News

26 Aug 2015

Toolbox Review: AEA N8 BI-DIRECTIONAL RIBBON MICROPHONE

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The latest microphone to come knocking on my door down here at The Mill has been AEA’s new N8 phantom powered, bi-directional ribbon; a mid-sized side-address mic that sounds superb on a wide variety of sources.

From the moment it arrived here it’s been hard at work recording everything from loud drums and percussion to screeching vocals and trumpet.

It’s been fantastic in front of a Fender guitar amp/ Stratocaster combo that was generally sounding bright and more than a little harsh to the ear. Through the N8 via a Neve 1073 preamp the electric guitar sounded fantastic – like all good ribbons the N8 is great at hearing past the shrill harshness and revealing the true essence of the sound.

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On a harsh male voice the results were the same: superb ‘deafness’ to the sounds I didn’t want to capture, revealing the beauty of what lay beneath with detail and balance. This is where ribbons are best deployed: in situations where a condenser would tend to exacerbate the bright elements of the source. (The previous week I’d recorded the same singer with a Lewitt LCT 640 and the results were unflattering… the AEA N8 sounded smooth as silk by contrast, proving that a mic is only ever as good as your capacity to match it to the sound source.)

The N8 is a well-constructed, relatively lightweight microphone that’s easily placed in awkward positions and at odd angles that other ribbons can at times be too cumbersome to situate themselves in. Its satin black finish is understated but classy, looking almost like an extension of the microphone stand. The N8 also comes with a simple but effective shock absorbing mic clip that holds the mic firmly in place.

Built in Pasadena, California, the hand crafted N8 can cope with an impressive 141dB of sound pressure, and offers deep nulls (up to 90dB) at 90 ̊ and 270 ̊ (the plane of rejection), making it brilliant at minimising spill from other instruments when these are placed in either of the mic’s null positions.

A word of caution here, however: though it’s an active ribbon with great specs, the N8 is still a relatively fragile tool, as are all ribbons. Care must always be taken to avoid placing the mic in front
of wind gusts, which can come from a much wider range of sound sources than you might think. Voices, guitar amps, kick drums (particularly ones with ported skins), brass and wind instruments are all capable of doing this mic an injury. So when in doubt, tilt the mic off-axis and/or use a pop shield. To test if the mic is in danger of copping a blast of air, place the back of your hand in the position where you want the mic to go, and determine if there are any gusts that instinctively feel too strong for the mic.

The other thing to be mindful of is that ribbons are essentially magnets, so they’re great at picking up tiny iron particles (sometimes called ‘tramp iron’) off the ground, off bench tops etc. These can eventually damage the element so always keep ribbon mics stored in their cases when not in use, and never place them on desks or on the floor.

AEA has been an impressive ribbon manufacturer for years now and the N8 is a classy addition to the company’s impressive range. I’d get two if I could afford them, but these mics don’t come cheap. They’re not crazy money, sure, but there are lots of ribbons around now that can do a very good job at relatively low cost. But one N8 for your collection that can play the role of ‘mellow mainstay’ vocal mic? Brilliant.

Price: AUD$1,565

Mixmasters: (08) 8278 8506 or www.mixmasters.com.au

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