A Modern Classic - Discovering the AEA R84 Ribbon Microphone

A Modern Classic - Discovering the AEA R84 Ribbon Microphone

By Front End Audio on Jul 19th 2023

A Modern Classic - Discovering the AEA R84 Ribbon Microphone

The AEA R84 Ribbon Microphone is perhaps the perfect antidote for the sterility of recording in the digital landscape. Why? Imagine depth, a smooth yet extended high frequency response, and a nicely balanced frequency response throughout. Great at distance mic placement, the R84 began as a more cost-conscious build of the high-dollar AEA R44 microphones. However, while it still sports the same ribbon material and the same transformer as the R44, the body resonance and the grille shape contribute to a unique and highly flexible sound all its own.


Looking to record a singer/songwriter with a single microphone; old-school style? The R84 is the answer. It's never too bright and when matched with the right microphone preamplifier, it's got a balance that just isn't achievable with most any FET or tube condenser. Ribbon microphones really are dynamic microphones - only, they are high-resolution dynamic microphones. There is a unique depth of field that they capture that is impossible otherwise. This really becomes a beautiful component of this microphone when recording anything, but especially when recording vocals with an expressive vocalist. The R84 really gets you out of a jam when you have a 'nasaly' sounding singer, or one who is particularly sibilant. I've recorded several vocalists who just don't sound right on even the most expensive tube microphones - no matter how smooth the top-end. The R84 became the clearly evident solution.

Drums can be hard to record with condensers in the digital realm since cymbals can all too often sound hard or washy in such a way that cannot be corrected with EQ. A pair of R84s in the room is many times all you need for an excellent recording. Try about 6 feet out in front of the kit. Work a little bit to place them just right - or take the easy way out and go with the AEA R88 mkII - a Blumlein or Mid-Side Stereo version of the R84 - depending on how you set it up on the mixer or in your DAW. What an incredible sound. BIG and rich. Smooth and detailed. It really doesn't get any better than this. It's a jazz drummer's dream microphone.

There is a special thing that happens with normally difficult to record instruments that run the risk of being too 'toppy' or 'clacky' and where the body can get lost. The mandolin is one such instrument. I'm giving away a big secret here, but use the R84 with a AEA TRP3, AEA RPQ3 or the AEA RPQ500 preamp and put it through a smooth opto-style compressor (a Universal Audio LA-2A provided excellent results for us) and compress just enough to get it to 'sit' amongst the other instruments properly while still being dynamic, and you're golden. You'll be the genius engineer hero of the day, guaranteed. Any stringed instrument benefits from this microphone if you're after a full and accurate tone. It's not a good choice for ultra-shimmery and fake sounding acoustics. Who wants that, anyway? And it is stunning on piano.

Speaking of microphone preamps, ribbon microphones require a little 'special care and feeding' when it comes to what you're plugging the mic into. The R84 is no exception. Your typical on-board interface's mic preamp is probably not going to go this microphone justice. So, you need to understand that if you think it doesn't sound like I've described it in the preceding paragraphs, that it's the impedance relationship between the mic and the preamp - and no ribbon microphone is immune; and I've found this to be true of even the best active ribbon mics. Do yourself a favor - view recording ribbon microphones as recording with a system. The results will be quite evident. Obviously, the ribbon-tailored preamps from AEA, such as the Fred Forssell designed TRP and RPQ are going to work extremely well. They pack a lot of good, clean, and quiet gain into affordable packages that work incredibly well for dynamic, tube, and even condenser microphones (in the case of the RPQ models that sport phantom power).

AEA RPQ3 Ribbon Microphone Preamp

If you've got any questions about what an AEA microphone such as the R84 or its variants, such as the active AEA A840, can do to help your recorded (or even live) sound elevate to the realm of the inspiring, give us a call. We're all experienced ribbon microphone users and understand the intricacies, challenges, and many, many rewards of recording with ribbons. AEA and Front End Audio will get you on the path to sounding fantastic!

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