I’m a fan of ribbon mics. Sure, they may be old-school but the fact that they’ve been around for years just proves how functional these mics are. For thing, the sound output is nothing like you’d experience with their condenser counterparts. And I’m not just talking about the warmth and depth here; there are tons of other reasons why you should consider recording with these mics.
Ribbon mics are great for vocals and can work for both beginners and serious professionals. And either way, if you’re looking to start a career in music, you’ll be better off experimenting with different types of gears. Plus, it will spice things up for you if you’re tired of constantly recording with condenser mics.
To ease the process, here is a list of top ribbon microphones on the market:
1. MXL R144 with Shockmount
The MXL R144 with Shockmount is a popular ribbon microphone that offers performance at a reasonable price. It helps produce a super-rich sound, and it has been used for some of the most legendary recordings in the past. I’d recommend this to anybody who appreciates quality gear and ribbon mics. This isn’t a product that should just sit around on your shelf; it’s worth much more than that.
It features a figure-8 polar pattern which makes it an excellent choice for recording instruments and vocals. It also includes a 1.8-micron aluminum ribbon which makes a world of difference, plus professionals can also use it for broadcast applications. This makes the MXL R144 a pretty versatile mic – you can use it for strings, acoustic instruments, and other gear. It is also designed to offer high SPL capability and picks up sound from both front and back directions.
I’ve found that you can get better results while using a preamplifier. Proper placement and isolation requirements should also help get the most out of your gear. Aside from the great product, MXL is a great brand; hence the investment never seemed risky. The MXL R144 has been used by some of the most recognized music artists and produces from around the world. I’ve been using mine for a couple of years now, and I haven’t been disappointed. Plus, the product isn’t very expensive, so that’s also a relief.
2. AEA R84 Figure-eight Large Ribbon Geometry Velocity Microphone
I’m saying this without a hint of regret, and I’m a man who’s not afraid to splurge, especially when it comes to music. And let’s be honest, most of the times, we really do end up getting what we paid for. It’s the law of the universe (or maybe I’m just being dramatic). Anyway, the AEA R84 isn’t your regular microphone; it offers a plethora of recording settings that might even intimidate you in the beginning. It can also achieve extended lows and smooth highs almost seamlessly.
All these functions, combined with its significantly reduced proximity effect, you can use this mic for a variety of applications. You can use it for vocals along with a number of instruments such as drums, brass, and strings. Unlike other models in the market that use shorter ribbons that are much easier to install, this brand likes to go the extra mile and has invested in larger ribbons. Additionally, the 8-pattern pattern ensures the mic is able to pick up sound from all directions, producing maximum effect.
The larger ribbon results in a number of advantages. This ensures that the mic operates linearly above the frequency, producing improved quality when compared to condenser counterparts. The only potential downside is that the product costs slightly more than other mics in the market. However, this shouldn’t be much a problem since you get a high-quality product in return.
3. Golden Age Project R1 MK2
Have you ever looked at a microphone and fallen in love? It’s happened to me quite a few time, and I don’t fall in love easily! The Golden Age Project R1 MK2 offers the smoothest performance, great for recording engineers and music producers. It includes a 500 mm ribbon, featuring 2 microns of thickness. You can expect an almost life-like response from the microphone. I also love this model because it is able to handle high sound pressure. Additionally, it also features a figure 8-polar pattern similar to other high-quality mics in the market. This ensures that the product is able to pick up sound from various directions resulting in maximum effects.
It also does a pretty good job at rejecting background noise. All this minimizes bleed and guarantees better results in case multiple sources are recording in the same studio. I’ve found this mic to be excellent for recording vocals, acoustic instruments, horns, string, you name it.
Plus, it’s incredibly affordable and looks pretty darn good too. The only potential downside is that similar to other ribbon mics, and this particular product requires a preamp. Using a preamp will ensure that you’re able to achieve a larger amount of gain. Also, I’d probably steer away from recording in tiny studios, nothing too boxy as it may impact the quality of the product.
Overall, compared to most mics in the market, I’d say that the R1 offers pretty good quality for the money. However, when you compare it to high budget mics, it certainly does not perform as well.
4. Superlux R102
The Superlux R102 is another reasonably priced mic that deserves a spot on this list. This little champ may look small, but it certainly packs a punch. It features super sensitivity and yet manages to produce incredibly smooth results. You can expect superior frequency and speed response compared to most mics in the market. It also includes an electromagnetic transducer. The component managed to offer a superior magnetic circuit field. As for the aluminum alloy, it offers about 2.5 microns of thickness.
The warm sound is excellent, and the product performs well under most circumstances. With its stable performance, this mic is great for home studios when you’re looking to experiment with sound. The microphone results in low distortion. Like most ribbon mics, you might also need a preamp to achieve better sound.
I like how this mic doesn’t cost an arm and leg, but I’d obviously use something much more top-notch if I wanted high-quality results. While this mic might be good for beginners or for vocalists and producers who are still trying to figure out the ‘right sound,’ I wouldn’t recommend it to the pros. Also, keep in mind that the label is plastered in the front of the mic; this might put off some users because it looks a little cheap. But it isn’t a major problem if you aren’t concerned about how the product looks.
5. MXL R77
I honestly couldn’t help but include another MXL mic on this list. The MXL R77 is certainly one of my old favorites. Even when you catch a glimpse of it at a glance, you can’t help but admit how stunning it looks; the mic certainly is a piece of work. And apart from its great solid looks, it delivers the most natural sound, perfect for recording vocals. The sound is amazing thanks to the 1.8-micron aluminum ribbon. This makes it easier for musicians to achieve natural highs and smooth lows. Furthermore, the 8-polar pattern ensures the mic is able to pick up sound from maximum directions. It also reduces sound distortion, resulting in beautiful vocals.
My mates and I have used this mic quite a few times, it works spectacularly for broadcast applications, recording acoustics, horns, strings – you name it. Yes, I admit, this model is pricier than most mics in the market but if you’ve got the budget for it then why the heck not?
The figure-8 pattern results in equal sensitivity and does a good job of blocking out background noise. To indicate the front of the product, the MXL R77 features a large logo while the back side features an inverted phase. However, keeping in mind that ribbon mics often have a lower output compared to their condenser counterparts, you might need a preamplifier. This is merely done to get the most out of the product. A preamp works best with high gain and low noise. For better results, I recommend you try setting the mic in various locations for optimal placement.
And best of all, your package will arrive with a classy wooden storage box with a velvet lining inside. All in all, the mic feels good in your hands (you might want to be careful about getting your fingerprints all over it!). I wouldn’t trade the classy look for anything else because it really sets you off on the right mood. I’d say that this is a great product for vocalists and professional sound producers.
6. sE Electronics X1R
Regardless of what career path you choose, the chances are that you’ll have to make an investment if you want to get ahead. With conventional professionals, this typically includes getting certifications and investing in yourself, in the world of music, it’s all about updating your gear. But don’t worry, not everything ends up costing an arm and leg. The sE X1 R is an excellent product that is hand-crafted to perfection. Just the appearance of the mic will remind you of yesteryear because of its vintage feel. It is incredibly smooth and offers exceptional sound.
The X1R follows on the footsteps of its predecessor in the X1 series. It features the same traditional look but with a number of improvements that any musician would prefer. The overall construction is tough and offers a nice feel since it is all metal. Because of its rugged build, I’d say that you should also be able to carry this model on the road with you.
And how can I forget, each ribbon element is hand-crafted inside the capsule room for optimal results. I also feel the need to add that most budget-friendly mics DO NOT feature hand-crafted ribbons because of the extra trouble, but sE certainly goes the extra mile. These capsule technicians have years and years of experience and understand the importance of the finest details. It might seem like a relatively small detail, but these features actually help the product perform better than its counterparts.
This is among some of the best ribbon microphones that have been introduced by sE. You can use it for a variety of applications including recording vocals, guitars, strings, overhead drums, etc. This makes the model incredibly versatile, great for folks who are always trying out new things. I’d recommend this mic to mid-level professionals. It falls under the right budget and offers decent results at the same time.
Further reading for a similar mic: sE Electronics X1 S review.
7. Cascade Microphones 98-G-A FAT HEAD
This is probably the only microphone that has been named accurately on this list. I mean, you have to admit, Fat Head is pretty amusing. Anyway, the 98-G-A is another classic ribbon microphone that offers superior build and quality. It’s not very expensive but the sound is decent, and the overall build of the mic is also great for regular recording use. This particular model comes with a mic clip and a flight case. It’s also available in two colors which also enhances one’s buying experience. Users will also appreciate the case which will sort out all of your storage issues. So straight up, this model contains a lot more accessories than what’s being offered by other brands. All in all, it’s great value for money.
Now let’s talk about the details and discuss how well the product actually sounds. Sonically, the mic accentuates the highs while the lows sound warm. You should be able to get better use out of the product if you use a stock transformer. I wouldn’t say that the Fat Head is the best ribbon mic I’ve used, but it’s pretty great if you don’t want to spend extra on accessories or are just starting out in the world of music. You can use it for live performances or studio gigs. I’ve personally found that it does an excellent job in recording vocals, pianos, strings, horns and much more. Also, the unique design also helps the product stand apart, although I’m more of a fan of classical aesthetics if you know what I mean.
8. CADLive D82
The CADLive D82 is rather unique from most mics on this list, and it is a moving ribbon dynamic mic that offers an added warmth that makes recording a much more pleasant experience. It offers a little bit more sparkle and offers an exceptional frequency response.
It features a figure-8 pattern that captures sound from all directions for better results. The frequency response remains around 30 Hz to 20 Hz. The range isn’t so bad considering that the price of the product is pretty reasonable.
I will give you some warning though, this mic isn’t meant to be plugged to an active phantom power. Understand that this might end up damaging the ribbon, especially areas that have a strong magnetic field. I’d also suggest you avoid using this model in areas where there is a lot of dust since it is quite fragile. Adding a pop filter may also be a good idea if you’re planning on using it for close vocal use.
I wouldn’t say that this model is the best budget-friendly model out there, but it is definitely worth buying. However, you will certainly appreciate how the mic is sturdy enough and has a good feel to it. It’s very comfortable to hold onto while you’re singing.
9. Marantz Professional MPM-3500R
The MPM-3500R is a superior high-quality microphone that is designed for the pros despite its affordable price. Unlike most mics on this list, this particular model does a fantastic job in picking up small details that typically go missed. Needless to say, the end results warm and natural, plus it does a pretty decent job at handling 135 SPL.
With a figure-8 polar pattern, you should be able to capture sounds equally. However, it might also pick up room ambiance so you might have to be careful with that. It also requires 48V of phantom power.
The overall design is also worth raving about because of its sturdy construction and amazing details. It is also great for picking up incredibly fast transients which would have been very difficult otherwise. Compared to other ribbons on this list, the one included in the 3500R is much smaller, making it more delicate and sensitive to sound. For this reason, it’s probably best that you’re careful with the mic. I wouldn’t use this for outdoor gigs because it is much too fragile.
Other than that, it’s quite remarkable what this product can do. Marantz has done an excellent job in designing a well-rounded microphone. It is quite versatile, and if you know your way around recording, you might not have to invest in another mic for a very long time.
How’s a Ribbon Mic Different Anyway?
Yes, condenser mics are insanely popular, but there are other microphones you ought to know about too. Ribbon mics is a unique kind of dynamic mic that features a thin metal strip instead of a moving coil on the diaphragm. Here, the ribbon functions as the transducer and the diaphragm, it pretty much offers the same level of sound sensitivity you would want from a condenser mic, but it is totally unique on its own.
And yes, I know most kids prefer using microphones that can easily be connected to the computer and don’t quite understand why ribbons are important. The truth is, ribbon microphones were quite popular when the recording industry was taking its first steps. However, bear in mind that these mics tend to be a bit pricey compared to other products.
Why Would I Buy It?
If you’re a beginner, you’re probably wondering why and when you should buy one of these microphones. Contrary to what most people think, ribbon mics are actually quite versatile. You can use them for recording vocals, strings, bass while some are also great for broadcast applications. These mics are quite popular for outside use owing to its lightweight construction. This makes it easier to hold while you’re performing on stage. On the other hand, you can also use these babies for studio time.
The ribbon vibration results in superior audio effects and textures that sound great in recording studios. Ribbon microphones sound particularly great with brass instruments especially trumpets, guitars, and so on. You ought to choose ribbon mics if you want to achieve warmer, more natural results.
As for the downsides, the most notable of all these mics tend to be a little fragile. But that’s about it.
Who Can Use A Ribbon Mic?
Now, I wouldn’t recommend these microphones to people who are new to recording and just starting out. On the other hand, if you have a few years of experience and have learned enough to value a ribbon mic truly, then you’re ready to get your hands on one. Generally, they are better suited for recording vocals, acoustic guitar, violins, pianos, brass instruments, electric guitar amps and so on. I would suggest you read the manufactures instructions before investing in the product since it will guide you better in terms of usability and functionality.
If you’re still confused about what kind of mic you should get your hands on, check out my detailed guide on the best microphones for singing at home. I’ve listed down some of my favorite products to make the task much easier.
So there you have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the best ribbon mics If there’s something you’d like to add, please let me know in the comments section below.
Are there any musical gear or products that you think I should check out? Leave me a message, and I’ll definitely try my best to write a detailed review.
Further reading: best rapping mics.