Pianoteq Microphones – The Royer Labs SF-12 and SF-24 Ribbon Microphones

Here’s one of a number of brief guides and details about the microphones available in Pianoteq.

Last updated: 09-January-2019

Microphones in Pianoteq

Here is a picture showing the microphone types available in Pianoteq.

mics1

The Royer Labs Microphones

These are Royer Labs models SF-12 and SF-24 Ribbon Microphones that are actually two microphones in each one, aligned in a classic Blumlein configuration.

Note: You only need one of these to achieve the Blumlein configuration, unlike the R84s that need two. Keep that in mind.

See also the Blumlein description in the R84 section.

The SF-24 is a more sensitive version than the SF-12.

SF-12

Manufacturer’s description:

The SF-12 stereo coincident ribbon microphone combines high quality audio performance with outstanding stereo separation and imaging. It is a modern ribbon design with no audible diffraction effects or cavity resonance. An SF-12 is actually two matched ribbon microphones placed one above the other; each aimed 45 degrees from center in the classic Blumlein configuration. The frequency response is excellent regardless of the angle of sound striking the ribbons and off-axis coloration is negligible.

The SF-12 utilizes two 1.8-micron ribbons, each weighing approximately 1/3 milligram and producing superb transient response. The two ribbon transducers are magnet/pole piece structures that produce a wide, uniform frequency response with no substantial peaks or dips. The case is ingot iron and forms part of the magnetic return circuit, an effective system with low leakage flux which accounts for the relatively high sensitivity in a trim package. The SF-12’s extension cable comes with a Y adapter that splits into separate 3-pin male XLR connectors labeled “Upper” and “Lower,” for the upper and lower capsules of the microphone (when held vertically).

Recording

The SF-12 is uncanny for creating “you-are-there” stereo recordings that capture not only the instrument being recorded, but, depending on positioning, the acoustic environment as well. If you pay careful attention to the sound of an instrument or ensemble in the recording environment, you will likely find a place where it sounds best to you. Position the SF-12 in that place and you will capture that sound.

A beautiful example can be found in the Orchestra section of the Royer Demonstration CD. An engineer used one well-positioned SF-12 to create a stunning recording of the Ukrainian Radio Television Orchestra. (Initially, the conductor was not happy with the engineer’s desire to record with one microphone, but after hearing the results, the engineer has been invited back to record the orchestra a number of times, with the same one microphone, his SF-12.)

The SF-12 is an excellent choice for drum overheads, where its stereo imaging and realism help to create powerful, dynamic drum tracks. In a jazz setting, recording the kit flat provides extremely natural sounding cymbals, tom-toms and snares. In rock and pop recordings where you’d like to capture the meat of the kit but with more air on the cymbals to help them cut more aggressively, simply open the top end up with EQ. Ribbons take EQ extremely well because they generate virtually no self distortion. When you boost a frequency, even by many dB, you’ll bring up only the musical response you’re looking for without unpleasant distortion artifacts joining the party.

Recording in Mono 
Phase compatibility between the two sides of the SF-12 is excellent, allowing you to combine the two channels for mono recording without creating phase artifacts. This is particularly useful when capturing a wide sound field in mono; for instance, a singer who tends to move off the “sweet spot” of a mono microphone. Either side of the SF-12 can also be used individually as a mono microphone.

SF-12-300

SF-24

Manufacturer’s description:

The SF-24 stereo ribbon microphone is a phantom powered version of our popular SF-12 stereo ribbon microphone. It combines the SF-12’s high-quality audio performance, outstanding stereo separation and imaging with our exclusive active electronics system for ribbon microphones. The SF-24’s output of -38 dB is a full 14 dB more sensitive than our non-powered SF-12, putting its sensitivity on par with that of phantom powered condenser microphones. The unique electronics and custom designed FET’s used in the SF-24 allows for ultra-quiet operation, with self-noise of lower than 18 dB.

Like an SF-12, the SF-24 is actually two matched ribbon microphones placed one above the other in a coincident pair, each aimed 45 degrees from center in the classic Blumlein configuration. The magnet/pole piece structure of each ribbon transducer delivers a wide, uniform frequency response with no substantial peaks or dips, and the 1.8-micron ribbons produce superb transient response. Frequency response is excellent regardless of the angle of sound striking the ribbons and off-axis coloration is negligible.

The SF-24’s extension cable comes with a Y adapter that splits into separate 3-pin male XLR connectors labeled “Upper” and “Lower” for the upper and lower capsules of the microphone (when held vertically).

Gain 
Our active ribbon™ mics (SF-24 and R-122) are as sensitive as phantom powered condenser microphones, allowing you to use virtually any mic preamplifier or board pre. Conventional ribbon microphones are 15 to 30 dB less sensitive than condenser mics, necessitating the use of high-quality, high-gain microphone preamplifiers when recording softer sound sources like acoustic instruments, vocals and room ambiance. The SF-24 contains two fully balanced, discrete head amplifier systems utilizing specially wound toroidal transformers and ultra-low noise FET’s, each delivering a sensitivity of -38 dB. This lets you mate an SF-24 to any preamplifier with average gain characteristics. Even with quiet sound sources, you’ll have enough level to drive any recording medium.

It is important to note that the SF-24’s higher sensitivity does not create additional self-noise. All of the SF-24’s increased level comes from its large, specially wound toroidal transformers – that wonderful thing called “free gain.” The level at the each of the transformers is actually hotter than what comes out of the microphone. The phantom powered system operates at less than unity, adding no noise of its own. This system took years to develop and is in patent pending status.

Impedance Matching
The electronics in the SF-24 provide a perfect load to the ribbon elements at all times, allowing the microphone to deliver 100% of its full sonic potential regardless of the input characteristics of the following mic-pre. Due to its low-impedance output, SF-24’s can also be used on extremely long cable runs with a minimal signal loss.

A good impedance match is critical to ribbon microphones. Impedance mismatching loads a ribbon improperly, resulting in loss of low end, diminished body, lowered sensitivity and an overall compromised performance. With our Active Series ribbon mics, the ribbon element sees a perfect impedance at all times, regardless of the preamp you use, so its performance will never be compromised by the effects of improper loading. In addition, the ribbon element cannot be damaged by phantom power, electrical glitches or miswired cables.

Recording

Like the SF-12, the SF-24 is uncanny for creating “you-are-there” stereo recordings that capture not only the instrument(s) being recorded but, depending on how the microphone is positioned, varying degrees of the acoustical space. In addition, the increased sensitivity and impedance matching circuitry allows for more consistent results in a variety of recording situations and with a wider selection of mic pre’s.

For mono recording, phase compatibility between the two sides of the SF-24 is excellent. This allows you to combine the two channels perfectly in mono without creating undesirable phase artifacts. This is particularly useful when capturing a wide sound field in mono; for instance, a singer who tends to move off the “sweet spot” of a mono microphone. Either side of the SF-24 can also be used individually as a mono microphone.

The SF-24 excels on classical piano, drum overheads, ensemble and orchestral recordings, a wide variety of percussion instruments, virtually all acoustic instruments, small vocal ensembles, large choirs, etc.

Recording in Mono 
Phase compatibility between the two sides of the SF-24 is excellent, allowing you to combine the two channels for mono recording without creating phase artifacts. This is particularly useful when capturing a wide sound field in mono; for instance, a singer who tends to move off the “sweet spot” of a mono microphone. Either side of the SF-24 can also be used individually as a mono microphone.

SF-241

Usage

Nils Frahm uses ribbon microphones as does Olafur Arnalds. Hans Zimmer uses SF-12 microphones.

More Information

The SF-24 is the active version of the SF-12 stereo ribbon microphone. It’s 14dB more sensitive and the custom-designed FET electronics have self-noise lower than 18dB. The SF-24 consists of two matched ribbon microphones placed one above the other in a coincident pair, each aimed 45 degrees from center in the classic Blumlein configuration.

The SF-12 and SF-24 are equally well regarded as drum overhead mics for their clarity, fine detail and crisp imaging. However, the SF-24 is preferred for acoustic guitar, piano and percussion due to its sensitivity and higher output.

Recording in Pianoteq

Since the SF-12 and SF-24 consist of two microphones in each, aimed in the Blumlein configuration, some experimentation is needed, but generally placing them close to both the soundboard and strings of an open face on grands or uprights, will be best. SF-24 being preferred for piano, I would use this one first in any configuration test.

Recording Techniques

Sound on Sound has a good article about how to record a piano and this applies to Pianoteq also.