A protector of the esteemed RCA 44’s legacy, Wes Dooley and the team at AEA have taken ribbon microphone and preamp technology to new heights.
Introduced in the 1930s and last manufactured in 1955, RCA 44 series ribbon mics continue to earn their place in modern studios thanks to their realism, natural warmth and musicality. They’re considered by many audio engineers, producers and artists to be the most rewarding mic to capture voices — both human and instrumental. Performers and radio DJs with all kinds of vocal styles and pitches have learned to count on the 44’s ability to add detail and drama.
You can count Wes Dooley, the founder of AEA, foremost among ribbon-mic evangelists. He has devoted a considerable chunk of his life to repairing and upgrading vintage RCA mics, which led to his creation of the AEA line of microphones and preamps — a pursuit inspired by his love of the vaunted RCA 44.
We recently chatted with Wes at AEA’s Pasadena, California headquarters where his team hand-builds gear that keeps the ribbon-mic flame burning brightly. With decades in audio engineering, Wes possesses a wry wit and a no-BS approach to getting honest sound.
It was a pivotal meeting in 1976 between Dooley and RCA’s chief mic engineer, after RCA’s exit from the pro audio business, which changed everything at AEA. Dooley, along with AEA’s chief engineer, got a tutorial in the exacting processes needed to install and tension ribbons. They also came back with a stash of new-old-stock ribbon material and a ribbon corrugator that AEA still uses.
With the 30 years of experience AEA amassed repairing and modifying various ribbon mics, Dooley and his collaborators accumulated a wealth of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. They were then able to parlay that knowledge into the current lineup of AEA microphones and preamps as AEA went beyond what RCA engineers had envisioned decades earlier.
Here’s a look at that lineup:
AEA 44 Series Microphones
Among the company’s offerings, the AEA R44 Series ribbon mics most directly owe their lineage to vintage RCA models. Like the microphones that inspired their development, AEA R44 mics are used by A-list producers and engineers to impart unparalleled levels of realism and warmth on a broad variety of sources. Responding to the ever increasing scarcity of actual vintage 44 mics, AEA offers its 44 Series in variations to match different recording and live sound scenarios, budgets and aesthetic requirements.
The AEA R44CE Big Ribbon Studio Microphone dispenses with some of the lavish vintage detailing of its costlier brethren. But apart from cosmetics, it performs acoustically with the versatile strengths that make all 44s highly prized.
The AEA R44C Bidirectional Big Ribbon Studio Microphone is as sonically close as a newly made unit can get to original RCA 44s. Original new-old-stock ribbon material helps ensure these newly minted mics achieve the breathtaking realism of their iconic inspirations.
If you need more dynamic output, the AEA A440 Active Big Ribbon Studio Microphone puts out an extra 18dB. With its X-Motor transducer that includes an additional pair of magnets, it can handle orchestral work and other sources that demand a broad dynamic range.
There’s an AEA Mic for Every Application
When room acoustics are unwanted, the AEA KU4 Unidirectional Studio Ribbon Microphone with its supercardioid polar pattern plus extended high end gives you plenty of placement flexibility. Based on the classic KU3A microphone beloved by Hollywood sound engineers, it has a broad sweet spot, reduced proximity effect, and all the musicality of a 44.
When you want room sound, the AEA N8 Nuvo Series Active Ribbon Mic fills the bill. It was designed to capture acoustic environments on everything from drum overheads to orchestras. all with the profound realism and warmth of traditional ribbon mics. It even shines when close-miking guitar and bass cabs.
The AEA N8 Nuvo Stereo Mic Kit includes two N8 mics plus a brilliantly designed stereo bar that lets you configure your pickup pattern using Blumlein, ORTF or other configurations and will handle a wide range of recording spaces and situations.
Ideal for close-miking voices, guitar cabs, pianos and drums, the AEA N22 Active Ribbon Microphone uses the same Big Ribbon technology of its more costly stablemates. The phantom-powered JFET front end gets along well with home studio interfaces. The AEA N22 Stereo Microphone Kit includes a stereo pair of N22s and a cleverly designed mounting bar that allows near-infinite positioning options.
The AEA R88 mk2 Dual Ribbon Stereo Studio Microphone is designed to handle complex sources with its dual Big Ribbon elements. It combines accuracy with warmth and sheen. Superwide frequency and dynamic ranges can handle just about any source you throw at the R88 mk2 without harshness or distortion.
The side-address AEA R84A Bidirectional Big Ribbon Active Studio Microphone can be teamed with a wide range of preamps from vintage to modern as well as home-studio interfaces. Engineers appreciate its highly detailed sound capture that is never brittle and its forgiving audio signature.
The passive AEA R84 Bidirectional Big Ribbon Studio Microphone flatters voices and instruments while downplaying the proximity effect traditional to RCA 44s. With its extended frequency range it’s at home in both up-close, intimate settings as well as far-field, full orchestral situations.
If you need to get up close to the source, be it guitars, voices, or horns, the AEA R92 Close-Up Figure-Eight Studio Ribbon Microphone is made to order. Optimized for placement within three inches of the source, it possesses rugged wind-blast handling capability.
AEA mic preamps exploit the sonic glory of Big Ribbon technology
Recognizing that ribbon mics pose special challenges to mic preamps, AEA designs its own line of preamplifiers optimized to enhance the ribbon mics’ open and smooth characteristics while dealing with their lower output with a gain stage that eliminates noise.
The single-channel AEA RPQ500 Mic Preamp API 500 Module is based on the much-praised RPQ preamp. Although it is fundamentally neutral, like AEA mics themselves, the module serves up a richly detailed, warm signal. JFET electronics produce 81dB of gain. It also features the same EQ as the RPQ2 Preamp.
Intended for stereo capture, the AEA TRP2 Two-Channel Ribbon Preamp with its low-noise gain is a great match for the natural warmth of ribbon mics while capturing very quiet source material.
The no-holds-barred AEA RPQ2 Preamp incorporates CurveShaper EQ making it a popular choice with mastering and mixing engineers during post production. Ultra-versatile signal routing easily configures for recording or mixdown duties, giving the unit two distinct roles. And it sounds amazing on condensers and dynamic mics too.