AEA Ribbon Microphones: Factory Tour


The R44 made by RCA was actually a 1930’s
design and it was known as the microphone to have. So, if you were a recording studio or a venue
or a sound stage, if you had one of those you were the place to be. If you had two of those then, man, you really
had it good. And RCA manufactured the 44 from 1932 until
about ’58, that’s where we think they stopped making them. There was about a 20-year gap where they made
other kinds of ribbon microphones using similar technology. And then in the ’70s, they were shut down,
the mic division, and they stopped making microphones. And at that point my boss, Wes, he flew out
to New Jersey and learned the ribboning process and started working in servicing the old RCA
microphones, with an emphasis on the R44, so from the ’70s until the ’90s we actually
just serviced the mics. Nobody else was really doing it, nobody else
was really making parts. So, in that twenty year period we developed
parts that were supposed to match the original ones. So, if somebody’s magnets broke off or somebody’s
transducer broke in an area, we should have the replacement parts to be able to service
it and to fix it to how it was when the mic was first created. And then in ’98 we actually started making
our own version of the 44 with those replacement parts that we had built for twenty years and
so with our 44 and the RCA 44, they’re almost identical in every single way down to the
ribbon material. We even used New Old Stock material that Wes
was given back in the ’70s. So, if you look at the two microphones you’ll
be able to see that, they’re, that almost every single part is interchangeable. There’s only two major differences between
the R44C by AEA and the R44BX that RCA made. Both changes are changes that we made that
we felt upgraded the microphone. One was the yoke, which is the mounting device
that holds it to a stand. RCA used to use zinc in their yoke. There was a cast zinc. Zinc is corrosive when water gets into it. It can crack, it can break, like in an old
car. What we decided to do, what we thought would
be more sturdy is to use cast bronze. So, as you can see between the two they look
identical, even down to the types of screws that we use. The other major difference is that RCA used
to use Alnico magnets which are big and hard to cut and inconsistent, and we switched to
neodymium which is much more consistent, higher output and less expensive. Even with the transformer cases, they’re almost
identical. They’re extruded in the same way. RCA made many different versions of the 44:
different colors, different emblems, different logos, so we chose the one that we liked the
most which was the black transformer case with the hand-polished ribs. And in the, 44, the active one that we
make called the AEA 440, it’s our premium version of the 44, we chose to go with the
classic umber color. It’s a grayish, goldish, brownish color; extremely
difficult to manufacture. In the R44, and all of our ribbon microphones,
the heart of the microphone is the ribbon element itself. Every mic manufacturer, every microphone that’s
a ribbon mic has a ribbon and every company has a way of doing it that really gives their
mics their specific sound. So, the way that we do our ribbons, specifically
in the 44, is the same how RCA used to do it in their 44. We even still use the same New Old Stock material
that we were given back in the ’70s, so with the 44 sound, there’s nothing like that microphone. It gets bass build-up, proximity effect from
6 feet away from the source. So, if you want to sound huge, that’s the
mic to use. People call that the “Voice of God”. All of our microphones are based on that sound
and that tonality because they use that ribbon. Even down to the corrugator that we use when
we’re ribboning, it’s the same as the old RCA corrugator. When you look at the grille they’re identical
in almost every way, we even use the press that’s made to look identical to the old RCA
one. So what we’re looking at here is the transducer
of an 84A. It’s our own design that we make, it kind
of looks like the old RCA 77, but it’s actually more in line with the 44. Although it has the same ribbon as a 44, it
has similar characteristics in terms of the color and the sound, but what we’ve been able
to do by changing the transducer shape and by adding different elements in front of it
is we’ve been able to essentially temper the amount of bass response, add more top end
to it, so that it can be used in a multitude of more environments and different situations. So, with a 44, I mentioned the “Voice of God”
when you sing right into it, it boosts that bass. This gives you a little bit of that but allows
you to use it in a smaller studio, home studios, out on the road in gigs. But what we were able to do is essentially
take the technology from the R44 and shrink it, so that’s why we have a smaller transducer
that’s thinner and use neodymium magnets, which are more powerful than the older magnets
to get higher output than what you would’ve been able to get back in the ’60s or ’70s
even. This is the inside of the 84A, which is the
active version of the R84, meaning that we actually have electronics inside of the microphone
that don’t give extra output but it allows you the flexibility of using any preamp to
still get the full potential out of your microphone. It’s known that transformers add a ton of
color or character to the sound of audio equipment and one things that’s great about ribbon microphones,
specifically the AEA mics, is that every one of our microphones has a transformer in it. So, with the active mics the 84A, the 440
and the N22 and N8, they have a special transformer that gives more output. So, the active microphones get 12 dB more
output than a typical ribbon mic. Older, passive ribbon mic designs require
a ton of gain to be able to get an operational level that would allow you to use it in a
studio or a live, or to be able to capture the full sound of the microphone, the natural
source, so we make preamps that allow you to do that. But with microphones like the 84A or the Nuvos,
they have built-in electronics that make them more preamp-flexible, so you’d be able to
use this with any old preamp, although the ribbon mic preamps still offer some benefits
that can really bring out the true sound of it. So one of the things that sets us apart from
other ribbon microphone companies, and just from other ribbons in general, is that we
tune and tension our ribbons to a specific frequency that is lower than almost any ribbon
mic out there. We actually tension ours to 16 1/2 Hz, so
the low sub-frequencies, which is how RCA used to do it on their 44s way back in the
day. And what’s nice about that is ribbons, unlike
condensers and other microphones, are resonant, above their, linear above their resonant frequency,
which means you don’t get all that sibilance, all that tizz, all that exagerated, hyped
top-end that can sometimes sound harsh from condensers. If anything, you would get a little bit of
a bass boost, depending on where that frequency is. Because ours is so low, that’s why you’re
hearing, when you listen to an AEA mic, you hear a natural, organic sound. Because our ribbon tuning is so low, at 16
1/2 Hz, it’s one of the things that sets us apart from other ribbon mic companies. Most other ribbons, if you look back at some
of the older ones, even the older RCAs, the 77s, some of them were tuned up at 40 Hz,
70 Hz, and much higher. That’s one of the things that the 44 and all
of our microphones that are Figure-Of-Eight, at 16 1/2 Hz, they have an unmatched bass
that’s just incredible. They can reproduce frequencies all the way
back, at the back of an orchestra. So, that’s where 44s really got their start
was, they have what’s called a treble-to-bass ratio, meaning from 20 feet away, meaning
you could stick a 44 at the back of an orchestra and capture the low end of an upright bass,
so that actually became a standard, and still is to this day, in the movie industry where
you’ll have two 44s capturing strings left and right, uhh, and then people will take
that same mic and croon into it from up close to emphasize the bass in their voice. Or in front of a kick drum is incredible because
of the amount of oomph and bass that that mic can capture.

3 comments

Great video! I just shoot one restoring my 1955 RCA BK5B that I found in a box from my uncle!! Check it out! ​@​

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