September 1, 2010 was a date for celebration, marking the
release of the new Royer Labs R-101 ribbon microphone.
Following in the footsteps of the R-121, the R-101 is a
mono, bi-directional (figure-eight), passive velocity-type
ribbon microphone that utilizes Royer’s patented offset-ribbon
transducer and a 2.5-micron ribbon element.
(Royer’s offset-ribbon technique allows a brighter sound
from the backside of the mic, albeit with decreased SPL
handling on the rear.)
Like the R-121, the R-101 is suited for handling high SPLs
(>135 dB SPL @ 30 Hz), making it a great tool for capturing
electric guitar, drums and horns. [Note that all ribbon specs
are not “created equal.” Other ribbon mics routinely claim
150-165 dB SPL power handling, but only at frequencies of
1 kHz and above. Royer’s 135 dB SPL claim is at 30 Hz,
where there is much more energy. — Ed.]. Its crystal-clear,
highly accurate sound assures that it will work well with
acoustic guitar, strings, piano and vocals.
Almost as long as an R-122, the beautiful, matte-black, 17-ounce R-101 is 7.9 inches long with a diameter of 1.4 inches. The mic is crafted
to the same high standard as the rest of the Royer product line,
utilizing a high-grade Neodymium magnet assembly with a 2.5-micron ribbon element that is 1.5 inches long and 3/16 of an inch
wide. This assembly is built into Royer’s patented Flux-Frame transducer
whose design incorporates a new multi-layer windscreen. The
windscreen does a wonderful job of protecting the ribbon element
from wind damage and plosives by minimizing air blasts.
The R-101’s ribbon element is unaffected by temperature or
humidity, and it has very low residual noise, making it perfectly suited
for recording quiet sound sources. It has a frequency response of
30 Hz-15 kHz, +/-3 dB, and a sensitivity of -48 dBv Ref 1 v/pa. The mic
has a 300-ohm output impedance with a 1,500-ohm or greater rated
load impedance. The mic includes a shock mount, aluminum carrying
case and protective mic sock. Like all Royer microphones, the R-101 comes with a lifetime warranty to the original owner and the first
re-ribbon is free.
The R-101 User Manual is well written and highly informative. In
addition to providing essential technical and operational details
regarding the R-101, it includes an array of helpful guidelines, precautions
and techniques that apply to the use of any ribbon
microphone: one of the rare occasions when a user manual
is worth reading cover to cover.
When Royer Labs announced a new, more affordable ribbon
mic (street price around $799), my initial thought
was ”Are they releasing a dumbed-down, compromised
version of the R-121, one to make it easier for engineers
and musicians to get into the high-end ribbon mic game?”
How wrong I was! Yes, the R-101 is by far the most affordable
mic that Royer has released to date, but it is not compromised
in any way. If you already own an R-121 or R-122,
you’ll still want to add the R-101 to your collection and if the
R-121 and R-122 are beyond your current financial grasp,
the R-101 is the perfect entry into the high-end ribbon market.
While not as aggressive as the R-121/122, it seems
more natural, putting it midway between the 121 and the
sound of the Royer SF-1.
As is the case with most ribbons (active versions being the exception),
pairing the R-101 with the right mic pre is critical. The R-101 is
amazingly detailed and extremely quiet, but its output gain is relatively
low (by comparison, the output level of the R-101 is 8 dB higher
than an SM57, -56 dBV/Pa vs. -48 dBV/Pa for the R-101). So, when
recording quiet sound sources (finger-picked guitar, soft vocals,
etc.), a quiet mic pre is a necessity. I used the Gordon mic pre (up to
70 dB of gain) with the R-101 and had fantastic results. The mic pre’s
input impedance is also crucial, as a preamp without the proper loading
characteristics will lose low-frequency response and sensitivity.
Royer’s rule of thumb is that the mic pre should have an input impedance
at least five times the microphone’s output impedance.
My first opportunity to use a pair of R-101s was recording Omni
Sound Studio’s Yamaha C-7 Concert Grand, and the results were fantastic.
I placed the mics roughly 18 inches apart, about 10 inches
from the hammers and recorded through the console (an API
Legacy) with a slight top-end boost and minimal compression
through an Alan Smart stereo compressor. It sounded wonderful.
Since the Royer name is synonymous with killer guitar tones, I
couldn’t wait to put the mic to work recording electric guitar. As with
the R-121 and R-122, when I record guitars with the R-101, I can’t imagine
anything else doing it better. From a chime-like Jerry Jones 12-string through a VOX AC30 to a heavily distorted Marshall JCM 900,
the recorded tone was natural and real with a clear, smooth top end
and a tight, defined bottom that was still larger than life. I typically
found that the mic worked best 6-8 inches off the grille and aimed
directly at the speaker halfway between the rim and the center. That
said, varying the placement yields many different tonal qualities and
spending some time experimenting is definitely worth the time.
I used the R-101 to capture a bass through an SVT rig and had wonderful
results. The amp was screaming loud, and the air movement
from the bass cabinet was significant enough to stress the ribbon
and create sonic issues. Rotating the mic roughly 45 degrees off-axis
provided enough rejection to eliminate the problem, protect the mic
element, and yield a fantastic bass tone full of girth, character and plenty of subharmonic information. On another occasion, I used a pop
filter between the cabinet and the mic to effectively eliminate the
The mic lends itself perfectly to capturing drums and percussion. I
recorded drum ambience with the R-101 through my Hardy M-1,
squashed with the Empirical Labs Distressor; the results were wonderful,
easily transforming the perception of a small room into a giant
one. This mic is equally good at capturing drum overheads, and I actually
had good results using it on kick drum. Obviously, care needs to
be taken so the mic isn’t damaged due to the volume and air movement
created by the kick drum, but I found that placing the mic about
15 inches in front of the kick about 6 inches off the floor and angled
forward about 30 degrees yielded a fantastic sound. The mic is also
adept at recording tambourine, shaker and other percussion, providing
a smooth, natural sound that is much easier to place in a mix than
when recorded by a condenser.
The mic is perfect for capturing brass instruments. While recording
trumpet, I placed the mic about 18 inches away from the bell and the
result was wonderful. I placed the mic 24 inches from the bell of a
trombone with pleasing results. I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity
to use the mic on strings or woodwinds but based on its performance
in other areas, I’m confident that it would excel for these
applications. The mic does a nice job capturing vocals and is especially
good when recording a vocalist with sibilance issues as it virtually
eliminates the problem. Even with the built-in multi-layer windscreen,
an additional windscreen was a necessity when recording vocals.
This was no surprise, though, as I’ve never used a ribbon mic where
this wasn’t the case.
The R-101 has a smooth, natural, detailed sound and an impressive
frequency response, making it an excellent choice for recording virtually
any instrument as well as dialog and vocals. While it is not cheap,
it is affordable and in the same sonic class as other high-end ribbon
mics costing twice as much. Now, for the first time, Royer ribbon
microphones are within the financial grasp of nearly everyone serious
Russ Long is a producer, engineer and mixer. He owns the Carport studio in Nashville and is a senior contributor to