We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is a Ribbon Microphone?

By Mal Baxter
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A ribbon microphone picks up sound wave vibrations on a thin corrugated metal ribbon suspended between poles of a permanent magnet. Minute vibrations interfere with the magnetic field of the gap. The resulting voltage differential mimics the acoustic waveform thoroughly and transmits it through the ribbon's fixed ends to the electronic output. These reliable devices serve in professional broadcasting contexts, often as the familiar lozenge-shaped microphones from the Golden Age of radio. Contemporary digital recording has created new demand for their warmer analog qualities; modern designs have improved their construction and helped overcome their reputation for frailty.

Known for its sensitivity, the ribbon microphone often sits in a shockmount to protect against the sounds of minute movements. Velocity-actuated type ribbons detect sound waves on both sides, while pressure-actuated type ribbons only detect from a single side. Ribbon microphones belong to the dynamic family of microphones, as compared to the moving-coil variety. Typical thin ribbons responds in a free and natural way to sound vibrations, which results in a realistic reproduction of even complex analog waveforms.

The sound reproduction capability of a ribbon microphone is typically smooth and detailed, with a robust range through low, mid, and high ranges. This permits versatile equalization (EQ) and experimentation, and avoids the distortions or tinny responses of other types of microphones. The ribbon microphone has a reputation for detailed responsiveness and reluctance to peak. It is also said to avoid the unnatural brightness of some condensers, as well as the inconsistencies and limited ranges of less eardrum-like plates or coils.

Sometimes the thin diaphragm of the ribbon microphone requires phantom power in order to enhance the signal for more optimal recording. These microphones are also said to be more fragile with loud noises. With a long tradition in broadcasting, antique models are sought out, while companies continue to produce innovative new varieties. Enthusiasts experiment with these microphones and their figure-eight pickup pattern by moving vocalists, instruments, or amplifiers around the room, and engineering the robust signal to suit. While relatively obscure compared with other microphone types, ribbon microphones enjoy a loyal devotion from many audio professionals.

Able to pick up sound more like the human ear, the ribbon microphone duplicates relatively warm, natural sound compared with other designs. Ribbons may capture intrinsic qualities of voices and instruments, or complex amplified effects and waveforms. Capable of delivering tones that may get electronically misinterpreted through other techniques, this microphone reproduces sounds with a characteristic edge-softening quality and heightened sensitivity. The equipment is often sold with accessories such as shock mounts and windscreens.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By mike91 — On Dec 11, 2021

After many decades of undeserved oblivion, ribbon microphones are at their peak in popularity.

This historic reincarnation was due to the significant contribution of Royer Labs engineers. They have proven that ribbon technology is not a forgotten past, but a promising future.

By TryMyBest89 — On Dec 18, 2014

Although a contemporary ribbon microphone is said to be a much less delicate instrument than older generations, its use still requires many techniques to maximize the quality of studio recordings.

In other words, while the mic is much more durable, it remains so sensitive to ambient noise that precautions must be taken to minimize the recording of these sounds. For example, special microphone stands are often necessary, mics must even be secured to its stand, ribbon microphone cords must be taped into place and a special pop shield is placed between the vocalist and the mic to avoid noise from exaggerated consonant vocalization.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.