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Sunday, December 14, 2008


Wes Dooley's mic reigns supreme on sax and strings

I want to try something different in this review. Most reviews at Mojo Pie tend to be different than you'll find at other places anyway. I never cease to wonder how reviewers for other publications always seem to review microphones that sound spectacular on everything.

I find some recording tools can be used fairly easily by the masses of project studio enthusiasts along with their professional counterparts. Some recording tools require not so much a professional's experience but a professional's attitude in using. I think I'd put the AEA R84 in the latter group moreso than any other mic I've evaluated thus far for Mojo Pie. As ribbons go, it's among the most versatile. It takes EQ fairly easily and always seem to provide a huge, big sound.

I remember the first time I heard the AEA R84, which is a ribbon microphone with a figure eight pattern. Ted Curtis took me and Chris Graffignino of AudioInstruction.com on a tour of Upstairs Studios in Oklahoma City. Ted seemed particularly proud of a couple new ribbon mics he'd just purchased. They were the AEA R84.

I remember Ted playing back a saxophone track recorded through the AEA R84. I heard a sound on playback that put across more tone and less breath. I've been around some of the best horn players ever. I know the guy playing sax at Ted's studio did not fall into that group. But, the mic put across a sonic richness to his tone that made him sound like a Jimmie Heath or a Jimmy Giuffre rather than a player here in Oklahoma City.

My next experience with the AEA R84 came at Harvey Gerst's Indian Trail Studio in Sanger, Texas. Harvey explained to me that his son Alex Gerst used the the rear of AEA R84 on drum overheads. "The backside has a little more top end," Harvey explained. "They've got such a nice long reach with the figure eight pattern." Harvey was right. "Reach" into the kit is what makes a great overhead mic. Few people ever really talk about this aspect of a mic. Alex knows drum sounds better than a lot of indie producers. I saw Alex working with a pair on drum kit where they were essentially permanently in place to record drums. I'm not talking Jazz drums or Classical percussion. I'm talking about monster drums for songs with that high gain, modern distortion guitar thing.

Later, I got to take a prolonged look at an R84 thanks to AEA. I thought the R84's design, fit and finish to be among the best in the industry. I particularly liked the design and workmanship of how the mic attached to its yoke mount. On each side of the yoke, you adjust a small screw to fine tune your mic placement or even flip the mic over to put the rear side of the mic toward the source.

The R84 also comes with a carrying case that seems sort of like a glorified piece of North Face gear for those wishing to take their R84 on a mountain hike. Yet, you'll only want to use it for the usual ribbon mic transfer duties and as a cover when you leave the R84 on the stand.

I used the mic in some different recording situations. I came away thinking of it as a versatile mic in that if you carefully positioned it then you could place it in many tracking situations. I founds myself still liking it as a saxophone mic or as a drum overhead mic (on the backside of the mic, of course). And, I see how it's favored as a mic for brass and strings as well.

Let me tell you about some tracking situations and the versatility of this mic. For example, you might be recording a rough sounding source and see that the front side of the R84 might take off that roughness and leave the character of the voice by smoothing it out and making it bigger. You might also understand that you'll need to provide some high frequency EQ to make it all sound palatable in this age of high frequency peaks on vocals. And, you might also understand that you might need to back the mic off the source. One of the biggest problems with project studio recording is "six inch syndrome." You know what it is. It's where you place every mic six inches from the source and wonder later why your recordings sound dull, flat and lifeless.

For close mic'ing, I found the front side of the AEA R84 to possess more bass frequency content. I never found it flabby or boomy or anything unpleasant that's usually associated with added low frequency sounds. On electric guitar amp, I found the sound to be fat. The sound sort of reminded me of the days when I'd hit the bass boost switch on my old Music Man amp. The front side of the mic seemed the darkest of the two sides. I never grasped whether the dark sound came about due to a lack of high frequency content or through the abundance of bass overpowering the highs so they're not fully revealed.

I found the rear of the AEA R84 to be more balanced and more like what I hear with my own ears. The high frequencies seem more present on tracks recorded through the back side of the R84 whether in close or backed off a bit.

In some instances, I found placement to be a tad more forgiving in some ways and in others critical. Usually, things were more forgiving if the source was backed off the mic a bit. I found that by changing the vertical angle of the R84 to the source that I gained more upper mid and high frequencies or I'd get less. Sometimes, I'd get the vertical angle set up and find I'd somehow hit a bad resonance. Just a few degrees in adjustment suddenly might change the frequency response to a flattering one.

Please remember all the rules about ribbon microphones. Use a pop screen. Keep the mic in its case at all times when not in use. Keep it in an upright position when not in use so as to not stretch the ribbon element (some people says this is a myth and some do not but I say I'll let someone else test the truth of that piece of conventioanal wisdom). If you've got a microphone preamp with adjustable input impedance, then always make sure to experiment with different input impedances. Sometimes, the differences in input impedance translate to dramatically different sonics. As well, different preamps can reveal different sounds.

The Bottom Line: I found the AEA R84 to possess among the best workmanship. Even though I think it's stellar on horns, drums and strings, please don't underestimate the vesatility of this mic. Try experimenting with position. Listen to your placements. If you've got a good room with some space, then you probably should put this mic on your "must have" list. Highly recommended.

--Steven Langer


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