FMR Audio: Professional Audio Processing for Any Budget

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Austin, Texas-based FMR Audio has been producing professional audio equipment at budget prices for more than 18 years. The company makes no-nonsense dynamic processors and microphone preamps that may look utilitarian, but hold their own when compared to other products costing up to ten times as much. In this brand overview, we’ll be looking at the FMR Audio product line and what makes it special.

The people at FMR Audio take pride in being control freaks and hold their design and manufacturing process to standards that may seem overly specific and loftier than most. Much of the design processing, manufacturing is done in the USA, which helps control quality, cost, and reduces waste. Where the company doesn’t skip is the quality of the components used. You’ll find Greyhill switches, sealed relays, and other professional-quality components are used throughout. Most products utilize a 1/3 rack enclosure made from extruded aluminum and steel. Rather than spending money on an “aesthetically pleasing” case, FMR Audio elected to throw the money saved in cosmetics into the quality of the audio electronics.

The entire signal path is analog, yet the front panel is, for all intents and purposes, a digitally controlled interface for a microprocessor, which acts as a control surface and ensures that no main channel audio flows to/from the front panel controls. This effectively prevents an increase to noise susceptibility or the dreaded “scratchy pot syndrome.” The front panel pots and switches merely feed DC voltages to the microprocessor, which handles adjusting parameters and the signal path. I can attest to the sound and build quality of FMR Audio’s products, because I have used them in the harshest conditions, deep in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, without fail.

Really Nice Compressor (RNC)

The Really Nice Compressor (RNC) is a compact and cost-effective stereo compressor with a high-fidelity audio path and compression scheme. The sound is transparent and neutral. Looking at the front panel, you’ll find the usual suspects, with controls for threshold, ratio, attack, release, and gain. The RNC is really like two compressors in one, with two distinct modes of operation. The normal mode is great for instruments with fast attacks, such as snappy snares and punchy bass. You can also achieve some serious compression effects, if you are after pumping and breathing, especially when using the side-chain input.

FMR Audio RNC1773 Really Nice Compressor

The “Super Nice” mode is where this compressor shines, which effectively layers three compressors together to minimize compression artifacts, while still providing control over the signal. The intended purpose of this mode is gentle compression of an entire mix (i.e., program compression) and compression of sound sources that must be very gently compressed, yet controlled.

The RNC can be hooked into Tip-Ring-Sleeve (TRS) insert points of most consoles where: TIP = Console insert out, RING = Console insert in, SLEEVE = Ground reference. This means that each channel of the RNC can be hooked to each channel of a TRS console insert with a single TRS cable. Hooking up the RNC to gear other than TRS inserts must be done with a pair of TS (Tip-Sleeve) jacks for each RNC channel. Thus, the full stereo hookup of an RNC must be done with four TS 1/4'' cables. Personally, the fewer cables, the better, and being able to connect to an insert point on my mixer with a single TRS ¼" cable keeps my setup tidy.

The RNC is also available in a single-channel 500-series version. The RNC500 has some updates to the arithmetic for smoother compression, but still retains the same sonic signature, especially when using Super-Nice mode. However, with the higher operating I/O levels found in the 500-Series format, the RNC500 can possess a sonic “beefiness” or growl that adds a slight, but very compliant, bottom-end to the source material.

FMR Audio 500 Series, RNC500 Really Nice Compressor

On a personal note, this is a favorite compressor of mine. I have two in my studio and carry a third for live sound duties. They make great gifts for your “audio” friends and colleagues.

Really Nice Levelling Amplifier (RNLA)

The Really Nice Levelling Amplifier (RNLA) traces its design back to before the RNC, but was filed away because it was deemed too “colorful.” Years later, the public demanded a less invisible compressor with added sonic texture akin to classic opto compressors that are designed to level a signal rather than tame every transient. The dual-channel RNLA has a sonic signature like many compressors (LA2A, LA3A), but it is in no way a clone. It maintains its uniqueness and fills a niche even in well-equipped studios with loads of vintage outboard. Many people have described the sound as “thick and gooey” and well suited for bass guitar, drums, and other sources in need of some tasteful, useful, and controllable distortion. It’s also worth mentioning that the RNLA features attack and release controls that are calibrated to the coveted Nigel Tufnel “these go to 11” scale!

FMR Audio RNLA7239 Really Nice Levelling Amplifier

The front panel is like the RNC, with the same basic controls (threshold, ratio, attack, release, and gain), while the rear panel provides the familiar stereo input, stereo outputs, and a side-chain input. Instead of the “super nice” mode button, we find a “Log Rel” button in its place, which offers an alternative release contour. The circuit is loosely based upon the “Log/Lin” control on the Valley People’s Gain Brain II and, when engaged, helps to restore some “punch” that can get lost without an acceleration of the release envelope. This is particularly handy on drum sub-mixes or individual drum sounds that need to punch through a mix, but in a compressed and controlled way.

Like the RNC, the RNLA has dual unbalanced inputs that also double as Tip-Ring Sleeve (TRS) inserts to mate with popular mixer and equipment inserts, allowing for a simple TRS-to-TRS cable per channel. Additionally, the RNLA has balanced, non-differential outputs. Although the “cold” part of the signal is not driven, the impedance in both legs is the same, thereby giving your audio the benefit of reduced noise if the RNLA is connected to a balanced line input.

Additionally, the RNLA is available in a single-channel 500-series. The RNLA500 offers balanced inputs and outputs with linking for stereo operation and sealed C&K sub-miniature toggle switches.

FMR Audio 500-Series RNLA500 Really Nice Leveling Amplifier

Really Nice Preamp (RNP)

The Really Nice Preamp (RNP) is a dual-channel Class-A microphone preamp that provides 66 dB of gain with a professional feature set, including accurate signal metering, 1 MOhm input impedance DI inputs, high input level capability (up to +28 dBu input), high-capacity phantom power supply, sealed relay switching for invert/phantom functions, gold-plated 12-position gain switch, TRS insert between preamp stage and output driver, +28 dBu TRS-balanced outputs, and 5 kOhms differential input impedance on mic input, plus output muting during phantom engage/disengage and battery or AC mains operation.

FMR Audio RNP8380 Really Nice Preamp

The pre-amp was designed to sound sonically neutral without being “clinical” or sterile. There is very little coloration across the very wide frequency (125 kHz) at every gain setting, especially in the preamp’s low-frequency response as a function of gain setting. Essentially, what you put into the RNP is what you’ll get out of it with very little additional effect. Both the mic inputs and mic-pre outputs are electronically balanced with differential signals and allow the RNP to adjust itself automatically, thereby enabling you to run to/from unbalanced sources without issue. In addition, with the right external configuration, the RNP can provide a separate +22 dBu unbalanced output and a +28 dBu balanced output simultaneously to allow nifty things like separate M/S decoding while tracking the M/S signal without decoding.

PBC-6A Vintage Compressor

The PBC-6A Vintage-y Compressor is a single-channel non-linear compression amplifier with a distinctive “no-threshold” feedback configuration that dramatically alters the signal for a wide range of compression effects from subtle, slight textural variations to over-the-top sonic squashing. This processor does not have the standard “threshold” and “ratio” controls found on most compressors. Instead, the PBC-6A features a Drive control that varies the amount of compression with some intrinsic make-up gain in one control, while the Knee control allows for the transition from lower-to-higher ratios to occur over a small range that would naturally happen due to the PBC’s feedback and detector configuration. Increasing Drive levels and Knee control cause a less gradual change from low ratio compression to larger ratios occurring over smaller input signal changes.

FMR Audio PBC-6A Vintage-y Compressor

Other notable features include variable sidechain, sidechain access, hyper-exponential and linear release envelope control (Normal/Thick mode), 4 different linking methods, separate attack and release time controls, hardwired bypass function and balanced audio input/output stages. By pressing the “Thick” and “Bypass” buttons, the PBC enters a special program mode allowing for sidechain filter settings to be set with a corner frequency from 30 to 340 Hz. Additionally, there are three settings for stereo link operation including no detector (no master), detector link (no master), and detector link (master/slave).

A.R.C. Instrument Processor

Articulation, Resonance, & Clarity (A.R.C.) is a four-function (boost, compressor, DI, studio effect) instrument effects pedal that provides a “natural” yet enhanced instrument sound. Highly coveted by acoustic instrument players, the A.R.C. is well suited for mandolins, ukuleles, acoustic guitars, fiddles/violins, acoustic basses, lap steel, and dobro. At its core, the unit is a dynamic processor (think PBC-6A) configured to achieve dynamic/equalization effects. The compressor’s sidechain is affected by equalization circuits and is blended with the original signal, in varying amounts, to achieve the desired effect as a function of its front-panel controls. The A.R.C. is highly effective at balancing an instrument’s percussive characteristics with its sustain without turning the signal into a lifeless blob. Additionally, the unit can be used as a studio effect, because the wide dynamic range allows the unit to process line-level tracks from your favorite DAW software.

FMR Audio A.R.C. Instrument Processor

In Conclusion

This wraps up the brand overview of FMR Audio. As you can see, they offer a great value proposition when compared to other manufacturers. Don’t let the low prices fool you. As I wrote in the beginning (and it bears repeating), these processors can easily hold their own against products costing ten times as much. Should you invest in some of these processors, there is a 1 RU Rack Tray that holds three units. If you have questions, feel free to contact us through the B&H website or head on down to the SuperStore for a hands-on demo. What’s your favorite budget processor for studio or live? Drop a comment below!

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