I’ve been REALLY excited to post about our newest purchase….the AEA R88 stereo ribbon microphone! *trumpet fanfare*
A few months back, Travis Atkinson of AEA held a mic demo at SmithLee Productions in St. Louis (arranged by Gary Copeland of South-Fi). It was attended by a group of our engineer friends around St. Louis. Travis brought the entire AEA mic family along with some preampes including the new RPQ 500. We had tons of fun micing drums, piano, bass, and vocals with nothing but AEA ribbons, most of which were on AEA preamps.
As soon as we mic’d up the piano with the R88, I knew it had to be mine. It’s like that scene in Wayne’s World where he drives by the Fender Strat in the music store.
“She will be mine….oh yes….she WILL be mine.”
Now, I’ve mic’d our Steinway M at SmithLee COUNTLESS times. I’ve tried every combination of microphone and position one could think of, but I’ve NEVER heard our piano sound this great until the R88 came along. I played the recordings for David Smith (owner of SmithLee) who has owned the piano for well over 30 years. He said it sounded like a new instrument – and he knows that piano better than anyone. It finally came to life. It was clear and present without that harsh 5-7kHz area that can sometimes sound too tingey on a piano. And the phase….OH THE PHASE! It was aligned! (without having to spend half and hour moving mics back and forth). The best position I’ve found so far is from Stav’s book Mixing With Your Mind. He suggests an LDC M/S setup right around the curve of the piano. This technique was a ear opener for me. But the R88 blew that setup out of the water. We didn’t track with any compression or EQ and it sounded like a piano should. This mic doesn’t quite suffer from the usual need for a little extra top like most ribbons do.
Now, I must preface all of this by saying we did run the R88 through the AEA RPQ500 preamp which has a MUCH higher impedance and gain than most other pres. According to Wes Dooley, these mics really like having that big impedance and gain boost to clear up and get above the noise. Days after that session was over, I mic’d the piano again with the R88 running through our Amek 9098 preamp. It was still amazing, but I could tell right away that the R88 paired with the RPQ500 is a match made in heaven. If you’re going to spend $1,800 on this mic, I would highly suggest putting out a little more and buying the preamp to go with it. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. I’m not going to go through all of the features of the preamp here, and why you should buy it because, let’s face it, you DO have the internet. But to be helpful, here’s the link. Ribbon Pre with Curve Shaping – Products – AEA Big Ribbon Mics™ and Mic Preamps
Next, we switched the R88 over to drum overhead duty. Holy. Cow. Again, phenomenal tone! Instantly a round, classic sound. We had no phase issues from placing mics as a spaced pair, and the cymbals didn’t rip your face off. The toms had a beefy presence to them while keeping a nice balance in the kit overall. Granted, having a great drummer made this easy! Now, I will say that this mic may not work for every application. I probably wouldn’t chose it if I were recording metal, and maybe not even hard rock. Like I said, it’s a “classic” sound….round, well balanced, not too hyped, and smooth……veeeery smooth.
At a later date I use the R88 in M/S mode for a room mic about 8 feet out from the kit, level with the toms. I hate to sound like a broken record, but again….knocked out the park. I’ve never heard our room sound so good before! The room just sounded bigger and more open. I could hear the nuances and reflections that I just couldn’t get with many of the condensers that I had been using. I was having a discussion with Travis about a client of his ONLY wanting to use the R88 as a room mic and nothing more. I couldn’t understand why on earth someone would possibly take such a great mic and use it for just one thing. After setting this mic up in the room, I now understand why. NOTHING in our mic cabinet is a better room mic. Period. I wish I had 2 of these!
HUGE props to Wes Dooley on this one. This mic is nothing short of stellar. ALL of the AEA stuff is! We tested out the R44, A840, R84, and R92. I was completely impressed with the lot, and so were the other engineers that attended the session. In fact, after the mic demo, 4 mics and 3 preamps were sold that week by engineers who attended. I think that’s a huge testament to the sound quality of Wes’s products. I’m sure everyone there would have bought one if money weren’t an issue.