Ribbons on the Road

Jul 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Steve La Cerra

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Arturo Sandavol’s trumpet is miked with a Royer R-122. Here, he’s playing live at Blue Note in New York City.

Arturo Sandavol’s trumpet is miked with a Royer R-122. Here, he’s playing live at Blue Note in New York City.

Ask an engineer if they’ve used a ribbon microphone in a live setting, and you’re likely to get a reaction that goes something like “Are you out of your mind? ! ?” Old school. “Too delicate!” Hogwash. “Figure-8 patterns are impossible to deal with on a stage with loud instruments!” Poppycock. “Phantom power will blow it up!” Um, maybe if your cables aren’t up to spec. It was only a matter of time until the studio ribbon revival that started in the late 1990s would reach the stage. But is it really possible to use ribbons on a tour? Can they survive? Is their meek output level a problem? Read on.

Brian Setzer Orchestra’s engineer, Jimbo Neal, places an R-121 a quarter-inch from the grille, roughly a half-inch off the dome, angled toward the paper cone about 30 degrees.

Brian Setzer Orchestra’s engineer, Jimbo Neal, places an R-121 a quarter-inch from the grille, roughly a half-inch off the dome, angled toward the paper cone about 30 degrees.

BACK TO SCHOOL
Remember when you were bored in class, and you separated the foil from the wax paper of a gum wrapper? That foil is roughly 10 times thicker than a ribbon. It may not be as robust as a kick drum head, but show a little respect. SPL per sé is not as much an issue as wind, which can stretch a ribbon and compromise the frequency response; wind is, in a manner of speaking, a low-frequency sound wave. No ribbon mics in the kick drum (especially my RCA 44BX, thank you very much).

The same qualities that endear ribbon mics to studio engineers make them a great choice onstage. According to Jim Ebdon—front-of-house engineer for Aerosmith, Matchbox Twenty and Maroon 5—“Joe Perry from Aerosmith had been using Royer R-121s in his studio and decided to take them on the road. We used a mixture of the Royers, [Shure] 57s and [Audio-Technica] AT4050s. His guitar sounded phenomenal. I didn’t realize how good the 121s actually were until I started working with Matchbox Twenty. We did some critical listening with various guitars, amps and combinations of mics. After a few days, we came to realize that the best guitar sounds featured an R-121, whether it was mixed with another mic or on its own.”

LET IT BLEED
Ribbon mics naturally produce a figure-8 pickup pattern, but don’t worry about leakage from the rear lobe. Wayne Trevisani mixes FOH for Maxwell and uses sE Electronics RNR1s for overheads. “We were multitracking in [Pro Tools] HD using the VENUE,” says Wayne. “We put up the RNR1 as an overhead, about three feet above the snare drum, picking up the cymbals but EQ’d to be more of a snare mic. We had the front of the RNR1 pointing straight at the snare, with the back facing the ceiling, one on each side of the kit. I time-aligned the close snare mics [57s] to the overheads to complete the snare sound. The ribbons sound great on the snare from three or four feet away: smooth and fat, and the cymbals don’t get in the way. The backs of the mics don’t create leakage problems in arenas, but if you are in a small room with a low concrete or metal ceiling, there could be issues.”






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