What is a Ribbon Microphone? What is it used for?

Ribbon microphones were highly popular during the 1930s- early 1960s mainly in broadcast. Due to the large size of early ribbon microphones, they were later replaced by more compact condenser and dynamic microphones.

Originally used for broadcast, ribbon microphones have been developed to have a broad range of uses. You can use ribbon microphones for basically anything as long as the instrument or voice doesn’t have a very loud SPL (sound pressure level) which would harm the delicate transducer used inside ribbon microphones. Popular models of ribbon microphones include Royer R121, AEA R84, and MXL R77.

What is a Ribbon Microphone?
Ribbon microphones work similar to dynamic microphones in that they also contain a coil which vibrates as sound hits it. However, instead of containing a diaphragm and a transducer, ribbon microphones only contain a transducer made out of an extremely thin piece of aluminum foil. This piece of foil is thin enough for both sound and light to travel through and vibrates on its own without the need of a separate diaphragm. Ribbon microphones do not require phantom power, since the ribbon microphone has such a tiny transducer/diaphragm, ribbon mics have a very small electrical output signal. Therefore, an output transformer is required to boost the signal.

Ribbon microphones have a high-frequency response and tend to reach a higher frequency than dynamic microphones (around 14kHz). Ribbon mics have a flat frequency response curve which means the frequencies output from ribbon microphones are less altered by the microphone itself. This allows for EQ to be easily applied and adjusted to taste. Due to their construction, ribbon microphones are generally bi-directional, meaning they pick up sound equally from both sides of the grill. Many modern day ribbon microphones have been updated to also allow the option to switch to cardioid and omnidirectional polar patterns.