There are so many microphone choices today and even more opinions on which types of mics work “best” for different applications. This post compares the sounds of a drum set recorded with ribbon and condenser overhead microphones.
The most common microphones we see on stage or in a studio are dynamic mics like the Shure SM57/SM58 or condenser mics like the AKG C 414. Less common are ribbon microphones. Ribbon microphones have a rich and fascinating history dating back to the 1920s and it seems that they have come back into fashion lately, especially among audio geeks. What I like most about them is their ability to capture a natural sound. Recently I purchased a pair of Apex 205 ribbon microphones. These are typical budget microphones manufactured in China. Modifying these microphones can greatly improve their sound so I purchased two high quality Ludhal transformers from K&K Audio to replace the stock transformers (more on that that process on a future post). It was a kind of a scary procedure but ended in success. I’ve used these mics for different applications, and one that I especially liked was for drum overheads. It’s more common to see small diaphragm or large diaphragm condenser microphones in this role. Their ability to capture high frequencies well make them a great choice for grabbing the sizzle of cymbals and the snap of the sticks. With ribbon mics I find that there is less high frequency information and a roll off closer to what analog tape gives us. So I’ve been using ribbons and boosting high frequencies where needed instead of using condenser mics and pulling back higher frequencies. Both methods work great, so it’s just a matter of taste.
Below is a comparison of the modified Apex 205s vs. a pair of Nady CM90 small diaphragm condenser microphones. Disclaimer: I’m not a drummer so please excuse the sloppy drumming.
You will hear the ribbons first then the condensers. Four measures for each. EQ and compression added for the effects versions.
Here are the EQ and compression settings that I used. I used a convolution reverb on it’s own bus and settings did not change.
*The Apex 205, like most ribbon mics, picks up sound in a bi-directional figure 8 pattern, i.e. equally from both sides. The CM 90s pick up sound in a cardioid pattern, which rejects much of the sound from the back. Because of this, there will be a noticeable difference in the proximity between the two sets. I don’t believe that this makes it an uneven comparison, but we should keep it in mind.