In addition to being a private violin teacher, Alecia started writing music-related articles 3 years ago and has been enjoying this experience greatly. Loves quilting and scrapbooking in her free time.
Marcus has a vast experience in digital audio and sound design. Thanks to his knowledge, he actively helps musicians with technical problems, improving their audio quality and even promoting their tracks so that thousands of listeners could enjoy some really good music.
Last updated: March 25, 2021
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Ribbon mics offer the warm old-school 50s, 60s or 70s vibe. They beautifully even out the lows and soften the highs of a recorded vocal or instrumental jam. Since they add a whole velvety smoothness to a track, they are highly preferred by musicians for taming harsh sounding instruments that have an off-ish sound on condenser mics. Now, getting the best ribbon mic is a mixed bag of experience given there are so many options available and too much information to consider.
We rounded up a list of the top best ribbon mics on the market to make your life easy breezy. We included some of the crucial parameters worth considering before buying a ribbon mic in our reviews. They include: maximum SPL, sensitivity, frequency response, ribbon thickness and polar pattern. They are the main determinants of a ribbon mic’s overall performance and build quality. For instance, sensitivity and frequency response affect the sound quality of the mic.
"A passive mono mic with offset ribbon design that boosts the max. SPL of the mic and giving its rear a brighter character than the front.bidirectional polar pattern.internally shock-mounted transducer.3-layer windscreen system."
"A fantastic ribbon mic with high-frequency response that doesn’t require much EQ to achieve a more detailed and balanced sound.bidirectional polar pattern.internal shock mounting system.highly sensitive."
This tops the list for various valid reasons. Right off the bat, AEA is a famous mic brand popularly known for its relationship with the legendary RCA ribbon mics. The R84 has the classic character and natural tonality of the RCA R44 but it is built to give a more modern sound.
The mic has an advanced high-end frequency, extended to enhance clarity and proximity effect. This guarantees you better results whenever you close-mic. The mic hits the high-end with brilliant detail and the low-end with awesome power.
Plus, you can easily manage the proximity effect to increase the bottom-end of instruments like drums and vocals like bass and treble.
Just like the legendary 44 ribbon mics from the 30s, the R84 has a similar big ribbon element and output transfer. Though it has various new components that make it more versatile and improve its sensitivity and durability. Since it has a low sensitivity rating of 2.5mV/Pa it’s recommendable that you use a high-gain preamplifier with superior quality.
Further, the mic features a yoke mount that not only gives it flexible positioning but also acts as a shock mount to help prevent any mechanical induced noises in the mic’s signal.
With a 2-year warranty and a custom storage or shipping case, this is one of the best ribbon mics that combine a vintage and modern vibe to bring you the best sound quality and durability.
Royer labs is also a world-famous brand and the R-121 is their flagship ribbon microphone. The company introduced the mic to the world in a compact and lightweight yet durable body straying far from the standard large, heavy and super-fragile ribbon mics. The new design didn’t compromise on the warm natural character ribbon mics are loved for.
Like all the other R-series microphones by Royer, the R-121 incorporates the ribbon transducer system which positions the diaphragm closer to the mic’s front. This comes with lots of benefits including; a brighter response to the rear of the mic, a more natural bidirectional pattern, and a higher maximum sound pressure. It also eliminates high-frequency phase distortion.
Even more, the mic has solid durability thanks to its solid build and it offers excellent audio quality with full-body well-defined detail and classic natural character. This is why it is highly preferred for brass instruments and electric guitars. You can also use it with myriad other sound sources like vocals, strings, and drum overheads.
The R-121 has a low sensitivity rating of 4.5mV/Pa, thus can work pretty well with a few high-end pre-amps. Though to be safe just go for a high-gain pre-amplifier.
With the lifetime warranty and extra accessories like microphone sock, protective wood box and a free re-ribboning, this is one of the best premium ribbon microphones out there.
This is the prime option for anyone who likes to shop for top-quality at a pocket-friendly price. The MXL R144 is one of the best affordable ribbon microphones out there and its top-notch functionality lives up to all the rave it has going on from professionals and hobbyists.
You have 2 options when buying this mic; either a bundle with just the mic alone or one that includes a mic and a shockmount. You can place the mic on the shock mount for superb positioning and it also helps prevent unnecessary mechanical induced sounds.
Typical of classic mics of its kind, the MXL R144 offers a super-rich and smooth sound. It is painstakingly designed to capture all the sounds and instruments in a room flawlessly. If you play the electric guitar or any sort of horn as your main instrument, this should be your go-to mic because of its high SPL capability.
In addition, the mic is impressively compact and lightweight, so you can take it with you anywhere. This makes it a fantastic choice for a beginner who wants to try different sounds with their instruments.
Beyerdynamic is a well-established brand that has been producing ribbon mics with superior quality for over a decade now. They haven’t lost the juice, as their classic mics are still as fantastic as they ever were.
The M160 boasts a compact but rugged build. Its design is dynamic and you can bring it with you anywhere whether you are in the film or music industry.
The mic is perfect for recording stringed instruments like violins and guitars as well as pianos and drums. This is because of its fantastic transmission quality. When combined with a dynamic microphone, it is the ultimate all-around and engaging option for a stereo recording environment.
In sum, if you are looking to enrich your studio space with some rich and warm sounds, then you should trust this Beyerdynamic ribbon mic to meet all your sound quality needs. Since it’s from a brand that goes way back, it is a famous go-to for most industry professionals.
This is another worthy contestant from the Royer microphone arsenal. Like its big brother above, R-121 it is made with longevity in mind. It is an excellent performer both in the studio and on live stages.
The R-10 also utilizes the offset ribbon design which allows you to move the ribbon closer to the front of the mic. This does a couple of things including boosting the maximum sound pressure level of the mic and giving its rear a brighter character than the front.
In terms of overall level, the mic’s bidirectional pattern is true and consistent. You will feel like you have 2 mics in one.
Also featured is a multilayered windscreen that provides further protection to the ribbon against gusts of wind and plosives. The layers of the screen also mitigate the proximity effect, which in turn reduces bass response build-up in close-mic-ing applications.
As if that’s enough, there is a humbucker that helps mitigate interference and reduce the noise level in the mic signal. This results in a booming low-end, warm midrange and the classic Royer dark ribbon high-end.
What’s more, you will get to enjoy a flexible unobtrusive positioning owing to the microphone’s nifty mounting system and compact build.
In a nutshell, the Royer R-10 is hands down the best ribbon mic that lives up to its promise of great sound quality with reduced noise levels. On top of all these cool features, you get a 5-year warranty and a few extra accessories like a carrying case, microphone holder and sock.
This is another brand that challenges the high price tags on most high-quality mics. It is one of the best ribbon mics under 500 bucks. The mic shines on vocals, guitar amps and brass but works perfectly well for other instruments like an acoustic guitar.
The mic unlike many others has a sleek and classy retro style that would entice you to sing often. It is made with top-notch components that increase its durability. Its machine brass body and low-mass dual ribbon components make it a solid bet for longevity.
The mic sets itself apart with an incredible SPL handling of up to 145dB. This makes it a perfect fit for nearly all the instruments in your studio including guitar amps, vocals, and drum kits among others.
Your projects will sound much better instantly with the smooth warm sounds produced by this ribbon microphone.
Another huge plus for this mic is that it comes complete with a shockmount, a metal case, and a wooden box yet it is extremely affordable.
Why is it special?
Ideal for various kind of instruments
Exceptional SPL handling of up to 145dB
Extra accessories-shockmount, wooden box and metal box
What are the flaws?
Somewhat low sensitivity thus needs a high-grade mic preamp
Rode are famous for their decade-long high-quality condenser mics and this is one of their flagship ribbon mic models. The Australian made mic is a fantastic choice for horns, guitars and vocals.
The NTR distinguishes itself with active electronics and a custom transformer that combine to give it maximum output level which makes it a perfect match for arguably all phantom-power equipped microphone preamp. Additionally, it offers high-frequency response such that unlike most ribbon mics it doesn’t require much EQ to achieve a more detailed and balanced sound.
The bidirectional mic is made to last with a heavy-duty black matte finish that won’t be getting scratched anytime soon especially with the frequent minor accidents that happen in the studio and on-the-road. Further, the mic prioritizes durability in its build with sturdy and top-quality materials.
Other exciting features like internal shock-mounting system make this mic a famous go-to among many professionals. Since it is highly sensitive, it perfect for live performances with a lot of noise as it will beautifully work to ensure all the notes are heard.
If you consider the outstanding set of features and the warm and rich sounds produced by this mic, you will realize it is one of the leading premium quality ribbon mics out there. It is a bit on the pricier end but worth every penny spent on it.
The SE electronics portfolio has had ribbon mics with fairly high profiles for the longest time. The X1R is one of their gems. It comes with a significantly lower price tag than its Voodoo V1R brother.
The passive ribbon mic has an attractive design that has a lot of hand-works involved. It has an attractive textured non-slip black finish and a rugged metal housing that will undoubtedly last you a good many uses.
Like many other standard passive ribbon mics, the X1R has a bidirectional polar pattern that is behind its significant proximity bass boost that may need a little EQ compensation when you use the mic very closely.
The mic is no Mickey Mouse with its 2-micron-thick aluminum ribbon that can handle SPLs up to 135dB. Its frequency response is also pretty decent from 20Hz to 16kHz. However, its output is fairly low and with the -55.3dB 1V/Pa sensitivity you need a powerful mic preamp that can offer low noise and high gain to get the best performance. You can as well choose to use a cloud lifter from cloud microphones.
Though passive ribbon mics don’t usually need phantom power, this mic can tolerate it as long as you plug in using a standard balanced cable before the power is applied.
All considered, the X1R is an outstanding ribbon mic that delivers useful results on virtually anything. Plus, you don’t have to decimate your bank balance to get it.
What makes it special?
Can tame the highs without dulling them
Sounds great on various sound sources
What cons did we find?
Low sensitivity that requires a decent mic preamp or cloud lifter
This is another gem that builds on SE electronic’s reputation. Just like the other ribbon mics from them, the VR2 has a limited frequency range with a brilliant design aimed at reducing size and cost.
The mic is pretty much resolute about breaking the traditions with its striking design that offers a modern aesthetic. It is remarkably compact and lightweight yet very robust. Plus, it comes in a full package with a standard mic clip and a full shock mount.
What sets this mic apart the most is its extended high-frequency range. It also exhibits superbly smooth clarity in the lows and mids, typical of high-quality ribbon mics.
The high output level of the mic makes a whole difference on the noise floor which makes it a perfect option for quiet sources. On an acoustic guitar, it will define the strumming and picking transients and still get to offer you a wonderful low mid clarity. You will also get to enjoy the vocal enrichment that comes with the proximity effect.
Additionally, the mic has a pretty decent SPL handling that allows it to get real close to guitar amps and bring out a rich low end.
In conclusion, this is one of the best ribbon mics on the market that money can buy. Though it’s a bit on the pricier end it will deliver on sound quality and durability.
Why did it make our list?
Excellent frequency response
Compact and lightweight thus easy to position
Smooth clarity in the lows and mids
Great SPL handling
Features a full shockmount and standard mic clip
What is not ideal about it?
The frequency range enhancements of the mic have interfered with some of the classic ribbon mic flavors
Audio Technica is another giant mic brand often overlooked and the 4081 is one of their best classic ribbon mics. It provides the smooth and natural sound you would need from a ribbon mic.
The mic has a low-profile stick design that is not only easy to carry around and handle but also convenient for positioning in tight spots. Unlike many other ribbon mics, the 4081 features a MicroLinear ribbon imprint that protects the dual ribbons from lateral flexing, distortion or any kind of damage.
The mic is a natural when it comes to versatile functionality. You can use it with a couple of instruments including horns, orchestras, drum overheads, and strings both in the studio and on live performances. You will also love how bright it sounds when you use it for recording close vocals. This is because it lacks the padding that protects the ribbon.
One distinguishing factor about the 4081 is that it is an active ribbon mic and unlike most mics of its kind, it needs phantom power. This comes with a couple of pros including a higher output level that requires less preamp gain and lets you enjoy quieter recordings.
A studio beginner would be worried about getting the correct preamp or mixing board that provides the required 48 volts. Well, fret not as any can do and the XLR cable carries the power just as good as it does the audio signal.
Overall, this is one of the best classic ribbon mics you can get for recording close vocals. Its versatile application places it higher among the crème de la crème of the ribbon mics in the industry.
Why is it special?
Easy to position stick design
Can be used on various sound sources
Best for recording close vocals
Higher output level that doesn’t need a gain preamp
Meet Samson VR88, versatile, efficient and good looking at a surprisingly affordable price point. It has virtually everything you would need from a ribbon mic and much more and you can make the most out of it in your project studio.
One of the primary standout features of this mic is its art deco-styled bodywork. It is not only eye-catching but also pretty solid in terms of durability.
The mic combines an integral audio transformer and a phantom-powered FET preamplifier to provide maximum sensitivity and the right impedance match for the ribbon element. This saves you the trouble of setting up a high preamp gain to get the signal level correctly.
Further, the VR88 produces an extended and smooth frequency response. It is also capable of handling SPL levels of up to 137dB. This means it has increased versatility as you can use it on just about any source of the sound. It especially favors mid-heavy sounds like the electric guitar because unlike many other ribbon mics, it has a kinder high-end to overdriven amplifier sounds.
In sum, the VR88 is a very capable all-rounder budget-friendly ribbon mic. It is not the best choice for pop vocals but it perfectly suits singers with edgy and thin-sounding voices that can create a retro jazz club sound. It comes second to none in applications where spill isn’t a problem like bowed strings, acoustic and electric guitars.
What stands out?
Doesn’t need a gain preamp because it’s an active ribbon mic
Comes with a shockmount and hard case
Can be used on a wide range of sound sources
Attractive artsy design
Handles high SPL
What cons did we manage to find?
Its high-end is too smoothed out for some applications
CAD shines in the world of microphones with their affordable workhorse models that perform exceptionally well especially in live applications. The CADLive D82 is an incredible all-purpose ribbon mic that works well with nearly all sound sources.
The mic comes in a side-address design with a rugged body. It looks and feels great in the hand and that alone is enough to inspire your confidence on stage. Plus, it is made to last with a thicker ribbon element than most ribbon mics. You may think the 8 microns thick ribbon compromises on top-end detail, but the D82 has zero struggles in that department.
The thick ribbon also partly contributes to the mic’s great SPL handling capability though it is mainly bolstered by a built-in dual-stage blast guard.
Another praiseworthy feature of this mic is its custom transformer carefully engineered to keep the noise floor down. You will not be able to apply phantom power to this mic but then again you won’t have to set the gain too low like it usually is with most passive ribbon mics. The transformer does a good job at providing a clean signal and very low noise.
It’s as if the D82 was designed for guitar amps. Its design is super easy to position on the amps grille and when it is too close, even to other sound sources, it doesn’t over-exaggerate low frequencies.
To sum it up, the D82 is a useful, durable, and quiet mic that has so many features that set it apart from other older designs. With its superior build quality and great SPL handling, it is a perfect on-the-road choice. It does pretty well in the studio but you will love using it on stage even more.
What are our favorite features?
Exceptional build quality
Easy to place
Extended frequency response
Great for live performances
Thicker ribbon element
It handles SPL exceptionally well
What could be better?
Things to Consider
A lot goes into choosing the best ribbon microphone especially if you have zero experience or knowledge about microphones. This segment has all the pro tips you would need to make the best-informed choice, from what a ribbon mic really is to the benefits of investing in one and the features a good one must possess.
What is a ribbon mic?
A ribbon mic is a type of a dynamic mic that uses a super-thin strip of metal, usually aluminum in place of a dynamic microphone’s diameter. The strip of metal is suspended in a strong magnetic field and it acts as the diaphragm and transducer element. It offers a similar kind of sensitivity and transient response like that of a condenser but with an entirely different character.
There are passive and active ribbon microphones. Passive mics are the most common and they lack pre-amplification or onboard active electronics. The sound produced by a passive mic is dependent on the impedance of the preamp input to which it is connected. A low impedance results in a low-frequency output.
Why should you invest in a high-quality ribbon mic?
There are a couple of reasons why you would never regret investing in a top-quality ribbon mic including:
Ribbon mics are not large and heavy yet they are made of sturdy material that can hold up well to regular use and abuse. Their compact build also makes them easy to position or place as well as carry around especially when you hit the road.
Superior sound quality
Nothing comes close to the very clear high notes and accurate low tones produced by ribbon mics. They can record a wide range of detailed sounds. Because of this, they sound a bit dark at times. What’s more, you can use a ribbon mic to enhance your voice if you want to achieve a mellow and soft sound.
You can use most ribbon mics with multiple sound sources to achieve a vintage yet clear sound that is smooth and warm.
Features to consider when choosing the best ribbon mic
These are the critical aspects that you must be on the look for when you go shopping for a ribbon mic:
This is also commonly known as the figure 8 pattern. It picks up sounds from both the front and rear of the mic but rejects any sound from the rear. Many ribbon mics use this pattern. A few large diaphragm microphones like condenser mics also use it.
This a top crucial aspect to consider as it is what determines how much frequency your mic will pick up. Fun fact: the human ear can pick up frequencies between 20Hz and 20kHz. Therefore, you need to get a microphone that can pick up audio within this range like the Rode NTR.
What you are trying to capture with the microphone also plays a critical in choosing the frequency response of a mic. Some mics will have a flat frequency response which means all frequencies are captured equally while some will boost or cut certain frequencies.
For instance, recording a string quartet would need a flat response because the frequencies from the instruments like violins, basses, cellos and violas must be captured equally. To capture a drum kit or a kick drum, you need a mic with a lower frequency response for the best results.
Maximum SPL and sensitivity
Maximum SPL is the maximum level of SPL that a ribbon mic can handle. If your microphone can handle high SPL well then you can use it on various sound sources and it won’t over-exaggerate on low frequencies.
Sensitivity refers to how easily your mic can pick up sounds in a room and how loud they need to be. Ribbon mics, just like other dynamic mics are designed to be less sensitive. That’s why they are not the best for getting detailed recordings. Though there are a few ribbon mics like the Royer Labs R-121 that can capture clear sounds without background noises.
Some ribbon mics, especially the vintage models have a ribbon element that can be harmed or destroyed by phantom power. Some are phantom powered. You should be keen to know the difference before you start using any ribbon mic to avoid any damages that could be caused by existing abnormal conditions.
Most ribbon mics, especially the passive models usually require top-quality cables to mitigate signal loss. Ensure you connect with the best quality cables as economy-level ones with high-resistance can greatly degrade the mic’s performance. You should also ensure that the connectors are properly wired and the cables are not shorted as this can easily make the ribbon blow.
Ribbon mics have fragile diaphragms. Other components like tubes are also fragile. Though it’s not much of a deal-breaker in the studio, it can be a problem when you need to hit the road and use the mic for live performances on stage. With this in mind, be sure to get the best durable ribbon mic with rugged materials like the Royer Labs R-121.
Compatibility is key as it determines how versatile your mic will be. Some mics excel is particular applications while others are all-rounded. They may be the best for specific uses but it is much better to go for a mic that can deliver superb results on a wide range of sound sources. The flexibility offers excellent value for money as you wouldn’t have to get another ribbon mic for recording sounds every time you learn or acquire a new instrument.
Consistent output impedance
A microphone with a consistent output impedance is much more reliable as you would know what to expect every time you plug in. Such a mic is less dependent on its preamp and will therefore sound uniform when used with different instruments or sound sources.
A ribbon microphone can be used for a myriad of application both on stage and in the studio. You can use them with bass and trumpet instruments as it will be beautifully warm up and enhance the sounds or even record vocals and guitars. However, before using it for vocals and guitars, you must ensure it can handle high SPL well otherwise you keep it at a reasonable distance before you start recording.
This has been a heated debate for quite a long time. Ribbon mics are a perfect option for vintage, extra-warm classic sounds. They effectively cut out harsh sounds making them more pleasant and attractive. However, they are not as mechanically robust as condenser mics.
Condenser mics on the other hand offer more clear sounds with better frequency depth. They produce full and bright sounds.
Phantom power can be harmful if there is a jack patchbay between the ribbon microphone and the source of power like an audio interface or preamp. So when phantom power is on and you are using jack patchbay, try and avoid any manipulations with plugs
Choosing the best ribbon mic can be a daunting experience especially if you are green about microphones. With all the useful pointers on this guide, that shouldn’t be the case anymore. Should you be overwhelmed with the multiple brands and models available, you can easily pick any of the top-rated mics we have reviewed in depth. Out top choice, the AEA R84 is the best all-around ribbon mic you can lay your hands on. It offers solid durability, warm, clear and crisp sounds. It is built to withstand any amount of abuse while still retaining its sound and quality.
Our premium pick, the Royer Labs R-121 is the most faithful device you can ever pick up. It is a bit pricey but delivers on durability and superb sound quality. It is fuss-free to set up and produces a crisp clear classic sound like no other out there.
The MXL R144 scooped the third spot and its excellent value for money went unmatched. It is a beautiful combination of quality and comfort. Its elegant metallic finish is not only attractive but also robust. It also offers a unique set of unmatched sounds. Its additional features like shock mount set it apart as one of the best ribbon mics out there.