Ribbon microphones are a specific type of microphone that utilizes a thin metal ribbon suspended between magnets to capture sound. These microphones are known for their unique sonic characteristics and have found applications in various audio recording scenarios.
The construction of ribbon microphones involves a delicate ribbon element, usually made of aluminum, placed in a magnetic field. When sound waves hit the ribbon, it vibrates in response, generating an electrical signal that corresponds to the sound. The ribbon's thin and lightweight design allows it to respond to subtle nuances and transient details, resulting in a smooth, natural, and vintage sound reproduction.
Ribbon microphones excel at capturing delicate high-frequency details and have a warm, smooth tonal quality. They exhibit a bidirectional or figure-eight pickup pattern, meaning they capture sound from the front and rear while rejecting sound from the sides. This polar pattern makes them suitable for various applications.
In studio recording, ribbon microphones are commonly used for capturing vocals, acoustic instruments (such as strings, woodwinds, and brass), and guitar cabinets. Their ability to accurately reproduce the sound with a vintage touch makes them popular for capturing the warmth of vocals and the natural resonance of acoustic instruments.
Ribbon microphones are also prized in broadcast and radio applications. They can capture a natural and intimate sound, making them ideal for radio broadcasting, voice-over work, and podcasting. Additionally, their figure-eight pattern helps isolate the desired sound source while minimising unwanted room noise and reflections.
Live sound engineers appreciate ribbon microphones for their ability to handle high sound pressure levels (SPL). With proper handling, they can be used to capture the sound of guitar amplifiers, drum overheads, and brass sections in live performances, adding a vintage character to the overall sound.
It's important to note that ribbon microphones are delicate and require careful handling due to their sensitive ribbon element. They are susceptible to damage from excessive wind blasts, strong plosives, and phantom power. Therefore, using a pop filter, shock mount, and ensuring compatibility with the microphone preamp are essential precautions.