August 2, 2007
Review by Tony SanFilippo
1.8 micron thick, 2.35" aluminum ribbon element
Built in yoke / shock suspension
Classic chrome / bakelite finish
6' Mogami attached mic cable
Soft case (slip over the mic while on a stand to protect it also)
is AEA's (Audio Engineering Associates of Pasadena CA)
first ribbon offering, which took the market by storm beginning in October 2002 at the L.A. AES show. The R84 is AEA's founder and front man Wes Dooley's reproduction of the classic RCA ribbons of the past. Wes has had years of experience restoring the classic ribbons as well, before entering manufacturing on his own.
The nice folks at AEA recently sent me an R84 for review. As you may know I have already reviewed AEA's R92 model here on StudioAuditions.com. Both mics are ribbons, the R92 being a dual voiced 'modern' design and the R84 more of a classic ribbon design.
Like the R92, the R84 if a high quality tool. Though it doesn't have a ton of high end it can be EQ'd for brightness to great effect. It's a very natural sounding mic even when EQ is applied. There's something interesting about how ribbons deal with transients. The ribbon elements are light and move fast, but don't have a lot of output. I believe this is why even though they are fast they don't have any of the harshness that many (inexpensive) condensers can have. The R84 just doesn't seem like it could distort its own output section unless the source is super loud and the mic is really close.
I used the R84 a lot on percussive sources. As a close room mic I found it a really great addition to the drum mix. I put it about 4 feet from the snare at about the height of the shell between the high hat and the rack tom. There was a couch behind the mic so there wasn't a lot of room reflection hitting the back and it was getting a nice strong, direct sound. The drummer wasn't playing very hard, but wasn't babying the drums either. The result was a very realistic thickening and presence that didn't sound like a "room" mic as much as a "whole drum-set mic."
Another great drum-set success I had with the R84 was using it as the side mic in a mid/side configuration as drum overheads. My mid mic was a Pearlman TM1 tube LDC in cardioid. I first tried a Chameleon TS2 (also reviewed here) in figure 8 for the side, but the TS2 was way too splashy for what I was looking for on this track. For the record I was working on I wanted to use the R84 for one of the electric guitars, but I decided to put up the R84 on the overhead first. I'm really glad I did! Not only do cymbals sound really nice with this mic, but using the M/S technique is really nice for playing around with the width of the image. The ride cymbal just jumps out without being overly 'noticeable" and the high hats just sound really great, though the set used was a 13" pair that are on the bright side (which I usually hate) but sound really nice on this recording.
I also cut a few percussion parts with the R84. The figure 8 pattern was really great because we got some really nice room sound as well. A couple of parts involved multiple people on the one mic. I was able to use the pattern to balance cowbell, putting it right in front of the mic while maracas were slightly to one side but the tambourine (a very present instrument) was pushed off further to the other side, just inside the null of the figure 8. Percussion tracking was where I did look forward to EQ'ing while tracking. The impact on the cowbell was great but the maracas and tambourine sounded a bit dull. Adding some top with a nice transformer balanced Aurora Audio GTQ2 brought the track to life.
I did cut some very nice guitar parts with the R84 as well. I tried it on acoustic but it wasn't doing what I wanted, but on a couple of electric parts it just sang. The stand out in my mind were the solos played with a Telecaster and Mesa SC2 amp. I tend to like mics jammed right up to the grill, but this is not advised with ribbon mics because the plosives and high SPL can destroy the ribbon [I regularly use my R84 6" away from loud cabs with no issues…worth a mention – Ed]. I was probably about 18 inches back from the amp. The sound was full and present and the ribbons darker quality helped keep the Tele bite from taking anyone's head off. The room tone coming from the back of the mic added that extra something that I just love. For rhythm guitar the R84 gave a nice presence and fullness.
The R84 comes with a yolk style stand mount and built in Mogami cable, I'm not super fond of either. Built in cables necessitate additional cables sometimes based on proximity to the snake, so I'd rather have an XLR on the body. The yolk mount's base has a rubber insert that I assume has some shock absorbing associated with it. I like this idea, but when I used the mic in the M/S pair I had the mic parallel to the floor with the sides facing out and the null (and thus the U of the yolk) facing the floor. The mic sagged toward the ground and didn't sit a stable as I would have liked. I tried it once for vocals on a pretty quick session. It didn't do what I was looking for on that track so I moved on. I didn't have another chance to try it for vocals during my test period.
Guitar work = crazy nice
Drums, percussion and cymbals delivered in full
Works well as side mic for MS configurations
Takes EQ very well
Rubber shock material allows some give when used horizontally
Attached cable (con for me anyhow)
I liked the R84 quite a bit and I'm sure it would make a nice addition to even the largest mic collections. After having the R92 and the R84 here (at different times) I think the R84 is the more versatile mic and I'd get it first and then augment the collection with the R92.
Oxide Lounge Recording/SanCastle Mastering
AEA R84 Ribbon Microphone
at Front End Audio