AEA R92 Ribbon Microphone

I love ribbon mics because they watch my back. If I’m not getting a compelling tone from a particular setup, and I’m spinning into self-loathing, positioning a ribbon in front of an amp or acoustic guitar captures a sound that either saves my ass right there, or inspires a different approach that’ll save my ass in ten minutes.

The balanced frequency response and organic warmth of ribbons offer home-recording disciples a respite from the midrange punch derived from some oft-employed dynamic and condenser microphones. The Audio Engineering Associates R92 ribbon mic ($900 retail/ $810 street) is designed for recording electric and acoustic guitars from a distance of about 6"-12". It can handle 135dB of signal level—so it shouldn’t tremble when dropped in front of fire-breathing amps—and its figure-8 polar pattern exhibits excellent signal rejection from the sides. The mic also offers two timbral “settings”—its front capsule is voiced for “crisp” resolution, while its backside is set for a “smooth” reproduction. The pill-shaped R92 is attached to its own shockmount, and the mic comes with a cable and a carrying case.

AEA says you should not use phantom power with the R92, and the mic requires a fair amount of gain to produce a robust signal. As a result, your challenge will be pairing the R92 with a clean and quiet mic preamp. I opted to use the AEA TRP ($965 retail/$868 street) provided by the manufacturer, as well as a M-Audio Firewire 410. Both preamps served up suitable gain, a fat signal, and zero hiss, although the TRP had more headroom than the 410.

The first test was recording GP Senior Editor Art Thompson’s solo for “Church of the Holy Spook” from Ol’ Cheeky Bastards Bag O’Tricks [Vagrant Seattle]. We were tracking in the GP offices during work hours, so we plugged into a Bad Cat Lil’ 15 head, and dumped the R92 into a Rivera SilentSister speaker-isolation box. I wasn’t sure how the R92 would handle the cramped space and close proximity to the enclosed speaker, but it produced a ’70s-style dry, throbbing overdrive that was perfect for the song. A Shure SM57 placed in the same box delivered a clearer and punchier tone, but the raunchy vibe of the R92 track couldn’t be denied.

I played some rhythm and lead tracks on another project through a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto and a Boogie 1x12 cabinet. Released from “isolation,” the R92 recorded an organic balance of room ambience and amp roar. The basic flavor was a fairly accurate reproduction of what your ears hear in the room, but with a fantastic airiness and spatial dimension. The super-cool app, however, is the ability to grab an articulate sheen or some juicy warmth simply by facing the front or rear of the R92 at the source sound—it’s like having two mics in one! While the R92 isn’t as ballsy in the mids and low mids as the popular (and more expensive) Royer R-121 ribbon when close miking, it’s not optimized for “grille kissing,” and, in any case, conventional dynamics and condensers rule up close. The R92 is best reserved for experimenting with more ambient mic positions, and those nutty enough to embrace the dynamic beauty of a guitar signal interacting with its environment will reap mammoth dividends.

Kudos Front and back of mic have different tonal qualities. Natural and dimensional reproduction. Shimmering highs. Light.
Concerns Requires a relatively high-output, low-noise preamp.
Contact AEA, (626) 798-9128;