I had the pleasure of trying out the Royer R-121 Ribbon Microphone recently in my studio, and was extremely impressed with the results. Originally released in 1998, Royer's re-engineered their classic ribbon microphone and re-introduced it to the world. The R-121 promises to give warmth and natural sound in a lightweight and compact microphone. But would a mic this small be able to live up to its reputation and record high SPLs? I decided to put it to the test in a recording session to find out.
The R-121 is a beautiful slim silver microphone that comes in an equally impressive wood case. It has a figure-8 pattern, and its output levels are similar to a dynamic microphone. It was my first experience recording with a ribbon microphone and I was curious to hear how it would perform. To test it out, I recorded my US Standard Stratocaster through a Roland amp and listened back to the results. It's worth mentioning that in order to record with the R-121, I did need to use a special Royer Sling-Shock microphone mount to position the mic correctly.
The Royer R-121 recorded my guitar with an exacting, realistic tone. Overall, the recordings sounded well-balanced throughout all the frequency spectrums; the bass was present, the mids were detailed and the high end sounded smooth. I tested out recording the amp from very close to the amplifier and a few feet back to capture room tones. The R-121 performed extremely well in both situations; overall, the music sounded gorgeous and lively on both my distorted and clean recordings. It seemed to be a great match for my digital recording system and gave a natural, subtle analog feel to both the gritty and clean tones I recorded.
The Royer R-121 is capable of recording very high SPLs; the maximum SPL level it can handle is 135 dB at 20 Hz. I didn't come close to testing out recordings quite at that level, but did record at high levels close to 80 or 85 dB. The R-121 stood up to the test and its tolerance for recording high SPLs makes it perfect for recording loud instruments like trumpets and booming drum kits.
The R-121 has a unique design that positions the ribbon element closer to the front (logo) side of the microphone. This arrangement gives the ribbon a little more space to move within the magnetic field while it maintains the full frequency response during high SPL recordings.
Another useful feature of the R-121 is that if the mic is turned to the back, the mic sounds brighter as long as you are within three feet of your sound source. This is a useful trick that can be used when recording instruments that you'd like to capture a brighter tone on, such as vocals and acoustic guitars.
The Royer R-121 comes with a lifetime warranty, which makes me feel more comfortable about investing in it. If there's any sort of problem, it's a relief to know that Royer will take care of any issues that might arise.
Overall, the Royer R-121 is a small mic that's tough enough for high SPL and produces warm and smooth tones. It's a versatile mic that can be used in the studio, or even on the stage. It's built to last and could easily become the 'go-to' mic in any talented engineer's or producer's collection. In particular, electric guitarists will find this mic useful when recording, as it's especially well-suited to capturing the sound of this instrument. The Royer R-121 would be a great investment for anyone who is serious about capturing the best possible sound they can. Highly recommended.
Price: $1295 US
Pros: High SPL Capabilities. Captures sound with amazing accuracy. Equally sensitive from both the front or the back of the element. “Tough” ribbon reputation by handling high SPL that earlier ribbon mics were incapable of. Can be used in the studio or on the stage, and used alone or blended with other microphones. Capable of tracking electric guitar, drums, brass, percussion and other instruments. R-121 is a perfect complement to digital recording systems, delivers ribbon warmth and smoothness with a distinctly analog feel that is similar to the sound of tape machines
Cons: I could see the price tag being a draw back for many. However, quality does come at a price and it might be worth saving up for (or renting) if you'd like to experience the difference the R-121 can make in your sessions.