"Queen of Somewhere... A beautifully produced, lushly detailed sound banquet built around Julianna McDuffie’s nuanced lyrics, which explore themes of discovery, loss and longing... McDuffie delivers her songs in a rich and compelling, closely miked voice, at a measured pace that largely tracks the rhythm of the heartbeat. She is not shy to explore sound in the service of her voice, and listeners who appreciate attention to aural detail will find a lot to like here—vocal treatments spiral and eddy, trailing their way though a sonic landscape that is recorded with a fine sense of spatial possibility..."

-iTunes Review, by edgemitchell

March 25, 2015

Ribbon Mic/Condenser Mic Comparisons

Earlier this week, I posted about my DIY Ribbon Microphone that I made while attending a workshop conducted by Austin Microphones.

Of course, the best way to know how it sounds is to compare it to a known microphone... in this case, my constantly-in-use Audio Technica 2050 Switchable Patterned Condenser.

For the test, I recorded both the Austin Model 1 Ribbon and the AT2050 Condenser simultaneously, with the mics positioned side by side, as close as possible. I made sure to switch the AT2050 from my normal cardiod pattern to the figure 8 setting, in effort to more closely mimic the physics of the Ribbon mic (which picks up sound from the front and rear).  I then positioned my pop filter evenly between the two.  It looked something like this:

L: Austin Model 1 Ribbon Microphone
R: Audio Technica AT2050

As I do not have a treated studio room (or a vocal booth), and my go-to reflection filter or Kaotica Eyeball will fit on only one mic stand at a time, I decided to embrace the natural ambiance of my house, which I've never tried before.  I will be doing so again.

The samples below are clearly noted as being recorded in either my front room (Cathedral Ceilings) or in my downstairs bathroom (Untreated Small Room).  I was surprised at how manageable and even-toned the bathroom sounded.  Don't knock 'til you've tried it, I guess.

I was planning to just use my normal recording space, but the neighbors were having some landscaping done, and there were power saws.... So, I tried the bathroom.  You may hear the landscaping crew in the background of the Cathedral Ceilings recordings. These are not pristine, but they do show the differences quite well.

It was not at all surprising to find that the ribbon (fitted with a .8 micron ribbon) was a little quieter overall, or that the tone it delivers is a bit more rounded, more full in the low-mid range, a little muted, and sensitive to sibilance and popping.  I expected all of those things.  In contrast, the AT2050 is a more sensitive to higher frequencies, and has a tendency to feel a little brittle or "tinny" on the high end.

The condenser is also "louder" and it took some time to get the levels nicely balanced between the two mics for the purposes of this comparison. In truth, I had the ribbon cranked to 10 on my audio interface... I think I'll be looking for a Cloudlifter at some point, but it's not at all a deal-breaker.

However, I am quite pleased with the effect, and will find many uses for it.  It has a nice, warm tone, and it is reminiscent of vintage technology (which of course, it is).

The following samples are dry, have no fx, no eq, no leveling and no compression.  They were sung a cappella and without the benefit of backing tracks.

I would love to know what you think! Please leave comments below!


  1. It seems the Ribbon mic controls the plosives and Sss much better than the Condenser. The breaths do sound more natural with the Ribbon. There's a bit more air with the Condenser, making things a bit more clear, but it comes with the added slight sibilance. Nothing the good 'ol Selig De-esser can't take care of though. While the Ribbon provides more control on sibilance and such, there's some subtle bottom end that might need to be rolled-off with an HP filter. Of course, what may seem like issues, can easily be resolved with some EQ.

    So it would ultimately be your choice, although it seems like it would be another option or tool to choose from when the situation calls for it. It's win/win for you, since you put it together yourself. Just the experience of building something with your own hands is worth all of your time; not to mention the added future rewards.

  2. I agree completely, Ed - I always reach for De-esser when I use my condenser, and I can already see that I'll be reaching for Selig Leveler with the ribbon as well. Such amazing tools.

    I think the ribbon will be perfect for those times when I want to sound like I've sampled myself singing in a 1930s club. Which, I want to do more often than not. :)

  3. As a third option you could also try double tracking with both mics. :) I like the top end on the condenser, but the mids sound better to me with the ribbon. As was already mentioned here and elsewhere though, it could use a high pass. Overall though, it sounds very good. Congrats! :D

  4. Oh yes, Shawn, I plan to double track! Thanks for checking it out! :)