Pro Audio

Engineering the Sound: battle of the ribbon mics

Ribbon mics have been making a comeback in recent years. The Engineering the Sound team tested out four of their favourites. Which one came out on top?

Ribbon mics first came to prominence in the early part of the last century and popularised by American company, RCA, and British firm, Coles.

As the studio world began to favour crispier, more hardy condensers and dynamics, the old ribbon began to fall out of favour.

In the late ’90s, however, the Royer R-121 emerged and the love affair with ribbon mics was back in full swing. This classy mic became a go-to. Since then, other companies — like RØDE with its NTR and Audio-Technica with its AT 4081 — got into the ribbon game. But this time, they used phantom power: all the smooth sound of a ribbon with extra headroom.

The Engineering the Sound team got the aforementioned trio together — along with the RCA 77D — to see which ribbon had the most pleasing response to the vocals of Manning Patston.

Ribbon Mics

As can be expected from a ribbon mic, the character of each was tended toward the velvety, with subtle variations in frequency response across the selection. Of course, you might not choose to use your ribbon on a vocal — so if you’re lucky to own one of these little beasts — you’ll have using them all over the studio.

Click on these links for more information:

Audio-Technica AT 4081

Royer R-121


The RCA 77D is a vintage mic, so they are difficult to find, though AEA Microphones is a company that produces RCA replicas to exacting specifications.