One of the many things I love about owning a studio and making records is the bonding we do with our clients during the intense collaborations we call record-making. I've been extremely fortunate because most all of these have turned into long-lasting friendships. Lately, due to this Tape Op gig, I've been more aware of the relationships that can happen with the people who make the tools that we use. Way back in June 2011, AEA founder Wes Dooley showed up at High Bias with a trunk full of his company's mics. We did a session together, and then he kicked my ass on a bike ride to downtown Detroit to see the fireworks. This day changed the trajectory of my recording career. Something about the sheer joy of hearing top-shelf ribbon mics all day, combined with the humility of having a dude 30 years my senior take off like a demon and nearly lose me in my own city on a bicycle, really made an impression! That day, I acquired my third AEA mic, the R88 Mk2 stereo ribbon, and a relationship was born. A few years later, Wes and AEA wunderkind Sammy Rothman stopped by, fairly unannounced, and dropped off a pair each of their Nuvo series ribbons — the N8 and the N22. I told them I was leaving for tour the next day, so I wouldn't be able to use them right away. Both of them got the same devious look on their faces, and Wes said, "Take them!" So I was off on tour with a huge improvement to my mic package.
For the uninitiated — the N8 is the far-field companion to the stellar N22. The mics share identical electronics, but the difference in voicing, and thus placement, is achieved acoustically inside the mics, making for two tonally similar mics for two different applications. Both sport the world- class AEA craftsmanship and are insanely durable, as proven on tour.
Charlie Hall is easily one of my favorite drummers to mic. I had the privilege to do this 200 times or so while on tour with The War on Drugs. About half of these times were pre- N8. We mic'ed the cymbals from underneath, positioning the mics' diaphragms parallel to the ground, figuring that what we sacrificed in tone was offset by what we gained in aesthetics, with no visible stands. This technique is tricky not only due to tonal issues, but also in terms of wear and tear. Both Laurence Eaves (on stage monitors) and I love ribbon mics, so I surprised him with the N8s in this position, replacing the other ribbons we had been using. We were both floored. This band is surprisingly loud off the floor, and Charlie is a downright animal on the kit (in the best way), so we had our fingers crossed. Sonically, these mics made a huge difference in everyone's in-ear mixes, and they greatly improved the recordings that were made at festivals and TV appearances. At FOH, the difference was profound as well. I began using the mics' figure-8 nulls in placement to keep hats and snare out, while accentuating tom bleed. This enabled me to capture Charlie's intense dynamic and articulate badassery like I would have at home. During soundcheck, I would line-check through his channels and then mute everything but the N8s, and use those as the core of my drum sound, peppering in the other channels as needed. Typically, I would high-pass these at 150 Hz, and do nothing else. This is not news to anyone in a studio, but at a live gig, this kind of setup opens you up to a world of uncertainty in terms of feedback and stage bleed. I'm happy to say, the N8 mics performed flawlessly, and I had zero problems in this area. When we made the switch to the N8s, we also swapped to N22s on two of Adam Granduciel's five amps. Adam is a bona fide guitar hero, and his tone has a lot going on effects-wise — not to mention his volume tops out around 115 dB SPL! These mics became the core of his live sound and never even broke a sweat. Both the N8 and N22 pairs lived in an overstuffed Pelican case, with all the other mics and claws, protected only by the Shure pouches I stuffed them in, during months of travel around the world. No issues — not even one.
Michael Anne Erlewine is the real deal. She sings these beautifully disarming songs you swear you've heard before while knowing you haven't. The sound is decidedly folk in the classic sense. We used the N8 mics in a vertical Blumlein Pair placement at the 12th fret of her guitar, about a foot away. We would then position Anne to "EQ" the guitar — to her left if we needed more bass and the opposite direction for less boom. The image captured was staggeringly accurate. There were times where I was sure she was in the control room rehearsing when I was making coffee in the next room. It turns out producer Chris Bathgate was having Anne do a run-through on vocals. I love when a recording chain is so real it fools your senses. We used the N8 on upright bass next. Serge van der Voo dropped by to lend his skills and prowess. I used the mic's proximity effect to our advantage to get a deep low-end while still picking up tons of detail in the mids while bowing. Upright is always tough for me. I grew up on Jimmy Garrison, and the two female studio cats here are reverently referred to as "Alan Silva and Henry Grimes," so I guess it's a combination of high standards and the challenge of capturing an instrument with a crazy frequency range. The bass tracks we recorded were the best I've ever documented. I'd love to take the credit, but it was the N8! Ben Gugino came back to slay the kit as usual. We used the N8s as rear and front room mics for the kit. They went through a Rascal Audio Two-V preamp and into a Chiswick Reach 20th Anniversary Edition compressor. With the compressor in bypass, the room sound was delicately clear and natural. The sound was absurdly sick with the Chiswick Reach on. I'll get to this in a later review, but this is a great compressor in the "is this thing on?" vein. It added this beautiful movement to the transient response that really made the drums shine on these tracks. We then moved to vocals. Anne is a great singer. Her dynamics are controlled and her delivery is very personal, without being overly emotive. There is a laid-back feel to her singing that gives her songs an almost second-nature vibe without being nonchalant. We went through a few of Chris's favorite mics that he's loved on his voice, but as anyone will tell you, the female voice is very different. All of the mics we tried were too thin or lacked detail and presence. After 30 minutes or so, I lost patience and grabbed an N8 from the drums and put a pop filter 12'' in front of it. The results were downright captivating. The openness of the N8 seemed to pull her voice through the signal chain in a really appealing way. Her vocals sat in the mix perfectly and had that same in-room vibe during playback.
We Are Hex are a supremely badass rock 'n' roll band from Indianapolis. Think The Birthday Party meets Gang of Four fronted by Diamanda Galás and Robert Plant's pot-selling runaway daughter. No shit. Anyhow, these guys came in for a week, and we made a great record. I used a pair of the N8s on the stereo rig of guitarist Matt "Starchild" Hagan. Again, we all remarked at the detail and the fact that it sounded like his amp was sitting on the meter bridge.
I also love this mic on strings! We had a session recently where we were stacking overdubs of a cello and fiddle duo to achieve more of a section vibe. I used Bartlett Spark and Fiddle mics and used the N8 farther out to supplement the close fiddle mic. Again, this is one of those difficult sources for me, but we got great results with minimal stress. On piano, this mic slays. I use two N8s all the time on the baby grand in a spaced-pair configuration, and they are crushing. All that detail and sense of space really makes tracks easy to place in a mix. A three-mic drum session happened off the cuff here for an auxiliary drum overdub. Things can get hairy when you double the drums, so we went for a totally different sound. The N8 shares some sonic DNA with the R88 for sure, so it was like being able to use that beast of a mic in a dual mono, Glyn Johns configuration, and the take turned out great in combination with the other kit. Honestly, I didn't find anything that the N8 didn't make sound great anywhere you'd use a normal ribbon, with the exception of close mic'ing, but the N22 is appropriately voiced for close applications. At this (or any) price-point, you'd be hard pressed to find mics more useful for more applications. Both the N8 and N22 mics are a joy to use, and I'm privileged to have them.