Royer 121 Microphones and Customer Service

Part 1: Royer customer service
Royer customer service is outstandingly outstanding. I love this company and how they approach dealing with their customers – they are top notch.

Royer R-121 ribbon microphonePart 2: The Royer 121 Microphone
The Royer 121 (or R-121 as it is technically known) is by now a famous microphone and recognizable to almost any recording studio engineer. It was released around 1999 and immediately garnered praise from almost all corners, including a glowing review from Steve Albini in 2000. He favorably compared the sound of the R-121 to the Coles 4038, a very cool ribbon microphone in its own right. Even today, the microphone continues to find praise, including this excellent writeup by Justin Colletti on his top ribbon mic choices.

I’ll share my experience with the R-121 here on a few different sources:

R-121 on electric guitar
The R-121, when compared to most condensers, sounds dark. There is not the high end sparkle here and there is a ton of energy focused in the lower mids. What this does is make most guitar amps sound incredibly beefy, fat, rump roasty…you name the meat adjective here and it is that. On clean guitars, the Royer makes them sound like pianos and has amazing depth in all of the right places. On distorted guitar, this mic gives you enough information and takes eq so well that you can cut whatever you need to out of the bottom frequencies to make the tracks sit well with the bass and drums without taking much away from the feeling of depth in the track.

The 121 is an excellent mic to use in a M/S configuration, even if one side of the figure 8 pattern is not perfectly matched with the other (the back of the mic is brighter). A simple 57 acting as the mid microphone completes the setup and gives the typical 3D depth that you’d expect from this technique, but with an outstanding low end.

R-121 pair on drums
Aside from electric guitar, recording drums with the R-121 is a very cool experience. While I’ve used them with great results as overheads on a kit, they really shine when used as a mid-room pair. Placed about belly high and pointed at the kick/snare area, they lend an amazing fatness to the recording. If compressed just a bit (or squashed with an 1176), the track begins to pump and grind with everything else beautifully. Another user on a forum reported good results with a 121 midway between the snare and kick too, though I have not tried this technique.

R-121 on vocals
Depending on the needs of the song, you may find that this is not the ideal mic for most voices, unless they are seriously lacking in low end, or have an abundance of energy in the high end. I find myself using this Royer on vocals that are double tracked, or I end up using the 121 along with a condenser to add a different texture to the low end of the track. Backing vocals can benefit from a 121 too – you can cut a lot of the low end out and have a very smooth supporting track that adds body to song, but doesn’t take away too much attention from the lead vocal.

R-121 on hand percussion
The Royer 121 shines on hand percussion, adding depth and fatness to conga and djembe tracks. There is a cool low end “breathiness” that results at times depending on the drum and technique. A stereo pair of these mics is awesome in this application.

While there are many other uses for the Royer R-121 microphone, these are some of the most common ones. It is an excellent mic with characteristics that cannot be found in lower end ribbon mics that I have used. The build quality is excellent (it is built like a tank), the components are excellent, and you have the employees at Royer who stand behind their products and can customize them (like matching two non-matched microphones). On top of that, repair time can be reduced to a few days if you ever need the mic back quickly. Finally, there is always the “first re-ribbon is free to the original owner” policy, should you ever need it.

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