Monday, September 22, 2008

Living Room Laboratory: Preamps FIGHT! ART Pro Audio vs FMR Audio!

***Update 07/06/10 Apparently my file storage service has deleted the FMR + 416 recording I used in this test, and I no longer have a copy of it backed up. Apologies for the incomplete comparison***

So this really isn't going to be a fair fight, not even a little.

If you read my blog, you'll know already, that I don't run a booth out of my home anymore, and no longer keep a lot of gear here. From bouncing around town though, I've been getting the equipment bug (I have Gear Acquisition Syndrome, if you will), and decided to throw down on some mid range consumer kit.

I've got a pretty well established mic collection, so I figured it was time to invest in a decent little preamp/compressor combo. After reading some reviews, and using one in a studio, I've been pretty interested in checking out the Really Nice Preamp and the Really Nice Compressor from FMR Audio.

So, I bought one of each.

I'm the proud new owner of an RNP8380 and an RNC1773. To start breaking them in, I figured what better than setting them up against my old workhorse the ART Tube PAC. I picked my two Sennheiser mics for the shootout, an MKH416 P48 and an MD421u5.

Usually for the Living Room Labs, I just record in my living room (get it?), but seeing as how we need to take a closer listen to the differences in tone between the two, I actually padded up a closet to do the test.

I tried to match the settings on the two different setups as close as possible. After hardware, no further editing was done other than to convert to 320kbps MP3.

Hardware settings for the 416:
  • 30dB input Gain
  • -15dB Threshold
  • 3:1 compression
  • "Fast" A&R (.2 sec attack and .1 sec release)
  • 0dB output Gain
Lets take a listen!
MKH416 P48 on ART Tube PAC:

MKH416 P48 on FMR RNP/RNC combo:

I have to say I was really surprised by the sound here. First up, either ART's marked settings are way low, or FMR's are way high. On average there's about a 5dB difference between the two. That doesn't sound like a lot on paper, but I think you can hear between the two samples just how much louder the FMR combo seems compared to the PAC.
Ignoring the boxy-ness of the closet, I feel the FMR is a little harsh. If I hadn't been trying to match it to the PAC, I probably would've rolled it off another 6dB. I like how the tubes in the PAC smoothed out the 416 a little, but there's a lot more noise. Given a little more time to refine the sound of the 416/FMR combo, I'm sure I'll have a winner there. It's just SO much cleaner.

Hardware settings for the MD421u5 were the same except for an additional 8dB of output Gain.

MD421u5 on ART Tube PAC:

MD421u5 on FMR RNP/RNC combo:

I've never gotten a sound like that out of my decades old MD421. I didn't know she could do that. The FMR brought a smooth, rich, clean sound out of a dynamic mic which has been knocked around since before I was born. I honestly have never recorded so "true" a sound at home. The FMR/MD421 combo is the closest I've ever come at home, with my own kit, to capturing what I feel I really sound like in real life.
The 421 on the PAC sounds AWFUL!

I'm kinda torn.
My voice on my most expensive condensor mic doesn't sound as good as my old beat up radio dynamic mic.
I'm not sure how I feel about that, LOL!

Just as a last note on the test, with no mics plugged in, the noise floor of the PAC was hovering around -70, while the FMR combo was hovering around -78. That sounds pretty good at first, until I considered that the FMR signal chain was being sent through two separate outboard devices, and STILL had a lower noise floor than the all in one Tube PAC. That's kind of awesome.

Now what I said up at the top is totally valid though. This wasn't a fair test AT ALL. You can pick up an ART Tube PAC for around $100, but picking up BOTH an RNP and RNC will run you closer to $700. More expensive doesn't always mean better, but even giving the PAC the benefit of the doubt, the FMR combo is around three and a half times more expensive per channel.

On the right mic it totally shows too...


  1. for one project where i commissioned a company to buy a RNP, i found it to be awefully noisy. and FMR admits that it's noisy upfront in their literature, i just made the wrong choice for the VO artist and mic combo.

    i felt like a cheaper more generic pre would've fared better in that case even those are also noisy, just in a different way.

  2. The RNP's ein is a little messed up, and above 42dB it is a noisy little shit.
    I don't think I would recommend the RNP without the RNC or RNLA. That way you can record lower gain, and use a cleaner output gain from a compressor.

    So far though, the RNP has stomped on all the budget pre's I've used. It obviously isn't right for all mics (just listen to my 416 recording), but I'm really happy with it so far.

  3. Thanks for the review and posting your blogspot site. (bookmarking now)

  4. Of course Bill.
    And thank YOU for checking it out!

  5. Hey Juan! What's up, brother?? I decided to check out your blog, which I hadn't done in a while, and though I'm not a techie per se, was pleased to see you putting the ART Tube Pac through its paces. That's what I've got! Don't have a whole lot to compare it to, and my needs aren't extreme (just VO with my AT 4050 condenser mic), but it's served me well enough.

    Got a project I want to talk with you about. Will email soon :)


  6. Hey Joe!
    Thanks for stopping by!
    Look forward to hearing from you!

    If anyone else hasn't caught IPR yet, you REALLY should. It's really funny!

  7. Wow! Both mics sound great on the FMR combo... I wonder how would my TLM-103 sound on one of those! ;)

    Great review Juan... gracias!

  8. Thanks Jorge!
    I'm really happy with the upgrade.

    Might have to start auditioning myself again...