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Thomann's Cool Online Guides: Ribbon Microphones

3. Working Principle

The Dynamic Principle

Ribbons belong to the category of dynamic
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
. Dynamic
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
are
PassiveA device which does not include any amplification in its circuitry and therefore (at least in the purest sense of the term) does not require power. Examples include some DI boxes, old EQ designs, and most electric guitars/basses.
passive
, i.e. they don’t require a power supply. The most common form of the dynamic
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
is the moving
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
. The ever popular Shure SM58, for instance, is a moving
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
, as are many, many other stage
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
. Moving
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
mics are similar to loudspeakers: There’s a
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
affixed to the backside of a
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
, and this
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
is surrounded by a magnet. When sound waves
Hit1) A successful recording. 2) A single sampled percussive sound, as opposed to a loop.
hit
the
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
, the
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
begins to move in its magnetic gap. This movement inside the magnetic field produces a small
CurrentThe flow of electrons or charge in an electrical device, measured in amperes (amps); defined as the voltage applied divided by the resistance in the circuit.
current
in the
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
that is in direct relation to the sound waves. And that’s exactly what a
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
is supposed to do: sound is turned into a small voltage, an electrical signal. If we take that voltage, amplify it and feed it to a loudspeaker, which, as has been said, is constructed very similarly, the exact opposite is going to happen: our electrical signal is turned into sound again. Ah, the wonders of technology!

The Ribbon
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
Microphone
in Particular

The ribbon
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
uses essentially the same working principle, but is far more delicate – both in sound and construction. One drawback of the moving
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
is that there is a relatively high mass that has to be moved by the sound waves. The
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
is relatively thick and has to bear a copper wire
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
on its back. Instead of a
DiaphragmIn a microphone the diaphragm is a thin membrane up to 1" in diameter that converts sound waves into electrical current. A loudspeaker diaphragm does exactly the reverse.
diaphragm
, the ribbon
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
merely uses an ultra-thin aluminium ribbon. This very light strip of aluminium is placed between two magnet poles. If sound waves
Hit1) A successful recording. 2) A single sampled percussive sound, as opposed to a loop.
hit
the ribbon, it moves to their rhythm and a very, very small electric
CurrentThe flow of electrons or charge in an electrical device, measured in amperes (amps); defined as the voltage applied divided by the resistance in the circuit.
current
is produced inside the ribbon. So there’s a good thing and a bad thing: on the one hand, the ribbon is incredibly light and can follow the sound waves very accurately, much more so than the heavy moving
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
. But on the other hand, the amount of energy created is incredibly low. Too low, actually, to drive a
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
PreampAn amplifier device or circuit that provides initial amplification of a weak electronic signal, usually to 'line' level, in order for it to be processed or passed between other devices, as opposed to a power amp which amplifies a signal in order to drive loudspeakers. Examples include microphone preamps (as dedicated hardware and in mixing desks/recording interfaces) and guitar preamps. Most guitar amps combine the preamp and power amp in the same unit.
preamp
.

Ribbon Mics Use Transformers

That’s why a ribbon
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
always includes a
TransformerA device consisting of two electromagnetic coils, usually used to step an AC power signal up or down in voltage. When a signal passes through the input side, this creates a magnetic flux which induces a voltage in the output side; the two voltages are related by the ratio of the number of turns in each coil. Transformers may also be used to decouple electronic devices (either for safety reasons or to prevent interference) as no current actually flows from one side to the other.
transformer
. A
TransformerA device consisting of two electromagnetic coils, usually used to step an AC power signal up or down in voltage. When a signal passes through the input side, this creates a magnetic flux which induces a voltage in the output side; the two voltages are related by the ratio of the number of turns in each coil. Transformers may also be used to decouple electronic devices (either for safety reasons or to prevent interference) as no current actually flows from one side to the other.
transformer
is basically just two
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coils
in close proximity. If you feed an AC voltage (which is what the ribbon element produces) to the primary
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
, you get an AC voltage on the secondary
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
that looks (i.e. sounds) exactly like the one on the input. That’s pretty boring, so far. But it gets more interesting once one of the
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coils
has more turns than the other. You know this from power transformers: 230 volts can be transformed into, say, 10 volts. That means the winding ratio between primary and secondary of this power
TransformerA device consisting of two electromagnetic coils, usually used to step an AC power signal up or down in voltage. When a signal passes through the input side, this creates a magnetic flux which induces a voltage in the output side; the two voltages are related by the ratio of the number of turns in each coil. Transformers may also be used to decouple electronic devices (either for safety reasons or to prevent interference) as no current actually flows from one side to the other.
transformer
is 23:1. But a
TransformerA device consisting of two electromagnetic coils, usually used to step an AC power signal up or down in voltage. When a signal passes through the input side, this creates a magnetic flux which induces a voltage in the output side; the two voltages are related by the ratio of the number of turns in each coil. Transformers may also be used to decouple electronic devices (either for safety reasons or to prevent interference) as no current actually flows from one side to the other.
transformer
can also work the other way around and transform a small voltage into a higher voltage. A ribbon
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
TransformerA device consisting of two electromagnetic coils, usually used to step an AC power signal up or down in voltage. When a signal passes through the input side, this creates a magnetic flux which induces a voltage in the output side; the two voltages are related by the ratio of the number of turns in each coil. Transformers may also be used to decouple electronic devices (either for safety reasons or to prevent interference) as no current actually flows from one side to the other.
transformer
usually has a ratio between 1:20 and 1:40. As a side effect, the
ImpedanceThe term for electrical resistance when applied to AC current.
impedance
is also transformed. The ribbon element itself has an
ImpedanceThe term for electrical resistance when applied to AC current.
impedance
of less than 1
OhmsThe ohm is a unit used for measuring electrical resistance or impedance, named after the German physicist Georg Ohm. The rated impedance of a speaker (in ohms) tells us how much current it will draw when matching it with an amplifier.
ohm
. The
TransformerA device consisting of two electromagnetic coils, usually used to step an AC power signal up or down in voltage. When a signal passes through the input side, this creates a magnetic flux which induces a voltage in the output side; the two voltages are related by the ratio of the number of turns in each coil. Transformers may also be used to decouple electronic devices (either for safety reasons or to prevent interference) as no current actually flows from one side to the other.
transformer
turns this into an
ImpedanceThe term for electrical resistance when applied to AC current.
impedance
in the usual range of 200-600
OhmsThe ohm is a unit used for measuring electrical resistance or impedance, named after the German physicist Georg Ohm. The rated impedance of a speaker (in ohms) tells us how much current it will draw when matching it with an amplifier.
ohms
. Despite the powerful
TransformerA device consisting of two electromagnetic coils, usually used to step an AC power signal up or down in voltage. When a signal passes through the input side, this creates a magnetic flux which induces a voltage in the output side; the two voltages are related by the ratio of the number of turns in each coil. Transformers may also be used to decouple electronic devices (either for safety reasons or to prevent interference) as no current actually flows from one side to the other.
transformer
BoostIn audio mixing this refers to increasing the gain or amplitude of an audio signal. Usually employed in equalisation.
boost
, a ribbon is typically lower output than a moving
CoilA length of wire wound around a core to create an inductor or electromagnet. Used in electric guitar pickups where fine enamelled copper wire is wound a few thousand times around a magnetic core. Vibrating strings induce an alternating current in the coil as they modulate the magnetic flux.
coil
dynamic
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
, let alone condensers. So you need a decent
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
PreampAn amplifier device or circuit that provides initial amplification of a weak electronic signal, usually to 'line' level, in order for it to be processed or passed between other devices, as opposed to a power amp which amplifies a signal in order to drive loudspeakers. Examples include microphone preamps (as dedicated hardware and in mixing desks/recording interfaces) and guitar preamps. Most guitar amps combine the preamp and power amp in the same unit.
preamp
to be able to take full advantage of a ribbon
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
.

New Development:
ActiveDescribes an instrument or speaker system that has its own electronic functions built-in, as opposed to requiring external devices. Active speakers have their own amplifiers built-in, while an active instrument such as a guitar or bass will have electronic controls or a pre-amplifier.
Active
Ribbon Mics

Because ribbon
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
are low output and require a lot of clean
TrimThe initial gain control on a mixer or other audio device such as a mic preamp, often labelled 'gain'. Trim/gain adjustment is crucial to maintaining a clean gain structure and good signal-to-noise ratio.
gain
in many applications, some clever guys devised ribbon
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
with internal
PreampAn amplifier device or circuit that provides initial amplification of a weak electronic signal, usually to 'line' level, in order for it to be processed or passed between other devices, as opposed to a power amp which amplifies a signal in order to drive loudspeakers. Examples include microphone preamps (as dedicated hardware and in mixing desks/recording interfaces) and guitar preamps. Most guitar amps combine the preamp and power amp in the same unit.
preamp
electronics. There’'s hardly any
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
PreampAn amplifier device or circuit that provides initial amplification of a weak electronic signal, usually to 'line' level, in order for it to be processed or passed between other devices, as opposed to a power amp which amplifies a signal in order to drive loudspeakers. Examples include microphone preamps (as dedicated hardware and in mixing desks/recording interfaces) and guitar preamps. Most guitar amps combine the preamp and power amp in the same unit.
preamp
or
ConsoleA device through which audio signals are routed for mixing, monitoring, processing and re-routed for either recording, amplification or both. A console contains a number of channel strips and a selection of auxiliary, monitoring and main outputs.
mixer
that does not offer phantom power for condenser mics. So why not use that power for ribbons, too? The best known phantom powered
ActiveDescribes an instrument or speaker system that has its own electronic functions built-in, as opposed to requiring external devices. Active speakers have their own amplifiers built-in, while an active instrument such as a guitar or bass will have electronic controls or a pre-amplifier.
active
ribbon
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
are made by Royer Labs. But other manufacturers such as Sontronics have followed their suit. Beware: Do not apply phantom power to any ribbon
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
other than these
ActiveDescribes an instrument or speaker system that has its own electronic functions built-in, as opposed to requiring external devices. Active speakers have their own amplifiers built-in, while an active instrument such as a guitar or bass will have electronic controls or a pre-amplifier.
active
phantom powered ribbons.
NormalType of patchbay configuration in which a top row socket is internally connected by default to the corresponding bottom row socket; the connection may be broken by inserting a plug into one or both front panel sockets, depending on the type of normalling in use.
Normal
PassiveA device which does not include any amplification in its circuitry and therefore (at least in the purest sense of the term) does not require power. Examples include some DI boxes, old EQ designs, and most electric guitars/basses.
passive
ribbon
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
can be damaged by phantom power!

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