Beyer M500. A.K.A. Why does my microphone sound like a kazoo?

OK, this might be a little bit controversial: the M500 is my least favourite ribbon microphone from Beyerdynamic. This is for a number of reasons. I’ll list them.

  1. The transformer rolls off a lot of bass. More so than an M260.80.
  2. The grill has a dense cloth screen which also reduces the bass response.
  3. The internal baffle has a plastic plate in front of the ribbon which robs yet more bass and causes other problems, as I will explain in a moment.
Beyer M500 and a Kazoo. Can you tell the difference?

These three points are all intentional parts of the design. The M500 was intended as a vocal microphone and designed to be used at point blank range. The severe bass cut compensates for the proximity of the ribbon, and the extra screening and baffle protect the ribbon from plosives and other blasts of air. So to some extent you have to take your hat off to Beyer and say ‘chapeau‘ for making a ribbon that can compete with an SM58.

But that’s my point really. Ribbon mics naturally have a big rich proximity effect, which is one of the things that we love about them.  In the M500 a lot of work has gone into removing that sound. To my mind, the M500 is good for one job only (close up vocals), and there are other microphones that do that job better. If you like to chew your microphone then you might as well use an SM58 (or better still a Beta 58), and use a ribbon for those places where it excels. 

These microphones are no longer made but change hands on eBay and Reverb at inflated prices. I think the biggest issue with them is expectations. Some buyers expect them to sound close to, say, an M260, and are disappointed when they don’t. In particular they sound very thin when used on instruments at a normal recording distance. At Xaudia we often get asked to modify these mics to have more bass and have more of a classic ribbon sound.

The motor and ribbon are more or less the same between the two mics, but everything else is different.  It is possible to get a better bass response from the M500 by swapping out the transformer for a full range model*, which helps a lot. But the mic can still sound odd because of what is in front of the ribbon.

So let’s get back to that baffle that I mentioned in item number 3. Here at Xaudia we call this the ‘Kazoo Flap‘. Let’s take a look at it.

The M500 “Kazoo Flap”. This bit of perspex causes trouble.

You can see that there is a flat piece of clear plastic in front of the ribbon. The problem here is that is can vibrate and come loose over time. I often see these come unstuck at one end and it can vibrate like the reed on a clarinet or saxaophone. It sounds like a kazoo solo has been added to every recording!

Luckily it easy to fix. The baffle can be re-glued or removed completely. I often do the latter and replace it with some fresh acoustic fabric and steel mesh. 

M500 baffle modifications.

Swapping the transformers and the baffle gets the M500 as close to an M260 as it can be. The grill construction and the acoustic chamber behind the ribbon are different between the two microphones so they can never be quite the same, but the changes improve the bass response by huge amount and, to my ears, make it sound like a proper ribbon microphone.

Beyer M500 – designed for close up use on vocals.


* We make a suitable full range transformer that will fit inside an M500.

Swapping the motor in Beyer ribbon microphone.

Beyer sell replacement motors which allow repair of some of their microphones although the cost in the uk is rather high. Swapping the motor is a bit fiddly but can be done with patience and care. This is more or less how I do it, although the models do vary a bit and you may need to improvise.

Beyer M160 motor with rounded edges (left).

First note that Beyer motors may have round or square edges at the rear of the magnets. For many microphones this won’t matter, but the M160 grill will only accept motors with rounded magnets. In the picture above it looks rather crude like it was rasped down with a file! It is probably possible to make a square edged motor fit an M160 but the magnetic filings would surely wreck the ribbon,

Also worth mentioning is that Beyer M160 and 130 have two ribbons whereas M260s have a single ribbon.

To exchange the motor, first one needs to remove the socket and unsolder the connector and transformer.  The socket may be glued, screwed and/or pinned in place. Remove the screws or pin. If the socket does not slide out then it is glued and will need heating until the glue fails. Do this at your own risk! 

Then unsolder the socket, remove any rubber grommets and unsolder and remove the transformer.

Beyer M260 with socket and transformer removed

The next job is to pull the motor through the acoustic labyrinth but keep in mind that you will need to reverse the process in a few minutes. I usually solder an extra piece of wire into the end of the motor leads which will let me pull the new motor wires back into place.

Remember to solder on a guide wire before you remove the motor

Once this is done you can pull the motor out and then unsolder, leaving the new wire in place.

Pull the motor and guide wire through the body

Unsolder the old motor and then reverse the process. Solder the new motor wires onto the guide wire, pull through the labyrinth and then unsolder. That parts is easier said than done because you are pulling some stiff wires around a bend that you can’t see. Reattach the transformer and socket. 

The only job left to do is to check the polarity of everything. Beyer do not always colour code their wires so you have to guess. Compare the microphone to a good modern mic. If your repaired Beyer is out of phase then simply reverse the wires at the XLR or din plug.

As a final warning, I have found that Beyerdynamic parts vary a lot and they do love to glue stuff together – why spend money on a screw or two when a tube of glue will do?  Be prepared for a certain amount of frustration and keep the swear-box to hand.

Beyer M30 – a super-rare early ribbon microphone

To the best of my knowledge, this M30 is the earliest production model Beyer ribbon microphone. (Do please send me a message if you know of an earlier one). Here it is pictured with a modern M160 for scale.

This microphone came in for repair with most of the original piston ribbon in place. The first thing that leaps out is that, from the outset, Beyer went in their own direction for corrugating the ribbon. 

I have heard a couple of suggestions about why this may be. Pistonic ribbons are in theory more efficient as the ribbon moves through the magnetic flux in a flat manner although my own measurements suggest that it only gives a couple of dB at best. Perhaps the most convincing one was Wes Dooley’s suggestion that they were circumventing RCA patents for the more common wiggly ribbons. 

The magnetic circuit itself is a work of art, bringing the field from the large block magnet to the sides of the ribbon through four arms. The body of the microphone is chromed brass with one of the most substantial grills that I have ever seen. And the output transformer is a large toroidal type similar to those found in the earliest Oktava microphones and also old Siemens M201 ribbon mics.

I have talked to a lot of customers about this subject and there is a roughly equal split on which type of ribbon sounds ‘better’, with some preferring RCA style and others insisting that pistonic is best. The reader can make their own mind up about that! However, from a technical perspective, I have the equipment to make the wiggly ribbons but not the pistons. 

From a historical perpective, it was nice to see the old ribbon. But it was somewhat damaged, a little corroded and stuck to the side of the motor. I took lots of photos and asked Marco, the owner, if he wanted a museum piece or a working microphone. It can be hard to make these decisions but we went ahead and repaired the microphone, which sounds rather lovely with a new ribbon in place.

Marco kindly shared a recording he made with the M30. The microphone was positioned around 40-50 cm from the singer, and the band performed in a ‘small shack’ of about 4,5 x 3,5 m.  There is naturally some spill from other instruments in the M30 but it gives a good indication of how well an old ribbon microphone like this can perform. 
Listen to “Old Devil Moon” by Binky All Stars

Thanks to Marco at Vintage Microphone World for sharing his insight, microphones and recordings. His book ‘Witnesses of Words‘ is well worth checking out.

Update 31 July 2022

Thanks to Raphael and Carsten at Echoschall in Germany for sharing this page from an old Beyer catalog. The page shows that the M30 was priced at 700 Deutschmarks which was a lot of money at the time. There was also an M31, which I have never seen. The term “Geschwindigkeitsmikrofon” translates as “velocity microphone“.

Inside a Beyer M130

Here is the motor from inside a Beyer M130 figure-8 microphone.

The mic has two ribbons, similar to the M160, and the metal spiral acts as a magnetic return path.

Is the MB301 Cardioid ribbon microphone a Beyer in disguise?

I recently had the opportunity to service a pair of MB301 cardioid ribbon microphones. I had always understood these to be rebranded Beyer M260s with a custom grill, but this is not the case.

The MB301 does use a Beyer pistonic ribbon, but the motor is completely different. The Beyer M260 uses four glued rectangular magnets to make the motor,  but the MB301 employs a single large cast ferrous horseshoe magnet. In this respect it looks more like an RCA BK5 or Oktava ML19.

MB301 (left) and Beyer M260 (right)

I think it more likely that the magnet is taken from the Beyer M320 / M360 models, with different pole pieces, although I have not had the chance to compare these on the bench at the same time. Either way, the MB301 is a microphone in its own right, and not a copy of something else.

Despite the ugly oversized grill, they sound pretty good with plenty of top end and bass, and the big magnets give a stronger output signal than the early M260s.

The world’s smallest ribbon mic?

Is this the world’s smallest ribbon microphone mechanism?

The Beyer M560n(c) has a motor measuring just 33 mm long and 10 mm deep, which fits into the mouthpiece of a headset.

The tiny transformer is mounted at the other end of the microphone. The mic is clearly designed for close speech and the transformer has a very low inductance (35 µH at 1 kHz), which gives a bass roll off to compensate proximity effect.

Despite its small size, it was not much more difficult to repair than some other Beyer mics. Here is the motor with a new ribbon, ready to go again….

If you know of a smaller ribbon motor, then get in touch!

What’s inside a Beyerdynamic M260?

This is what happens when one dissects a couple of Beyerdynamic ribbon mics: bodies, grills, motors, transformers, XLR or DIN output connectors. Nothing surprising there….

But what are those grey plastic tubes?

These are in fact acoustic chambers that provide back pressure to the ribbon, changing it from its natural figure-8 pattern towards being hyper-cardioid. It is also critical to the microphone’s sound – if you make an M260 without one, it sounds pretty awful.
There is one more important ingredient to the mic, and that is a piece of string. This is stuffed into the chamber to break up internal reflections. Sometimes simple works!

Inside the Beyer M360 (again) …

Beyer M360 cardioid ribbon mic
Back in May I posted about the Beyer M320 and M360 directional ribbon mics and mentioned that they used acoustic labyrinths to provide damping to the ribbon, adding omnidirectional character to the ribbon’s native figure-8 pattern, to give, hopefully, an overall cardioid behaviour.
Since then I have had the opportunity to peek deeper inside the M360, and below is a picture showing the labyrinth. It is not a great photo as the shiny varnish on the top confused my autofocus, but we can see what is going on.
Beyer M360 labyrinth (left) and motor.

The magnet assembly is larger than the standard Beyer motor, in order to accommodate a smooth curved cavity at the rear of the ribbon. This tube curves through 90 degrees and out through a hole in the aluminium base plate. This connects to the inlet of the acoustic chamber, which consists of 25 interconnected tubes that go up and down through the block. There does not appear to be any kind of outlet at the far end, and the tubes are stuffed with string to damp internal reflections.

The mic is really directional, with relatively little pickup from the rear of the ribbon. The back pressure from the sealed rear chamber also has the consequence of making the output brighter and lower than it would otherwise be. These are really very bright sounding for ribbon mics.

SJT 31 July 2013

M320 and M360: Beyerdynamic’s ugly ducklings

We have TWO microphones-of-the-month for May. Both are cardioid ribbon microphones from Beyerdynamic. We see a lot of M260 models, but the M320 and M360 are bigger, uglier and much less common too.

Beyer M320. Do not stick it in your kick drum!

The M320 makes good use of plastic for the body, and has all the style of a brick! A Beyer catalogue* from 1965 called it a “heavy-duty dynamic type for show business use”, and the switch allows the use to select ‘music’ or ‘speech’ settings, the latter giving a bass attenuation of 12dB at 50Hz.  Because of its appearance and a vague resemblance to the AKG D12, it is tempting to thing that this is designed for inside a bass drum. It is not.

The M320 has the same motor that is found in the M260, but is connected to a large rectangular chamber below the mic via a tube. I have not been brave / stupid enough to cut open the chamber to see what is going on inside, but one assumes a series of interconnected tubes forming an acoustic labyrinth.

Beyer M320 inside

Although the M320 is called ‘heavy duty’, the M360 is much more sturdy, with a metal housing and grill. The catalog calls it a “dynamic unidirectional studio microphone with ultra-modern styling“. Again, it is as elegant as a 1980s Volvo, but at least form follows function in these mics!

Beyer M360. Ultra-modern?

… or just ugly?

The M360 is slightly larger and like the M320 it also has an acoustic chamber below the ribbon motor. I was fully expecting to see the same motor in this mic as is found in the other Beyerdynamic ribbon microphones of the same era, so was suprised to find something quite different. Rather than being assembled from four small magnets glued together, the M260 has a larger cast magnet with two copper coloured pole pieces which may also be a magnetic alloy.

Beyer M360 motor

Although the motor is wider and deeper, it still accommodates the same size of ribbon. And the magnetic field measures around 5000 Gauss, which is similar to a ‘normal’ healthy Beyerdynamic motor. So I am really not sure why this uses a different motor. Perhaps it was an early production run. The transformer and switch (on/off) are housed below the acoustic chamber below the microphone.

In the photo above, the ribbon is fully corrugated, but another specimen (below) had a standard Beyer ribbon, which seems more likely to be the original.

Both mics sound good when working properly, with a cardioid pickup, a relatively flat response and a bit less proximity effect than you would find in a figure-8 ribbon. They use the typical tiny Beyer transformers, which in the case of the M60 at least is wound for a full range response.

*Here is the full Beyerdynamic catalog from 1965, at the excellent Coutant website.

Straightening a dented mic grill

Here’s a rather deformed grill from a Beyer ribbon mic…

And here’s how we straighten it using a doming block….

Simply pick the nearest radius curve from the block, and push out the dents with a suitable doming ball….

Voila! The end result…


Beyer ribbon microphone transformer

This transformer came out of a faulty Beyerdynamic M260.

Beyerdynamic M260 transformer

The mic was giving no output, but the ribbon was OK. The problem turned out to be a short in the primary winding, which gave an excuse to take a peek inside.

I was surprised how roughly the primary coil is wound – it really looks like it has been done by hand. Perhaps it is to minimise parasitic capacitance, although that is not usually such a big problem with low impedance windings as they only have a few turns.

In this case the short was located and the original transformer was repaired, but that is not always possible, and sometimes a rewind or replacement is required.

Some of the Beyerdynamic  ribbon mics, such as the M500 and some models of M260 have a ‘built in’ high pass filter. This is done by manipulating the transformer inductance, allowing some of the bass frequencies to pass to ground. Some people like this, but others (including myself) prefer a full frequency response.

Xaudia B-series (top) and Beyer transformer (below)

Xaudia now produce replacement full-range transformers for repair or upgrade of Beyer and B&O mics. The B-series transformers use a larger core than the originals, but still fit neatly inside the mic. They can be supplied in any desired ratio, and have lower DCR specs than the originals, which gives better noise performance too.