Nearly two decades ago, Royer’s introduction of the R-121 kick started the renaissance of the ribbon microphone. But for those on a modest budget, the R-121’s $1,295 price tag has seemed a bit steep. And—even given the budget—some might not want to risk exposing an expensive mic to the perils of the road.
Being aware of this, Royer introduced the R-10, a passive ribbon microphone intended for use in the studio and onstage that is available at a very friendly price point.
As is the case with other Royer microphones, the R-10 is handmade in the company’s facility in Burbank, Calif. Its corrugated aluminum ribbon is 2.5 microns thick and the transducer is internally shockmounted. The frequency response is published as 30 Hz to 15 kHz (±3 dB), with a gentle downward slope that starts around 5 kHz. The maximum SPL rating is noted as 160 dB SPL at 1 kHz (135 dB at 50 Hz). The pickup pattern is a fixed figure-8.
The output of the mic is coupled using a transformer developed by David Royer specifically for use in the R-10, which can handle the transducer’s output without saturating. The mic comes packaged with a protective sock and a hard-mount, all in a small, foam-lined briefcase (see Figure 1). Furthermore, the R-10 is backed with a five-year guarantee.
There are a couple more R-10 features worth mentioning. First, the mic employs Royer’s patented offset ribbon. This arrangement places the ribbon slightly forward in the transducer assembly, enabling higher SPL handling from the front (logo) side and providing a slightly brighter sound when using the rear to record sources that produce lower SPLs.
Because Royer exchanged its usual slotted grill for an open grill design, humbucking technology is applied to reject noise that might otherwise be generated. Moreover, the R-10’s own grille protects the ribbon from blasts of air, while helping to control proximity effect. The R-10 does not come with a shockmount but this proved not to be an issue.
Royer sent me a pair of R-10s for this review, which I used on the road as well as in the studio. The first thing I noticed about the R-10 is its heft: This is a solid microphone that feels like it was built to last. Its appearance varies a bit from other Royer mics in that it is a bit fatter and lacks the “fins” present on the other models. The hard-mount is simple but secure and makes the mic easier to place close-up to a sound source than if it were in a shockmount.
I started with the R-10s at a theater gig where I used them for drum overheads, about 6.5 feet high, 4 feet apart, and pointing straight down. I was a bit concerned about getting enough gain from the console preamps (I was working with a Yamaha PM5D), but this proved not to be an issue.
The results were fantastic. Snare and toms were meaty, and the cymbals were smooth (which is more than I can usually say for this particular drummer’s choice of cymbals).
Luckily the ceiling above the stage was very high (probably 25 feet) so there was no problem with reflections from the ceiling being picked up by the rear lobes of the microphones. There wasn’t much onstage amplification so leakage was minimal but the bass amp did sneak into the R-10s a bit. Normally I would have used a highpass filter to mitigate some of that bass leakage but the toms sounded so good in the R-10s that I didn’t want to mess with them. My usual close mic for the ride cymbal was unnecessary, and when the drummer went to side stick, the Royers reproduced the attack with plenty of realism.
UP AGAINST THE GRILLE
The next night I used an R-10 on a MESA/Boogie 4x12 powered by a Dual Rectifier head. The mic was placed very close, almost touching the speaker grille. This produced a fatter tone than I typically get from this guitar player, removing harshness in the area of 2.5 kHz while producing more low end than I needed. I could have pulled the mic away from the speaker to reduce proximity effect but that would increase bleed from other sources, so I opted to move the frequency of the highpass filter on the input channel from 100 Hz up to 145 Hz, which tightened up the low end nicely.
The R-10’s metal grille was designed not only to protect the mic from wind blasts but also to reduce proximity effect, which it does very well. Unlike the previous night there was a fair amount of house ambience coming off the rear lobe of the microphone, so a bit of fiddling with the position was required to reject some of that.
Next time out, I used the R-10 on a 2x12 combo amp for a clean electric guitar sound. Initially the R-10 produced less bottom end when the mic was placed against the grille, and moving the mic away from the amp allowed the bottom end to bloom. It turns out that one of the 12-inch speakers wasn’t working properly and moving the mic to the other speaker produced more predictable results.
Setting the microphone approximately 6 inches away from the speaker grille produced a smooth, bell-like tone on the guitarist’s arpeggios that cut through the mix without sounding hyped. When the guitarist went to a chunky rhythm part and asked for more bottom, moving the mic closer to the grille (about an inch away) delivered the goods without making the bottom sloppy. As an experiment we turned the mic around so that the rear lobe faced the speaker grille and, indeed, the R-10’s back side gave us a brighter tone, although it was a subtle difference.
STEREO IN THE STUDIO
Encouraged by what I heard when using the R-10s on stage for drum overheads, I put them to work on a rock session in the studio. I arranged the mics as a Blumlein stereo pair over the kit, just high enough to clear the path of stray sticks (approximately 5.5 feet up). I routed the mics through an AEA TRP (The Ribbon Preamp) and straight into my DAW without any compression or EQ. The results were monstrous.
The stereo image was rock solid with the high-hat and ride cymbals placed perfectly. The components of the kit were balanced in the correct proportions, and the R-10s simultaneously captured the smack of the snare drum and roundness of the toms. We also had close mics on kick and snare (a Sennheiser e602 II and Shure SM57, respectively), but quite frankly the R-10s did such a great job that we could have done without the kick and snare mics (although adding the kick mic did fill in the lowest octave). A bit of LA3A-style compression in the DAW finished off the tracks, and on a slower song sounded very “Ringo-esque.”
Recording an acoustic guitar with the R-10 yielded excellent results and revealed the versatility of the offset ribbon design. First, I placed the mic near the twelfth fret, pointing toward the sound hole. The result was big, but well-balanced across the range, maybe a hair too much low-end for my taste.
Turning the mic around to the rear resulted in a more controlled bottom and a bit more shimmer in the sound of the pick on the strings: I preferred the rear lobe of the R-10 in this application. I also tried placing the mic at the sound hole but (as I expected) this position produced too much bottom end regardless of whether the front or rear of the mic faced the instrument.
When used on a lead vocal, adding a few dB at 5 kHz on an API 550A plug-in opened the top end beautifully, adding air and presence without the mic sounding shrill. I also briefly A/B’d the R-10 with an R-121. Set to the same preamp gain, the R-121 produced a hotter output and seemed to have more extension at the frequency extremes, but on one particularly clean electric guitar track, the two were difficult to tell apart.
A RIBBON FOR ALL OCCASIONS
I think that Royer has a hit on their hands. The R-10 has a 100% Royer pedigree, is built like a tank, and has an output level hot enough not to be an issue with most preamps. Its simple hard-mount allows close placement and I never felt the need for a shockmount.
Most important, the R-10 has that classic smooth-ribbon sound, and a wide variety of timbres are possible depending on whether you have the front or rear of the mic facing the source. All that and it’s reasonably priced.
Classic ribbon sound. Well-made. Capable of a wide range of tonal variations.
Steve La Cerra is an independent audio engineer based in New York. In addition to being an Electronic Musician contributor, he mixes front-of-house for Blue Öyster Cult and teaches audio at Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry campus.