It might not look like a classic ribbon mic, but there’s a lot more to Extinct Audio’s BoRbon than meets the eye.
The words ‘ribbon microphone’ conjure up the titans of the mono age: the Coles 4038, BBC Marconi Type A, Melodium M42B and, perhaps most iconically, the RCA 44. But there were also many smaller, more humble designs that found their way into the hands of home recording enthusiasts and small‑time PA operators. In the UK alone, manufacturers such as Reslo, Grampian, Film Industries, Cadenza and Selmer produced countless ribbon mics of varying cost and quality.
There’s probably no‑one alive who knows more about these vintage British ribbons than Stewart Tavener of Xaudia. As well as repairing thousands of them, he’s developed a standard set of upgrades for the popular Reslo RB mics, based on an old BBC research paper. Having also accumulated a pile of spare bodies and grilles from unrepairable mics, he began to wonder whether there might be mileage in retrofitting new ribbon motors into these shells to get them going again.
Stewart already made ribbon motors as part of his other business, Extinct Audio, but Extinct’s existing BM9 microphone is a so‑called ‘long ribbon’ design, and its motor would be too large to fit into Reslos and other antique British models. Consequently, a new ‘short ribbon’ motor was developed, and this turned out to perform so well in testing that the idea of using it as the basis for a new Extinct model took root.
Although the BM9 is very competitively priced for an entirely British‑made microphone, it’s still a big investment for many home studio owners. That’s par for the course for mics made in Western or high‑wage economies, and models such as the beyerdynamic M 130, Coles 4030L, Audio‑Technica AT4080 and Rode NTR are all comparable in price. If your budget won’t stretch that far, there are impressive ‘boutique’ offerings from Hohm and Alder Audio that come in a couple of hundred cheaper, but they have to be ordered from Australia and the USA respectively. Below that, you’re looking at Chinese‑made mics, which are mostly based around one or two generic designs, and don’t always offer the same levels of quality or consistency. With their new mic, Stewart and his team at Extinct Audio wanted to see if they could find a way to rival these imports for affordability.
One of the major factors in the cost of microphones is the bodywork. Casting and finishing precisely shaped metal shells is an unavoidably expensive business. Some mic manufacturers have reduced costs by outsourcing this work overseas and keeping the more important stuff in‑house, but Extinct didn’t want to go down that route. Instead, they came up with an impressive piece of lateral thinking. They were already using a local laser‑cutting company to etch the Extinct logos into wooden boxes for the BM9. What if the microphone itself could be made from wood rather than metal?
The first prototype convinced them that the idea would work, and the result is the BoRbon, so‑called either because it’s a ‘beau ribbon’, or because it looks a bit like a Bourbon biscuit. I don’t know that you’d bite into one by mistake, but in the flesh, it certainly resembles a food item more closely than it does any other mic. The look and feel are utterly unique: in essence, the body is built up from five layers of laser‑cut ply, sandwiched between shiny plastic faceplates. Three pairs of machine screws run all the way through the body. The top two pairs...