TapeOp Issue #38/November, 2003 | by Larry Crane
“More mics,” that’s what I always ask for when Christmas comes around. All the other tools used for recording are great, but mics are always the first in line to capture acoustic-based sounds. I’m always looking for different flavors, and when the AEA R84 showed up at Jackpot! for a test run, I ended up cutting a check right away so I could own one.
AEA are known as the gurus of ribbon mics — repairing ribbon mics, manufacturing the R44, and importing the classic Coles 4038. The R84 is the first “low cost” entry in the AEA canon, and at $1000 it might not seem cheap; but for what you get, it is a deal. It’s similar in shape to the classic RCA 77 and has a solid, classy looking build. The 10 ft cable is attached, and the mic comes with a soft case, which works well for storing the mic upright by hanging it on a hook. Storing ribbons upright/vertical is easier on the aluminum ribbon element as gravity won’t make it sag.
In use, I’ve found that the R84 is typical of a ribbon mic. It sounds amazing on trumpet, electric guitar, percussion, and electric bass. It provides a different color to acoustic guitar, with restrained transients and lack of high-end hype. On vocals, it provides an evenness of tone that holds the vocal in place — great for backing vocals or Billie Holiday-style tones, but a little dull for “modern” vocal sounds.
In all, the R84 provides a certain color, one that can help capture sounds in ways that makes mixing and placement easier (trumpets just slide right into a rock mix), and it’s a slightly different flavor of ribbon mic than my workhorse Royer R-121’s and Fostex M11. It’s a great tool that I had to have in my arsenal, so Christmas came early this year. ($1000 MSRP; AEA)
Read more about the AEA R84 passive ribbon microphone.