Microphones for Musicians – Ribbon and Carbon

July 31, 2006

Hi all,

Welcome back to our Microphones 101 series. Here is the 2nd entry in our series – Ribbon and Carbon mics….


In my last article we covered two different types of microphones – Dynamic and Condenser. In this article we will be discussing two other types, ribbon and carbon microphones. I will be presenting some basic information regarding how these microphones function, and what their respective applications center around. Before we jump into the two new types of mics, here’s a little basic refresher on how microphones work. 

Microphones, how do they work?A microphone captures sound waves with a thin, flexible piece of metal, also known as a diaphragm. When sound waves are introduced into the microphone, the waves vibrate the diaphragm. The vibrations are converted by various methods into an electrical signal that is an analog of the original sound.  

There various types of microphones, today we’ll be discussing ribbon and carbon microphones. 

  1. Ribbon Microphones

The diaphragm of a ribbon microphone is usually a corrugated piece of metal suspended in a magnetic field. This ribbon picks up sound in a bi-directional or figure 8 pattern. This directional pattern can be modified by enclosing one side of the ribbon in a baffle, or other acoustic trap. Ribbon microphones give very high quality sound reproduction, but the diaphragm is very fragile and the mics are very expensive, so they must be handled with care. They don’t require phantom power, and in fact, any voltage might damage the microphone. Ribbon microphones are very versatile, and can be used to record all instruments and vocals. 

  1. Carbon Microphones

Carbon microphones were once commonly used in telephone handsets, but are now not very widely used. This type of microphone uses carbon dust pressed between two metal plates. An electrical signal is passed between the two plates, with the carbon in between, causing the plates to vibrate. The sound waves from your voice cause changes in the vibration of the plates, which compress and decompress the carbon powder, changing the electrical resistance of the carbon. This type of microphone isn’t used very often in modern times, so most audio engineers won’t need to know too much about how a carbon microphone works. 

There are many different types of microphones with all sorts of different applications, both applicable and archaic. As an audio engineer, or even as someone who records music from their bedroom, knowledge is key. I will be wrapping up this series on microphones in my next article, so please read on. 

Jason Cole and DiskFaktory Mastering offer great professional mastering services and information regarding audio engineering and CD mastering. Get the professional mastering information you are seeking now by visiting http://diskfaktory-mastering.com/evaluation.htm


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