Ribbon microphones have largely fallen out of favor over the last 50 years, due to the fact that phantom-powered condenser microphones became a lot cheaper in the 1970s.
One of the primary reasons why ribbon microphones have largely decreased in popularity, to the point where they aren’t really mentioned that much anymore, is because of their price and sensitivity. However, if you’re still in the market for a ribbon microphone, there is an option for you to try out.
If you’re curious as to what ribbon microphones are all about, the MXL R144 is the most valuable and accessible option due to its relative quality and cheap price.
An MXL R144 from Amazon offers the ability for you to try out the old-school vintage sound of a ribbon microphone, without spending upwards of $500 to $1000 for a mic like you would with the Audio Technica AT4081 also from Amazon (admittedly a superior mic).
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Table of Contents
What Is A Ribbon Microphone?
Rather than using a coil of wire as a diaphragm like dynamic microphones often use, a ribbon microphone has inside it a thin strip of metal that’s used for the conversion of sound energy into electrical energy.
A ribbon microphone uses the velocity of air movement to create electrical audio signals, in contrast to the condenser microphone, which uses sound pressure against the capsule of the condenser microphone to create audio signals (more on condenser mics in my guide).
As a consequence of their structure and function, people often refer to them as “velocity microphones.”
As people grew accustomed to them, they became known for creating a softer high-frequency response than some of the other microphones on the market.
They were first introduced in the 1920s, which also explains why, if you’ve ever looked at old school performers, like from the 1950s, they always had a ribbon microphone of some kind.
Things have changed a lot since then. When looking at performers, podcasters, YouTubers, and beat-makers, you’ll notice they pretty much always use either a condenser mic or a dynamic mic (how to set one up in my tutorial.
What The MXL R144 Comes With
- The Microphone itself
- Carrying Case
- Cleaning Cloth
- and Application Guide
The MXL R144’s packaging is pretty top-notch. The fact it comes with the very solid carrying case alone is a nice touch.
It’s really quite impressive that the mic carries the cheap price that it does, because both the shock-mount and the mic itself is very high quality. The carrying case is the weakest link here, but it’s the least important.
With that said, the carrying case is perfect for its purpose.
The shockmount is surprisingly good considering it came with the microphone. You could probably use this for a number of other mics as well.
How The Ribbon Microphone Sounds
Ribbon microphones are known for their natural sound, without producing so much detail that it almost becomes a disadvantage, which is a common complaint among condenser microphone users, especially some of the cheaper ones on the market.
Furthermore, similar to a cardioid dynamic microphone, ribbon microphones tend to be directional, which means they’re great at avoiding noise bleed from the environment, especially when coupled with an Aston isolation shield from Amazon.
In other words, ribbon microphones are great for spot-micing guitars and amplifiers, because it accentuates the sound coming directly into the microphone when positioned properly, while at the same time, avoiding the emphasis of sound from the side.
A simple way of describing this mic is that it tends not to color the sound as much as a condenser or dynamic microphone. Condenser mics tend to be much brighter than Ribbon mics.
They reproduce audio honestly, while at the same time, creating a very crisp, warm, and faithful audio recording in addition to eliminating some of those pesky high-end frequencies that you might not want.
They’re known for their darkness, and the MXL R144 is no exception. If you want a dark, warm, smooth-sounding microphone, then the MXL R144 is definitely for you. There’s no question though that the MXL R144, and ribbon mics, in general, are for a particular purpose.
So if you’re looking for the MXL R144 to serve all your needs, then you’re making a mistake. It would be much wiser to get a dynamic mic or a condenser mic for the sake of versatility.
A ribbon mic, I would say, is for someone who wants to do spoken word recordings or record guitar parts with a vintage sound. Just something to consider.
What Ribbon Microphones Are Known For
Ribbon mics have what’s called a figure-8 polar pattern, which means they’re picking up on sound from the front and the back, so if one were to create a diagram of what the microphone is actually doing, it would look a lot like the image below.
You can see that the way in which it picks up sound looks a lot like a figure-8.
Consequently, they’re great for creating a stereo signal, while at the same time, eliminating other extraneous noises in the environment albeit not as good as something like the Audio Technica AT4050 bundle (also from Amazon).
Initially, ribbon microphones were used in radio and television broadcasting, because a ribbon mic would transmit the voices of two different people sitting across from each other at a table.
With that said, the internal ribbon (which gives it its name) is very thin and sensitive, so users have to be careful when handling them because they’re quite delicate.
Ribbon mics are pretty good at recording electric guitars, but they definitely have a tendency to create thicker low-mids, especially when using amp overdrive.
For that reason, I’d say it’s a great option if you’re looking to get some 1940s or 1950s vibes. It’s worth mentioning that the MXL R144 will probably be a good option for brass instruments like saxophones and trumpets.
Why The MXL R144 Is The Best Introductory Ribbon Microphone
As I mentioned above, ribbon microphones tend to be quite expensive, and Garageband and other DAW users tend to be the type of people who are just taking their first steps into the world of music production, recording, podcasting, and audio engineering.
For that reason, I argue that the MXL R144 is easily one of the best ribbon microphones because it’s not going to crush your bank account, but you’re also going to get a solid taste of what a ribbon microphone is capable of.
The MXL R144 is a great choice for acoustic instruments, guitars (I use the PRS SE Custom 24 from ZZounds), brass, and vocal performances. The front-back polar pattern picks up on the sounds from the front and back and eliminates those from the side.
The MXL R144 and other ribbon microphones are known, primarily, for their great mid-range tone, which tends to be quite warm and nice.
If you were to compare an MXL R144 to the Audio Tehnica 2035 Condenser microphone, you’ll notice right away that the MXL R144 is much, much warmer. In fact, I already did that in the YouTube video down below except I compared it to the way that the AT2021 sounded.
The MXL R144 is made out of all metal, including the grille, but it has a bit of leeway.
In other words, if your press on it, it’s not completely solid, which is actually a good thing because then if you bang it off something, it will just bounce right off, rather than create a nasty dent.
It’s definitely worth mentioning again that all ribbon microphones are incredibly delicate, so if you drop this thing, it might break and ruin it completely.
Also, you absolutely cannot run phantom power through a ribbon microphone, because it will destroy it.
Voltage: 240 Volts
Product Size: 30.5 x 20.3 x 10.2 cm (1.85″ x 6.75″)
Item Model #: MXL R144
Weight: 699 g
Sensitivity: -56dB (0 dB = 1V/Pa)
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 17,000 kHz
“Cons” of using the MXL R144
I put the word, “Cons,” in the sub-title because many of these are simply features of a ribbon mic, so it’s hard to say it’s a con related to the particular brand and model.
Regardless, one of the main criticisms of this particular model is the build quality, which some people take issue with. Personally, I think that it’s made extremely well.
Whenever audio equipment is made out of steel, I’m always a big fan, and the MXL R144 seems well-constructed to me.
1) The Back Sounds Different From The Front
This one isn’t really a con, but the rear-end of the microphone tends to sound a bit different from the front, creating more of a presence-boost, including being a bit brighter.
It’s hard to say why they designed it this way. It’s possible they did it on purpose, I’m not entirely sure.
Regardless, there definitely is a difference between the front and back of the mic.
2) Sensitivity and Delicacy
Like all ribbon microphones, it’s extremely sensitive, especially for plosives.
In other words, if you are going to use one of these bad boys, you should either have a pop-filter or understand how to use a mic with 100% certainty.
Microphone placement in the case of the ribbon microphone is quite important, so keep that in mind.
3) It’s Dark
Furthermore, ribbon microphones, and also the MXL R144, are quite dark, which may be a turn-off to most people getting into recording vocals because over the years, people have grown so accustomed to a brighter high-range sound.
It also tends to have a low-mid boost.
Again, this isn’t an issue with the MXL R144, per say, it’s just a common feature of the standard ribbon mic.
4) Picks Up On Extraneous Noise When Bumped
It’s important to use a shockmount and a stand when using the MXL R144 because if the cable bumps against your leg, or you tap on the bottom of the mic with your finger, the mic will pick up on it.
Make sure to check out the YouTube video below to see what I’m talking about here.
How To Set Up The MXL R144
If you’ve read my other microphone set up guides, you’d know that setting up an MXL R144 is the same as pretty much any other mic, HOWEVER, and this is a big “however,” you have to ensure that you don’t run phantom power through it, because you will destroy the ribbon.
1) Connect your Audio Interface to your computer using a USB to Firewire cable and a USB to USB-C adaptor.
2) Set up your mic stand and your shock mount with the mic inside of it.
3) Run the XLR cable into the Audio interface and into your mic.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a mic stand in my possession at the moment, but regardless, you can see how it’s hooked up in the image below:
YouTube Video Review
All things considered, the MXL R144 is not the type of microphone that you buy if you plan on only have one microphone at your disposal. If you want just one microphone in your home studio, a Shure SM58 is probably a better choice or an Audio Technica AT2035.
An MXL R144 Ribbon microphone is for reproducing more of the warm, soft, vintage sound of the 1950s and before-hand.