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Ribbon Microphone Do's and Don'ts

Don't think your Royer ribbon microphone is indestructible

Royer ribbon microphones are smaller and more durable than other ribbon microphones, but they are still ribbons and must be treated with a certain amount of respect. Before using them, learn how to position and handle them by reading the manual and browsing our web site. A little knowledge will go a long way toward keeping your ribbons out of the repair shop.

Don't expose the microphone to blasts of air

The ribbon element consists of a very thin piece of pure aluminum. It is this thinness that gives a ribbon its superb transient response characteristics, but at the same time causes a ribbon mic to be sensitive to blasts of air. Corrugated ribbon material is much thinner than a human hair and because it is more or less flat, it grabs air like a sail. Excessive amounts of air can stretch the corrugations or tear the ribbon, rendering the microphone inoperative. Severe shock, like dropping the microphone, can have similar effects on the ribbon.

Don't "cross-patch" your ribbon microphone with phantom power on

Tie-lines are very useful in recording studios because they enable an engineer to redirect a microphone signal to another input or channel preamplifier. However, since tie lines are accessed and redirected with a connector similar to a guitar plug, a problem exists. When a patch cord is plugged into the jack field, not all conductors "meet" at the same time. This, in effect, is like having a "shorted" cable for the time it takes to plug the cord into the bay. Microphone lines are balanced and everything is fine as long as the lines remain perfectly balanced. When the line is disturbed or becomes unbalanced, any preamplifier offset-voltage or phantom voltage that may be present gets temporarily redirected to the wrong conductors. Even though this occurs for only a split second, it can prove fatal for the ribbon. The ribbon acts like a high speed fuse and is pulsed strongly, or in some cases destroyed. Verify that phantom power is turned off on both the source channel and the target channel before cross-patching the mic. If this is not possible, unplug the mic until the cross-patching has been completed.

These precautions do not apply to our active ribbon microphones, as these mics actually require phantom power to operate and can never be damaged by phantom power.

Don't carry your microphone around without covering it

Excessive amounts of wind of any kind can stretch a ribbon element. Carrying the microphone with the ribbon end uncovered can turn your ribbon into a "sail" as you walk, possibly stretching the ribbon and compromising the microphone's performance. Air conditioning ducts, doors being opened and closed, and other sources of heavy air movement should also be guarded against by simply covering the microphone.

Don't loan your ribbon microphones to persons unfamiliar with their use

A high percentage of the blown ribbons we repair came from someone loaning his or her mic out. Ribbon microphones were out of the mainstream for many years, so the proper methods of handling and using them successfully has slipped away from the consciousness of many engineers. Unless you are quite sure that the studio or individual that wants to use your ribbon microphone understands ribbons well, don't loan it out.

Don't close-mic a plosive sound source without using a popper stopper

Guitar cabinets, bass cabinets, kick drums are a few of the sound sources that may dictate judicious use of a pop screen or blast filter. This is especially true when close miking techniques are employed. The rule of thumb is, "If you can feel a breeze, use a pop-screen!"

Don't use a ribbon microphone near an AC transformer or motor

All ribbon microphones employ magnetic components as a basis for their operation. All microphones that utilize magnets are somewhat susceptible to induced magnetic radiation, especially from alternating magnetic fields such as those found in motors, transformers and video monitors. These fields can be strong enough to induce an alternating electric current in microphones that in turn gets amplified by the preamplifier. This is the same effect that plagues electric guitars, especially those with single coil pick-ups. If you experience this phenomenon, locate the source of the radiated field and move it away, shut it off, or simply move the mic away from the offending device.

Don't allow foreign particles to come in contact with the microphone

The powerful magnetic motor assemblies in ribbon microphones concentrate enormous magnetic fields around the narrow gap where the ribbon is suspended. These fields are so powerful that they will attract even the smallest of particles. Even non-ferrous materials have been known to be drawn into these gaps. Don't underestimate the strength of the magnetic force within the microphone. The smallest particle can render a ribbon microphone unusable.

Be careful when transporting ribbon mics in the un-pressurized cargo-hold of an aircraft

The cargo hold of an airplane changes pressure with altitude and can affect microphones stored in sealed containers. Watertight containers or relief-valve type cases, such as Pelican camera cases, will often come out of cargo hold in a vacuum condition. When opened, pressure is released and a significant "whoosh" of air blows through the case, which can put stress on the ribbon element. Before putting your ribbon mics in cargo hold, prevent against the vacuum condition by loosening the relief valve on such cases or providing a small vent hole on watertight containers.

Don't worry about the low temperatures in cargo hold - fluctuations in temperate and humidity do not affect ribbon microphones.


Do treat your microphone with the respect due a fine instrument

Good microphones are precision instruments. They are the "ear" that hears sounds and translates them to electrical signals - the first and most critical part of the entire recording chain. Take care of them, respect them, and they'll work for you for a lifetime. Click here for Bruce Swedien's eloquent thoughts on microphones.

Do cover or place a mic sock over your ribbon microphone when you are handling it

In the days when engineers all wore white shirts and black ties, ribbon microphones had protective covers placed over them every time they were moved. This ensured that the mics would not be damaged and that the ribbon elements would last for many years.

When you're walking around with a Royer, put your hand around the ribbon end of the mic or use the mic sock to keep wind from blowing through the top of the mic. This may seem like an insignificant detail, but it could mean the difference between your mic coming in for a re-ribbon in five years, or in ten years.

Do place a mic sock over your microphone when set up but not in use

When you leave the studio and your Royer is on its stand, it's good practice to cover it with the supplied mic sock. Again, this will buy you more time in between re-ribbons.

Whenever you set your Royer down, remember that it contains very strong magnets that will attract even the smallest of metal particles into it. This "tramp iron" can work its way into the ribbon area and create distortion, requiring a re-ribbon. Putting the mic into its mic sock will help keep metal particles away from the powerful magnetic structure.

Do place your microphone back in its box when you are finished with it

Do you see U-47's or C-12's laying around outside of their boxes when they're not being used? Not a chance! The good ones lasted because they were well cared for. Give your Royer the same respect and it will remain a pristine recording instrument for generations.

Do use a pop-screen when you are close-miking loud plosive sound sources

There's nothing more annoying than a big "Pop" in the middle of an otherwise great track. That pop is nothing but a concentrated blast of air hitting the mic element. A quality pop screen will keep wind blasts from getting to the microphone, saving your tracks and protecting the ribbon element from potentially damaging wind movements.

Do position the microphone slightly off-axis when close miking high energy sources

You can minimize stressing the ribbon element by placing the microphone slightly off axis to loud or plosive sound sources. Since ribbon microphones have a fairly even pick-up pattern, a slightly off axis position will not alter the source signal, but will certainly do much in the way of protecting the ribbon from unnecessary strain.

Do use high-quality microphone cables and verify that they are in good order

Ribbon microphones, especially passive varieties, require high quality cables to minimize signal loss. High resistance or high capacitance "economy" cables greatly degrade the performance of ribbon microphones. Shorted cables or poorly wired connectors can cause even worse problems because they can place phantom supply voltages where they don't belong, sending current to the ribbon element and possibly resulting in total ribbon failure.

Sonically, every good engineer relies on quality cables. Using a poor quality cable between two good pieces of gear is like putting bad gas in an excellent car - the weak link always lowers overall performance and reliability.

Do keep the microphone clean and free of foreign particles

The powerful magnetic motor assemblies concentrate enormous magnetic fields around the narrow gap where the ribbon is suspended. These fields are so powerful that they will attract even the smallest of particles. Even non-ferrous materials have been known to be drawn into these gaps. Don't underestimate the strength of the magnetic force within the microphone. The smallest particle can render a ribbon microphone unusable.