Field Test: AEA R84 Ribbon MicrophoneAEA's slick, retro-looking R84 ($1,000) is the newest mic in designer Wes Dooley's product line. 10/01/2003 8:00 AM Eastern
AEA's slick, retro-looking R84 ($1,000) is the newest mic indesigner Wes Dooley's product line. Sensitivity of the R84 is -52dBV/Pa, and unlike its big (and much heavier) brother, the R44, the R84exhibits an impressive frequency response that gets up to 20 kHz(±3 dB). What it does share with the R44 is a 0.185×2.35inches by 1.8-micron, pure-aluminum, low-tension ribbon capable ofhandling better than 165dB SPL above 1 kHz. The R84 comes in a durableand functional foam-lined case and includes an integral shock-mount and10-foot cable that terminates to an XLR. The mic is a svelte performerthat weighs in at less than two pounds and measures 8 inches tall and2.7 inches in diameter. The mic's weight and compact nature, along withthe fact that the shock-mount allows it to swing freely on two axes,make it a breeze to set up and tuck into relatively tight spots.
Right out of the box, the mic is a looker. At first, the heavilypadded, zippered “sock” that houses the mic seems a littleodd, but on further inspection, its usefulness becomes apparent. Itcomes with a carrying strap, a small pouch and a fasten-able loop tokeep the cable in order. The case sports blatant reminders to keepphantom power and dust as far away from the mic as possible. The micitself is solid, and its bullet-like styling garnered“oohs” and “aahs” in the studio. The screwadjustments for the shock-mount and cable attachment are of highquality and are sure to stand up to years of use.
I used the mic on a number of acoustic instruments with greatresults. First call was on a dobro overdub at 96k using a Pro Tools|HDsystem. The song was heavily layered with guitars, mandolin, fiddle andvocals, and I was wondering where the dobro would fit in the mix. Itwas immediately clear that the R84 would make my job easier. The dobrocut through the mix without EQ and sounded, for lack of a moreappropriate word, perfect.
Next, I tried the mic on a Martin acoustic guitar. This particularguitar is fitted with the Buzz Feiten tuning system and soundsfantastic. The R84 captured the Martin beautifully, rounding out thetransients and presenting a balanced track that only needed a bit ofthe low end tucked in.
The most revealing test for the mic was when I used it to record aless-than-inspiring 6-foot grand piano. I was concerned about using theinstrument because it was going to support a lead vocal with only asynth pad as a companion. The instrument was tuned just before thesession, and I placed the R84 right at the middle of the soundboard,pointing straight down at the hammers. The R84 offered the perfectcombination of frequency and transient response to tone down theinconsistencies in the piano, producing a track that was more thanusable.
Next, I had the R84 at moderately close quarters with a guitar ampat blazing levels. It was shut in a small bathroom about two feet backfrom the twin 12-inch speaker cabinet. I guessed on the best positionand then threw my hands up when I got back to the console. It soundedwonderful.
I thought the mic sounded so good on-axis that I never triedrecording using the back end of the mic, but after talking to WesDooley, I will certainly do so at the next opportunity. Dooley revealedthat the internal screen is doubled up on the off-axis side of the mic.Because of this, the rear of the mic exhibits its own particularpersonality. In addition, this protection would also be a“safer” way to use the mic for more plosive, ribbon-killingsituations like vocals.
I'm always wary of market-speak that surrounds a product of anykind, audio or otherwise. But when AEA states that the R84 produces“a pure, natural sound, just as you hear it when you're placingyour mic in the studio,” the company is absolutely right. The onecaveat is true of all ribbons: Make sure your preamp is the correctrecording companion. You'll need plenty of clean gain, especially ifyou're using the mic on quiet acoustic instruments.
At this price, you should have at least one R84 in your locker,especially if you're looking to put some life into your digital signalchain. When using even high-quality condensers with a DAW, you forgethow good things can sound and end up settling for “reallygood” instead of “excellent.” A quality ribbon likethe R84 can take a production to the next level, injecting some butterinto a margarine world.
AEA Microphones, 626/798-9128, www.wesdooley.com.
Kevin Becka is a technical editor at Mix.