For many, a great ribbon mic is an essential studio tool. Also, for many, there is one glaring problem with acquiring one… the cost. Ribbon mics have a reputation for being VERY expensive and thus it can be hard to justify the purchase of. Yet many continue to shell out the big bucks for that signature sound you can really only achieve with a ribbon.
Additionally, with manufacturing and R&D having gotten measurable better as of late, budget ribbon mics do exist. While the budget options are not going to have that uber crisp sound quality that a more expensive option will, they still sound great for the price.
Without further ado, here are some of the best ribbon mics that exist on the market today.
Golden Age Project R1 MKII
Golden Age Project is one of those music technology companies that like to bring the consumer closer to the legendary gear of old, without legendary prices. Their R1 model of the microphone is sticking very close to the concept of the brand. A standout feature of this unit compared to some of the other options on this list is the high SPL. With a max SPL of 160dB, you can use this on much louder sound sources than some ribbons could handle. This mic does a great job at giving you the look and sound of a much more expensive ribbon. Now keep your expectations in check, this is not the best sounding mic when compared to more expensive options. However, for the price, it is quite hard to criticize too much..
I would recommend this one to anybody with a very limited budget who really wants to get that old school vocal sound. While the R1 does have other uses, this is where it really shines in my opinion.
sE Electronics X1 R
sE’s X1 R is one of the most highly praised ribbon mics under $300. This product covers the issues of top-end harshness that plagues many affordable microphones. Many people will prefer this ribbon’s tamed high-end for vocals and drum kit cymbals. Actually, that is my recommended ‘best use case’ for this mic. The X1 R is a great budget choice for drum sets in general, whether that be as one room mic or as a set of overheads. Especially if you’re looking for stereo ribbons, this is a great way to keep the price down. Furthermore, the noise floor is nice and low with this mic so you should be able to get some pretty clean recordings with it.
Avantone Pro CR-14
For many professional and home recordists alike, the CR-14 is somewhat of a hidden gem. When you consider the price to performance ratio of this thing it is really amazing. This is in my option what most people should get if they are looking to spend under $500 on a ribbon mic. This thing can handle any job you would expect a ribbon mic to be able to. It probably shines most on vocals, but it is also more than capable on percussion, acoustic guitars, room miking, and much else. In Addition, the SPL level is high enough for most applications and the mic itself is pretty low noise too.
Plain and simple, this is one of the best ribbons for the home studio user on a budget.
While Royer is much more well known for a completely different ribbon mic (see later), the R-10 still merits a spot on this list. For half a grand you would be hard pressed to locate a better deal than this model. This thing sounds great on just about anything and sounds particularly nice on horns and strings. Also, thanks to its fairly flat response everyone who uses this thing seems to comment on the ease of getting it to sit into a mix. The R-10 feels like a high-end product and is built to last. On top of everything else you are getting a ribbon mic from Royer, to me that’s worth $500.
If you’re set on sticking to a sub $1000 ribbon then I would suggest Audio-Technica’s AT4081. This brand is a little bit underrated in the world of microphones and most people just associate them with their more affordable stuff. However, there is no reason to scoff at AT and especially not the 4081. This is a wonderful sounding ribbon and is priced very reasonably for the sound quality it provides. And with the reviews as great as they are for this model, you should feel okay about taking a chance on this guy even though it is less popular than most of the other entries on this list.
The R-121 is without a doubt the most used and iconic ribbon mic from Royer. And in case you were not aware, Royer has basically gained a reputation as the best mic company for ribbons. And relatively speaking, this is not even THAT expensive compared to other ribbons out there. Plenty of brands, including Royer, have ribbons for 2 to 3 times the price of the 121. So why is this the last mic on the list? Because to my ear and many others, the R-121 does everything that a ribbon should do as good as you could ask for. Why spend more than you need to?
This Royer really just sounds natural, which is so useful on so many things and in so many situations. While a 121 can’t do everything, it certainly does enough.