The SE R1s have been around for a little while. They came out at a similar time to the Sontronics Sigmas and together they present a more affordable option to studios wanting the ribbon sound in their armoury. The Sigmas are pretty good, I used them on several projects a year or more ago. But now my current studio, Silver Street Studios have invested in the SE R1s so I thought I’d give them a quick test run for the blog.
SE make two Ribbon microphones, the R1 (now VR1) and the RNR1, The RNR1 is designed by Rupert Neve, costs around £1000 and represented SE’s ambition to move on from budget microphone manufacturer to a serious player in the field. It’s been some time since that move was made and I’m beginning to feel more and more like it was a great success. The hope is that the SE have taken what they learn’t in manufacturing the RNR1s and used it in the cheaper R1s. Still not too cheap, the original RRP for one was about £500. But now thanks to SE’s new VR1, the R1 can be picked up at a fantastic price.
The R1 is presented in a rock-steady flight case with reinforced corners and metal hinges and catches. It’s so easy for microphone companies to overlook the importance of a good box (yes, I’m looking at you EV and your RE20)! The SE box here would protect the microphone through the nuclear apocalypse as well as stacking well in storage and providing strong handles for carrying. Little things, I know, but, for me at least, it all adds up!
The cradle is also superbly crafted. It’s a snug fit and the mic locks in using a bolt around it’s XLR jack that when screwed up appears to be part of the design seamlessly. The elastic is quite ridged and hooked in well. The moveable joints are also firm. This all means that the cradle is very strong and keeps the mic where you want it without flopping.
Test 1 is a recording of a pair of Rode NT5s, set up as a coincident X-Y pair directly above the kit. The NT5s are a good example of standard small diaphragm condensers. They are cardioid and produce a tight, close overhead recording. They work well as a control for our experiments.
The R1s where placed as a Blumlein pair as close as possible to the NT5s.
Test 2 is the raw mic capture. You can immediately here the classic ribbon roll off above 5-10kHz. There is a strong prominence of snare and the kick drum is clearer than that of the NT5s. The R1s sound warm, analogue and they have more ambiance. The live room at Silver Street Studios has hard wood and stone flooring and creates a lively space that can clearly be heard throught the R1s.
Next I added a high shelf EQ of 5dB above 8k (Test 3) using a Waves Renaissance EQ. I did this to bring back some of the highs lost by using the Ribbons. You’ll notice that rather than creating a more typical condenser sound when you boost the highs on these ribbon microphones there is a space and liveliness that brings back the shimmer to the cymbals and keeps weight in the drums. The drums seem well balanced in this recording and I would say that with a bit of compression we’d almost have a complete drum sound from our overheads. So that’s what I did in Test 4. Be warned the average level is higher on this clip so you might wish to adjust your master volume.
We also tested the R1s on an electric guitar and vocals. On guitar the roll off softened an aggressive tone and worked well on less gainy amp settings. It sounded very affected close mic’d and more realistic but ambient at a distance.
On vocals the Ribbons were lovely! Especially once a high shelf was applied. The recording was smooth, warm and analogue sounding. Potentially harsh peaks seemed to be rounded over and the mic coped well with dynamic changes.
I am so pleased to have these in our armoury at Silver Street. They are fantastic. I don’t think I’ll rush to them for electric guitar, but they will be sure favourites for an awful lot! They’ll obviously suit certain genres better than others. They should work well on vocals in nearly any mix and for a natural sounding recording with acoustic space and warmth these will be my new number ones.
By Graeme Rawson, with help during testing from Chris Morrow.