The best ribbon microphone to buy really depends on a few factors, and you’ve come to the right place if you wanted some reviews and comparisons on the best in the market. Today took the time to find however 10 models to help you compare and contrast when it comes to your personal needs in a mic. Which is best for you is dependent on your budget, preference of connection, intended use, as well as additional accessories you think you may need.
What is a ribbon microphone and its uses?
A ribbon microphone is a unique type of microphone that many mic enthusiasts praise when it comes to the overall recording accuracy and ‘feel’ of the sound it captures. Due to their internal organs being built differently than traditional condenser mics (without getting too technical, the way your audio source is transmitted is by using thin aluminum ‘duraluminum’ or ‘nanofilm’ little ribbons that are placed in between the magnet poles to create the mic’s voltage). We know many who state it’s a ribbon mic or bust when it comes to recording since that unique skeleton and the way it creates your audio is very special, and although it’s ultimately up to the ear we’re having listen to the sound, have rarely heard arguments when it comes to the accuracy of what you’re recording.
As compared to condenser microphones (great for recording every and anything) or dynamic microphones (preferred for performing), they’re a bit more constrained to a particular use. Ribbon mics are most popularly used for recording vocals and acoustics, broadcasting for radio shows and podcasts, as well as other types of strings (although ultimately you can record anything, especially with a high Sound Pressure Level).
Picking the best ribbon mic
- Budget range – How much cash are you thinking of spending on your ribbon mic? This will definitely steer you in a particular direction — and we made sure to find the best ribbon mic in most common price-points of these things. Who knows, you may end up finding a ribbon mic you desire that’s a bit more money and will have to wait some time and save up. On the other hand, there are some great budget-friendly ribbon mics that may save you a few extra bucks.
- Connectivity – Most of these ribbon microphones use the popular XLR input (as usually seen in condenser microphones), which also entail the purchase of some external phantom power. However, there are a few mics out there with USB connection that can plug-n-play with your PC as well. We ultimately feel that USB connection decreases some quality and performance,but it all depends on your preference.
- Additional accessories? When it comes to microphones in general, there are some extra accessories you’ll need if you do not have them yet. Although it ultimately depends on your intended use or overall studio setup, the popular necessities you’ll need include a mic stand, shock mount, pop filter, audio interface\phantom power (if you end up going the XLR route), and more. Keep in mind what you’ll need when factoring your budget as well.
The top 10 best ribbon microphones
As we had previously stated, the MXL R144 is in our opinion one of the best ribbon microphones in the market today. If you are looking for near-professional performance and a super affordable price-point, this is a model to grab without looking back. It comes with a Figure-8 polar pattern as well as an excellent 1.8-micron aluminum ribbon built inside. This ensures great sensitivity as well as some super clear sound for instrument (and acoustic), vocal recording and broadcast use. With its great SPL ability, accurate directivity and true side rejection, we think it brings a lot to the table as being the total package of what we’re looking for.
It comes with -56 db sensitivity, 250 ohms impedance, and rated load impedance of over 1500 ohms, which all add on to its previously mentioned solid capabilities and qualities. Lastly, it has a ribbon length of 47 mm; it is a compact and lightweight microphone with an elegant chrome and purple metal finish, and the user reviews really back up this models’ longevity to give us confidence in our buy. The MXL R144 is on the cheaper side of this bunch, so if you wanted a higher-end model keep on reading.
The Rode NTR is another one of the best ribbon microphone models if you are looking for a custom design and an included transformer for varied performance. It comes with a 2-directional polar pattern as well as a 1.8-micron aluminum ribbon that helps give us great sensitivity as well as nice sound for recording and broadcast use. With an internal system for shock mounting and ability to handle high SPL, the Rode NTR (manufactured in Australia) can definitely be classified as one of the best ribbon microphone options for high quality recording in different scenarios, especially if it’s within your budget (a bit of a jump as compared to our previously recommended model).
It comes with a 20Hz to 20 kHz range and 200 output ohms impedance, which is good technical proof of its mentioned great abilities and qualities. The Rode NTR is designed with a matte black metal finish and a heavy-duty appearance. If you grab this, your sound is without a doubt going to be professional.
Avantone Audio CR-14
Check pricing of the CR-14: US
Up next, if the look of this thing doesn’t catch your eye, the quality and middle price-point most definitely will. The Avantone Audio CR-14 is a 14 ribbon mic that delivers a smooth and high-quality sound. It provides great SPL handling of up to 145dB for excellent studio vocal and instrument recordings. Like the others, it also delivers front and rear Figure-8 polar pattern and minimizes residual noise. The frequency response ranges from 30Hz to15kHz, with a distortion of +/-3dB which is quite high for a ribbon mic in this class.
The Avantone Audio CR-14 mic’s output impedance is under 600 ohms and the sensitivity is -52 dB, which makes it one of the best in the price range when analyzing the overall specs. This lightweight microphone comes with an elegant and retro design in a metallic wine red, nickel trim and heavy-duty dark grille. If you were concerned with aesthetics and didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg on your ribbon mic, this is a safer bet.
The Royer 121 has been a favorite ribbon microphone since it was first released in 1998. The mere fact that it has (successfully) been on the market for many years (and has won a number of important quality awards) definitely puts it on our list of the best. When it comes to technical verification for its classification as a best ribbon microphone, let’s mention its figure-8 polar pattern, flat frequency response of 30 to 15,000 Hz (+/- 3dB), and output impedance of 300 ohms.
It delivers a smooth and very realistic recording of both vocals and instruments. The Royer 121 comes with a unique offset ribbon transducer, which ensures a very accurate frequency response when you want to record with high SPL. Due to the longevity of this thing, we have a lot of user reviews backing up our confidence in a long-term investment. If you have the money, this thing is amazing.
The R40 is another highly popular ribbon mic by MXL, and it is an elegant model with passive circuitry that ensures a very clean and smooth signal. It’s a Figure-8 polar pattern mic that comes with a ribbon motor and transformer and it delivers a classic and smooth sound. It’s priced pretty low as compared to the others in here, and it doesn’t have switches in the circuit path but an XLR connector at the base instead. The R40 delivers amazing vocal and instrument recording for the price, as well as acoustic instrument recording.
The frequency range of the MXL R40 is from 20 Hz to 17 kHz, which makes it an excellent choice when you want to record with higher SPL. It is a lightweight and durable microphone with a cool metallic and electric blue finish. Just another option to take into consideration here, especially if you were looking for a cheaper priced mic by MXL that still provides some great sound and build quality.
Golden Age Project R1 MK2
If you are looking for a mic with a super vintage (and awesome in our opinion) look that will deliver that characteristic ribbon sound quality, then the Golden Age Project R1 MK2 is definitely one of the best ribbon microphone options to choose. It has clear high and prolonged low sounds. It comes with a 55 mm ribbon that is 2 microns thick that will ensure a quick and realistic transient response as well as high SPL (up to 160 dB). Like all of the others, it is equipped with a figure-8 polar pattern and can be used for vocal and instrument recording as well as acoustic instrument recording – and even live use if you plan on using yours for it.
Another quality that puts the Golden Age Project R1 MK2 among the best ribbon microphone choices is that it can be used with all the classic mixers and preamps — the price tag is also pretty affordable, considering it lands within the lower-end of the rest of the mics in here.
Versatile and adaptable, the Beyerdynamic M160 is definitely one of the best ribbon microphone models for instrument, vocal, and acoustic instrument recordings. The Beyerdynamic M160 comes with a double ribbon design for classic ribbon sound quality. Its hyper-cardioid pattern and double ribbon transducer removes off-axis sounds and ensures smooth and classic sound quality.
With a frequency range of 40 Hz to 20 kHz, an output impedance of 200 ohms and load impedance of over 1000 ohms, it will ensure great recording with high SPL. Lightweight (just 0.8 pounds) and with a classic, long design (chrome and black finish), this Beyerdynamic mic will surely serve you well in different settings, delivering a clean and well-defined sound. It is also great for stereo recording.
Blue Microphones Woodpecker
Blue Microphones are always expanding their production line and here we have a very interesting ribbon microphone with great qualities. As you can see, it also has an interesting design with a cool wood finish that definitely places it on our list as one of the best ribbon microphone candidates. The Woodpecker is an active ribbon microphone with a figure 8-polar pattern. Its frequency response is from 20Hz-20kHz, which qualifies for recording with high SPL (max 136 dB); it is capable to deliver a clean and smooth sound for both vocal and instrumental recordings. Its noise level A-weighted will deliver under 22dB if that’s what you need as well.
The Blue Woodpecker comes with an output impedance of 50 ohm and with its retro wooden design, it will be an interesting addition to your microphone collection. They’ve made it into countless articles of ours for a reason — Blue Mics knows what they’re doing.
Yes, another MXL model listed but for good reason! The UR-1 is a USB ribbon microphone that combines clear frequency response and sensitivity as a classic trait of the best ribbon microphone transducers along with the practical element of a direct USB connection. Aside from the standout USB connectivity, it has a figure-8 polar pattern that delivers great side rejection that will protect you from undesirable noise while at the same time enabling excellent recording quality of both vocals and instruments.
The MXL UR-1 has very low noise preamp and comes with a built-in headphone jack. You will also get recording software to instantly put all of its abilities into function if that was something you were still looking for. The MXL UR-1 has a frequency range of 20 Hz to 18 kHz and a signal to noise ratio of 89 dB. It’s a great ribbon mic for the price and highly recommended for beginners (although a bit costly for the average starter’s budget) or those who wanted some USB connection to avoid the hassle of an audio interface\phantom power external unit.
The Nady RSM-4 is the last of the best budget-friendly ribbon microphone candidates on our list, and it holds a versatile design and qualities for different recording applications: most vocal, instrumental, and acoustic uses. It delivers a pretty smooth recording sound with its low-tension, 45 mm long, 6-micron thick aluminum ribbon. It also makes for one of the best ribbon microphone options since it’s like the other popular models in the market with a figure-8 polar pattern ribbon microphone.
It has a decent transient response and high 165 dB SPL and delivers an off-axis high frequency response on the sides as well. The RSM-4 is a great choice for those interested in stereo recordings and a mic that is super cheap; its sturdy machined housing with great internal shock mount construction makes for a really quality choice, especially when you consider the budget and to quality ratio. Nady is known for the drum microphones in particular (made it into our best kick drum mic post), but this is great for a span of numerous choices.