Ribbon microphone

Jsfsa banner.png

From WikiAudio

Jump to: navigation, search

A ribbon microphone is a type of dynamic microphone that uses a thin aluminum, duraluminum or nanofilm ribbon placed between the poles of a magnet to generate voltages by electromagnetic induction. Ribbon microphones are typically bidirectional, meaning they pick up sounds equally well from either side of the microphone.


Principle of operation

In the dynamic microphone, the diaphragm is attached to a light movable coil that generates a voltage as it moves back and forth between the poles of a permanent magnet. In ribbon microphones, a current is induced at right angles to both the ribbon velocity and magnetic field direction. As the sound wave causes the ribbon to move, the induced current in the ribbon is proportional to the particle velocity in the sound wave. The voltage output of older ribbon microphones is typically quite low compared to a dynamic moving coil microphone and a step-up transformer is used to increase the voltage output and increase the output impedance. Modern ribbon microphones do not suffer from this problem due to improved magnets and more efficient transformers, and have output levels that can exceed typical stage dynamic microphones.[1]

The sensitivity pattern of a bidirectional microphone (red dot) viewed from above.

Ribbon microphones were once delicate, and expensive, but modern materials make certain present-day ribbon microphones very durable and may be used for loud rock music and stage use. They are prized for their ability to capture high-frequency detail, comparing very favorably with condenser microphones, which can often sound subjectively "aggressive" or "brittle" in the high end of the frequency spectrum. Due to their bidirectional pickup pattern, ribbon microphones are often used in pairs to produce the Blumlein Pair recording array. In addition to the standard bidirectional pickup pattern, ribbon microphones can also be configured to have cardioid, hypercardioid, omnidirectional, and variable polar patterns.[2]

As many mixers are equipped with phantom power in order to enable the use of condenser microphones, care should be taken when using condenser and ribbon microphones at the same time. If the ribbon microphone is improperly wired, which is not unheard of with older microphones, this capacity can damage some "foil" ribbon elements, but improvements in designs and materials have made those concerns largely a thing of the past.[3]


RCA "44" ribbon microphone

In the late 1920s, Dr. Harry F. Olson of RCA began development of the ribbon microphone, first with field coils and then with permanent magnets. One of the first ribbon microphones was the RCA PB-31. Produced in 1931, it was a breakthrough technology in sound, and revolutionized the audio recording and broadcasting industries, setting a new standard in frequency response. The clarity and realism were unmatched by any of the condenser microphones of its day. [4]

Just a few months later, in 1932, the PB-31 was replaced by the 44A, which was enormously successful and highly regarded for its smooth tone and defined pattern control, which not only reduced the effects of reverberation on soundstages, but also offered higher gain-before-feedback in live sound applications. The 44A was updated with improved magnetic material in the 44B/44BX models. RCA also launched the unidirectional 77A/77B models and the multipattern 77C/77D mics. Nearly three-quarters of a century later, many of these RCA ribbon models are still hard-working audio tools prized by engineers worldwide.[5]

Also of note is the ST&C Coles 4038 (or PGS - pressure gradient single) designed by the BBC in 1954 and still used for some applications to this day. Its uses varied from talks to symphony concerts and is regarded as a delicate, fine traditional microphone.[6]

Around 2002, relatively inexpensive ($80 - $200) Chinese-manufactured ribbon microphones inspired by the RCA-44 and older Russian Oktava ribbon microphones became available.[7] Chinese-manufactured mics are often used as a platform for microphone modification upgrades that rival classic ribbon mics. [8]

In 2007, new ribbon microphones employing ribbon elements comprised of strong nanomaterials became available expanding the application of the ribbon microphone to virtually any sound recording application. These improved ribbon microphones are immune to wind blast, phantom power, rough handling or other extreme conditions.[9]

The ribbon microphone is an electrically simple design with no active circuitry, and some people have attempted to build them at home (with varying degrees of success) using basic tools and materials.[10][11] The acoustic complexity of ribbon microphones is comparable to other types of air coupled transducers.


  1. Microphones Prof. James B. Calvert
  2. http://www.recordingeq.com/EQ/req0301/hmre0301.html Recording Engineer's Quarterly, March 2001
  3. Powering microphones by Tomi Engdahl 1997-2000
  4. Twelve Microphones That Made History Jim Webb
  5. RCA 44 Mix Magazine
  6. http://www.proaudioreview.com/january04/coles4040.shtml Pro Audio Review
  7. The Chinese Connection EQ Magazine
  8. Ribbon madness, some comparisons
  9. Local firms strum the chords of real music innovation Mass High Tech: The Journal of New England Technology
  10. How To Make A Ribbon Mic
  11. DIY Ribbon Microphone

External links