By Jeff Strong

A ribbon microphone produces its sound in much the same way as a dynamic mic. The diaphragm is suspended between two magnets. The ribbon mic differs from the dynamic mic in that it uses a thin ribbon of aluminum instead of plastic or Mylar. Ribbon mics were popular from the 1930s through the 1960s but have, for the most part, taken a backseat to condenser mics in today’s studios.

This is mainly because ribbon mics are fragile and expensive and aren’t as transparent as condenser mics. In fact, a gust of wind or a strong breath blown into the diaphragm is all it takes to break an aluminum ribbon in one of these mics. (It’s not the end of the world, though; ribbons aren’t that expensive to replace — they generally cost $100 to $150.)

Ribbon mics are experiencing a renaissance because of the number of recording engineers who are searching for an old, vintage sound. Ribbon mics have a unique sound that is often described as silky or smooth. This essentially means that the high frequencies tend to roll off slightly (gradually reduce) and the lower frequencies smear together a bit.

Ribbon mics used to be fairly expensive (at least $1,000), but as interest in them has increased from digital recordists, you can now find some decent ones for just a few hundred dollars.