A Ribbon Mics-Only Session

On February 20th our good friends at AEA Ribbon Mics came all the way from their HQ in Pasadena to Studio West in San Diego to host a recording workshop for The Recording Arts Center’s students and local music industry professionals featuring live music from Christine Parker and her band.

Sammy and Charlene from AEA brought an amazing selection of high-end Ribbon Mics, ranging from the legendary A440 to the unique R88 mk2, and high impedance Mic Preamps such as the RPQ500 and the TRP in order to demonstrate all the benefits of tracking with ribbons. During the morning we were all briefed on the particular characteristics of each one of their amazing products in order for the attendees to come up with a game plan to track Christine and her band, whose setup consisted of vocals, acoustic guitar, drums, electric bass, and electric guitar.

All photos by Brian Keim

For the drum setup, we utilized the R84 on the kick, the N22 on the snare, the N8 on the floor tom, and the R88 mk2 as the overhead. We also experimented with various room mic options, such as the R44C, another R84, and a pair of N8s that were hooked up to a special AEA designed mount in order to place them in a perfect Blumlein.

The great drumming of Jeffrey Stasny was perfectly translated by this setup. During the mixing process, I ended up sticking to only 3 of the microphones. Kick, snare, and overhead. The overhead being by far my favorite. Studio West’s Studio A is a fairly dead room in terms of reflections, and the Blumlein from the R88 mk2 made the drums sound magically lively in the best way possible. Even the kick was translating nicely through the overheads. The TRP preamps we ran the overheads through just made everything sound sweeter! If this had been a hard rock session, I would have definitely used the room mics in the final mix, which sounded amazing just by themselves. The creative options were pretty much endless with all those mics in place.

For the electric guitar setup we lined up two similar looking – however different sounding – microphones, the N22 and the N8, going through the ever-awesome preamps of a Neve BCM 10. I love how both mics sounded just by themselves, but opted for using a blend of both in order to achieve a fuller sound in the final mix, since the simple instrumentation allowed for some extra tonal space. I’m sure guitar player Collin Elliott would agree that his guitar tone sounded just like he wanted it to sound right off the preamps without the need of any EQ.

I had never utilized a Ribbon Mic on a bass cab prior to this session, and now I regret never doing so. The R92, as it seems to be a pattern with everything AEA, translated the bass sound in a way that showcased all nuances of performer Sam Johnson’s playing. If you try this mic on a bass cap, good luck using any other mic afterwards – it’ll never be the same.

For Christine Parker’s setup, we had a N22 pointing straight at the acoustic guitar and an A440 on her vocals, both running through the RPQ500 preamps. The combination of these two not only made her voice and playing shine in the mix, but it also sounded awesome just by themselves.

After tracking, Sammy and Charlene ran a fascinating presentation on the history and legacy of AEA Ribbon Mics, and were able to play back all the tracks that had just been recorded and discuss the microphones and preamps’ characteristics in detail. We were all lucky to have had the experience to run a session exclusively with the best sounding mics and preamps out there, and will be able to apply all that knowledge shared by AEA in future projects.

“Till The End” was one of the many songs tracked on that day, and it’s mixing process was very simplistic in order to showcase the microphones’ characteristics the best way. Only subtractive EQ and light compression were utilized. We hope you enjoy the tune, which you can stream/download by below.

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