short report on royer ribbon mics : LUSENET : To Hear Ourselves As Others Hear Us : One Thread

a couple of years ago when i first started recording live classical music (my wife is a professional flutist and plays with a variety of ensembles), i wrote james boyk an email asking about mics, techniques, etc., and he was most helpful in suggesting that i look at some ribbon mics. my cousin, who works at village production studios in el paso, sent me a pair of coles 4038s to play with, and they instantly gave me almost exactly what i had been after but was unable to obtain using several different nice large diaprhagm condenser mics. however, the coles are large, heavy and quite fragile (they came with instructions not to walk across the studio too fast because the mving air might damage the ribbon!), and they can be difficult to position properly. after further research, i wound up buying a pair of royer r-121 ribbon mics. i have used these incredible mics all over the place in both large live venues and in my studio. they work extremely well as a blumlein pair if you are in a nice venue (especially with a couple of small capsule condenser accent mics strategically placed), but blumlein doesnt give much stereo spread in a more contained studio environment. also, in the fairly acoustically dead studio, i tend to blend in a small diaprhagm condenser, such as the km184, with the primary ribbon to add some "air" to the top end. i have tried just using some top end EQ on the ribbon, but EQ always seems to alter the fundamental characteristic of the sound in an unflattering way. i have tried a variety of mic preamps with the royers, and found that even very fine tube preamps are not necessarily a good choice for ribbons. ribbons have an inherently smooth quality that does not need enhancement. the best preamps for ribbons seem to be solid-state, very high gain pres (+70dB) such as the sonosax. you want as close as you can get to a "straight wire with gain."

i have used the royers on several grand piano recordings just outside the body, with two km184s inside the body, and by varying the blend of the mics, can get an amazing variety of timbres to assess during mixdown. i have also used the royers on flute, harp, oboe, violin, and horns - the royers seem to excel on everything i use them on, and they have become an integral part of my standard setup for classical work. they are neutral, while being very rich and warm. they are rugged, and extraordinarily handsome microphones. i highly recommend them to anyone doing serious classical recording. you may email me if you have any specific questions about them. (yes, the mono version is a bit different than the stereo version. the stereo version has, if possible, an even richer sound, but i decided i needed the versatility of two mono mics, and i have not been disappointed.)

-- jnorman (, February 20, 2001


Your comment that ribbons "instantly gave me almost exactly what i had been after but was unable to obtain using several different nice large diaphragm condenser mics" is typical. I'm glad my input was useful. A few specific comments:

The suggestion about possible damage to the Coles 4038 from walking across the studio must have meant "when you're carrying the mike," but even so it seems extreme to me. The mike was designed specifically to allow use on television booms.

Personally, I haven't had the experience of Blumlein not giving stereo spread in any environment. As always, I wish we could listen to this together, and also to mike preamps. Your assumption that a tube preamp is less accurate than a solid-state unit is one I would not be able to justify from my own listening. The issue may rather be whether or not the preamp has an input transformer; but if you're happy with solid-state, more power to you.

The stereo Royer mike is the Speiden mike--Royer just took it over from Speiden--and is not simply a pair of mono Royers. Visually, it's a copy of the superb B&O 200, but unfortunately not sonically. I auditioned it carefully when it first came out, and cannot recommend it. I have, however, heard a number of favorable reports like yours on the mono Royer ribbons. I'll have to audition them soon.

And by the way (he whispered) have the book's techniques been musically useful?

-- James Boyk (, February 20, 2001.

Your CD idea with pix is brilliant.

I'm glad the students are coming around about recording, and that your wife finds it useful.

I do always urge not merely "recording and listening" but using the book's specific techniques. They are the fruit of decades of experience, and they really work. They are simple to do, but the simplicity conceals a lot of subtlety. Doing them has more far-reaching effects than one would guess.

Thanks for comments on Royer 121. It does have a bit more output than the Beyer M260, I believe, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's inherently quieter; it's possible that the 260's lower output is merely exposing a bit of noise in your mike preamp. Given the quietest possible preamp, what matters is the "self-noise" of each mike, which the makers don't specify.

By the way, if normal movement of players gives disturbing channel shift, the mikes are too close!

All best.

-- James Boyk (, June 24, 2001.

I, too, have a flutist wife, whom I record (I also record her student's recitals), so I was interested in the Royer 121s. I have read other favorable comments about their use in recording flutes. I have taken the advice here about Sony's TCD5m and the Beyerdynamics, which are fine mics, and I have been pleased with the results, especially in this price range. I do find it hard, however, to record flute/piano duets in concert. Often, as flutists lean one way or the other, there's a disturbing channel shift. I find the flutist will start out on one channel, and after a piece or two, her position will change slightly and the balance changes. This drove professional audio people nuts, so I know I'm not alone. I've placed the Beyers in a pattern recommended, but... I'm also beginning to use two Royer 121s, whose response curve is quite smooth. To me, they seem not as "bright" as the Beyers, which I had thought neutral, but they also seem to have less noise, so you can "forget" you're listening to music through a mic. What I like best about them is that with a Blumlein array, you really can get a palpable sense of the players on the stage.

About the book generally, I like the approach of listening to yourself, although we haven't used it throughout all lessons. I've recorded recitals for a couple of years now, and the students are at first reluctant to hear the recordings because they are embarassed by their mistakes. But my wife finds things in the performance that help her evaluate how well each student has absorbed her guidance. It gives her a tool to make suggestions in further preparation. Gradually, students are coming around to the idea that recordings are good to have. I make it a little more palatable by creating CD booklets with student pictures on the covers (I master on tape, but people want CDs, so I burn them to CD for distribution). They get an aural and visual record of the event.

-- Bob Brown (, June 24, 2001.

I have just evaluated the Royer R-122 and a Beyerdynamics M160 (as well as many other condenser mics).

My application is similar to the flute recordings I read about at this site, but I am an international whistling champion who is looking for the ultimate mic/preamp combination.

The Royer is very impressive - condenser level output and the smoothest sound - handles transients superbly. Nice flat response.

The M160 definately has a brighter sound and some whistle frequencies were noticeably louder.

I used several preamps in my tests: A Great River, Martinsound, Avalon AD2022, and an ART Tube PAC (high-low priced, discrete to tube). I was amazed the R-122 sounded so good even on the low-end ART, although the noise floor of the preamp is definately higher than the others.

One thing that had originally steered me away from ribbons is their sensitivity to air blasts which is inherent in pucker whistling (outward blowing). I have found that the Royer 101 wind screen is the absolute best on the market (although its designed and manufactured by Stedman). If it works for whistling, it'll work for any musical application.

I've got a John Hardy M-1 yet to test - any feedback on this combination would be appreciated.


Frank Bonifazi - 1st Place Popular Music & Classical Finalist, 2003 International Whistling Competition

-- Frank Bonifazi (, September 07, 2004.

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