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Golden Age Premier R1A

Active Ribbon Microphone By Sam Inglis
Published February 2023

Golden Age have given their affordable R1 the Premier treatment, with no‑expense‑spared active electronics.

Golden Age Premier R1AThe R1 ribbon microphone has been a mainstay of the Golden Age product line for many years. An inexpensive Chinese‑made long‑ribbon design that is rumoured to be loosely based on the AEA R84, it’s available with minor variations from a number of sources, and provided you don’t expect too much of it, can deliver very usable results. Golden Age’s version has been through several iterations and is currently available in passive, active and valve‑driven variants, all at affordable prices. The newest member of the R1 family is an upmarket active solid‑state version called the R1A, which is being marketed under the Golden Age Premier sub‑brand.

I didn’t have any other versions of the R1 on hand for comparison, but if photos are anything to go by, the new mic is outwardly identical to the active R1 MkIII other than its smart none‑more‑black paint job. This means it has a fairly substantial cylindrical shell topped with a domed headbasket, and attaches to a stand using an old‑school yoke mount. Two switches on the front engage a high‑pass filter and a ‑10dB pad, and a right‑angle XLR socket is bolted to the back. It comes not with a hard case but with a large padded fabric pouch that holds the mic very snugly and will protect the ribbon from air blasts.

Vintage & Modern

If I understand Golden Age’s description correctly, the ribbon motor in the R1A is the same as in the other versions, and the upgrades that justify the Premier tag have to do with the use of better parts elsewhere in the signal chain. These include a Lundahl 1927A transformer, WIMA and Nichicon capacitors, and good‑quality connectors. The idea behind these improvements is presumably to create a more ‘hi‑fi’ version of the R1, but the pay‑off is a significant hike in the price. As a consequence, the R1A costs almost exactly the same as the Rode NTR, which is one of my favourite active ribbon mics.

The NTR sets a pretty high standard at this price level, not least in terms of its unbelievably good build quality. Though the R1A is smart too look at and feels solid, it does fall short in this respect. The review sample was wired in reverse polarity, which doesn’t reflect too well on quality control. Its switches are mounted on a flat PCB within the curved body, so they emerge at odd angles and always look as if they’re switched on, even if they’re not. And whereas the NTR’s ribbon element incorporates effective shockmounting, the R1A’s yoke mount offers no shock protection at all. Finally, the emphasis on high‑quality components means the supplied cable is terminated with Neutrik gold‑plated XLRs, which is great — but it’s also clamped to the base of the yoke, giving it most of the disadvantages of a captive cable without the benefits. I should point out in Golden Age’s defence, though, that the R1A is intended to hark after classic designs like the RCA 44 and 77. It’s perhaps not fair to criticise a vintage‑style mic too heavily for its use of vintage‑style mounting and cabling! And although these can be annoying, they don’t directly impact on the sound quality of the mic itself.

The R1A’s active circuitry employs premium components, including WIMA and Nichicon capacitors and a Lundahl 1927A transformer.The R1A’s active circuitry employs premium components, including WIMA and Nichicon capacitors and a Lundahl 1927A transformer.

The Gold Standard?

One of the key benefits of an active mic is that it should be able to drive long cable runs, producing a healthy level that doesn’t demand too much of the mic preamp. The R1A is certainly sensitive: the figure given in the specs equates to 10mV/Pa, but the review sample was clearly hotter than this. However, adding active electronics to a ribbon mic doesn’t just improve sensitivity. It also introduces self‑noise.

The very best active ribbon mics are roughly comparable to small‑diaphragm capacitor mics in terms of noise performance, and the NTR, for example, has a specificed self‑noise of 15dBA. Golden Age quote 18dBA for the R1A, which is comparable to the Royer R122 MkII and other respected active ribbons — but if the review sample is typical, this figure seems optimistic. Whilst the NTR is capable of recording quiet sources such as speech without any appreciable noise, the R1A can be audibly hissy in the same contexts, and is also more prone to hum pickup. Without an anechoic chamber it isn’t possible to do a precise self‑noise measurement, but I would think the true figure for the review mic was several dB higher than the specs claim. It’s not a problem for tracking drums, brass, guitar amps or loud singing, but could be an issue with spoken word or fingerstyle guitar recordings, especially if you’re later going to apply compression.

What then of the sound? The R1A doesn’t have the freakish high‑ and low‑end response of the NTR, but you wouldn’t expect that of a mic that tilts its hat towards the RCA classics. For a conventional long‑ribbon design, the R1A is actually quite extended at the top end, with more going on above 10kHz than many ribbon mics. At the other end, it seems to capture more than enough bass for most purposes, and as with all figure‑8 mics, there’s plenty of proximity effect to play with. Some vintage‑style ribbons can be honky or tinny at a distance, but the R1A remains balanced throughout the midrange. During the review period it was put to good use on strummed acoustic, electric guitar, drum overheads and other typical ribbon‑mic applications, and delivered good results in all of them. In fact, another engineer who used it on an electric guitar session found that it held up very well indeed alongside his much costlier Royer R121.


You can certainly make very good‑sounding recordings with the R1A, then; but with my hand on my credit card, I do wonder how much value the upgrades over the basic R1 really deliver. The R1A’s price tag puts it up against some pretty serious competition, including the NTR, and it’s worth bearing in mind that you can buy two passive R1s or a stereo R1 ST for a similar outlay. As long as you have decent preamps, you might even get quieter recordings that way.


Golden Age have hot‑rodded their active ribbon design with premium electronics. It offers an attractive and very usable take on the classic long‑ribbon sound, but it isn’t the quietest mic on the planet.


£519 including VAT.

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