Review: Cloud Microphones 44-A

An Active Ribbon Mic with a Switchable Response
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Active ribbon microphones have been a boon to the personal studio, particularly for musicians using audio-interface preamps that don’t provide enough gain to amplify a passive ribbon mic adequately. Cloud Microphones has offered an active ribbon—the JRS-34—for years, along with a passive model, both of which follow the RCA design legacy.

The company recently released the 44-A, an active ribbon mic with a twist: It gives you the option of changing the transducer’s low-frequency response.

The mic has a switch on the bottom indicating M and V settings: Music and Voice. The Music setting allows the mic’s natural low-end boost to occur—in this case as much as 6 dB for frequencies below 300 Hz. The Voice setting gradually reduces low-end response, starting at about 250 Hz, by -10 dB at roughly 30 Hz. That's perfect for taming proximity effect when close-miking a singer. Fortunately, no noise is generated by switching between the two settings.

Top end remains mainly unchanged by the switch. The included frequency response chart shows a small presence boost around 5 kHz before a gradual dip to -10 dB by around 19 kHz. Yet the mic has a mellow, pleasing high-frequency response. And the 44-A has the same internal amp circuitry found in Cloudlifter, the “pre-preamp” Cloud Microphones developed for using passive-ribbon mics with low-cost interfaces.

The 44-A includes a handsome wooden box, a drawstring cover to protect against airborne materials when it’s on the stand, and, most important, a Rycote custom-designed Cloud U-1 universal shockmount. The U-1 eschews elastic bands for a series of lyremounts that decouple the mic from stand vibration. Rarely does a mic include such a high-quality shockmount, but ribbon mics are sensitive to vibration, so it's essential. The 44-A also sports a swivel mount next to the switch, which can be used in a pinch, and an adequately vibration-isolated stand.

I worked with the mic over several weeks, using the preamps in my MOTU Traveler Mk3 and Millennia Media HV-37, to track male and female voices (spoken-word and singing), a bright Taylor acoustic guitar, guitar amps, percussion, and drums (as an overhead). Throughout the sessions, I appreciated having the voicing switch, which allowed me to hone in on solid tones and suggested some mic placements that I wouldn’t have tried otherwise; for example, taking out the lows using the Voice setting in order to cheat the mic closer to a guitar amp to make a single-note melody sound smoother.

It’s worth noting that, according to the manufacturer, the symmetrical nature of the 44-A’s figure-8 pattern also enhances the directionality of the pickup. This not only provides deep null points, which are useful to reject sound outside of the polar pattern, but it also means that moving the sound source off axis even a little can significantly alter the timbre. I put this to good use to capture interesting sounds with the amps: marimba and acoustic guitar. And, of course, you can combine distance and off-axis positioning to dial-in the right sound with a vocalist.

The 44-A is by no means a budget mic, but this is definitely a case where you get what you pay for—a well-crafted ribbon transducer that offers enough versatility to cover a wide variety of recording situations.

Phantom powered for use with low-cost preamps. Ability to reduce proximity effect using the Voice setting. Great sound quality. High-quality shockmount included.

Nothing significant.

$1,899 street