The Austin Ribbon Microphones Story

About Me
My name is Rick Wilkinson. I am the owner/designer of Austin Ribbon Microphones. This is the story of why I started making microphones.

For my entire childhood, I was encouraged to build things with my hands. My Dad was a Manufacturing Engineer who made cable assemblies for F-16 fighters and Atlas missiles, and my favorite Great Uncle was an Engineer for So. Cal Edison (and even worked on building the Hoover Dam when he was young!) We were fortunate enough to get an Apple II+ computer when I was in 6th grade. I learned to program in BASIC, then took it apart and upgraded the memory and floppy disk drives. A few years later, I was repairing Apple computers for my High School. My life experience as a young-adult led me towards a degree in Electronics, and during college, I got my first job at a small audio company. I was a bench-technician repairing audio amplifiers, and wiring audio systems for hotels, meeting rooms, and theaters. I gradually moved-up to Technical Service Manager, doing all the electronic repairs, helping people troubleshoot problems over the phone, writing installation procedures and repair guides for electronic products, and visiting clients at the place of installation.

I worked at a radio station for a little while, writing silly parody songs for the morning show, but my next serious job was a Customer Support Manager for a semiconductor equipment manufacturer, where I ran an international service department, and developed troubleshooting procedures and maintenance books. I also traveled regularly to Asia and Europe to deliver training workshops for our overseas repair facilities. Unfortunately, I also watched how that company’s poor decisions about cutting corners while manufacturing their products and supporting their customers led to difficulties in repeat sales and quality. I promised myself that I would not make those same mistakes.

I told you that story to tell you this: Before I started Austin Ribbon Microphones, my entire career revolved around helping people troubleshoot and repair audio circuits and electro-mechanical equipment, and then write better books and guides for those companies I worked for. (Mostly so people didn’t break the stuff when trying to assemble it or fix it!) All of this set me up perfectly for writing DIY Ribbon Microphone plans, so that other people can build my Austin Ribbon Microphone, and be successful.

Phase 1: DIY Plans
In January, 2007, I was in Austin, Texas. The namesake of my microphone design. I decided to buy a ribbon microphone from an online catalog to record a spoken-word client. While researching opinions on the “best” entry-level microphone to buy, I ran across a few primitive web-pages and early discussion groups about people modifying low-priced ribbon microphones to improve the sound.

I figured I could build a microphone for myself… if I could just find some instructions on how to do it. However, nowhere was there a complete tutorial on how to build a Ribbon Microphone from start to finish.

My life experience set me up as a Instructional Designer and Technical Trainer, so after a few hours of not finding enough information online, I decided that I would write a complete, start-to-finish instruction manual on how to build a ribbon microphone.

Within three weeks of that night, I was “Testing 1-2-3” on my first homebuilt microphone, and I photographed and wrote-down everything along the way… Even my mistakes! I recorded a few things with it, and it sounded GREAT, so I sent it out to be professionally analyzed, and the great sound was confirmed by those tests. The result was the first AUSTIN Ribbon Microphone Tutorial. A DIY “how-to” guide using common parts in uncommon ways, so that anyone can build this microphone from scratch for under $200 USD.

Many years have passed, and I have made many updates to the procedures since writing the first revision of the plans in February, 2007. There have been some great write-ups about my plans in magazines, websites and online discussion groups, and I am genuinely flattered by the attention.

Phase 2: Microphone Kits
The most common question I received about my plans was: “Do you have DIY Kits?” So, when the company I was working for abruptly downsized half of their employees in the economic crash of late 2008 (including me), I decided to combine my plans with a box of all the parts needed to build a great-looking and great-sounding microphone. I began contacting local manufacturers and ordering USA-made parts for developing DIY Kits (All parts and labor in my kits is sourced in the USA) and my first kits went on sale a few months later in early 2009.

Over the years, I have updated the plans more than a dozen times, and made several sets of videos – each improving on the previous version. I even started teaching workshops at colleges and trade schools. Helping a group of students build my microphone is another area where I am always learning. There are tips and tricks in the plans and videos, which come directly from students at my workshops. Overall, I am really having fun, and it’s my goal that everyone succeeds in building my kits.

My mission is to offer a quality, USA-Made kit, at a price nearly the same as if someone were to order all the parts online, and have them delivered. I am ordering in bulk and bagging all the parts here in San Diego, so it really does cost you just a few dollars more to order a kit, than it does to order everything yourself. I’m always trying new ideas, so if you’ve read this far, you’re probably the kind of person that might be interested in beta-testing some of my new designs. Please contact me to see what I’m designing now.

– Rick