Our Review of the Best Professional Ribbon Mics for Vocals in 2021

Dave Mostert
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Ribbon microphones come in many different shapes, sizes, and flavors. It can be very confusing when shopping for a ribbon mic for your home studio.

Ribbon mics are unlike any other mic type available today. They don’t really sound like boundary mics, they don’t sound like condenser mics, and they don’t sound like dynamic mics. They sound like ribbon mics, and for this reason, there’s really nothing to confuse you when shopping for one if you’re already used to ribbon mics.

Here is our shopping list of the best ribbon mics for your home studio.

NameCategoryProduct
Royer Labs R-121 Large-Element Ribbon MicrophoneBest OverallRoyer Labs R-121 Large-Element Ribbon Microphone
MXL R144 Ribbon MicrophoneBudget PickMXL R144 Ribbon Microphone
Rode NTR Premium Active Ribbon MicrophoneUpgrade PickRode NTR Premium Active Ribbon Microphone

1. Royer Labs R-121 Large-Element Ribbon Microphone

Our rating: 9 / 10

Royer Labs R-121 Large-Element Ribbon Microphone

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Pros:

  • Fantastic sound
  • Rounded low frequencies and quick transient response
  • Works great with high-SPL sources
  • Solid construction
  • Reasonable price

Cons:

  • Not intended for use with high-SPL sources
  • XLR/TRS connectors can be hard to figure out

The recordings made by the Royer Labs R-121 Large-Element Ribbon Microphone, Nickel is true to the original sound. Royer Labs is one of the few manufacturers that offer high-quality ribbon microphones.

Composed of hand-built parts, this microphone is driven by the company’s patented “true ribbon” design that provides a balanced sound. It also ensured the microphone’s resistance to physical stress and temperature.

Full of expensive features, this microphone can be overwhelming for beginners. However, thanks to its manual and sensitivity of 96dBA and -36dBV/Pa respectively, setting up is easy and fast. Furthermore, the sensitivity is perfect for studio recording or live monitoring.

2. Rode NTR Premium Active Ribbon Microphone

Our rating: 9 / 10

Rode NTR Premium Active Ribbon Microphone

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Pros:

  • Musical top end
  • Rich sound
  • Neutral, not hyped
  • Accurate in the midrange
  • Dark, soft, responsive lows
  • Very detailed mid-range and treble
  • Smooth, even gain in upper mids
  • Amazing clarity
  • Full, woody mid-range
  • Excellent off-axis, rejection

Cons:

  • Ribbon may irritate skin over time
  • Ribbon can be sensitive to fast mic handling such as claps and pops
  • Ribbon also doesn’t travel well
  • Ribbon can be sensitive to extreme cold and hot temperatures
  • Ribbon can be sensitive to shocks and is fragile

The next time you wish to add clarity and detail to your vocals or any instruments, give the Rode NTR Professional Active Ribbon Mic a try! Ideal for many applications, such as miking drum kits, pianos, guitar cabinets, horns, amps, percussion instruments and more.

3. MXL R144 Ribbon Microphone

Our rating: 8 / 10

MXL R144 Ribbon Microphone

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Pros:

  • Available at an affordable price
  • Features a 20-20,000Hz frequency response
  • You can use it with interchangeable capsules
  • Includes a trademarked integral pop filter

If you don’t have a lot of money to spend but want a professional sounding microphone, this imparts great things. It comes with a mounting clip and a windscreen, allowing you to achieve high quality recordings in all types of environments. It also features a short-bodied design with a relatively high output level, meaning it’s ideal for use in a studio setting.

The XLR cable is resistive as opposed to the regular capacitive type, giving you noise-free signal transmission.

The downside to this design is that it has a high-end build quality. It is important to note that it’s not a high-end sounding microphone.

4. Beyerdynamic M160 Double Ribbon Microphone

Our rating: 8 / 10

Beyerdynamic M160 Double Ribbon Microphone

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Pros:

  • Smooth and flat frequency response
  • Great feedback rejection
  • Extremely sensitive
  • Double ribbon design for a unique tone
  • Extended frequency range
  • Excellent build quality and traditional design
  • Includes large wind screen
  • Easy to use
  • Great value for money
  • 16-foot cable

Cons:

  • Color fades somewhat after a while
  • Not ideal for stage use

This mic is built for recording voices in almost all acoustic contexts, offering the best vocal recordings you could hope for. It’s perfect for just about any vocal gospel group you could imagine and it’s equally useful for a soloist or for a singer-songwriter looking for a smooth and flat tone. It’s a perfect option for home, studio, or even a live environment.

The M160 is a hypercardioid design, which is a great design type for home studios as it provides a flat and clear tone with a minor boost in lower mids, perfect for vocal recordings. It also has excellent rejection of feedback allowing you to use it in live environments or in even smaller home studios with just a few preamps.

5. MXL R144 HE Heritage Edition Ribbon Microphone Bundle

Our rating: 8 / 10

MXL R144 HE Heritage Edition Ribbon Microphone Bundle

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Pros:

  • High-quality mics.
  • Good package overall-comes with a hard case, pop filter, carry case, and a cable.
  • Four polar patterns, which reduces noise in room.
  • Ribbon mic, which delivers a natural sound.
  • Compatible with BLUE Snowball.
  • Airstream shock mount.
  • Professional pop filter.
  • A pair with a case.

Cons:

  • Basic design.
  • The pop filter can’t be adjusted.

In the R144, you will find that the ribbon has been modified with a slight bulge. This is said to benefit the voice quality. The bass has also been reduced using this palm bulge. The producer has also added a new gold plating finish. This has led to a reduction in noise and an increase in sound quality.

With a price that is not way over the top, you will be hard-pressed to find a better deal on a product like this. The mic itself is pretty good, but the package as a whole makes it one of the best deals you can get in the industry today.

6. Golden Age Project R1 MKII Ribbon Microphone

Our rating: 6 / 10

Golden Age Project R1 MKII Ribbon Microphone

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Pros:

  • Great entry level or bedroom ribbon
  • Versatile PA or vocal mic
  • The sturdy mounting system makes this mic suitable for domestic use
  • Mid range is warm
  • Remarkable output and dynamic range
  • Super quiet and natural sounding

Cons:

  • The mic requires some familiarization with your sound system
  • The included clamp is not suited to home use
  • Need to experiment with different preamps
  • Fairly expensive for the quality you get

At a glance, the Golden Age Project R1 MKII ribbon microphone is most suitable for use in high end studios. However, it is also a great choice for use with a PA system in your bedroom or for a studio recording project. The mic delivers remarkable output and a dynamic range of up to 140 dB, which is comparable to many heavily used condenser microphones.

The microphone’s……strong points are its mid range and its transparency, which deliver great-sounding vocals. However, as the mic is known to be more sensitive than comparable microphones, you will need to be familiar with your sound system and speakers. It will require some experimentation with your preamps to get the best out of this mic.

7. MXL UR-1

Our rating: 6 / 10

MXL UR-1

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Pros:

  • Affordable
  • No extra drivers required
  • Easy to use
  • Detachable USB cable

Cons:

  • Not meant for high-end recording, recording studio, or professional use
  • Cannot be used with dedicated USB interface

Our favorite USB mic for vocals is the MXL UR-1. This is an ideal mic for tracking instruments, general vocals, and podcasts. The UR-1’s frequency response is 30 Hz – 20 kHz, with an output level of -39dB – +3dB +-2dB. This mic is not meant for professional use or to record in a recording studio.

The recording quality of this mic is not bad, however if you do any type of post-production editing your vocals will sound worse than if you recorded with an actual mic. The UR-1 doesn’t have the strongest signal output or the most professional sound. It is optimized to work with desktop computers, laptops, and tablets for home recording purposes.

8. Nady RSM-4 Unique Style Ribbon Microphone

Our rating: 5 / 10

Nady RSM-4 Unique Style Ribbon Microphone

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Pros:

  • Available in a range of colors: Black, Blue, Red and Gold.
  • Neodymium magnetic properties for maximum output and sensitivity.
  • Sturdy solid brass body and a quality diamond cut mesh.
  • A bit on the pricey side.
  • The Verdict:

The Nady RSM-4 is designed for excellent vocal performance, with a classic ribbon microphone sound for purist recording styles. Also performs very well for other instruments, and can be used with guitar cabinets, horn, and drum overheads. A high quality, vintage sound means you'll get a sound that's distinctly classic, and also very versatile.

9. ART AR5 ACTIVE RIBBON MICROPHONE

Our rating: 5 / 10

ART AR5 ACTIVE RIBBON MICROPHONE

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Pros:

  • Great for capturing the high frequencies of a voice
  • Perfect for recording instruments, vocals and even live performances
  • Comes with a shock mount
  • Easy to use and install
  • Durable build

Cons:

  • The power supply could use some improvement … or purchase of additional items … to get a complete set-up
  • Expensive in comparison to other microphones

If you are going to go for the best budget professional ribbon mic in 2020, you can certainly do a lot worse than the ART AR5.

It is a 5 micron ribbon microphone, and comes with a swivel mount and shock mount. The company recommends that you use this device with a pre-amp, and the Microphone Podcast suggests that you stay away from the built-in pre-amps of your computer as the results you get are not consistent.

The most important feature of any microphone is its sensitivity, and if you want to reduce the amount of gain needed so that you can get a wider dynamic range, the AR5 is good for that too.

10. MXL R40 Ribbon Microphone Level 1

Our rating: 5 / 10

MXL R40 Ribbon Microphone Level 1

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Pros:

  • Perfect for acoustical music
  • You’ll enjoy a smooth, round, warm sound with a flat frequency response
  • No noise or hiss
  • Low-cost alternative to premium brands
  • Easy to use
  • The built-in shockmount reduces low frequency vibrations to help eliminate noise and hiss
  • Includes a dust cover

The R40 is a large-diaphragm side-address type ribbon microphone designed for vocals. It is a top-of-the-line microphone from the R40 and provides a variety of frequency response options.

It is a low-noise, low-hum microphone, and it offers a frequency response between 50Hz-18kHz. The side-address design allows for both high SPL handling and supercardioid pickup pattern.

This microphone is ideal for the recording of numerous instruments including solo vocals, guitar, horns, drums, piano, and more. This microphone has balanced output, and it comes with a feature that allows for a greater dynamic range.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are ribbon mics good for vocals?

While ribbon mics have traditionally been used for recording instruments, they’re not just the domain of guitarists. In fact, some of the best vocal mics on the market use a ribbon element to achieve their unique characteristics.

Using a ribbon mic for vocals is really a bit of a throwback. Moving to ribbon mics was not a decision based on convenience or popularity; it was a choice based on necessity. Early condenser mics used in the late 1930s and 1940s were finicky and fragile. Their design, with a delicate diaphragm composed of a thin mesh suspended in pressure-sensitive vacuum (which often gave way to changes in temperature) made them difficult to use in a live setting. Later, they were found to be well-suited for the recording studio, where they could be handled with care and left out of the way.

What Microphone do professional singers use?

A not uncommon question is what microphone you should use for a particular application.

If you’re singing, a dynamic vocal microphone (generally large diaphragm or ribbon) will be your preferred choice. Standard dynamic vocal microphones are great for the job and are easy to setup.

The Shure SM58 is a popular mic, but there are many high quality microphones if this is your preferred choice. Always remember to test a microphone out in person to make sure it is the right choice for your unique voice. Be aware of your individual needs and whether you are in the studio, live, or on the road.

Which MIC is best for vocals?

If youʼre an artist wanting to be heard above a lot of noise, a microphone that picks up the extra loud vocals and reduces unwanted sound will be a good choice. Ribbon mics can reduce feedback and their directional audio will make your voice the only thing anyone in the room hears. The downside is that they are a little difficult to work with.

If youʼre spending a lot of time and money on studio time, you probably want the most dependable equipment. Therefore, you should look for a microphone that has a high dB, especially if itʼs your first time. A lot of microphones come with EQs and other pieces of equipment that will keep your audio consistent no matter where you are. Also, if youʼre going to have multiple microphones, you will need a microphone that can keep the noise from other equipment to a minimum.

What are ribbon microphones best for?

Ribbon microphones are among the most sought after mics, especially for professional recordings. Ribbon mics are best used in studio and location recording. Their signature warm, smooth, and detailed sound makes them ideal for vocalists, guitar and bass amplifiers, drum overheads, pianos or organs, brass ensembles, and choirs.

While ribbon mics are typically best used for recording, they also make a fantastic choice for live sound in some environments, such as jazz clubs, orchestras, theaters, etc.

Ribbon mics are not your ideal choice for recording live loud bands and percussive sounds like shakers, drums, and heavy percussion instruments. Such recordings will sound muddy and unfocused.

Conclusion

Microphones are among the most important studio components a songwriter or musician will use. If you have a microphone that records at a much higher quality than the other microphones used for you are releases, you would sound a lot better.

Our Recommendation

NameCategoryProduct
Royer Labs R-121 Large-Element Ribbon MicrophoneBest OverallRoyer Labs R-121 Large-Element Ribbon Microphone
MXL R144 Ribbon MicrophoneBudget PickMXL R144 Ribbon Microphone
Rode NTR Premium Active Ribbon MicrophoneUpgrade PickRode NTR Premium Active Ribbon Microphone