(May 2007)Reelsound bought a pair of R84 ribbons after reading
some great reviews but I realised immediately that they needed
a good preamp with a lot of gain to use them effectively. I
eventually settled on a Focusrite ISA 428 which has a lot of
quiet, clean gain and which immediately brought the mics to
life. As an aside the first Focusrite I received was part of
a faulty batch (They are now made in China like everything else)
and it was returned to Studiocare
in Liverpool where I bought the unit. Unfortunately the replacement
was part of the same batch and that one failed halfway through
its first session. Studiocare were brilliant throughout and
replaced this with another brand new unit which has performed
perfectly over the past few months and I have grown to really
like this pre amp. It is really versatile and flexible with
instrument and line ins as well as the mic inputs and it really
brings a class sound to some of the mics we have. Recommended..
In practice using them with the mobile for the first time I
found it quite difficult setting up the R84s because they are
large heavy mics and prove quite difficult to set up as a coincident
pair though this is of course no fault of their own and infact
AEA make a stereo version of the mic, the R88, specifically
for this purpose. The first time I tried them with the mobile
was with a small Brass Band in Salisbury and infact I ended
up setting the mics up side by side in an ORTF-pattern directly
underneath the Soundfield mic to compare the two.Initially I
was shocked at the difference between the two mic set ups as
the Ribbon mics had a completely different frequency response
to the Soundfield and I was really surprised by the sound of
the AEAs and disappointed at their lack of brightness but back
in the studio when I could hear them more clearly on my Rogers
LS/35As then I began to hear where I would use the AEAs to their
strengths. What at first seemed a disappointing lack of top
end proved not to be a great problem as the mics take EQ very
well and with a little judicious EQ I had a very smooth and
pleasant stereo picture of the band without any of the harshness
of the cymbals from the percussionist.
So far I have only tried the mics out as a stereo pair on this
one mobile recording but I am looking forward to a string session
that is coming up and I have recently bought a 3 metre lighting
stand which I have adapted to make the stereo use of the mics
easier. I realised that I wasn't really using the R84s
to their strengths so I persuaded John Spence to take them and
try them in the studio ( He didn’t need a lot of persuading
it has to be said) JR
(September 2007)I’ve had the opportunity
over the last 3 months or so to try these mics extensively during
sessions at Fairview Studio with differing degrees of success.
By success I mean recording a sound that has character and quality
and which retains it’s tonal integrity throughout the
recording and overdubbing processes, yet has enough in its frequency
and spatial content to be manipulated at the mixing stage.
All too often an instrument which sounded great on its own with
the just the basic backtrack can slowly disappear as more overdubs
are added and when it comes to mixing you begin to wish for
a bit more depth, tone and reality in the sound.
part of the quality of a microphone is judged by its physical
appearance then this is a big plus in favour of the AEAs. They
never fail to impress clients when I whip off the cute little
pyjama cases that come with them. The first question is usually
“how old are they?”. Good looking mics!
mics need a fair amount of gain at the pre-amp stage but I’ve
had no problems using them with a Focusrite ISA 428 and a TLA
Valve mic pre-amp. On loud sound sources such as drums there
is also plenty of gain to be had from the studio Soundcraft
2400 desk mic amps. Having said that they are not the quietest
mics for use on low level signals so care and judgement is needed
at the recording stage.
If it’s accuracy of reproduction you’re after for
a recording then it may be time to reach for something else,
but if you are looking for some character and individuality
in a sound then the AEAs can certainly bring something to the
party. You only have to look at the frequency response curve
in the accompanying paperwork to realise that the sound will
be coloured. The question will always be “is that colouration
worth having” and of course in some cases it is and in
others it isn’t!
I really like about these mics is the mid-range detail. They
clearly have an accentuated low frequency response (from the
specified 20hz through to around 1Khz) which can be quite “lumpy”
if not treated carefully with some kind of attenuation, and
the high end begins to roll off from around 2.5Khz but in a
very smooth and controlled way. Fairview’s main monitors-JBL
4350s- are spec’d down to 30hz so you can actually hear
all that bottom end and deal with it accordingly. Of course
the low end boost is greatly affected by positioning and I’ve
found that experimentation is the key. I think the advantages
of using ribbon mics generally are probably that, given a good
high-pass filter and the mics natural HF roll off, they leave
that all-important mid-range exposed but with enough solidity
to be EQ’d to sit comfortably into a mix. Of course there
is more to this.
would never judge a microphone by its published technical specification
or indeed price tag but understanding its characteristics is
valuable ammunition to anybody using it on a recording.
Given that these mics have a “figure of eight” pickup
pattern with the negative (or generally rearward side) having
a slightly increased HF response, then managing the recording
environment becomes increasingly important. Obviously the distance
from the sound source will determine the ratio of direct sound
to reflected sound greatly, the advantage being that the reflected
pickup is of good quality and in a nice sounding room can provide
natural space which helps sit instruments or voices into a mix.
So it’s back to experimentation.
have recorded vocals with the R84s and positioned the singer
about a foot in front of the mic and put up a screen with a
blanket over it about 3-4 feet behind the mic to lessen the
room “boxiness” effect.
Again careful use of a high-pass filter is needed but I tend
to err on the side of caution working on the basis that I can
filter out more low end at the mix if required. It’s much
harder to put back in later!
I recently used them on all the guitar recordings of an album
by Breathing Space. The guitarist didn’t vary his sound
too much from song to song but I was able to find a distinct
character for each overdub by repositioning the microphone relative
to his amp. Also I recorded his Babitz acoustic guitar using
an R84 and the real test is that throughout a 6 minute song
that starts with solo acoustic guitar and builds to a climax
which has drums, bass, double-tracked distorted guitars, Hammond
organ, strings, four vocals and assorted sound f/x you can always
hear the original acoustic guitar part in there without it being
unnaturally loud in the mix. This track will appear on the site
shortly. Also for vocal recording check out Anya
Thomson’s session on this site.
2008) With all the interest in ribbon mics over the past couple
of years we eventually got hold of a pair of AEA ribbons for
the studio to complement our range of quality condensers and
to see what all the fuss was about. I’ve used them now
on a variety of different instruments, vocals and on different
sessions and I have to say I have become a massive fan. I’m
currently 7 weeks into an album session with the band Mostly
and this has given me the opportunity to experiment and compare
the ribbons against our favourite studio mics.
Mostly Autumn’s music ranges from acoustic tracks with
guitars, pipes, whistles, bodrahn and assorted percussion to
songs featuring drums, bass, guitars, keyboards, Hammond C3,
stacked vocals and the kitchen sink!. Recording all this stuff
is easy but balancing and mixing it is somewhat trickier and
you have to take special care when laying tracks not to get
a build-up of frequencies in the same sonic area.
The AEA ribbon mics have been invaluable in this respect and
you can accurately tune what high-end there is by tilting the
mic in the vertical plane aginst the sound source. I’ve
regularly put up an AEA ribbon, a Neumann U47 and a Neumann
U87 to compare and many times chosen the AEA based on its perceived
warmth and lack of “peakiness”.
On some instruments the ribbons are stunning and acoustic guitars,
flute, Uilleann pipes and tin whistles all benefit from the
beautiful smooth top end that the mics impart.
Pipes and whistles on the session were played by Troy Donockley,
(Iona, Barbara Dickson, Maddy Prior) and whilst Troy is an excellent
player I’ve always had problems dealing with the very
bright, peaky sound of the instruments, trying to control certain
frequencies without over-using compression. Positioned about
two feet away from the pipes and directly in front of the seated
player the sound was wonderfully smooth and rich. Running the
mics through a Focusrite isa428 pre and and into a very old
Audio Design compressor the sound was totally sorted. Against
this setup the U87 sounded thin and reedy and the U47 was only
a little better than that. No contest really.
The only other action I took was to drape a heavy blanket between
two mic stands about three feet behind the microphone to deaden
the back side slightly and eventually I took the Neumanns down
after listening to the whistles in order to get Troy nearer
to the ribbon mic.
With minimal compression and recorded direct to the Radar system
with no eq at all these overdubs sound stunningly real and people
who visit the session are being very complimentary about the
monitor mixes they are hearing.
But before we get carried away and to illustrate the point we
make about there being no “perfect” mic for everything
let me tell you that I used an AEA ribbon on Mostly Autumn’s
female singer Heather Findlay and it sounded fantastic. Loads
of real mid-range body and just enough presence in exactly the
right area. The same mic used on the male singer, Bryan Josh
did him no favours at all and I ended up using a cheap Joe Meek
condenser costing a tenth of the AEA and it sounded wonderful!.
If I have to try and sum up my experiences with the AEA ribbon
mics based on extensive usage over the last year or so and my
instinct right now is this.
If someone said “you can choose three mics to
make an album with-what are they?” then an AEA ribbon
would definitely be in there!
One of the others would probably be a ’57 and I’m
not at all sure what the third would be but I’m working