Do you want your ribbon mic passive, active or both?
Review by Paul Vnuk Jr.
Thanks to the runaway success of the near-ubiquitous Cloudlifter, it’s easy to forget that Cloud Microphones (Cloud) is also a microphone company… it’s in the name. With the release of the Cloud 44 Passive Ribbon Mic and matching Cloudlifter CL-1b, both halves of the company combine in a single package.
Past and Present
Located in Arizona and run by namesake Rodger Cloud, Cloud mics are rooted in the RCA ribbon school. They lean liberally on a mixture of classic Jon R. Sank and Dr. Harry F. Olson innovations, especially the 1930s RCA 44A that Rodger favors over the later 44BX.
Still, Cloud mics are not meant to be replicas or clones. Instead, the company ethos centers around what RCA mics might be like if their design team had access to today’s tools and materials versus the 1930s. It is worth noting that Rodger and his team use a spot-on replica of
Harry Olson’s 1930s ribbon crimper.
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Scott Dorsey looked at the Cloud JRS-34 (active) and JRS-34P (passive) ribbon microphones and the Cloudlifter CL-1 in our June 2010 issue. In August 2014, I reviewed the 44-A ribbon mic that offers multiple voice options and an active circuit built upon the Cloudlifter Z (reviewed December 2012).
All Cloud mics share the same 7.75″x 3″ x 1.75″ body. The new Cloud 44 is finished in a midnight black, semi-gloss ceramic coating commonly used to coat firearms. It also has the benefit of dampening resonances. Note, there was a limited edition passive Cloud 44 produced ten years ago in shiny chrome finish.
Noticeably more slender and impressively light (just more than a pound) than vintage RCA 44 models, the Cloud 44 retains the classic angled metal grill with a protruding center bump. This bump is designed to combat plosives when used up-close for singing and spoken word. Behind the grill is a thin black, sheer fabric based upon modified RCA 44 designs. It lessens airblasts and keeps the ribbon motor free from debris.
On the bottom of the body are an XLR socket and a built-in 180足 swivel mount.
Rev That Motor
The corrugated ribbon element is 1.9″ wide, 2.35″ long and 1.8 microns thick. The motor is internally shock-mounted in a spring-loaded suspension. The output transformer is a Cinemag transformer with a 1:28 winding.
Like the Cloud 44-A, the new passive model is based upon the classic hard-edge magnet design found in the RCA 44A rather than the rounded magnets employed in the later RCA 44BX series. The round variation is used in the Cloud JRS-34. The difference comes down to how the sound waves reflect and interact with the internal surfaces. BX-based designs tend to have a slightly more forward 12 kHz presence and more open upper mid-range than the smoother, natural tone of the early models on which the Cloud 44 is based.
The Cloud 44 has a wide, bold, tapered 2-5dB low-end lift from 20 Hz to 80 Hz, an even mid-range with a 1dB peak at 6 kHz, followed by a deep high-end roll-off. The mic has a generous proximity effect when up on the mic. Plus, it has a super-tight off-axis null. Set to full-range Music mode, the Cloud 44-A and the new Cloud 44 are essentially the same microphone.
A Midnight Lift
While the Cloud 44-A features a built-in Cloudlifter circuit, the passive Cloud 44 gets its active boost from an included midnight black edition Cloudlifter. The CL-1b is optimized for use with the Cloud 44 and features an added 3 k 目 resistor to ensure greater consistency with high-impedance preamps. It is as simple as removing an internal jumper if you wish to convert the CL-1b back to stock status.
Smooth Clouds of Sound
Sonically the Cloud 44 is full, even, smooth and natural. Both lifted and not, the passive and active 44 models are aurally indistinguishable, and both models can be used side-by-side in spaced stereo and Blumlein applications.
I also compared the Cloud 44 to an AEA R44CE (a modern recreation of the RCA 44BX), a Royer R-121 and an sE Electronics Voodoo VR1—all passive designs. The sE was the most modern and open sounding of the bunch; the Royer was the tightest and mid-forward; and not surprisingly, the Cloud 44 and the AEA R44CE were the most similar in character. However, the R44CE was a tad less weighted with a gentle forward thrust, while the Cloud 44 offered more low-end bloom with a gentle smooth upper-end rounding.
I love the workable proximity effect on the Cloud 44 and getting it as close to the source as physics will allow, especially on acoustic instruments and intimate vocals.
Thanks to its size and weight, the Cloud 44 is very easy to place on a source, from drum overheads, to the inside of a grand piano and on string instruments. In a recent session on cello, about 6″ back from the sound-post and right F-hole, the cellist exclaimed, “This mic is great. It sounds just like my cello!” Such is the magic of a good, natural-sounding ribbon mic.
My feelings about the new Cloud Microphones 44 and CL-1b combo are similar to my review of the Cloud 44-A, “This is a very beautiful microphone that hints at classic tone, but is not hampered by it.”
Nicely, the Cloud 44 and CL-1b cost is the same as the active Cloud 44-A. Do you want your active circuitry built-in to the mic with an optional voicing, or would you prefer to have a classic, passive ribbon mic with your Cloudlifter on the side? Since the Cloudlifter works great with your passive dynamic mics, let that factor into your decision.
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