Recording singer-songwriters is as much a science as it is an art and choosing the correct microphone can really make all the difference. Anyone who has tried to record an acoustic guitar with a standard dynamic microphone like the workhorse Shure SM57 can tell you that it fails to capture the subtle detail found in any quality acoustic guitar. Condenser microphones are common, too, but nothing really captures detail like a ribbon microphone. AEA has made a name for themselves in specializing in these very particular microphones and the AEA N22 ribbon microphone is a testament to their expertise. If this is too ‘high-end’ for you, check out the AT 2020 review.
The N22 is specifically designed for singer-songwriters, musicians, and studios. It is a well-designed and well-constructed piece of equipment that will last years to come.
Ribbon microphones, however, are especially fragile. They don’t hold up well to abuse, unlike our aforementioned SM57 workhorse that I have personally thrown on stage, only to pick it up again, fully functional. If one were to do that with a ribbon, you’d be in the hole (£875). That being said, however well-made this thing is, it’s a good idea to baby it.
Sound and Specs
The N22 utilizes Big RibbonTM technology that made AEA famous in studios around the world.
As with any ribbon microphone, the N22 has a bidirectional — or figure-8 — pickup pattern, such that it picks up sound at its front and back while rejecting the sides and vertically in both directions. This is especially nice when recording a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar: one side picks up the guitar directly, while the other side picks up the room ambience. If your studio is a nice sounding space, you’d do well to use something like the N22. The wide pattern also enables one, when angling the mic, to pickup both the guitar and the voice.
Vintage ribbon mics, while highly sought after, tend to have poor bass response unless the metal ribbon is left fairly loose, making it even more fragile. The N22, however, has a frequency response down to 20Hz and up to 20kHz; the full range of human hearing while maintaining a relatively flat response. Moreover, the fact that it’s a ribbon allows one to pick up all the subtle detail of a guitar or voice. The thing to note, though, is that placement is very important for a ribbon: due to the nature of a ribbon microphone, placing it too close to the sound source can make a recording very “boomy”, while placing it too far loses low end definition. The N22, though, has a large sweet spot and is very forgiving in terms of placement, but it’s still very important to not haphazardly place the microphone. There is a whole art of microphone placement that is far beyond the scope of this review.
The N22’s aluminum ribbon is also highly protected, such that very loud sounds — think live music — can still be captured without either damaging the microphone or destroying the recording. It’s max SPL is 141dB; just 10dB shy of eardrum rupture and about the equivalent to an aircraft carrier deck. Basically, it will handle anything you throw at it unless you also want to be deaf.
An internal preamp (phantom powered) ensures one doesn’t have to crank the gain on their mixer or external preamp to achieve adequate levels. The JFET electronics with a custom German-made transformer gives the N22 excellent performance with any preamp, especially one designed for ribbon mics.
At £875 in the UK it’s really an investment into your craft or business. Not a bargain mic, but it’s certainly not meant to be. The N22 is a serious microphone for the serious studio engineer.
The N22 is also available as a stereo pair; useful if one wants to make a Blumlein Pair to preserve the spatial characteristics of a recording. A one-year warranty (can be increased to 2 years with the return of your registration card) rounds off your purchase and you can be confident that the N22 will hold up to years of use and provide wonderful sounding recordings. If you need one ribbon in your microphone arsenal, an AEA is what you want and the N22 is at the top of that list.
When it comes to ribbon microphones, AEA is the best in the business. I mean, their domain is ribbonmics.com. They know what they’re doing.
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