It may seem like an odd pairing, reviewing two ribbons and a condenser, but the mics grouped here have more in common than one might think. The Royer R-122 MKII is a rethink of the company’s active R-122, adding a pad and roll off. The AEA N22 is another active ribbon that is voiced in a way that gives it a condenser-like personality. Both mics have hot output so it takes away the need for the extra juice you need to gain up a passive ribbon. The Lauten Audio Eden LT-386 is a tube condenser mic with Lauten’s proprietary multi-voicing technology first unveiled with the FC-387. Each mic stands on its own as a stand-up choice for a range of applications around a drum kit, guitar amp and more.
Lauten Eden LT-386
The LT-386 is a portly tube mic that ships in an impressive black metal case containing the mic fixed in a sturdy shock-mount, a power supply and 5-pin cable. The mic features a 1.23-inch dual diaphragm custom wound transformer and an EF806s vacuum tube. Controls include switches for changing the mic from Omni to Cardioid, and Figure-8 patterns, and a two-stage highpass filter that Lauten calls the Kick- and Vocal-shaper. A third, three-position switch marked F (forward), N (neutral), and G (gentle) controls the multi-voicing option—three discrete signal paths, each with a distinct personality.
As you can see in the tests we ran using our Stanford Research SR-1 audio analyzer, the voicing is most different above 2 kHz and below 20 Hz. Other tests revealed a broader low-frequency boost from 50 to 100 Hz in figure-8 pattern as compared to Omni, which because of an absence of proximity is about 6 to 8 dB lower at the bottom end of the spectrum. The point is that there are a lot of ways to voice the mic without EQ, using the pattern and F/G/N switches.
I used the mic on a male vocal in the F position to see how forward, “forward” was. However, upon clicking out the mic, I discovered it to be out of polarity. After changing mic cables, preamps and patch cables, it was determined that something in the mic itself was awry. I had two for the review, so I put up the second mic with the same results. After bringing this to Lauten’s attention, they discovered that some of their supplies in this production run had been wired out of polarity at the factory. This is by no means a deal breaker, but if you purchase a mic with this problem, contact Lauten and the company will send you a replacement the following day.
For this male vocalist, I found that F was too bright for my taste, and even N was more forward than I like in a vocal mic. An overly bright mic tends to bring out sibilance that can be difficult to deal with later on when the track is more compressed, and perhaps EQ’d to fit better in the track. For this vocalist on this day, G worked best. The mic had a very hot output, which is a good thing. It means you’re not adding a lot of gain, and noise at the preamp stage when setting the perfect level for your DAW.
Next I used the mic around a drum kit on various sessions. For every application around a kit or loud percussion, the mic called for an external pad. If I could add one feature here, it would be an integral pad because the output is very hot. When used as an outside kick mic in cardioid mode, once again the G setting was perfect. It offered plenty of low end without boom and complemented the AKG D 112 placed inside the drum. Off-axis rejection in the cardioid pattern was excellent. Another notable application was on toms. Once again cardioid pattern in Gentle mode was just perfect for this kit, and the solid rejection at the back kept the cymbals out of my tom tracks.
I used the mic on various hand percussion instruments. Brightening up the top was easy with the F switch, but for most applications I liked how the mic sounded when it was in Gentle mode. To my ears, this sounded most natural and gave me just what I was looking for. The fit and finish of the Eden LT-386 is very well done. This mic is large and heavy, but the supplied mount is up to the task. At $2,499, this mic is at the top of many budgets, but if you’re looking for a versatile tube mic that has a range of sounds, this might be your baby.
Royer R-122 MKII
Royer invented the active ribbon category, and the R-122 MKII is a new look at one of their best. The MKII has that Royer presence in the midrange and low range, plus the addition of a 15dB pad and 90Hz roll-off switch. As you’d expect from Royer, and a mic in this price range, the build is nearly military. It uses a 2.5-micron, 99.9-percent pure aluminum ribbon and a balanced, discrete amplifier using very low-noise FETs. Just like the rest of Royer’s mics, the response is a bit brighter if you turn the mic around, using the normally off-axis side as the front. Of course, this means you must flip the polarity, but that’s all you need to do if taking advantage of this positional personality trait.
I like Royer R-121s as drum overheads, and the R-122 MKII did an exemplary job in this application. A good ribbon will render cymbals naturally and even, for when you have to brighten them to compensate for the mic’s natural roll off at the top end. Although I had the switch available, I didn’t need it as the mic handled the level very well. The sound of the kit was well represented with excellent tom and snare hits, and the cymbals sounded, well, like cymbals—not overly brash or strident.
On a loud combo amp on a rock track, the pad came in very handy. It gave me the headroom I needed within the mic and sounded great. Again, on a trumpet, placed about 2 feet away from the player, the R-122 MKII was in its element. No EQ was needed, as the trumpet sounded natural alongside the trombone player, who was in the same room and miked with a Neumann U67. Both mics were gained using classic Neve 1073 preamps. The side rejection of the Royer was a benefit in keeping the bone out of the trumpet track, as most ribbons are more directional than cardioid mics, with high isolation at the sides due to the figure-8 pattern.
I never did find an application where I needed the low-end roll-off, but it was nice to know it was there. Often with a ribbon I’ll have to resort to an inexpensive in-line pad or roll-off of questionable quality. It was reassuring to know if I needed the help; it was going to sound great no matter where I set the switches.
I did use the pad on the MKII to experiment with the gain on the preamp. When using an API or SSL preamp, the sweet spot can be higher than you’d use with an active ribbon mic. In cases like these, I could switch on the pad, gas up my preamp, and still have plenty of headroom left. This also meant I wasn’t into the noisy range of the gain stage as I would be with a passive ribbon. It’s a subtle thing, and certainly a boutique feature, but that’s what sometimes makes a good recording great. All in all, the Royer R-122 MKII was as I would expect: a great-sounding ribbon built to the Nines in true Royer fashion, this time with a couple of great extras.
AEA has not been known for mics costing below $1,000; in fact, the company’s rock star A440 is priced above $5k. But with its new active N22 NUVO, AEA quality design and performance has trickled down below $900. The N22 features 141 dB of signal handling across its 2.35-inch Big Ribbon. It features a robust integral windscreen that protects the element and gives you peace of mind in near-blustery applications. There are no bells and whistles here, just a solid, active ribbon mic with plenty of output gain in a slim design that’s easy to place. It comes in a plastic, foam-lined case with the simple stand mount and mic inside.
As mentioned above, ribbon mics sound great on cymbals and percussion and the N22 did as well. In this case, the mics were placed equidistant from the snare drum, measured with a mic cable. This technique phase aligns and pockets the snare in the stereo picture. Because of the extended top, little EQ was needed. In our bench test, the mic proved fairly flat from 50 Hz to 10 kHz, which is not what you’re used to hearing in a ribbon. I put it next to a Royer R-121 on a Fender Deluxe combo amp to hear the differences, and the pair was impressively complementary. The R-121 had a more-throaty midrange, as I’d expect from a Royer, while the N22 handled the high SPL without breaking a sweat and brought out the beautiful high-midrange that make a guitar amp sing in the mix.
On hand percussion, tambourine, shakers and wind chimes, the N22 sounded natural, particularly in the top end where those instruments can build up and seem brash. The AEA sounded very good on acoustic guitar, with the bottom end pointing toward the sound hole and paired with a KM84 at the 12th fret. Normally I’ll use a U 67, 251 or something with some more low end to go against a brighter mic at the top, but the N22 performed admirably here and for a lot less $$$. On acoustic piano, the pair sounded good when paired with an AKG D19 at the third sound hole from the back. The mics were placed about a foot from the strings above the hammers, and about three feet apart.
After a while, I found myself trusting this mic across a range of applications. It sounded superb placed on a bass cabinet and as a pair of room mics for a drum kit. This kind of performance makes the N22 a no-brainer buy for a beginner or journeyman engineer who’s looking for a versatile mic that can stand alone, or work with others in the locker on a range of applications like acoustic guitar, guitar amps, upright bass and more. The only downside is that you’ll want two once you hear them in stereo. n
Kevin Becka is Mix’s technical editor.
COMPANY: Lauten Audio
PRODUCT: Eden LT-386
PROS: Versatile features. Excellent off-axis rejection in cardioid pattern.
CONS: Review mics were both wired out of polarity. No pad.
COMPANY: Royer Labs
PRODUCT: R-122 MKII
PROS: Quality pad allows for playing with a preamp’s gain personality.
CONS: Price may be out of reach for some.
PROS: Extended top end. Great sounding over a range of applications.
CONS: You’ll want two.