(click thumbnail)AEA R92 Ribbon Microphone Anyone who has heard of AEA knows that they have long been a leader in the world of ribbon mics. I bought one of my first ribbons (a Coles 4038) from them back in ’95 and have since watched them develop into one of the world’s top premium microphone manufacturers. The relatively new R92 expands the sonic possibilities of ribbon mics. Compared to its older brother the R84, it has a further extended high end response, less proximity bass boost and excellent wind blast protection.
The R92 ”Big Ribbon” Microphone is designed for close-miking amplifiers, instruments and vocals. It is optimized for distances of 6 – 12 inches from the sound source and has an extended high frequency response and reduced bass proximity effect compared to other ribbon mics.
The mic is a pressure-gradient bidirectional (figure 8) ribbon microphone. The 1.8 micron thick aluminum ribbon is 4.7 mm wide and 59.7 mm long. The mic’s sensitivity is greater than -55 dBV/Pa and it can handle SPL peaks greater than 135 dB. The mic’s frequency response is 20 Hz – 18 kHz (±3dB) and it has an output impedance of 270 ohms.
The nature of the R92’s design causes the microphone’s front and rear pickup lobes to be slightly different sonically. The front lobe is the “crisp” side. It offers clean and realistic high end detail. The rear lobe is the “smooth” side. It has more of the classic ribbon high end rolloff that handles harsh transients in a distinguished and pleasing way. The R92 has a solid bass reproduction and it extends to the lowest audible bass frequencies. The mic’s design includes an elastic shockmount, which provides excellent isolation, flexibility of mic positioning. The mic I reviewed had a polished anodized finish that has since been replaced by an anodized gray and black matte-finished aluminum. I just got my hands on an R92 with the new finish and it looks truly stellar. You’ll never want to put it away. The mic ships with a two-meter cable that terminates into a male XLR connector and a foam-lined durable plastic carrying case. The mic has a one year parts and labor limited warranty.
My first opportunity to use the R92 was while tracking a Tracy Silverman album at Nashville’s Ocean Way studio. I put the mic to work on Flecktone Jeff Coffin who played sax on the project. The mic immediately sounded wonderful and except for some slight compression, required no processing. I used it to record baritone, alto and tenor saxophones and in each instance had good results. The mic has a smooth treble and solid bass response and it accurately reproduces the transients.
I always enjoy using ribbon mics to capture drum ambience and the R92 is no exception. It does a wonderful job in this situation. In addition to my normal room mic placement (about 10 – 12 feet from the kit) I experimented with placing the mic closer to the kit (about 4 feet away) but positioning it where instead of pointing toward the kit, having the kit in the mic’s null plane. This along with a few decibels of Distressor Nuke created a wonderful sounding ambient space. I also had good results using the mic to record various percussion instruments including shakers and tambourines. I love having the sonic differences between the front and rear lobes. It is almost like having two different microphones in one. I preferred the sound of the front lobe on the shaker but the rear lobe on the tambourine.
Probably more than any other ribbon mic that I’ve experienced, the R92 shines on vocals. The mic is clear and warm and while I found that I always needed to add a bit of top end, the mic takes EQ better than most dynamic or condenser mics. By this I mean that there aren’t any of the phasey artifacts that I often encounter when applying radical equalization to some mics. Even though the mic has a good built-in pop filter I found that when recording vocals I still needed an additional pop filter. When recording vocals, acoustic guitar or any other potentially low volume sound source the R92 (like every other non-active ribbon mic) has a relatively low output. To be used effectively, I found that it needs to be matched with a high impedance, low noise mic preamp that has at least 60 dB of somewhat clean gain.
Studio, broadcast, post production
Figure 8 pattern; ribbon element; internal pop filter; swivel shockmount
Audio Engineering Associates, 626-798-9128
Ribbon mics shine on electric guitars and the R92 is no exception. While the mic can’t take as much gain as a Royer Labs ribbon it is still leaps and bounds beyond the old Coles 4038. The mic doesn’t have as much beef as the Royer either (which is probably a result of not being able to place it as close to the speaker cabinet) but it has a wonderful warm sound that works well with virtually any electric guitar tone.
The AEA R92 is a wonderful microphone. I’ve been a huge fan of ribbon mics for well over a decade but if anyone ever told me that a ribbon could capture high frequencies the way the R92 captures high frequencies, I would have called them a liar. Before now a frequency response that extends up to 19 kHz was unheard of in a ribbon mic but the R92 has changed that. Its top end is wonderfully pristine. You truly have to hear it to believe it. While $900 is not cheap it certainly is well within the reach of most studios and in this case it is worth every penny.
Nashville-based Russ Long has been a producer, engineer and studio owner since the late 1980s. His credits include the hits “Kiss Me” and “There She Goes” by Sixpence None The Richer, albums by Wilco, Newsboys, Third Day, Over the Rhine, Dolly Parton and DC Talk and songs from the soundtracks to motion pictures such as Girl Interrupted, Here On Earth, Jonah, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, The Second Chance and She’s All That.
Apple Macintosh 2 GHz Dual Processor G5 w/2 GB RAM; Digidesign Pro Tools 7.1; Lucid Gen-X-96 clock; PMC AML-1 monitors.