Top 11 Best Active Ribbon Microphones On The Market In 2020


Since the introduction of the Royer R-122 in 2002, active ribbon microphones have been steadily increasing in popularity in professional studios around the world. The active amplifier and impedance converting components of active ribbon microphones do away with many of the pitfalls common in their passive ribbon counterparts.

Of course, not all active ribbon microphones are built the same and some are inherently better than others.

The top 11 best active ribbon microphones on the market are:

In this article, we’ll discuss what active ribbon microphones are and the factors that make for a great active ribbon mic. We’ll then get into each of the listen mics in greater detail and explain why they are the best on the market today.

CLICK HERE TO SKIP THE DEFINITION OF THE ACTIVE RIBBON MICROPHONE AND JUMP TO THE IN-DEPTH LIST.

Royer, Rode and Audio-Technica are featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.

AEA is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You’ve Likely Never Heard Of.


What Is An Active Ribbon Microphone?

An active ribbon microphone is, first and foremost, a transducer that converts sound waves (mechanical wave energy) into audio (electrical energy) via an electrically conductive ribbon-like diaphragm; a permanent magnetic structure, and the process of electromagnetic induction.

Electromagnetic induction (which is the same working principle of dynamic microphones) is a passive process. It does not require any power to work. Therefore, ribbon microphones are naturally passive.

So then what is an active ribbon microphone?

An active ribbon microphone has an internal amplifier circuit that helps to drastically improve the performance of the ribbon microphone. These active circuits require power to function properly and so active ribbon microphones need either phantom power, an external power supply unit, or some other powering method to operate correctly.

Ribbon microphones have been passive since their introduction in 1931 (RCA PB-31). As mentioned in the intro, the first active ribbon mic was the Royer R-122, introduced in 2002.

So what is a ribbon microphone exactly and how do active ribbon microphones work?

Let’s begin our explanation with the defining component of any ribbon microphone: the transducer element (also known as the ribbon element or baffle).

There are essentially two key parts to the ribbon microphone transducer: the ribbon and the magnetic structure. Electrical leads are required to utilize the produced signal.

The diaphragm of the ribbon mic takes on a ribbon-like form, hence the name. It is made of a thin, corrugated, electrically conductive material (often aluminum).

This ribbon is fixed at both of its ends and is suspended within a magnetic structure. The magnetic structure is nearly flush against the perimeter of the ribbon, allowing the ribbon to move while stopping the passage of any sound waves between the ribbon and structure.

Sound pressure variation between the two sides of the ribbon causes the ribbon diaphragm to move. The ribbon is designed to effectively mimic the sound waves from the front and back while rejecting sound waves from the side. This pressure-gradient design yields a bidirectional (figure-8) polar pattern.

As the diaphragm moves back and forth about its resting position within the permanent magnetic field, an AC voltage (mic signal) is induced across it via electromagnetic induction. The electrical lead wires allow this voltage to be connected to a circuit and effectively outputted from the mic.

A simplified generic diagram of an active ribbon microphone could resemble the following:

In the diagram above we see that the first two components are the ribbon element and a step-up transformer. This is the same as with a passive ribbon microphone. A notable distinguishing design feature is that the step-up transformer of an active ribbon mic is likely to have a greater turns ratio and, therefore, boost the signal voltage more than the output transformer of a passive ribbon microphone.

With a stepped-up voltage comes a much high signal impedance as well. Consequently, the mic signal immediately after the step-up transformer does have a high voltage but also has a very high impedance.

The active impedance converter is similar in design to the impedance converters used in condenser microphones to drop the impedance of the condenser capsule. These ICs can be either solid-state FET-based or tube-based. In the diagram above, we have a FET-based impedance converter/signal amplifier.

This active component balances the impedance and amplifies the mic signal before the output. A solid-state IC will typically run on phantom power while a tube IC will generally require a separate external power supply unit.

Note that there could be an output transformer in the active ribbon mic design though there is no output transformer drawn in the diagram above.

So active ribbon microphones have several benefits over passive ribbon mics. Otherwise, they wouldn’t sell as they’re most expensive and require power to function. The noteworthy improvements include:

  • Higher sensitivity ratings for less dependency on preamp gain.
  • Consistent output impedance for less dependency on preamp input impedance.
  • Immune to phantom power damage (in fact, many active ribbon mics require it)!
  • Less audible noise due to preamps even though the mics themselves exhibit self-noise.

For everything you need to know about ribbon microphones, check out My New Microphone’s The Complete Guide To Ribbon Microphones (With Mic Examples).


The Characteristics Of A Great Active Ribbon Microphone?

Allow me to begin by saying that each active ribbon microphone model will have its own character and sound.

However, there are some key factors that are common to the top-performing active ribbon mics. These factors are:

  • Natural frequency response
  • Accurate transient response
  • Consistent output impedance
  • High sensitivity
  • Low self-noise
  • Versatility
  • Durability

Natural Frequency Response

Many engineers and musicians reach for ribbon microphones for their natural-sounding frequency responses. This natural sound comes from a slight but gradual decrease in sensitivity in the higher frequencies of the mic’s frequency response.

Many ribbon mics exhibit this roll-off by the essence of their design. However, it is a factor worth listening for in the mic signal and looking for on the mic specification sheet.

It’s also a benefit to have a wide frequency response that extends for most of, if not all, the human hearing range of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.

For detailed descriptions of microphone frequency response, check out my articles Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples) and What Are Coloured And Flat Microphone Frequency Responses?

Accurate Transient Response

Incredible accuracy can be achieved with the thinness of the ribbon microphone diaphragm. Ribbon microphones generally have very precise transient responses.

Much of an instrument’s (or other sound source’s) character and timbre comes from its transients. The transients of a sound are the initial larger and faster variations in sound pressure). A well-defined transient response will, therefore, pick up sound very accurately.

For more information on microphone transient response, check out my article What Is Microphone Transient Response & Why Is It Important?

Consistent Output Impedance

One job of an active ribbon mic’s impedance converter is to “level out” the impedance across its frequency response. Where passive ribbon mics often exhibit a sharp spike in impedance in their low-end, a well-designed active ribbon microphone will smooth out the impedance across all frequencies.

This consistent output impedance makes the ribbon mic much less dependent on its preamp and will sound much more uniform when used with different gear. This vastly improves the dependability of the microphone since we know what to expect every time we plug it in.

To learn much more about microphone impedance, check out my articles Microphone Impedance: What Is It And Why Is It Important? and What Is A Good Microphone Output Impedance Rating?

High Sensitivity

The active components of the active ribbon mic act to amplify the signal. This improves the sensitivity rating of the mic (the output signal level relative to the sound pressure level).

A high sensitivity rating moves the active ribbon microphone one step further from dependency on the microphone preamplifier.

For more information on microphone sensitivity, check out my articles What Is Microphone Sensitivity? An In-Depth Description and What Is A Good Microphone Sensitivity Rating?

Low Self-Noise

Active electronics naturally produce noise and this noise becomes part of the microphone signal. A high self-noise in an active ribbon mic will cause a relatively poor signal-to-noise ratio and so a low self-noise is typically preferred.

As we’ll see in this article, only some active microphone manufacturers include a self-noise rating in their specification sheets.

To learn more about microphone self-noise, check out my article What Is Microphone Self-Noise? (Equivalent Noise Level).

Versatility

Some microphones excel in very specific applications. Though these mics may very well be the best mics for these distinct uses, it’s often considered better to have a microphone that can deliver great results on a multitude of sound sources and applications.

Durability

Ribbon diaphragms are fragile. Some active components such as tubes are also fragile. Though it’s not a deal-breaker in the typical studio, if we believe we’ll be using a ribbon mic in rougher situations like the stage, we should strive for a mic designed with durability in mind.


A Few Extra Notes

Before we get started, I’d like to share a few notes.

First, I’ve based this list, and the microphones within, on the following:

  • Personal experience.
  • Outreach to mentors and their opinions.
  • Forum research.
  • Product descriptions, sales pages and datasheets.

Remember that this list is simply my opinion and is certainly not an end-all-be-all. I would fully expect the next person to have a different list than me and, in that spirit, I anticipate you may disagree with some of the items on this list.

That being said, I believe the following microphones are the best of the best active ribbon microphones on the market and I hope you enjoy reading through this article!

I have excluded stereo ribbon microphones from the list to keep the playing field more even.


The Top 11 Best Active Ribbon Microphones On The Market

Once again, My New Microphone’s top 11 best active ribbon microphones on the market are:


Royer R-122 MKII

The Royer R-122 MKII (link to compare prices on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) is the active solid-state version of Royer’s flagship R-121 ribbon microphone.

Royer R-122 MKII
  • Frequency response: 30 – 15,000 Hz ±3 dB
  • Polar pattern: bidirectional/figure-8
  • Output impedance: 200 Ω
  • Sensitivity: -36 dBV/Pa ±1 dB
  • Self-noise: 18 dBA
  • Filters: 100 Hz (6 dB per octave)
  • Pads: -15 dB

The R-122 MKII keeps the same ribbon geometry, output transformer and circuitry as the original R-122 with the addition of a high-pass filter and pad. It has replaced then R-122 on Royer’s product line in 2015. The original R-122 was the first-ever active ribbon microphone and was introduced in 2002.

This solid-state active ribbon microphone is phantom-powered and does away with all the shortcomings of a typical passive ribbon microphone like the R-121 it is based on.

The output level or sensitivity rating of the R-122 is much higher than its passive R-121 counterpart. The active amplifier circuit is a fully balanced, hand-wired, discrete head amplifier system utilizing a specially wound toroidal transformer and ultra-low noise FET’s.

Both the FET impedance converter and the output step-up transformer act to boost the signal voltage.

In addition to the amplification, the circuit of the 122 effectively lowers and flattens the impedance of the signal across its frequency range. Its active electronics keep a perfect load on the ribbon element when powered, allowing the ribbon mic to perform optimally regardless of the load impedance of the preamp (within reason, of course).

I’ll reiterate here that these two processes (amplification and impedance matching) allow the R-122 MKII full compatibility will all professional mic preamplifiers with less reliance on the input impedance and gain quality of those preamps.

Note that, because the 122 is phantom-powered, it is designed to accept the +48V and will not be damaged by it which is a common concern with passive ribbon mics.

The first-order high-pass filter (6 dB/octave at 100 Hz) and the 15 dB pad a switched through 2 small slots in the rear of the R-122 MKII’s body. Though a minor detail, the rear slots do aid in reducing accidental engagement of the optional filter and pad.

Engaging the pad brings the mic’s max SPL to 150 dB and virtually eliminates any potential for headroom-related distortion on any practical sound source.

The high-pass filter is primarily used to mitigate the strong proximity effect inherent to the pressure-gradient design of the R-122 MKII ribbon microphone. Try engaging the HPF when close-miking any sound source. Additionally, the HPF helps when using the mic as a drum overhead or when low-end electromagnetic interference and mechanical vibrations are present in the mic signal.

The R-122 MKII features Royer’s patented offset ribbon transducer. This offset suspends the ribbon diaphragm closer to the front/logo side of the microphone and allows the ribbon to move within the strongest part of the magnetic field.

This allows for a greater output due to increased electromagnetic induction and consistent frequency response at all sound pressure levels below the mic’s max SPL of 135 dB (150 dB with the pad engaged).

The ribbon element, like the element in the vast majority of ribbon microphones, is equally open to sound pressure at both sides and, therefore, has a bidirectional polar pattern. This polar pattern is consistent throughout the R-122 MKII’s incredibly natural-sounding frequency response.

Another effect of having the offset ribbon is that the rear lobe of sensitivity in the R-122 MKII is actually a bit brighter in character (has more high-end) than the front. This effectively gives two different characteristic sounds in a single mic.

The high-quality ribbon element is not affected by heat or humidity and does not present any high-frequency phase distortion.

In terms of applications, Royer lists well over 10 specific sound sources that the R-122 MKII excels on. These include:

  • Electric guitar amps
  • Acoustic guitar
  • Drum overheads
  • Percussion instruments
  • Brass
  • Woodwinds
  • Horn sections
  • Piano
  • Harp
  • Solo strings & string sections
  • Choirs and orchestras
  • Commercial broadcast
  • Voiceover

In addition to the limited lifetime warranty on the microphone and a limited 1-year warranty on the ribbon element, the Royer R-122 MKII comes with the following accessories:

  • Protective mic sock
  • Protective wood case
  • Mic clip

Royer is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.

The R-121 and R-10 are passive ribbon mics on Royer’s R series product line. Both these mics are featured in My New Microphone’s Top 12 Best Passive Ribbon Microphones On The Market.


Royer R-122V

The Royer R-122V (link to compare prices on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) is the tube version of the successful Royer R-122 mentioned above. It was originally released in 2005 as the first-ever commercially produced tube ribbon mic.

Royer R-122V
  • Frequency response: 30 Hz -15,000 Hz +/- 3dB
  • Polar pattern: bidirectional/figure-8
  • Output impedance: 200 Ω
  • Sensitivity: -36 dBV/Pa +/- 1 dB
  • Self-noise: 18 dBA
  • Filters: N/A
  • Pads: N/A

Let’s start with the tube. The Royer R-122V amplifier circuit uses a low-noise military-grade JAN 5840W subminiature pentode vacuum tube wired as a triode. This high-quality tube maintains the accurate transient from the ribbon diaphragm and offers excellent gain capabilities without the typical colouration of a vacuum tube.

Like the R-122 MKII, the active impedance matching components place an ideal load on the ribbon element at all times. This allows long cable runs without sonic degradation or high-frequency loss as well as compatibility with all professional microphone preamps.

The tube circuit is powered by the R-122V’s dedicated power supply unit.

The increased output (high sensitivity rating) of the R122V is completely due to its large, specially designed toroidal transformer. Since there is no gain applied from the tube electronics, there is no additional noise or colouration correlated to the tube.

A second output Jensen transformer is located in the external PSU. It balances the output and actually works to eliminate induced electromagnetic interference noise from the mic signal.

The Royer R-122V is a world-class microphone delivering a rich, deep, and detailed sound. In terms of sound quality, the R-122V is a step above the rest, even when compared to the best ribbon mics in the world.

The high operating voltage of the vacuum tube provides improved headroom exceeded what is available from a standard phantom power supply. This allows the microphone to handle very high sound pressure without distortion and leads to an incredibly clean and detailed sound.

The bidirectional polar pattern of the R-122V is to be expected of a pressure-gradient ribbon mic. Though this microphone is equally sensitive to front and to the back of its element, its rear side has a brighter character.

The high-quality ribbon element design captures a consistent natural-sounding frequency response independent of distance and exhibits little off-axis colouration as the off-axis pickup level diminishes.

In terms of applications for the R-122V, Royer lists quite a few. They include:

  • Orchestral miking (close and distant)
  • Solo strings & string sections
  • Piano
  • Electric guitar
  • Acoustic guitar
  • Vocals
  • Commercial broadcast
  • Voiceover
  • Brass
  • Drum overheads
  • Room miking
  • Percussion instruments

In addition to the limited lifetime warranty on the microphone and a limited 1-year warranty on the ribbon element, the Royer R-122V comes with the following accessories:

  • Power supply
  • Connecting cable
  • Shock mount
  • Carrying case
  • Microphone sock
  • Documentation

AEA R84A

The AEA R84A (links to compare prices on Amazon and Sweetwater) is the active version of the R84. Both mics are tributes to the legendary vintage RCA 44 ribbon microphone.

AEA R84A
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: bidirectional/figure-8
  • Output impedance: 92 Ω
  • Sensitivity: 6.3 mV/Pa (-44 dBV/Pa)
  • Self-noise: Not specified
  • Filters: N/A
  • Pads: N/A

The AEA R84A is designed to achieve the classic vintage tonality of the legendary RCA 44 microphone. It offers a warm, smooth and detailed classic ribbon sound with improved high-end frequency response and a remarkable low-end with decreased proximity effect.

Unlike AEA’s 44 line which recreates RCA’s classic with precision (we’ll get to that with the AEA A440 up next), the 84 is only based on the original 44 rather than being a replica. Weighing in at only 3 pounds, the R84A is much lighter and easier to mount that the original 8-pound RCA 44BX.

The R84A active version takes this a step further, enhancing the sensitivity, signal-to-noise ratio, and output impedance of the natural-sound microphone. This improvement allows the R84A to be paired with any professional preamplifier without worrying about any alteration to the mic’s frequency response.

The U-shaped yoke mount acts to mechanically isolate the microphone for superb noise isolation. This mount also allows for increased maneuverability in tighter recording spaces. The user is capable of positioning the R84A at various angles within its mount, even on a straight mic stand.

The R84A utilizes phantom power to run its solid-state amplifier circuit so there’s no need to worry about damaging the mic by applying +48V.

AEA’s R84A is designed with the same big ribbon element as the mic it’s based on but with a stronger and smaller magnetic structure. It is coupled to a custom Lehle step-up transformer that effectively boosts the voltage of the signal.

The active transistor-based transformerless amplifier circuit effectively balances the impedance of the signal without adding any extra character or distortion to the signal.

The R84A is designed with permanently attached 3-meter Accusound audio cable.

AEA expresses the usefulness of its R84A microphone, describing it as multi-purpose, lightweight and maneuverable microphone suited for both close-range and ambient miking applications. The sound of the AEA R84A excels in capturing vocals, drums, brass and entire ensembles.

In addition to the limited 2-year warranty, the AEA R84A comes with the following accessory:

  • Custom vertical mic carrying/storage case

AEA is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You’ve Likely Never Heard Of.

The AEA R84 is the passive version of the R84A and is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 12 Best Passive Ribbon Microphones On The Market.


AEA A440

The AEA A440 (link to check the price at Sweetwater) is an active replica of the legendary RCA 44-BX from 1936-1938.

AEA A440
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: bidirectional/figure-8
  • Output impedance: 92 Ω
  • Sensitivity: 30 mV/Pa (-33.5 dBV)
  • Self-noise: 6 dBA
  • Filters: N/A
  • Pads: N/A

The AEA A440 is built around a long, thin, undamped and low-tension corrugated aluminum ribbon made of NOS (New Old Stock) RCA ribbon material.

AEA has done an incredible job at cloning the RCA 44. So much so that the passive components of the A440 are designed and manufactured to be completely interchangeable with the components of the original RCA 44-BX. The obvious difference worth noting is the active circuit of the A440.

AEA’s A440, like the RCA 44-BX produces a classic ribbon microphone frequency response with significant low-end energy and a remarkable attenuation in the high-frequency region. It is a wonderful recreation of the full character and rich sound of the original.

The solid-state amplifier circuit is amazingly quiet, causing a self-noise rating of only 6 dBA.

The step-up transformer and transistor-based circuit offers an additional 18 dB of output level compared to the passive AEA R44CE and original RCA 44-BX.

This circuit also acts as an impedance converter, effectively optimizing the A440 for all professional microphone preamplifiers.

The AEA A440 is a phantom-powered microphone. It has a solid durable build with cast bronze yoke mount. The mount allows flexibility of positioning in a wide variety of recording situations.

From vocals to full orchestras, the A440 delivers exceptional results, capturing the tone of the intended sound source with precision while giving the audio its classic ribbon character.

Each unit is hand-built to order and quality-tested prior to shipping. The following A440 options are available:

  • M – hand-matched stereo pairs
  • U – Custom body graphics or colours
  • F – Custom microphone flag

In addition to the limited 2-year warranty, the AEA A440 comes with the following accessories:

  • Carrying/storage case
  • Stand adapter

The AEA R44C is the passive version of the A440 and is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 12 Best Passive Ribbon Microphones On The Market.


Cloud Microphones 44-A

The Cloud Microphones 44-A (link to compare prices on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) is yet another active ribbon mic inspired by the great RCA 44.

Cloud Microphones 44-A
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: bidirectional/figure-8
  • Output impedance: 150 Ω
  • Sensitivity: -28 dBV/Pa
  • Self-noise: Not specified
  • Filters: Music/Voice modes
  • Pads: N/A

The Cloud 44-A captures the essence of the classic RCA Type 44 ribbon mic and packages it in an active microphone that excels in today’s world of audio recording and sound reinforcement. The Cloud microphone was actually designed by Stephen Sank, son of former RCA ribbon microphone designer Jon R. Sank.

The 44-A is built around a corrugated 1.8-micron pure aluminum ribbon diaphragm. It is specially-tampered; cut to match the exact specifications of the original RCA 44 ribbon, and tensioned/tuned to 12 Hz. The specs of the ribbon are:

  • 2.5” length
  • 0.19” wide
  • 1.8-microns thin
  • 13 corrugations/inch

This precisely manufactured ribbon is suspended in a rectangular Neodymium magnetic structure housed within Cloud Microphones’ patented spring-loaded shock-mounting system. The element, therefore, induces a strong microphone signal with little to no mechanical noise.

A step-up transformer is designed between the ribbon element and the active circuit to improve upon the signal strength of the ribbon’s signal.

The active amplification circuit of the 44-A is based on the same circuit as Cloud’s successful Cloudlifter Mic Activator. It runs on +48V phantom power and supplies 20 dB of gain along with the high-pass filter which we’ll get to in a moment.

As is the case with all these active ribbon mics, the amp circuit also acts to balanced the output impedance of the microphone. This, as we’ve discussed before, allows the ribbon mic to perform consistently regardless of the preamplifier it is connected to (within reason).

In terms of versatility, the Cloud 44-A offers switchable Voice/Music response curves. Essentially, the Voice mode engages a first-order high-pass filter (-6 dB/octave) at 200 Hz.

The voice mode reduces proximity effect along with low-end rumble and vibration. This helps improve clarity when close-miking vocalists and other sound sources.

In music mode, the 44-A actually exhibits a natural increase in sensitivity in the low-end. This yields a strong bass response and awesome ribbon sound when distance-miking or close-miking instruments that would benefit from a solid bottom-end.

Note that the 44-A features the same ribbon and is built in same body as the Cloud JRS-34. The magnetic structure and amplifier circuits, however, are different and make for two completely separate microphones, which we’ll get into in the next mic on this list.

In addition to the 2-year limited ribbon warranty and lifetime microphone warranty, the Cloud 44-A comes with the following accessories:

  • Cloud U1 shock mount
  • Handcrafted wooden storage box
  • Microfiber mic cover

Cloud Microphones JRS-34-A

The Cloud Microphones JSR-34-A (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video) is an active ribbon microphone designed by Stephen Sank, the son of former RCA ribbon mic designer Jon R. Sank. This mic is designed with a combination of the most desirable properties or the RCA 44 and the RCA BK-11A

Cloud Microphones JRS-34-A
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: bidirectional/figure-8
  • Output impedance: 150 Ω
  • Sensitivity: 44 mV/Pa (-27 dBV/Pa)
  • Self-noise: Not specified
  • Filters: N/A
  • Pads: N/A

The JRS-34-A is actually quite similar to the aforementioned 44-A. Both microphones are heavily inspired by the vintage RCA 44-BX ribbon mic. The JRS-34-A is an incredibly natural-sounding ribbon mic.

They both have the same pure aluminum ribbon design that is specially tempered to match the original RCA 44 ribbon specs:

  • 1.8-micron thin
  • 2.5” length
  • 0.19” wide
  • 13 corrugations/inch
  • Tensioned/tuned to 12 Hz

Both mics also utilize Cloud’s patented spring-suspended shock-mounting system that effectively isolates the ribbon element and magnetic structure from mechanical noise.

There aren’t even lead wires to take the mic signal from the ribbon to further improve upon the mechanical isolation. Rather, two high-grade nickel-plated beryllium-copper allow springs are designed to carry the transduced signal to the amplifier circuit while maintaining the high level of mechanical isolation.

The 34-A ribbon motor design is highly influenced by the RCA BK-11. Its Neodymium magnets have been rounded on the ribbon side. This helps to reduce acoustic reflectivity and minimize the amount of reflected sound within the mic itself. In turn, this eliminates much of the comb filtering and other coloration effects that the more boxy designs are susceptible to.

The JFET-based amplifier circuit has no resistors or capacitors and yields an incredibly low-noise and ultra-transparent boost to the signal. This amplifier circuit is the same as in the company’s successful Cloudlifter which can be bought as a separate device and combined with the passive version (JRS-34-P) for a very similar sounding result.

Note that, although the microphone has a transformerless amplifier circuit, it also has a 1:35 Cinemag transformer to further magnify the voltage of the signal.

With +48V phantom power engaged, the circuit provides 18 – 24 dB of clean gain (depending on the load impedance) and balances the impedance of the circuit so the microphone will be compatible with any professional preamp.

Combining a vintage sound with modern technology, the JRS-34-A is suitable for a wide variety of sound sources in and out of the studio and excels in all the typical ribbon mic applications (overheads, guitar amps, vocals, etc.).

In addition to the 2-year limited ribbon warranty and a lifetime warranty on the other microphone parts, the Cloud JRS-34-A comes with the following accessories:

  • Handcrafted wooden storage box
  • Microfiber mic cover

The Cloud JRS-34-P is the passive version of the JRS-34-A and is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 12 Best Passive Ribbon Microphones On The Market.


sE Electronics RNR1

The sE Electronics RNR1 (link to compare prices on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) is an active ribbon microphone developed by Siwei Zou of sE Electronics and Rupert Neve of Neve fame.

sE Electronics RNR1
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 25,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: bidirectional/figure-8
  • Output impedance: 200 Ω
  • Sensitivity: 22.39 mV/Pa (-33 dBV/Pa)
  • Self-noise: 18 dBA
  • Filters: 100 Hz – 6 dB/octave
  • Pads: N/A

As we’ve discussed, ribbon microphones are cherished and chosen for their neutral, natural and accurate sound. Their midrange is well defined; their low-end is clean, and their high-end is rolled-of in a somewhat dark but pleasing way.

With the RNR1, the high-end is extended to break the stereotype of the typical ribbon microphone frequency response. With the response ranging up to 25,000 Hz (above the range of human hearing), the RNR1 picks up a brighter, more defined high-end than any other ribbon microphone on the market.

Note that there is a -3dB dip centred at 15 kHz but that the RNR1’s response is actually rising at 20 kHz. This response is practically unheard of in ribbon mics.

So we get the classic accuracy of a high-quality ribbon microphone with the benefit of a defined (but never harsh) high-end. This allows the RNR1 to perform better in more applications and capture the airiness and character of the room with greater precision.

The 2.5-micron aluminum ribbon yields the perfect balance of flexibility and stiffness needed for this microphone’s exceptional performance.

The design of the active RNR1 features two custom-designed transformers from Neve:

  • One between the ribbon element and the amplifier circuit that optimizes the loading of the ribbon.
  • One at the microphone output to effectively balance the output signal.

The phantom-powered amplifier circuit is said to have been directly inspired by the Class A single-ended discrete components of Rupert Neve’s 5088 audio console. This active circuit is largely responsible for the wide frequency response and low-noise of the RNR1.

A custom easy-to-use shock mount is included with the RNR1 that helps tremendously in diminishing handling noise and other mechanical noise.

The ribbon character of the RNR1 makes it an excellent choice on brass, vocals, guitar amps, and much more. The improvement upon the high-end response opens the microphone up to so many more applications. I’d recommend trying this microphone on nearly everything.

In addition to the 3-year limited warranty, the sE Electronics comes with the following accessories:

  • Wooden storage case
  • Custom shock mount
  • Microphone sock

sE Electronics Voodoo VR2

The sE Electronics Voodoo VR2 (link to compare prices on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) is the second sE microphone on this list and is the active counterpart to the Voodoo VR1.

sE Electronics Voodoo VR2
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 18,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: bidirectional/figure-8
  • Output impedance: 200 Ω
  • Sensitivity: 10 mV/Pa (-40 dBV/Pa)
  • Self-noise: 18 dBA
  • Filters: N/A
  • Pads: N/A

The Voodoo VR2 is another microphone that yields a nice wide frequency response. Rather than the natural high-end roll-off happening near 10 kHz, as is the case with many ribbon mics, the VR2 only begins losing sensitivity near 18 kHz.

This wonderfully extended frequency response is achieved through a smart mechanical diffuser device made of an outer perforated diffuser in the chassis and another diffuser surrounding the capsule.

The hand-tensioned ribbon is made of 1.8-micron aluminum, measuring 4.5mm x 45mm. The magnets are high-grade Neodymium.

A transparent low-noise active amplifier circuit effectively balances the impedance and voltage of the signal, improving sensitivity and signal-to-noise ratio. These active components require phantom power to function.

The step-up transformer between the ribbon and amp loads the ribbon perfectly and boosts the level of the transduced signal while the output transformer ensures the highest quality signal at the output.

Although the VR2 is a great choice for a wide variety of applications, it is particularly effective on violins and vocals.

The sE Electronics Voodoo VR2 comes with a 3-year limited warranty.

sE Electronics’ VR1 is the passive version of its VR2 and is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 12 Best Passive Ribbon Microphones On The Market.


Rode NTR

The Rode NTR (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video) is Rode’s flagship ribbon microphone.

Rode NTR
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: bidirectional/figure-8
  • Output impedance: 200 Ω
  • Sensitivity: -30.5 dBV/Pa (30 mV/Pa)
  • Self-noise: 15 dBA
  • Filters: N/A
  • Pads: N/A

This phantom-powered active ribbon mic has an extended frequency response, accurate transient response, and classic ribbon character.

The 1.8-micron aluminum ribbon is laser-cut rather than razer-cut for improved durability. It is pressed between two gears to become properly corrugated and is then tensioned by an automated machine for precision and lower manufacturing costs.

The magnetic structure is made of rare-earth Neodymium magnets and is shock-mounted within the NTR grille in order to block mechanical noise and vibration from affecting the mic signal.

The custom step-up transformer brings up the voltage of the transduced signal and keeps an ideal load on the ribbon for optimal performance. This transformer is coupled to a transparent solid-state amplifier circuit that balances the impedance of the signal and provides further gain.

The sound of the NTR is bright relative to most other ribbon microphones. Its extended frequency response reaches the upper end of the human hearing range and provides detail in the brilliance frequency range that most ribbon microphones fail to do.

The accurate transient response and consistent bidirectional polar pattern are to be expected of a high-quality ribbon mic like the NTR.

This microphone excels on pretty much every sound source you could put it in front of but is particularly effective as a room mic or drum overhead and on guitar cabinets and brass instruments.

With a low impedance of 200 Ω and high sensitivity of 30 mV/Pa, the NTR is not dependent on the quality of its connected preamplifier. It is even compatible with consumer-grade USB audio interface preamps.

Each and every element of Rode’s NTR is designed and manufactured in-house.

In addition to its industry-leading 10-year warranty that includes 1 free re-ribboning, the Rode NTR comes with the following accessories:

  • RM2 ring mount
  • Drawstring dust cover

Rode is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.


Audio-Technica AT4080

The Audio-Technica AT4080 (link to compare prices on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) is presented as a durable high-output microphone with a classic ribbon sound.

Audio-Technica AT4080
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 18,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: bidirectional/figure-8
  • Output impedance: 100 Ω
  • Sensitivity: –39 dBV/Pa (11.2 mV/Pa)
  • Self-noise: 22 dB
  • Filters: N/A
  • Pads: N/A

Audio-Technica’s handcrafted phantom-powered AT4080 ribbon mic is designed with a robust build for long-lasting, reliable performance. Its active amplifier circuit makes it compatible with a wide variety of different microphone preamplifiers.

The dual-ribbon element of the AT4080 has two ribbons mounted front to back with one positioned slightly in front of the magnetic pole and the other slightly behind. These ribbons move in unison and are wired in series to improve the output level of the element.

Durability is at the core of the AT4080 design. Audio-Technica’s innovative MicroLinear ribbon imprinting process protects the dual ribbons from lateral flexing and distortion. An ultra-fine mesh helps to further protect against ribbon damage.

Like all high-end modern ribbon mics, the AT4080 utilizes Neodymium magnets. The step-up transformer in between the ribbon baffle and the amplifier circuit boosts the voltage of the transduced signal, improving the sensitivity of the mic.

Its phantom-powered active electronics yield a stable output impedance and higher output signal voltage for compatibility with microphone preamplifiers. The clear-sounding output circuit of the mic is transformerless.

The ribbon itself is equally open to sound pressure. An open acoustical housing assembly minimizes unwanted internal reflections and comb-filtering in the mic signal. Perforated resonator plates are included at the front and rear side of the diaphragm and act as physical resonators to improve the high-end response of the AT4080.

The main con of the AT4080 is its rather high self-noise of 22 dBA. This self-noise is noticeable in the microphone signal and limits its usability in high-quality studio recordings. However, its great sound quality and durability allow it to excel in live situations even with a high self-noise rating.

In addition to its limited 5-year warranty, the Audio-Technica AT4080 comes with the following accessories:

  • Dust cover
  • Soft carrying case
  • AT8449/SV elastic shock mount

Audio-Technica is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.


Cascade Microphones Fat Head II Active

The Cascade Microphones Fat Head II Active (link to compare prices on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) is the most budget-friendly microphone on this list.

Cascade Microphones Fat Head II Active
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: bidirectional/figure-8
  • Output impedance: 200 Ω
  • Sensitivity:
    Active: -25 db +/- 2 dB (0 dB=1V/Pa)
    Passive: -56 db +/- 2 dB (0 dB=1V/Pa)
  • Self-noise: Not specified
  • Filters: N/A
  • Pads: NA

The Fat Head II Active is actually both an active and a passive ribbon microphone in a single design. With the flip of a single switch, we can engage the solid-state active circuitry of the microphone.

The active circuit does require phantom power to function. As we’d also expect, the active circuit does the following:

  • Applies gain (up to 20 dB).
  • Balances the output impedance and improves compatibility with external preamplifiers.

The transformerless circuit does the above transparently without added significant noise or colouration to the signal. In other words, the active circuit preserves the warm, open, detailed tone of the passive option.

In passive mode, we can achieve comparable or even better results depending on the quality of the microphone preamplifier. Because the preamp plays a role in passive ribbon mics (due to the spikes in frequency-specific output impedance), we can actually get various different sounds of the Fat Head II Active in passive mode by swapping the mic pre.

The all-important 1:37 Lundahl LL2913 transformer acts to boost the signal voltage before the amplifier circuit in active mode and acts as the output step-up transformer in passive mode.

The smooth and natural sound of the Fat Head II is achieved in both passive and active mode. This microphone has low self-noise; high sensitivity; high SPL capabilities, and lovely extended frequency response.

Its modern ribbon character makes it a perfect choice for guitar cabinets, vocals, strings, horns, drums overheads and much, much more.

In addition to its limited 5-year microphone warranty and 1-year ribbon warranty, the Cascade Fat Head II Active comes with the following accessories:

  • Aluminum case
  • Premium suspension mount
  • Padded storage pouch
  • Microfiber cleaning cloth

Cascade Microphones has a passive-only version of the Fat Head II which is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 12 Best Passive Ribbon Microphones On The Market.


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


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