Monday, July 15, 2013

REVIEW: Royer R122

royer_r122I am  not a fan of history. By that I mean I am not inclined to want to own "vintage" crap simply because it was used by old guys (like me) on old projects that have taken on some sort of historical sheen simply because they were done a long time ago. For years, I thought most of the hype and smoke surrounding ribbon microphones was the same kind of hype wrapped around "pre-CBS" Fender and "PAF" Gibson guitars. I've owned a bunch of those instruments and I'd usually rather have something new and well-engineered than something old and over-priced. So, when I bought my first Royer ribbon I wanted the "modern" version of Royer's products; the mic with the internal amp to reduce the requirement for super high-gain pre-amplification that plagues most ribbon applications.

The R122 is the higher priced version of the R121, due to the phantom powered internal amp. The cool thing about this electronic improvement is that the usual signal loading and frequency altering difficulties you have with matching ribbons to mic pres is dramatically improved. You no longer need a mic pre with super-quiet 85dB gain to use a ribbon on acoustic instruments. You can use a pair of these ribbons to Blumlein stereo record a room full of musicians without worrying about noise marring your recording.

With the technical limitations out of the way, let's discuss the advantages of this ribbon microphone. First, there is a quality to ribbons that is unlike any other acoustic transducer. A ribbon is low-mass, quick to respond to acoustic pressures, sensitive to small variations in sound, and oddly non-linear. While the frequency response of the R122 is as broad and flat as a small element condenser, the actual sound is quite different. Every ribbon I've ever used has affected me in a similar manner; the sound of a ribbon is something like very subtle, musical limiting of the signal. Once, at a trade show, I engaged Dave Royer in a conversation about this effect and he quickly shifted into math-speak and attempted to describe how the combination of the fixed edges of the ribbon combined with the anti-nodes across the length of the ribbon to create a collection of signals, instead of the more unified transducer motion exhibited by a condenser or a moving coil. Intuitively, I knew what he was saying from a mechanical view and from how I've interpreted the actual sound of a ribbon. Intellectually, he lost me at "derivative" and looped back on me with a gang of "integrations."  The end result is that a ribbon can smooth out some signals in a very natural, acoustic manner that integrates into the recording process in a "better than real" way.

To try and explain this in a more musical description, it might be best to refer you to the Royer Demonstration CD. There are lots of recordings on that CD that do a wonderful job of demonstrating the character of Royer's products. For myself, I have found that a pair of R122's XY'd (Blumlein) about 8" above the soundboard, roughly centered over the logo, is about the most usable grand piano sound I have ever achieved. I have used variations of this positioning on recordings from classical to jazz to rock performances and I'm not sure I've ever heard better results anywhere. Spacing a pair of R122's--one near the logo peaking over a brace toward the upper octaves and one slanted across the bass bridge near the back of the piano--is another terrific pop piano sound, with exaggerated breadth and accented dynamics at the top and bottom aural spectrum. Both of these techniques are solid with programmable polarity condensers, but have a special kind of life with a ribbon. A ribbon with the R122's broad response brings a completely different character to these techniques.

Everything on which I've tried the R122 has been flavored with the character of this microphone; from vocals to horn sections to acoustic and electric guitar. There is something exceptionally musical about the R122 that adds a natural, present, enhanced flavor to the sound of acoustic instruments. I know that sounds contradictory, but it's the best I can do in describing a musical quality in words. It is far better to simply try the microphone and come up with your own words to describe what it does. To put it simply, I think you will like what you hear.

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.