AES Section Meeting Reports

Pacific Northwest - November 21, 2010

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Taking advantage of circumstances, the PNW Section snagged Wes Dooley of AEA (Audio Engineering Associates) on short notice for an afternoon chat. Wes and AEA are known as producers of RCA-style ribbon microphones and vendors of recording gear, based in Pasadena, California. The meeting was held at Opus 4 Studios in Bothell, WA, with 9 AES members and 14 non-members attending.

Wes related how he started in audio, working in radio, doing sound at the Troubador in L.A. and learning from recording legend Wally Heider about using ribbon mikes. AEA would become a primary repair facility for classic RCA mikes and made many replacement parts. When RCA stopped making microphones in the 1970s, Wes decided he was uniquely positioned to make his own, improved versions of the classic RCA ribbon mikes.

Construction details and characteristics of various microphones were described, such as how directional pickup patterns are achieved with ribbon and condenser mikes, and proximity effect in directional mikes. Wes said that he feels they have achieved better consistency with their models than the originals, and utilize improved materials, such as neodymium magnets, and better manufacturing methods, such as machining some parts instead of casting them.

Comparisons were drawn between condenser and ribbon technologies. Ribbons, while needing large and powerful magnets, are tuned to about 16.5 Hz and don't develop the high frequency resonances that the higher tensioned condenser diaphragms do. The ribbon circuit is inherently low impedance, while condenser circuits are ultra-high impedance.

AEA now makes several models of ribbons with specific characteristics, such as different delay paths for different source/mike distances, lower price points, active electronics, even a stereo model. They also sell a preamp optimized for ribbons, designed with the help of Fred Forssell.

Several caveats were also explored. The often undeserved reputation for delicacy was discussed at length, although blowing into the ribbon is still not recommended, nor was allowing stray bits of "tramp iron" filings near the mikes due to the powerful magnets. Wes also warned against applying P48 power to transformered mikes, since a magnetized transformer may alter the sound. It is usually fairly easy to demagnetize transformers, however.

Door prizes were given out at break:
Gary Beebe: jazz CD from Rick Chinn
Paul Colvin: Jensina Byington CD from Opus 4
Rick Ruskin: Exhibitor directory from 129th AES convention
Steve Wilkins: AEA demo CD

A Q & A session finished the afternoon.

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AES - Audio Engineering Society