Active ribbons are all the rage and for good reason: the inherent bi-directional quality of a figure-eight polar pattern, typically strong mids, and a pleasant top-end tempered with a touch of useful dynamic smoothing plus higher output, lower noise floor and the increased preamp flexibility of active electronics. If you don't have an active ribbon microphone (or preferably, a pair—Blumlein, anyone?), I'm afraid you're really missing out.
The microphone marketplace is increasingly populated with “more affordable” models, yet at the top end (as in $7,500 per pair) a new king of ribbons should be crowned: the long-motored, heavy-duty and beautifully voiced Sandhill 6011A.
Hand-built in Finland, the 6011A’s flat rectangular shape screams “ribbon mic” at first look; check out this manufacturing video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLZYu4t-2GE
. The large ribbon (measuring 60mm x 4.7mm) is actually a composite material (primarily ceramic coated aluminum with other undisclosed, proprietary ingredients) that reportedly retains the sensitivity of corrugated aluminum while increasing strength and durability. As a result, less wind screening is utilized, helping “open up” the sound.
The 6011A’s ribbon material is beyond mere academics. Sandhill backs it all up with a three-year warranty and a reported lack of sensitivity to wind blast damage (via forceful vocals, Leslie cabinets, kick drums, etc.) with a maximum SPL rating of 160 dB (with -6 dB pad engaged). Such durability opens the 6011A up to live applications, where active ribbons on guitar cabs is the “transducer du jour.” And a firm, simple and effective shock mount is included, thank goodness.
On piano, Sandhill’s 6011A matched pair provided an extremely realistic reproduction of the sound source via Earthworks 1024 mic preamp with +55 dB of gain applied and no added EQ or compression. Overall, the pair’s sound is marked by a full bottom end absent of rumble or woofi-ness; accurate mids (a preponderance of 350 Hz was from my piano/room combo, not the mics); brighter-than-passive ribbon top end that is crisp but not at all shrill; and only slightly restricted dynamics. For piano, the 6011A pair offered audible, notably linear, imaging even at high levels. Check out the results in this webclip: https://soundcloud.com/pro-audio-review-magazine/sandhill-6011as-upright-piano-raw-tracks
On Hammond organ and Leslie cabinet, I positioned the spaced pair up top, capturing growl and preponderant low-mids quite well, enough top end, a strong but easily usable bottom end, all with no issues from rotating horn wind.
On percussion applications, specifically on conga (utilized sideways, with head and side slap), the 6011A provided excellent balance from bottom to top. Fine balance was gained with no EQ on guiro, and it was perfect on clave with a nice “pop” bite. All of this perc sat well in mixes without much EQ needed.
As drum overheads, the 6011A spaced pair sounded very natural with great overall kit balance, strong low-mids, ample top end for rock/pop (not metal-suitable, but it can be brightened nicely with EQ), and overall nice imaging with no “squish.”
On lead vocal, the 6011A was very sensitive to plosives, perhaps voiced too dark for pop without an HPF/low-mid dip/high-shelving boost, yet was ideal for both loud screaming metal vocalists or classical applications (especially vocal only environments).
On guitar cabinet, the 6011A reminded me of Royer R-121. It was too woofy and dark without HPF and brightening EQ, and guitar cab was the only application that required the 6011A’s internal -6 dB pad, ultimately providing output level between a SM57 and a large diaphragm condenser (LDC).
And finally, on choir: the 6011A gave excellent rejection at side nulls, perfect overall tonal balance, and much nicer low-mids than any LDC: absolutely fantastic!
Although its active electronics provide stability, the 6011A responds more like a passive ribbon with a little more output—not the condenser-like hot output and crispy top of many post-modern ribbons. The 6011A does what I expected in translating lots of useful bottom end, with thick, palpable low-mids and naturally smooth mids. It seems to tame rudeness in hi-mid/high-end heavy sound sources, all while responding politely to EQ.
Yet is a 6011A matched pair worth $7,500? Personally, I'm too frugal and cash-strapped to simply say, “yes.” With a better budget, though, absolutely: the 6011A would be very near the top of my studio wish list, I assure you.
Sandhill Ribbon Microphones