AEA R84 Classic Passive Ribbon Mic
Classic passive ribbon mic inspired by the 44
The R84 is a passive ribbon microphone that shares many of the unique sound characteristics with its historic predecessor, the R44. Using everything Wes Dooley and the team here at AEA had learned by re-creating the RCA 44, we went back to the drawing board to create something entirely new. Call it a Swiss army knife, your “desert island mic”, or just “The Workhorse” – the R84 was designed to be flexible and practical in a myriad of recording settings. With the improvements in technology and manufacturing since the thirties and forties, we decided to re-engineer the entire package to be more efficient, lighter and less expensive, inspiring Wes to affectionately call the R84 the “R44 for us married guys.” The result is a new microphone with a classic sound. The R84 produces rich and full low-mids, a smooth top end, and has a well-behaved bidirectional pickup pattern. These aspects, combined with the reduced proximity effect, make the R84 incredibly well-suited for both close-up and ambient mic applications in medium-sized rooms. It’s just as versatile as an R44, flattering voice, strings, brass and drums alike.
An Award-Winning Microphone
Since its launch in 2001, the R84 has not only been nominated for several awards but has also helped engineers and producers around the world make influential records. The R84 is so multi-faceted, that it has become a studio standard, having been used on the following award-winning projects: Turtle Island String Quartet, A Love Supreme (Best Classical Crossover Grammy, 2008); Los Tigres Del Norte, MTV Unplugged (Best Regional Mexican Grammy and Best Norteno Latin Grammy, 2011); Juanes, MTV Unplugged (Best Latin Pop Album Grammy, 2012); The Zac Brown Band, Uncaged (Best Country Album Grammy, 2012). It has become a go-to microphone at world-class studios such as Blackbird Studios in Nashville and Sear Sound in New York City.
A Big Ribbon for a Big Sound
The AEA R84 uses a big, 2.35″ by 0.185″ by 2-micron pure aluminum low-tension ribbon element just like the classic R44. Many ribbon mic manufacturers choose shorter ribbons that are easier to install, but AEA’s Large Ribbon Geometry design offers important advantages. Ribbon microphones operate linearly above their resonant frequency, unlike condenser or moving coil transducers, so the resonant frequency of a good microphone design should be as low as possible. The longer the ribbon, the lower the resonant frequency will be. The ribbon has to move twice as far for every drop in octave as it vibrates within the magnetic gap, thus, a longer ribbon will allow for further movement back and forth. This results in the ribbon handling louder sound sources and more sound pressure level (SPL). Most AEA ribbons are tuned to 16.5 Hz, and because the R84 shares the same Big Ribbon as the rest of AEA’s product line, you will achieve a sound that is smooth, natural and free from any of the uncomfortable resonances that shorter ribbons and condensers can exhibit. The result is a sound that many engineers say is astonishingly close to what their ears hear when you’re actually standing in the studio.
– Same Big Ribbon, tuning, and transformer as the R44 series
– Classic look, but with milder proximity effect than the R44
– Easy to use and affordable
– Versatile for close-up and ambient mic applications
Applications & Audio:
Our experience with the R84 is that it sounds best on vocals when used at a distance between 6 to 24 inches (15-60 cm). However, you may find that positioning the microphone closer or further away from the singer yields better results depending on the voice, the room or the musical style. When recording at 6 inches (15 cm) or closer, it is advisable to have a pop filter handy. 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.
Every singer will move a bit while performing, but since the sweet spot is located in both the horizontal and vertical axes it is fairly wide and forgiving.
Brass and Woodwind
The R84 has become one of the top go-to microphones to record brass instruments for engineers and musicians alike. Whether live or in studio, the R84 is known it’s capability to capture a full-bodied sound of brass and woodwind instruments.
The R84’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 R84’s smooth treble response 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 R84 12-24 inches (24-60 cm) away from the source. For a focused sound, use the swivel mount (not the mic stand) to 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.
The R84 excels at capturing the richness and full sound of string groups and string soloists. For string soloists, start by positioning the R84 3-5 feet (1-2 m) on axis towards the sound hole. To achieve a balanced string group sound, try placing the R84 5 to 8 feet (2-3 m) away (either in front or above) from the section. Use the R84’s exceptional null points to isolate the R84’s pick up from other sources. If more ambience texture is desired, pull the microphone further away from the source.
R84s in a Blumlein configuration (coincident pair at 90 degree angle) positioned at a distance of 10 to 15 feet (3-5 m) from a string section will capture a deep and wide image.
For bass string instruments that are bowed and plucked, placing the R84 about a foot away (0.3-0.5 m) will give you a very nice and defined low end. The proximity effect of the R84 can be used to your advantage.
Drums and Percussion
Whether as an overhead configuration, or mono drum room, the R84’s 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 positioning your R84 at head level 9 feet (3 m) in front of the kit. Depending on the size of the room and kit arrangement, you may want to position the R84 further away if you wish to capture more room ambiance.
Another popular technique to record drum overheads is to set up 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 R84s are positioned to the drummer, the more direct sound and less room ambiance will be captured by the mics.
When recording a solo acoustic guitar a good starting point is to position the R84 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm) away from the guitar roughly pointing at the 12th fret or where the neck meets the body. This placement will capture clear midrange and pick articulation with a balanced low end.
Since the bass response of the R84 is sensitive to the miking distance, try rotating the mic to use its excellent horizontal off-axis performance to find the “sweet spot”.
To capture an authentic and balanced electric guitar tone with your R84, place the mic directly in front of the amp grille. Identify where the center of the speaker cone is located, and place the R84 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm) away from the speaker. Pointing the mic at the center of the cone will deliver a very direct, “in-your-face” sound. This is the spot that will obtain the most high-frequency content. If it sounds too harsh, try moving the microphone slightly off center of the speaker cone. You can also try positioning the R84 at an angle. You will find that small differences in positioning can make huge differences in the sound, so experiment until you find the spots you like. Close up, the R84 is very good at spotlighting a speaker’s unique sounds at various locations.
When using multiple microphones on a guitar cabinet at the same time, it is important to pay attention to the phase relationship between the different signals. Try to position the different microphones as close to each other as possible to avoid phase problems caused by sound arriving at the microphones at slightly different path lengths. Make sure to listen to the combined signal summed to mono to catch potential comb filtering that could be caused by out-of-phase signals. If you are recording with the back lobe of the R84, it is important to invert the polarity on the preamp or DAW.
For a more natural sound that captures the sound of the amp in your room, try moving the microphone back a couple of feet.
The R84 delivers a great sound as a close-up and distant mic on both upright and grand pianos. On grand piano we have found two positions to be particularly useful:
1. Spaced pair of R84s looking at the hammers in the front. You will need to remove the lid of the grand piano. This position will yield a very natural, hi-fi sound. It is common to pull the mics farther out of the piano than you would with a pair of condensers. You can change the amount of natural room reverb by changing the distance between the mics and piano.
2. Blumlein pair (coincident pair at 90-degree angle) of R84s positioned on the side of the piano facing the player: one microphone pointing towards the treble side of the piano, and the other microphone facing towards the bass side that can result in a larger than life recording.