R-122 on Keith Urban’s live amp
R-122 on Keith Urban’s live amp
R-121 and condenser on Ben Harper’s cabinet
R-121 and condenser on Ben Harper’s cabinet
R-121 on George Thorogood’s live iso cabinet
R-121 on George Thorogood’s live iso cabinet
R-121 on Barenaked Ladies’ Deluxe
2 R-121s on Kings X cabinet
R-121s on jazz guitarist Pat Kelly’s amps
R-121 at distance on Ray Charles, Norah Jones session
R-121s on Matchbox 20 live guitar rigs
R-121s on cabinet – Train session
R-121/SM57/421 on Vox, Melissa Etheridge session
R-121/SM57/421 on Vox, Melissa Etheridge session

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Here is a summary to help you remember why ribbons are so special:

Ribbon Characteristics

  • Extremely low mass allows freest movement through space.
  • Truest figure-of-8 of all types of microphones – absolute null-point rejection.
  • Excellent off-axis response.
  • Tight, defined bass with significant, highly-useable proximity effect.
  • Smooth, detailed, natural high end.
  • Maximum midrange detail.
  • Takes EQ better than any other microphone.
  • A real pleasure to mix.

What ribbons don’t do is just as important

  • Never harsh, tinny or peaky.
  • They don’t distort easily.
  • They don’t sound weak in the mids.
  • Least susceptible to ringing.
  • They don’t produce overshoot.

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Storing Ribbon Mics

Most ribbon mics require vertical storage to keep the ribbon upright and prevent stretching. However, our patented corrugation method allows for horizontal storage. You can store a Royer on its side for years and it will be fine. Make sure to store it in its wooden storage box and inside the windsock.

Thank you for taking the time to learn a little bit about these amazing microphones and their application.

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Ribbons and Wind

Wind is the ribbon mic’s enemy. A strong gust of wind could potentially stretch or tear even the hardiest ribbons, and has done some serious damage to vintage relics. While proper use on a loud guitar amplifier won’t blow a Royer, you’re taking your chances with a strong gust of wind. Take care to make sure your ribbons are always protected from wind and other elements, and always transport a ribbon mic in its protective case. Every Royer microphone includes a plush felt windsock which should be used when the mic is moved, or when it’s left on a mic stand but not being used.

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Ribbons and SPL

SPL, or sound pressure level, is a measurement of the intensity of a sound pressure wave. Measured in decibels, it provides us with a relative scale of loudness which is useful in determining proper mic selection and placement. High sound pressure levels can damage some ribbons, and will stretch any ribbon mic over time. But Royer ribbons are tough! Through our patented work-hardened corrugation process, our pure aluminum ribbons will stand up to years of high SPL before they exhibit any signs of fatigue. That said, it is a good idea to limit exposure to unnecessary high SPL to insure the longevity of your investment. Please note that dynamics and condensers are also susceptible to the effects of sound pressure and like any physical membrane, their diaphragms will stretch over time leading to degraded performance.

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Ribbons and Phantom Power

As one of the earliest microphone designs, ribbons actually predate phantom power by several years. Some ribbon mics can be destroyed instantly by the inadvertent application of phantom power. However, most modern ribbons were designed to handle phantom power being turned on and off: As long as the microphone cable is correctly wired, phantom power will not be applied to the ribbon element. Of course, active ribbons like the Royer R-122 or SF-24 that require phantom power for their operation will never be damaged by its application.

A word of caution about patch bays: Improperly wired or poorly-made patch bays can allow phantom power to leak into other channels. If the patch bay uses TRS connectors, plugging and unplugging cables with phantom power on results in brief jolts of phantom power hitting the ribbon element directly, so you may damage your ribbon microphone by connecting to or through one of these bays. It’s good practice to never connect or disconnect a patch cable with phantom power turned on.

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Ribbons and EQ

While good ribbon mics deliver natural sound, sometimes you want to shape your tracks to cut through a mix. For example, a vocal take on a ribbon mic might be perfect for jazz or classical recordings, but in a rock or pop track engineers often want to hear more high end “sizzle” to help the vocal stand out. This is an application where a quality condenser mic can shine: But some vocalists sound sibilant no matter what condenser mic you put in front of them, so a highly EQ’ed ribbon mic can be the perfect option: push 12K by 4-6 dB and your ribbon will cut more like a condenser, but without harshness or sibilance. For a great example of a highly EQ’ed ribbon on a singer who was sibilant on condenser mics, listen to this recording of “There She Goes Again” by Sixpence None the Richer, sung on a highly EQ’ed Coles 4038 ribbon. The guitars and cellos were recorded with Royer R-121s.

The EQ-ability of ribbons is equally helpful on drums: Royer R-122s are great overhead mics, but the natural sound of cymbals is often not bright enough for rock. Opening up the high end with EQ helps the cymbals cut through the mix and sound more exciting, without affecting the power and tone of the snare drum and tom-toms. This EQ-ability is useful on a wide variety of instruments.

Equalization is probably the least understood and most overused form of signal processing in the audio engineer’s “toolbox” and the results are often disastrous. Many engineers take the approach that they can “fix” problems in a track by using EQ at mixdown. The reality is that the misapplication of EQ causes more problems than it could ever fix, and the real problem is that the track was never “right” from the beginning. A number of factors will influence the overall quality of the track: the musician’s technique, the condition and tuning of his instrument, the instrument’s interaction with the room and the mic, and, of course, the microphone itself. You’ll probably agree that classical music recording is the “purest” expression of the art. The goal of most classical music recording engineers is to make a recording with no equalization at all. They must be on to something! They spend a great deal of time before the performance listening, moving mics around, and making sure that when they are ready to roll, they essentially have a high-fidelity master coming through the speakers. Make sure everything is right at the source, and the quality of your recordings will improve dramatically.

Our advice is to take a step back and really listen to what’s coming out of your speakers before you ever press record. Chances are, if you’re using a Royer ribbon, things will already sound smooth and natural and you’ll be ready to capture that amazing take.

We’re not saying you’ll never have touch the EQ if you use ribbons, but the good news is that if you do need to EQ your tracks, no other kind of microphone stands up as well to EQ as a ribbon. They take EQ so well because of their natural frequency response and lack of distortion artifacts: there’s no “junk” to bring up with the signal- just the music!

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Ribbons and Mixing

Mixing is where you realize the greatest strength of ribbons. Because ribbon-recorded tracks sound so much like the instrument you recorded, when you pull up the fader, the instrument is much more likely to drop into the mix right where it’s supposed to be. You’ll find yourself using much less EQ and signal processing to make the track sit properly in the mix, and you’ll spend a lot less time “fixing” things! You may even find yourself using less EQ on other tracks (tracks recorded with other microphones) because the ribbon tracks sit so naturally, they are less likely to fight for space and crowd or mask other tracks in your mix. We told you ribbons will change your life – we meant it.

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Ribbons and Proximity Effect

Proximity effect is a physical phenomenon that results in increased low frequency response as a directional microphone moves closer to a sound source. Almost every directional microphone exhibits some proximity effect, but with ribbons, the effect is substantial – especially inside six inches. You can use this effect to great advantage. For example, proximity effect is often just the right thing to enhance a thin-sounding vocalist – naturally and evenly, without having to touch the EQ. Or you can use it to beef up an overly-bright acoustic guitar, a weak upright piano, or a lean cello. Any time you need a little more bass, try moving the mic a few inches closer to the sound source. Radio and television announcers have long used proximity effect to give their voices a full, rich, authoritative quality. We call this being “more real than real.” Of course, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing: Too much bass can overwhelm the track, mask other tracks, and lead to an overall sense of unintelligibility in your mix. The solution? Simply move the mic back until the bass sounds natural and realistic. By learning how to work with proximity effect, you can literally custom-tailor your track’s bass response to suit your needs.

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Ribbons and Transient Response

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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Ribbons and Off-Axis Response

Using our imaginary line from the section above, a sound pressure wave arriving at the transducer at an angle greater than 0 degrees is said to be off-axis. Off-axis response is a tricky subject because there is no standard of measurement for the phenomenon, yet it comes into play every time you use a microphone. Sound engineers can only say that a microphone has “good” or “bad” off-axis response after hearing it in action. Whether in studio or on stage, sound pressure waves bombard your microphone from every angle: some from other instruments in the room; others from reflections off walls, ceilings, control room windows, and stage floors. Due to their natural figure-of-8 polar pattern, ribbons exhibit significantly better off-axis response than do condensers or dynamics.

The big problem with poor off-axis response is that it produces sound that is very difficult to “fix.” Imagine that all off-axis frequencies have been tweaked with the worse possible EQ: The only way to deal with these frequencies is to either move the mic or remove them with EQ. Both tactics present the sound engineer with their own set of problems. Because of their smooth, natural off-axis response, ribbons significantly reduce or even eliminate much of this frustration. The result is simply better overall sound and far fewer headaches.

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Ribbons and Polar Response

Polar response is the measurement of a microphone’s sensitivity to a given frequency relative to angle of incidence. Ribbons naturally exhibit a bidirectional, or figure-of-8 polar response because both sides of the transducer are equally exposed to incoming sound pressure waves. This means the microphone exhibits equal sensitivity to sounds arriving at the front as it does to those at the rear. This may lead you to conclude that a ribbon should exhibit an omnidirectional polar pattern. However, sound pressure waves arriving at the rear of the transducer are electrically 180 degrees out-of-phase at the output with those arriving at the front. If we draw an imaginary line down the center of the transducer, the microphone’s axis, sounds arriving at the side of the transducer (“the null point,” 90 degrees off-axis) produce equal but opposite sound pressure on both sides of the ribbon. As both sides are 180 degrees out-of-phase with each other, output at both null points is zero, resulting in a polar pattern that resembles the number 8 (fig. 2), hence the name of the pattern. Ribbons exhibit the truest bidirectional polar response, and feature absolute null-point rejection, opening up a world of mic placement possibilities.

Some multipattern condenser microphones are capable of producing a bidirectional pattern, but to accomplish this they must use complex active electronics which can impart noise, distortion, and undesirable off-axis artifacts. Accordingly, ribbon mics that feature unidirectional (cardioid, supercardioid, or hypercardioid) polar response must also create patterns electronically or mechanically to overcome the ribbon’s natural physical state. As we will learn in the next section, there are some serious advantages to using true bidirectional mics in studio and on stage.

Fig. 2 – bidirectional polar pattern

Fig. 2 bidirectional polar pattern

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The Ribbon Sound

Thelonious Monk was once heard to remark “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” His point was that music is a transcendent medium that is simply meant to be listened to, felt, and enjoyed rather than deconstructed, critiqued, and reduced to mere academics. His well-informed sentiment notwithstanding, audio engineers often communicate abstract ideas about sound and use their own descriptive jargon to convey textural, technical, and artistic characteristics as they relate to the tools of the trade. You’ve no doubt heard of brown guitar tones, slammin’ kick drums, creamy vocals and the like. While our intention is to keep this discussion factual, some broad, abstract notions are worth exploring when describing tangible differences in sound between various kinds of microphones. When we dig deeply enough into this subject, we discover that it is the tangible, technical differences in design, and the application of physical properties of electrical and mechanical components that account for the vast differences in sound quality among tools that all essentially do the same job.

The qualitative sound output of most professional audio equipment and musical instruments can be divided into two broad categories: warm or bright. The understood meaning of these terms is probably self-evident. But for our purposes, when we say something is warm, we mean it emphasizes the low and lower-midrange of the audio spectrum. Conversely, something we describe as bright will emphasize the upper-mids and higher frequencies. Both characteristics can be musically pleasing and each has their place in modern recording and sound reproduction.

Ribbon designers can engineer a desired frequency response into a microphone based on selection of materials, physical size and shape of the element, corrugation method, and electrical properties of other components in the audio signal path. These decisions made on the drawing board are critical to the mic’s overall performance. Due to the physical properties of the ribbon element, well-made ribbon mics are warm, detailed, and very natural sounding. What you put in front of them is what you can expect to record. They effortlessly respond to even the slightest of sounds, and their transient response rivals the best condenser designs. In terms of how they “hear” and reproduce sounds, they are the closest electronic equivalent to the human ear (do you remember how we began this discussion?)

They are a particularly good choice for digital recording, where high frequency distortion on the analog side easily becomes an audible mathematical error on the digital side. The absence of harshness and distortion in the higher frequencies is particularly noticeable when compared to condenser and dynamic mics, and the electronic simplicity of a ribbon’s distortion-free signal makes for easier, more natural sounding passage through A/D converters and other digital signal processing devices. Engineers who remember working with tape often say that ribbon mics make them feel like they’re working with analog recording equipment again.

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The Ribbon – A Better Mousetrap

Ribbon mics operate on the same electromagnetic principle as their distant relatives ‘dynamic mics’ but with one important difference: Instead of the dynamic’s cumbersome plastic voice coil (Fig. 1), the ribbon mic employs an extremely thin strip of corrugated aluminum (Fig. 1.3) suspended in a strong magnetic field. Due to its extremely low mass, the ribbon responds to the subtlest variations in sound pressure and moves through space much more freely than the plates of a condenser or the voice coil of a dynamic. Thus ribbons exhibit a natural, even tone that is detailed and musical without the distortion of dynamics or the unnatural brightness of condensers. But low mass also means low electrical output and extremely low impedance: Ribbon microphones require the use of a transformer just before the output to step the voltage up to a useable level, and to raise the impedance from a fraction of an ohm to something more usable (ours are 300 Ohms). The quality of this transformer is critical to the performance of the mic. At Royer, we have not only elevated custom transformer design to an art form in itself, we individually test and grade each transformer before it goes into one of our handcrafted microphones. Active ribbons like the Royer R-122 and SF-24 go one step further and use a FET amplifier stage to increase output and to enable impedance matching. Other active ribbons employ vacuum tube amplifier designs like the Royer R-122V and SF-24V. We were, in fact, the first microphone manufacturer to apply active electronics to ribbons!

Ribbons are traditionally found in recording and broadcast studios due to their exceptional sonic characteristics and proven reliability. In fact, you’ve heard ribbons on some of the most famous recordings in popular and classical music, and they’ve been there to report some of the most significant events in modern history. Our award-winning line of live ribbon mics is enjoying its place on stage as well – a place where ribbons aren’t usually found. As we’ll illustrate below, ribbons offer the recordist and live sound engineer some serious advantages over other designs, and Royer ribbons have established a new benchmark in quality, reliability, and sonic excellence. We didn’t invent ribbon mics, but we have taken them to the next level using superior engineering, manufacturing, and quality-assurance processes and the results are nothing short of spectacular. But don’t just take our word for it!

Fig. 1.3 – corrugated aluminum ribbon element with damping screen

Fig. 1.3 corrugated aluminum ribbon element with damping screen

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The Condenser

Condenser mics are a little more complicated – we’ll try to provide a very simple explanation! The condenser employs a capsule (Fig. 1.2) consisting of a solid metallic disc called the backplate and, on one or both sides of the backplate, a very thin conductive plate called a membrane. The membrane, usually gold-sputtered Mylar, moves relative to the fixed backplate as it is displaced by incoming sound pressure. The plates form a condenser, or capacitor, and require an external dc voltage source for polarization, one plate being negatively-charged, the other positive. In its steady state, the mic’s output is zero because the circuit is in a state of equilibrium. Motion between the plates caused by incoming sound pressure waves displacing the moveable plate results in rapid changes in capacitance proportional to the displacement of the plate. Thus, output voltage is the result of constantly-changing capacitance. The relatively low output of the capacitor means a separate amplifier stage inside the mic must be used to increase voltage output to a usable level. Most modern condensers employ either a solid-state or vacuum tube amplifier, while the most sought-after vintage mics utilize a vacuum tube design. Condensers tend to emphasize the high end of the audio frequency spectrum, and well-made ones are found in recording studios around the world. Though their design leads to some inherent shortcomings “high frequency peakiness,” poor performance in high humidity and, in some cases, distortion artifacts that necessitate “fixing” the track at mixdown – they are an excellent choice for a wide range of applications and can make excellent companions to ribbons.

Fig. 1.2 – condenser mic capsule

Fig. 1.2 condenser mic capsule

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The Dynamic

Of all modern microphone designs, dynamics are the simplest. They operate on the principle of electromagnetic induction, meaning the physical motion of components within the mic actually generates its output current by moving a suspended coil of conductive wire, the voice coil (Fig. 1), through a magnetic field. When the incoming sound pressure wave displaces the coil, the result is an output voltage proportional to that wave. Dynamics are generally regarded as the rugged workhorses of the audio trade and are thus often found in live sound applications where they will be subjected to extreme conditions and frequent abuse. They are also found in recording studios and are often used on drums and other very loud instruments because they can withstand high sound pressure levels. But ruggedness comes at a price: Most sound engineers agree that moving-coil dynamics don’t sound nearly as good as their ribbon and condenser counterparts – the high mass voice coil, relative to ribbons and condensers, results in diminished transient response, limited and uneven frequency response, and very poor off-axis response.

Fig. 1 – dynamic microphone with voice coil exposed.

Fig. 1 dynamic microphone with voice coil exposed.

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What is a Ribbon Microphone?

Meet the transducer: a device that converts one form of energy into another corresponding form of energy for some useful purpose. Microphones are specialized transducers that convert acoustic energy (known as sound pressure) into electrical current for amplification, broadcast, or recording. Microphones have been around since the 1870’s when telephone engineers needed a way to turn the human voice into an electric current and send it down a wire where it would reach its intended recipient and be converted back into sound through another transducer called a loudspeaker.

Today, microphones are broadly divided into two types, based on their operating principle: dynamic and condenser. Dynamics are further divided into two types: moving-coil and; our favorite, ribbon. Generally, moving-coil dynamics are referred to simply as “dynamics” while ribbons are called, oddly enough, “ribbons.”

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But really, why ribbons?

Let’s say you’re a guitarist. You’ve spent tons of money on guitars, amps, effects, and mods; and years experimenting and listening to find your sound. It sounds amazing standing in front of your amp, right? So why is it so painful to walk into the control room after a take only to hear something that’s nothing like the actual sound your amp is making? Why can’t you capture that sound, so when you listen in the studio monitors it sounds and feels like you’re standing in front of your amplifier? The answer is simple: Most microphones can’t accurately translate the complex harmonic structures and subtle dynamic variations of sound that make up your tone. But ribbons can! Track with a Royer R-121 on your amp, and then give it a listen – it’ll sound and feel like you’re standing in front of your rig.

The same goes for piano, brass, drums, percussion, strings, voice, and right on down the line. When you’re trying to capture the sound of your instrument “the way it really sounds” ribbons will literally change your life.

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A Musician’s Story

Gayle Levant is the leading harpist in Los Angeles. She has played on countless movie scores and has recorded with some of the biggest names in music including Ray Charles, Barbara Streisand, and Frank Sinatra. The first time she heard her harp recorded with ribbons was when she was doing us a favor recording a track for our first demo CD. The studio’s heater had broken the night before and we were ready to cancel the session, but Gayle sat down (coat on and fingers half frozen) and played a beautiful piece for us. The results were breathtaking. When she came into the control room to listen to that first playback, she literally broke into tears saying “I’ve never heard my harp recorded like this before. This is exactly the way it sounds when I’m playing!” It touched everyone in the room, and Gayle sat in the cold and played for hours. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to collect hundreds of stories like Gayle’s. We love making music. We love recording music. And we know you do too. That’s why we’re dedicated to making the finest handcrafted microphones in the world.

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Hears Like Your Ears

We’ve been saying this since we opened our doors in 1998, and we’d like to take a minute to explain what we mean. Simply put, when you put a quality ribbon mic on an instrument, voice, or other sound source, what you hear on playback is closer to real sound in nature than with any other kind of microphone. This is because ribbons ‘hear’ sounds more like your own ears do, and the result is a warm, natural, and detailed sound that other microphones simply can’t deliver.

Experienced recording engineers will tell you that the most common weak link in the audio signal path is the transducer (or the musician – sorry, we can’t help you there). While dynamic and condenser microphones are important and have their place in studio and on stage, even the best of them impart noise, distortion, and other artifacts to your signal. Selecting the right mic at the start of your project can, and usually does, mean the difference between a merely adequate recording and one that blows people away. After reading this short essay, you’ll understand why we’ve dedicated ourselves to this remarkable technology and why our customers are such loyal fanatics!

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