Jamestown Revival Performs Live with R44 / Photo by Stefanie Vinsel

It’s Time to use your Ribbon Mics Live 

Using Ribbon Mics On The Road

From the 1930s through the 1970s, ribbon microphones were a staple of live performances around the world. Crooners — often in front of big bands and orchestras — would sing into RCA 44s and 77s — using the proximity effect to enhance their voices in live performances.

However, as live sound reinforcement systems improved and new wireless microphones were developed, the audio world changed. Ribbon mics were relegated to being studio instruments, while rugged dynamics and condensers gradually replaced them in live performance venues.

The same artists who used dynamic and condenser microphones live, often returned to ribbons to add warmth and character to their sound for album recordings. For many years, these performers knew that the mics they used live on stage didn’t fully capture the natural sound and vibe of their valued recordings. But they used them anyway, thinking there were no real alternatives.

The Solution

AEA considered the problem and worked to solve it by developing more durable, portable, active ribbon microphones appropriate for both studio and live use. It was a major breakthrough in ribbon microphone design. We call the line the NUVO series.

Weighing about one pound and preamp flexible, these new NUVO mics began to attract attention. Bands adopted NUVO mics for the road, having noticed how dramatically their live sound had improved. Live shows were now sounding like album recordings.

This new generation of ribbon mics has the same Big Ribbon sound as the rest of AEA’s line but are now available in a modern form factor that is not only far more rugged but more convenient to use. For the first time, it is possible to get the “studio” sound and vibe on stage.

AEA’s NUVO series mics consist of the N22 near-field mic and the N8 far-field mic. Both are the same size and offer that classic ribbon sound, but each mic has a specialty.

Ribbon Mics
The N22 Near-field Ribbon Microphone

Many bands currently tour with the N22 and mostly use it to close mic electric guitar cabs and for ensembles of acoustic groups. Since the N22 is a near-field, it can be positioned right up against the amp and capture a fully balanced sound with top end without the need to blend another dynamic mic. There is no boominess from proximity effect.

Because of the N22’s small size, ruggedness and portability, bands can easily store them in a small touring case and bring them on the road without worry. The mic also has active electronics and a custom transformer that give the N22 more output than passive ribbons and keeps the impedance consistent, regardless of console or preamp. Just plug in 48-phantom power and the mic works.

Grizzly Bear Performs Live on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert With N22s on guitar, bass, and keys

The N22 is equally good for ensemble, Americana and gospel vocals in acoustic groups — especially when singing around one microphone. It is also excellent for close pickup of acoustic string instruments.

For outdoor use, a custom NUVO windscreen is available for the N22, which already comes with two stages of internal blast protection. The optional windscreen adds a third stage, making the N22 virtually impervious to plosives, pops and wind blasts. The screen eliminates problems with lip-touching vocals, bass amps or outdoor stage use with the N22 using this multilayer combination.

Ribbon Mics
The N8 Far-field Ribbon Microphone

The N8, a far-field companion to the N22, is a popular choice for drum overheads on the road. Because it shares the same form factor, active electronics and transformer as the N22, it can sit beside the N22 and is distinguished only by its darker color.

In designing the N8, we set out to create an open and natural sounding ribbon microphone for use at a distance from the source. Not only does it capture drum overheads, but it sounds great on individual and acoustic instruments from a distance.

To achieve this open and natural tonality, the ribbon element of the N8 is almost completely exposed. The custom windscreen provides a single, yet robust, stage of wind protection, essential in venues with high-velocity HVAC systems or summer festival music stages with the sides open to the elements. The windscreen also provides a physical cushion for survival in stage accidents.

NUVO Portability
Autolux Performs Live During a Windstorm at Sasquatch Festival with N8s on Overheads and N22s on Guitar

Both the N22 and N8 use the same ribbon element as the iconic RCA 44 microphone, yet both are designed to offer a fresh approach to the ribbon transducer. Though the mics look radically different than their RCA ancestors, the sound is remarkably similar.

AEA offers a special touring tube for the NUVO mics for musicians and engineers who travel. The cases are very small, allowing numerous mics to be packed safely in a small bag for the road.

Bands now using N22s and N8s on the road include Leon Bridges, Alicia Keys, Bonnie Raitt, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Aerosmith, Andy Shauf, Brandi Carlile, Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, Alabama Shakes, War On Drugs, Local Natives, The Head and The Heart, Sara Watkins, Kurt Vile, Deerhunter, Jamestown Revival, JOHNNYSWIM, Brandi Carlile, Autolux, Foxygen, The Districts, Ariel Pink, Band of Horses, Valerie June, Pedro the Lion, Kruger Brothers, Cam, Mitski, and more.

Any AEA Microphone Can Be Used on the Road

Outside of the NUVO series, many bands are touring with AEA microphones like the R84, KU4, KU5A, and even R44. Leon Bridges tours with R84s on overheads and saxophone, R92 on kick drum and guitars. The Leon Bridges’ video above also features the R84 on backing vocals and KU4 on lead vocals.

Harry Stinson, vocalist, drummer and one of Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives, described why he uses AEA’s N22 on his drums and often for ensemble vocals, as well as AEA R92 ribbons on guitar cabs.

“Condensers are a little spitty…sometimes big diaphragm mics just don’t get it and it hard to pull them up in the mix. Mics like the AEA ribbons just make the music sound natural. It’s what I’m hearing from a guitar when I listen with my ears. Condensers sound processed to me. Sometimes you need that, but most of the time you don’t. I like that warm ribbon sound.”

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