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Royer Labs SF-1, March 2001

Two years ago, Royer shipped its first ribbon microphone—the R-121—and the mic became an instant hit with studio pros. At the same time, Royer began building stereo ribbon mics based on Bob Speiden's SF-12

Two years ago, Royer shipped its first ribbon microphone—the R-121—and the
mic became an instant hit with studio pros. At the same time, Royer
began building stereo ribbon mics based on Bob Speiden’s SF-12, which
has gained favor with classical and scoring engineers. Now, Royer
debuts the SF-1, a mono version of the SF-12, priced at
$1,075—exactly half the price of the stereo model.

Housed in a 1-inch diameter, 5.6-inch-long cylindrical body and
presented in a velvet-lined wood case, the matte black chrome SF-1 is
both beautiful and impeccably machined. The side address mic body
contains the SF-1’s cross-field motor assembly ribbon transducer, which includes four Neodymium magnets
and Permendur iron pole-pieces surrounding a low-mass, 1.8-micron
aluminum ribbon assembly. The SF-1’s iron case forms the magnetic
return circuit for the transducer. The polar pattern is a classic figure-8, and the mic
handles SPLs of up to 130 dB.

Using the SF-1 requires little more than opening the mic’s storage
box: There are no pads, roll-off switches, etc. It’s plug-and-go, but with
a few caveats. As with other ribbons, the mic is extremely sensitive to
air motion and can be damaged by excessive air movements, but other
than avoiding blowing into the mic, “cleaning” the ribbon
with compressed air or putting the mic inside a kick drum, the SF-1 is
rugged and durable—hardly fragile at all. Hey, I don’t drop my
U87s onto a concrete floor either!

I began testing the SF-1 as a Blumlein (coincident) pair on a
4-string dulcimer track. The mic has a fairly low sensitivity (in the
-52dBV range) and really needs a quiet, high-gain
preamp, which, in my case, was the Millennia HV-3. The gain issue is
less of a consideration with close-miked or high-SPL sources, but on
this dulcimer track, I wanted a more distant ambient sound with the
mics about six feet away. Here, the SF-1 did a remarkable job of
capturing the sound of the instrument, with plenty of zing, a smooth,
unexaggerated top end and a nice blend of the room color.

On another session, used close up on a clarinet overdub, the result
in the control room was exactly what I heard in the studio — rich
and woody, and free of any edginess caused by the upper-HF rise common
to most studio condenser mics. Interestingly, the SF-1’s same
lack of an upper presence boost that was great on clarinet led me to
choose a condenser when cutting male vocals and where I wanted that
extra boost to help the voice cut through a busy rock track. However, I
liked the SF-1 on female vocals, where the mic’s proximity effect added a nice, warm fullness to
the lower notes, with smooth mids and absolutely no brittleness in the
highs. Also, the SF-1’s pattern is extremely consistent from
front-to-back and off-axis coloration was nonexistent.

I gave the SF-1 a workout using a trick I heard from Mix
contributor Barry Rudolph. For guitar overdubs, I placed two Marshall
4¥12 cabinets facing each other with the SF-1 placed in between
them. Because the back side of a figure-8 mic is out-of-phase with the
front, I wired one of the Marshall bottoms out of phase,
and—after a little experimentation with mic-to-cabinet
distances—I wound up with a huge guitar sound; high SPLs were not
a problem.

Although the SF-1’s flat, wide response, fast transient tracking and
high-SPL handling would make it a good candidate for drums, the mic’s
inherent figure-8 pattern limits its use to tracking drum overheads
when no other instruments (loud guitars, etc.) are present. In such
cases, the SF-1—as spaced or coincident overhead pairs—offered
a nice balance of cymbals, toms and snare, requiring only a
supplemental kick mic.

Due to multiple internal reflections within piano cases, the only
way to avoid muddiness and cancellation with figure-8 mics on piano is
to remove the lid. This precludes use of the SF-1 for most live or
multi-instrument piano sessions, but for (lid-off!) overdubs or solo
piano recordings, the SF-1 offered an unhyped, natural reproduction
that matched what I heard in the room.

Overall, I loved the SF-1. Its low sensitivity does require a
high-quality/high-gain preamp, and its wide, flat, uncolored response
lacks the in-your-face presence boost common to most studio condensers
and even found in Royer’s R-121 ribbon model. However, users seeking an
accurate, transparent studio mic may want to add one (or more) SF-1 to
their mic lockers.

Royer Labs,