Royer R-101 Ribbon Microphone Review

Royer Labs has expanded its line with the R-101ribbon transducer. At $895 list, the R-101 makes Royer quality available to those who aren''t yet ready to shell out for the company''s R-121 and SF-1-derived models.
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The R-101''s ribbon assembly is similar to that used in the company''s R-121.

Royer Labs has expanded its line with the R-101 ribbon transducer. At $895 list, the R-101 makes Royer quality available to those who aren''t yet ready to shell out for the company''s R-121 and SF-1-derived models.

The reduced pricing (about $500 less than the company''s flagship R-121) is accomplished by taking a ribbon assembly similar to that used in the R-121 and installing it in an outsourced microphone body that''s heavier and larger than Royer''s American-manufactured models. The R-101 body is definitely chunky, weighing in at just more than a pound.

The shockmount uses all metal parts and looks and feels very durable. The mic screws into a threaded ring at the bottom of an oversized protective basket that looks like it was designed to hold a condenser mic with a larger body. This basket assembly is suspended by elastic bands within an external ring. This ring is attached to a swivel mount, with an easy-to-grasp lever that loosens and locks the mount. When attached to a boom stand, the shockmounted mic is adjustable in any direction.

The kit comes in a foam-lined black-and-silver mic case. A black-fabric mic sock is included, embroidered with the Royer name. Unlike the more upscale Royer mics, a wooden storage case is not included. A downloadable manual with recording tips is on the Royer website, and includes an interesting tidbit: Royer''s ribbon design makes it possible to get a brighter tonality from the mic by orienting the rear of its figure-8 ribbon toward the source. In this placement, a reversal of polarity is required to keep the mic in correct phase response.

I used the R-101 at a number of recording facilities. At San Francisco''s Different Fur Studios while producing the Estamos Ensemble, I set up the mic on cellist Teresa Wong. Initially, we had used a vintage condenser mic on her instrument, but I found that the Royer conveyed a superior woody tone, as well as offered greater separation in a room with drums and electric guitar. At Broken Radio, also in S.F., Royer''s new ribbon was used to capture the ambience of this Bill Putnam–designed room. During the session for local group Corpus Callosum, the R-101 sounded overly midrangy. But with some subtractive EQ, it was usable in the mix, adding beneficial ambience to a grand piano that was about 6 feet away.

At my Guerrilla Recording studio (Oakland, Calif.), I put the R-101 through its paces. As a room mic routed through a Sytek preamp, the Royer was again weighted toward the midrange in its response, but contributed a layer of classic jazz warmth to a recording of the Jayn Pettingill Quartet. On the group''s trombonist, Rob Ewing, I achieved amazing separation by carefully orienting the figure-8 pattern with its null side toward a loud drum kit 6 feet away. The trombone''s dynamics are a challenge for any mic, and the R-101 passed with flying colors.

The mic also saw action on trombone and bass trombone as part of a brass quartet recording for composer Aaron Novik. Paired with a Grace 101 preamp, the R-101 delivered bright trombone tones and mellow tonalities that blended perfectly but never lost their presence. In addition, I tried the mic on violinist Irene Sazer during a string quartet recording for Novik''s project. The R-101 held its own again on this string session, which employed all ribbon mics, including pricey Royer and AEA models. I would characterize it as a bit bright in this context and probably more fitted for placement on viola than first violin.

I also did some comparison testing of the R-101 to other Royer mics during a rehearsal of the Club Foot Orchestra. Despite minor differences in high-end response, the two R-101s matched well enough for use as a stereo pair. At a distance of about 15 feet from the ensemble, timbre was smooth and natural, with clear highs and a tight low end.

The frequency response of the R-121 timbre was closely comparable to that of the R-101, with some differences on the upper midrange and treble ranges. Compared to a Royer SF-1, the R-101 sounded a bit thin and overly midrangy, although I have to say it had incisive presence and a more contemporary sound than the SF-1. The SF-1 embodies a flatter, classic ribbon signature, with more substantial and detailed response below 250Hz, and more airy highs.

Although priced significantly lower than Royer''s R-121, the R-101 is a quality ribbon mic characterized by a “ready to mix” signature, with ample presence and less low end than a vintage ribbon. The accessory kit upholds high-quality standards and adds value to this affordable transducer. Those who find classic ribbon mics too dull or bass-heavy as compared to condenser mics, or simply too expensive, would be well-advised to check out this newcomer.

Overall rating: (1 through 5): 4
R-101 Product Page