We were able to talk to John Jennings from Royer and he explained how ribbon microphones work and why they're both extremely sensitive and also extremely fragile. While they're not the epitome of cutting edge technology, the way they work and the care put into manufacturing them is absolutely amazing.
John Jennings: So we specialize in ribbon microphones. We've been doing ribbons since 1998. What's really special about ribbons is the way they hear - I mean, every microphone is like an ear. And you can experiment some time by just taking your hands and cupping them behind your ears and seeing how things change. Well, microphones hear things differently. With a good ribbon microphone, you can move the microphone a few times on the cabinet and get that sound.
Dave Royer designed the first R121 in 1997 and it was a beautiful design. We fleshed it out and then that became the first microphone for Royer. I was a session guitarist for years and I used to love the sound of my amplifier and I hated going into the control room because it sounded so different. With a good ribbon microphone, you go into the control room and it feels like you're standing in front of your amplifier again. They hear things very much like the human ear does. Same thing with drums, you get a really full body sound but sometimes that's not what you want. A condenser is great for getting more like cut on a vocal. You want to pop vocal, the cut through you want to hear, you know, all sorts of little things emphasized they have a high end boost but ribbons are very flat. They hear things very naturally.
So we introduced the 121 in 1998. And then we've gone through and developed a phantom powered ribbon in 2001. Ribbon microphones are generally about 15 to 20 Db less sensitive than condenser. So you need a mic pre with a lot of level to record quiet instruments but if you have a phantom power driven, you bring that level right up to condenser mic level and you can record soft instruments and singers who aren't very loud. So it just sort of diversified what you could do with the ribbon. We have an audio/video library on our website, you just go to royerlabs.com, you go to the audio/video tab. And you'll find hundreds of different tracks of different ribbon recorded material, sometimes a full mix and then just the isolated ribbon so you can go in there and learn. And you can see videos of how things are set up and you can learn a lot about what ribbons do.
One of the really nice things that happened with Royer was, just as we introduced ribbons to the market, all this digital equipment was coming in and it wasn't sounding very good. You know, tape has the effect of softening and sort of compressing sound a little bit, making it more warm and musical. So you hit tape with a lot of highs and then over time it's going to lose some of that that high-end energy. Digital doesn't do that you you hit it with a lot of highs and you're stuck with all that high-end energy. Ribbons have a very natural sound in the highs and it made such a difference in modern era recording gear in the late 90s and early 2000s that a lot of people felt like when you put a ribbon up, you were kind of back in the tape world and analog world, it sounds so natural. The Recording Academy gave us what's called a Technical Grammy in 2013 for reintroducing ribbon microphones and the ribbon digital fit how well they go together. So, it's been a great run. We've been in business 21 years and we just really focused on ribbons and it's been really rewarding to all of us to see how big ribbons have become in the recording market and how important they are.