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Monday, December 22, 2008

sE R1 Ribbon

All the ribbon pleasure and a great guarantee too

One of my fave online activities is looking for buzz on new products. Sometimes, I create buzz. I humbly submit to you that sE deserves a decent amount of buzz for its R1 Ribbon microphone.

At AES 2005 NYC, my good friend Warren Dent of Front End Audio and I would meet at lunch or at the end of the day and discuss gear finds we'd made during the day. Warren told me one day after the show that he tried the sE R1 Ribbon on the show floor and liked it.

OK, I know that's the floor of the AES. It's loud. Still, you can kind of tell if something should be good. After hearing Warren's enthusiasm, I put it down in my list of things to do to evaluate the R1.

I tracked a rootsy Rock 'n' Roll band. The band features two decent guitarists. One of the guitarists in the band is Kevin Wright. If you watched "Star Search" back in Ed McMahon's turn as host, then you might remember Kevin as the hotlicks guitarist with a "Star Search" grand prize winning musical act called the Kingpins. I got an sE R1 Ribbon mic in just to track Kevin. It turned out to be the only mic I ever put up on his amp during two days of recording.

I wanted to track the band in a let it bleed fashion in that I wanted most of the members in the same room. Kevin and his guitar amp ended up next to the drums. I set up the sE R1 about six to 10 inches from the amp with the mic facing slightly away from the cone. The sE R1 features a figure eight pattern. Picture a figure eight with the mic's ribbon transducer positioned perfectly where the lines from each part of the eight cross each other. Off to the sides of the eight are nulls where little to no sound should enter the transducer. In effect, they are dead areas around the mic. I made sure to position the drums in one of the nulls.

Kevin doubles on electric guitar and pedal steel guitar. I took two things away from the session about the R1. First, it's an excellent choice for pedal steel guitar. It might be my sensitive ears but a lot of steel guitar tracks on modern recordings seem to grate on me. And, I actually love the sound of steel. Rather than grating I found the steel guitar tracks recorded through the R1 smooth and a tad lush. Second, I liked the lead runs on electric guitar but thought that even though the R1 imparted a certain pleasing amount of smoothness to the guitar amp that the clarity on rhythm guitar seemed to be more apparent with the R1 than other ribbon mics in this application.

Later, I got the R1 out and did some experimenting. I always evaluate microphones for spoken word. The engineer assisting me agreed that the R1 might be the most flattering dialog mic we've yet tested. It doesn't give your voice the sound of Orson Welles but it sort of imparts a certain sonic authority on a voice. I also thought the sound of the mic well suited for drum overheads and horns.

I found the front side of the mic to be in the traditional ribbon mic flavor whereby the highs get pleasantly tamed. I finally got around to trying the rear side of the mic. I originally tested the R1's rear side through a Millenia TD-1. I initially found the rear side of the mic less open and sort of a cross between a cardioid dynamic mic and a ribbon. However, I later plugged it into a Great River MP-2NV and found the back side of the mic to possess more high end and a more open sound. It's a sound that is ideal for more agressive guitar sounds, drum overheads and for vocals. Lesson learned: Always try mics with more than one mic preamp.

Please remember that ribbon mics need a decent mic preamp to power them up. The R1 doesn't require as much gain as some other ribbon mics but it still requires a decent amount of gain.

You may or may not know it but ribbon mics need a little TLC. Don't blow into them. Don't carry them around outside the case. The ribbon element can break. The R1 features the best ribbon mic warranty that I know about. It's a five year warranty. sE will replace the ribbon element up to three times during that time period. It also comes with a sturdy aluminum case and a shockmount. I found the fit and finish of the mic and its accessories equivalent to other mics in its price class.

The Bottom Line: The sE R1 Ribbon microphone deserves some serious buzz due to its quality sonics and its quality warranty. The front and back of the mic both possess distinct sonic qualities giving the R1 high marks for versatility. Highly recommended.

--Steven Langer


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