Ribbon microphones usually give you the most accurate sound reproduction when compared with dynamic and condenser mics, but it comes at a cost…
They usually command a higher price point (the best ribbon microphones are over $1,000) and have a tendency to be more fragile, keeping them out of most beginner studios. For many ribbon mics, you don’t want to store them on their side, it can sag and permanently damage the ribbon. You also don’t want to use it in high wind or speak directly into it, as that can also damage the mic.
Ribbon mics actually fall into the dynamic microphone category, but they can be phantom powered and are usually dependent on a decent pre-amp. They’re almost always a “figure 8” bidirectional pickup pattern, so they do best in a professional studio where ambient sound is tightly controlled. They are regarding for their accuracy and warmth, and work great for vocals, guitars, drums, horns, and more.
We’ve put together the best ribbon mics for most people, arranged from lowest to highest price, as of January 2020. The sweet spot on this list is between the AT4081 and the Royer 121 (between $700 and $1,300, respectively).
Best Ribbon Microphones For Every Budget
MXL R144 HE
The MXL R144 HE is the best “cheap” ribbon mic on our list. Pictured is the Heritage Edition, which includes the case, shock mount, and microfiber cloth for an extra $30 over the regular R144 -- a no brainer if you ask me.
For under $150, you get a highly regarded workhorse ribbon mic with a high SPL (sound pressure level), so you can blast away on that french horn or electric guitar! This is a great mic for the price, but just know it, and all of the mics here will depend on having a quality pre-amp.
The Avantone C-14 is our next “budget” ribbon mic pick. As you can see, it has a unique rectangular shape, comes with a shock mount and hard case, as well as a wooden box for the mic.
The C-14 has a little more high end than other ribbons’ so you may need to play with your mic placement, but otherwise this is an excellent value and the best ribbon mic under $300.
We have another pick from MXL, in the R77. It comes in the beautiful gold and silver shown above, has high SPL capability with a frequency response from 20Hz to 18kHz. Accessories include:
- Desktop mic stand
- 25 foot Mogami XLR cable
- MXL microfiber cloth
- Wooden box
Audio Technica AT4081
The Audio-Technica AT4081 is an active dual ribbon microphone, meaning it requires phantom power. Audio-Technica developed a unique ribbon design that allows the 4081 to be stored on its side without damaging the mic. With a max 150dB SPL, this will handle pretty much anything you throw at it, and being active makes it more forgiving with underpowered pre-amps.
This is an excellent professional mic at a reasonable price. It also includes a shock mount, windscreen, and a case.
The Beyerdynamic M160 is unique for a double ribbon mic, in that it has a hypercardioid pickup pattern, not figure 8. The M160 excels when recording guitar amps and when used as drum overheads. Of course, it will perform great for strings and horns as well. Combine it with the Beyerdynamic M130 figure 8 ribbon mic for mid-side (MS) recordings.
Rode took a unique approach with the NTR, giving its active ribbon mic an internal shock mount. It’s capable of recording higher frequencies that other ribbons struggle with as well as not needing as much gain as passive ribbon mics.
They have also considered the delicate nature of thin aluminum: they give you a screw-on top to prevent ribbon and shock mount movement, making travel much safer -- as well as offering a replacement ribbon within the 10-year warranty period.
Check out this short video showing the Rode NTR being built:
This is easily my favorite ribbon mic under $1,000.
Royer Labs is synonymous with quality ribbon mics. The Royer R-101 is their “entry-level” offering (if you can even say that at around $800). It is a passive mic with an internal shock mount, multi-layered windscreen, and comes with an external shock mount and hard case.
Royer offers a lifetime warranty and ribbon replacement for the original owner!
The AEA N22 is another popular choice made for the home studio. This Nuvo series mic uses phantom power for extra gain and is made to be used nice and close. You should be able to use this with pretty much any pre-amp successfully.
Specs include 20Hz -- 20kHz frequency response, 141dB max SPL, bidirectional pickup pattern, and a 3-year warranty when registered.
The Royer Labs R-121 is their flagship offering. This is a best-seller because it works flawlessly on everything from woodwind to percussion to guitar amps to vocals. You can stop messing with EQ because this mic will record what you hear, allowing whatever you record to sit in the mix perfectly.
Royer uses a patented offset ribbon placement giving the element more room to move. Like all Royer mics, it has a lifetime warranty and ribbon replacement, but it’s built to last so hopefully you won’t need to use that.
Competing directly with the R-121 above, the Shure KSM313/NE uses Roswellite® ribbon material for enhanced toughness and the ability to withstand accidental phantom power and high SPL. The dual-voice capability means that you can choose a different sound depending on how you position the mic.
This is a microphone you want on display with its stunning red grille and black enclosure. It comes with a hard case, soft protective pouch and mount stand. They don’t include a shock mount so you’ll also want to grab the Shure A313SM.
Royer Labs has an active, phantom-powered version of their flagship model in the Royer R-122. They have even been given a Grammy for their ribbon mics… worth every penny!
Learn more about the Royer ribbon design here:
The Shure KSM353 is an upgraded “no expense spared” version when compared with the KSM313. It’s in a polished stainless steel body, with a shock mount that uses a military-grade wire suspension. There is also a double-shielded transformer to protect against interference.
One significant difference is that the KSM353 has identical pickup from the front and back, whereas the KSM313 is purpose-built to have different frequency ranges.
Stereo recording with 1 mic. As you can see, the Royer SF-12 has 2 matched ribbon microphones placed on top of each, with a 90-degree angle relative to the other, all in one housing. This is perfect for mid-side (MS) or Blumlein recording for great spatial characteristics.