The AEA R44CE: An economy version of the R44 ribbon mic
The Cost Effective Original
Whether it’s a smooth brass section, the velvety lushness of a jazz vocal, or the massive drum sound of a classic rock record – chances are you’ll find a 44 ribbon mic was used to record them. In studio use for more than 80 years, the 44 ribbon design by RCA is as rich in history as it is in sound and character. When the company’s microphone division was closed down in 1976, we at AEA began servicing ribbon microphones, and by 1998 we were manufacturing 100% of the parts for the 44. This resulted in the release of our very own version of this classic mic.
Its recognizable sound produces thunderous lows due to the h3 proximity effect, full and rich mids, and a unique top end to take the edge off of harsh instruments. This beautiful, natural-sounding microphone provides an unmatched authenticity of sonic reproduction, particularly when placed at a distance in a well-tuned room. The R44CE ribbon mic delivers exactly the same sound as the R44C with absolutely no exceptions. By simplifying the exterior trim of the microphone and reducing manual labor for assembly, we are able to offer a more affordable 44 model for those of us who don’t require the polish and museum-grade finish of the 44C version.
Forty years of servicing ribbon microphones has given AEA a lot of insight into why RCA 44s are still in daily use at world-class studios. Designed in the 1930s, the 44 was a groundbreaking revolution in recording technology. At a time when engineers had only one, maybe two microphones to record anything from a solo artist to an entire orchestra, studio mics had to deliver a great sound in every application. With its extended reach, reliability, and high fidelity sound, the 44 set a new quality standard for broadcast, recording, motion pictures, and sound reinforcement work.
Even though ribbon mics fell out of fashion in the days of tape recording, many studios like Capitol Records or Warner kept their revered 44s in service. Since the advent of the digital revolution, the 44 is now back in demand more than ever. Reborn as the AEA R44, this mic is a permanent fixture in the studios of esteemed engineers and producers such as Bruce Swedien, Kevin Bacon, Shawn Murphy, and John Kurlander, and half the movies scored in Los Angeles now have an AEA 44 somewhere on the scoring stage.
The R44 Microphone Family
The AEA R44-series microphones all share the authentic sound, feel and look of the 1936-38 RCA 44BX. The R44 series microphones are all detailed, hand-crafted replicas, using parts that are made to be interchangeable with an original RCA 44. They even feature ribbon material originally manufactured for RCA. The original 44 microphones were constantly updated during their twenty years of production, and after carefully looking at some of the technical modifications, we at AEA decided to adopt the British engineering from RCA that reduces the mic’s weight and hum sensitivity.
The R44C was designed to meet or exceed the output of a brand-new RCA 44. It is a museum-quality replica, featuring a bronze investment cast yoke, superior to the original zinc yokes by RCA (which tend to corrode over time), a hand-polished cushion mount and a cloth-covered Accusound Silver Studio Pro cable. The R44CX is a high-output, red-badge version of the R44C, specially designed for scoring and other applications demanding a wide dynamic range with the “classic 44” sound.
The cost-effective R44CE ribbon mic features the exact same ribbon, transformer, and luscious sound as the R44C, but with a simpler, economical exterior trim. This version features a one-piece cushion mount, a formed steel yoke with satin nickel finish, and a star-quad XLR output cable. Finally, the R44CXE is the high output version of theR44CE ribbon mic combining the economical finish with the higher output of the R44CX.
The R44CE ribbon mic is passive, like the RCA 44, and are more forgiving in a wider range of situations than active microphones can be in terms of headroom. The A440 has the hottest signal, and can therefore boast, through highest signal to noise ratio, to be the quietest of any ribbon mic on the planet.
- Same ribbon, transformer, and luscious sound as the R44C
- Simple and elegant exterior trim in black and silver
- Legendary character with more than 80 years of studio history
- Full and rich sound; smooth highs and warm lows
- ‘X’ motor option delivers 6 dB more dynamic range
Applications & Audio:
Try using the R44CE ribbon mic for a warm, clear vocal sound. The smooth character of the R44’s treble response means that it may be extensively shaped and processed without risk of nasty resonance artifacts.
Start by placing the microphone 8 to 24 inches (20-60 cm) directly on axis from the singer. The closer the singer is positioned to the microphone, the h3er the proximity effect. To accenuate the low end of a singer, have the singer move as close to the mic as possible without physically touching it. The ribbon is well protected from damaging plosive blasts, but to avoid noises from wind blasts, we recommend using a pop filter.
If you are recording a musician who sings and plays an instrument at the same time, you can make use of the exceptional rejection offered by the 90º “null” planes of the bidirectional pickup pattern to reduce the pickup of the instrument in the vocal microphone.
You may find that some singers sound best from 2 inches away while others sound best from 2 feet (60 cm) away. Depending on the voice, room, and song, different distances work better than other. The distance of the R44 from the source has a significant effect on the sound of the mic.
Orchestras, Ensembles, and String Instruments
Because the R44CE ribbon mic has equal treble and bass response from a distance, it can be placed almost anywhere without sounding thin. Trying positioning the mic further away than you normally would with a condenser.
For ensembles, a good starting point is to place the R44 a few meters away where the musicians have a nice balanced sound. Blumlein configuration positioned at a distance of 4 – 6 meters from a section can capture the sound with a lot depth. Be careful of the h3 magnetic pull of two R44s in close proximity to one another.
R44s can also be used with great results to capture an entire orchestra. Try positioning the mic in the same way that you would for sections, but from a much further distance. Two R44s facing outwards at 90 degrees can give you a realistic spacial image that will sound like you are standing in front of the orchestra.
When recording acoustic instruments, a good starting point is to walk around the room while the musician is playing. When you find a spot where you like the sound, try positioning the R44 there.
For solo instruments, try placing the R44CE ribbon mic a few feet away (90 – 150cm). This will give a very up-close and personal sound. Set the microphone above or in front of the instrument.
When positioning the R44, try aiming the backside towards a complex wall intersection. This can capture the reverberation of the room in an interesting way.
For bass string instruments that are bowed and plucked, placing the R44 about a foot away will give you a very nice and defined low end. The proximity effect of the R44 can be used to your advantage.
Brass & Woodwinds
The R44’s warm and detailed characteristics make it a great focus mic for brass and woodwinds. Soprano saxophone, trumpet and most high-pitched brass and woodwind instruments are known to have “edgier” or “brilliant” frequency characteristics. The R44’s smooth treble response on the back lobe is great at preserving these frequencies without aggravating the striking tonal qualities.
Depending on the instrument’s dynamic range, we recommend starting by positioning the R44 24-36 inches (60-90 cm) away from the source. For a focused sound, point the microphone on axis towards the bell or preferred tone holes.
If you are concerned about wind blasts, use a pop filter, or position the microphone slightly off axis.
Drums & Percussion
When recording drums, there are many techniques to capturing the sound of the kit. A good starting point is to use a pair of R44s above the kit as a spaced pair. Try positioning them a couple of feet above the drummer’s head with a few feet of space in between the two mics. Make sure to use a stand that can support the weight of an R44. Listen to the combined signals summed to mono to catch potential comb filtering that could be caused by out-of-phase signals. A quick technique that can help avoid phase problems is to keep an equal distance between the two overhead mics and the snare or kick drum.
Another popular technique to record drum overheads is to setup the mics in a Blumlein configuration (coincident pair at 90 degree angle) above the head of the drummer with each mic pointing in a different direction. This will give you a very wide image of the drums that sounds like you are in sitting center stage.
Both of these techniques also work well for recording the sound of the room. The closer that the R44 is positioned to the drummer, the more direct sound and less reverb will be captured by the mics.
Whether as an overhead configuration, or mono drum room, the R44s extended low end and smooth high end gives your drum sound that thickness, warmth and detail without unintended harshness. For mono drum room, start by postioning your R44 at head level 3 meters in front of the kit. Depending on size of the room and kit arrangement, you may want to position the R44CE ribbon mic further away if you wish to capture more room ambience.
For more room tone, try pointing the null of the microphone directly at the drums so that the front and back side of the microphone will be positioned perpendicular to the drums. If done correctly, the sound waves of the drums will travel directly past the front and back side of the mic which will phase-cancel the direct sound of the drums, and capture only the indirect sound of the room. This can be very useful when trying to record the natural ambience of the room.
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