Studio Secrets Unveiled: The R88 Stereo Microphone

One Mic To Rule Them All

In the golden age of live radio, musicians and actors learned to physically move in and out around a single RCA 44BX ribbon mic to perform solos or read their dramatic parts in radio dramas. It was a unique form of choreography that allowed ensembles to do complex performances around one microphone.

Today, the same interactions work around the AEA R88 stereo ribbon microphone, an extremely flexible stereo far-field mic used by recording engineers as diverse as Vance Powell, Ryan Hewitt, Joe Chiccarelli, and John Cuniberti. In fact, the R88 has become an essential tool for their recordings.

The R88 works in a myriad of ways — from group ensembles and entire bands to recording drum overheads, pianos, orchestras and the ambient sound of rooms. It is one of the most versatile microphones in the AEA line.

Ribbon Mics
It’s All About The Space

The design of the R88 borrows from serious stereo recording tradition. In 1931, EMI engineer Alan Blumlein invented stereo recording by demonstrating the natural reproduction of the soundstage in one of the Abbey Road studios in London. Today, Blumlein’s coincident recording technique lives on in the R88, which uses two figure-of-8 ribbons for producing an authentic representation of a performance.

R88-polar-overlayThe R88 uses two of AEA’s signature Big Ribbon elements angled at 90 degrees and mounted in close proximity to each other along the vertical axis of the microphone. As an alternative to Blumlein’s technique, the microphone can also be used for MS stereo, providing excellent mono compatibility and full control over the width of the stereo image.

Because of its design, the R88 can be used without the user having to worry about weird phase issues because the two internal ribbons are aligned to be in perfect phase with each other.

Ribbon Mics
The Glue

As a far-field ribbon, the mic picks up a significant amount of bass from over 20 feet (6 meters) away from the source. With the R88, you’ll never have to worry about retaining the low-end of your 26-inch kick drum when miking it from the top of a stairwell or the back of a scoring stage!

Zach Harmon “Drum Solo” AEA Session with R88 on room 20 feet away

Just as with the RCA 44BX in the era of radio broadcasting, the R88 carries on the tradition of being the glue that holds everything together in a recording. Many engineers place it in the middle of the room to add more depth and ambience to their projects. It instantly captures a punchy, “larger than life” image.

In almost every AEA Session video, there is a near-field AEA microphone close-miking the musician while an R88 sits at the back of the room to capture the natural room ambience. The R88 creates the element of space in these recordings and makes the listener feel as if they are sitting in the same room as the performer.

One mic to bring them all and in the sound waves bind them
Much like the ringbearer was shielded by the fellowship, so must the big ribbon be surrounded by materials that preserve the integrity of its structure.

John Cuniberti uses the R88 in another traditional way in his OneMic series— a project aimed at capturing a band in one take, without edits or overdubs. The R88 was his mic of choice, due to its outstanding low-end response, open sound, and design simplicity. Cuniberti held the R88 accountable to its unofficial nickname, “the set it and forget it mic”. In this series, one microphone does it all — just as it was with some of the greatest mono recordings ever made.

Early methods for capturing ensembles involved gathering several vocalists and instrumentalists around one mic for practical purposes. Mixing the volumes of individual performers required physically adjusting the formation of the ensemble around the microphone or asking instrumentalists to temper their playing volume.

In his OneMic series, Cuniberti implements the R88 in that same spirit and the resulting recordings are a testament to the organic energy of the captured moment. The major difference with the R88, of course, is that breathtaking, natural stereo is captured in a truly organic way.

OneMic-John-Cuniberti-Diagram-San-Geronimo

In the following video, John describes the process of setting up a band for recording.

The Minimalist Design

The R88 and its single-channel sibling, the N8, were designed with minimal material surrounding the ribbon. This design yields an astonishingly open, natural sound that accurately reflects the room it inhabits.

In whatever capacity you see fit to use it, the R88 will serve to unify your recordings with a comprehensive and complete sound. Many engineers who recognize that potential won’t press record on their project until an R88 is in the room.

Ribbon Recap
John Cuniberti’s OneMic series: Recording bands with a single mic

Engineer John Cuniberti aims to capture a band in one take, without edits or overdubs, but sound as balanced as a conventional multi-track recording.

How-To
How To Record Drums With the R88
How-To
How To Record Full Bands and Natural Reverb With the R88