If you're looking for a compressor with vintage styling and loads of sonic personality, look elsewhere. The FMR RNC1773 (RNC is short for “Really Nice Compressor”) contains no tubes or optical circuitry, and it isn't tricked out with oversize VU meters, chicken-head knobs, or bright colors. Functionally, the unit combines digital control circuitry with an ultraclean, VCA-based analog signal path to provide the best of both worlds. You get very precise control over all parameters — when you dial in, say, an attack time of 0.2 ms, that's exactly what you get — but audio signals are never converted to digital, so any analog “warmth” they possess is retained.
HAVE IT BOTH WAYS
The RNC features two very different operational modes — Normal and Super Nice — which is another way of saying you get two types of compressors in one. In Normal mode, the RNC functions as a standard hard-knee, peak-response compressor. Normal mode is best for compressing individual instruments, particularly when you need to really clamp down on a sound or want to intentionally create artifacts such as pumping and breathing.
When set to Super Nice mode, the RNC engages three cascading compression stages that use aspects of peak-, average-, and RMS-sensing technologies. All of the controls still function — Super Nice mode isn't a preset — but they affect the sound more subtly. This mode takes a much gentler approach and was designed to be particularly effective on program material. However, it also works well on many individual instruments and on any source for which smooth, transparent compression is desirable. Surprisingly, even with three compressors chained together, the RNC in Super Nice mode is still remarkably quiet.
The RNC has five knobs, two buttons, and an 8-segment gain reduction LED on its off-white front panel. The knobs — labeled Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, and Gain — are spaced far enough apart to let you access them easily without inadvertently changing the position of adjacent knobs. Additionally, all level indicators around the knobs are screened in dark ink, making it easy to see settings from a distance or in dim light. The first button toggles between operational modes (Normal and Super Nice). The second engages the Bypass function. A tiny LED next to each button indicates status.
All controls are continuously variable over their entire ranges. Threshold ranges from -40 to +20 dBu. Compression ratios extend from 1:1 to 25:1, with markings at 2:1, 6:1, and 10:1 along the way. Attack time is adjustable from 0.2 to 200.0 ms and release time from 0.05 to 5.00 seconds. The Gain knob has a detent at 0 and provides as much as 15 dB of makeup gain or attenuation.
The RNC's rear panel (see Fig. 1) provides two ¼-inch jacks for the right channel (In and Out), two for the left channel, and one for the sidechain I/O. The RNC has no balanced connections, so you'll have to use adapters if you want to use it in a balanced signal path.
The unit was designed for use in small studios where unbalanced connections on ¼-inch TS cables are the norm. But don't put your ¼-inch TRS cables away, because the RNC is cleverly wired to perform a slick trick: the input jack on each channel is a TRS connector that also carries the output signal on the ring, making it possible to patch an RNC channel into a console insert jack with a single TRS cable. Brilliant!
RACK ‘EM UP
I worked with the RNC (actually, a pair of them, mounted on a cool, Funk Logic 1U rackspace) for several months, and I found it to be useful — sometimes very useful — in a wide variety of applications. First I used it while tracking electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, bass synth, and hand percussion. I preferred Normal mode on electric guitar because it allowed me to seriously squash some rhythm tracks in much the same way that a stompbox might, but without any of the noise or unpredictable artifacts. Super Nice mode worked best on acoustic guitar, providing gentle compression that evened out the playing without affecting the sound of the high frequencies. (During mixdown I compressed that track again in Super Nice mode, this time at a much higher ratio, in order to give it more presence at a lower relative volume. Even then, there were no noticeable artifacts.)
Both modes sounded great on bass, though I wound up using Super Nice because it kept the bottom end tight and punchy without affecting the higher frequencies as noticeably as Normal mode. Bass synth required a lot more control, so I clamped down hard with a 10:1 ratio and a 2 ms attack time in Normal mode. For hand percussion, I preferred Normal mode for individual drums — particularly the large and boomy variety — and Super Nice for stereo subgroups. The latter was particularly effective; for example, it pulled six drums, ranging from bongos to large box drums, into a tightly focused whole. I had to tweak the attack and release controls a good bit to find the optimal combination, but once I found those ideal settings the tracks really jumped forward and sat together nicely in a stereo mix.
I didn't use the RNC for tracking vocalists; however, I did use it in Super Nice mode while mixing both male and female singers, and it sounded great. Even when I had to dial in a lot of gain reduction on a particularly unruly track, the compression was hardly noticeable, causing me to wonder if I had accidentally engaged the Bypass button — I hadn't. I achieved similar results with flute, clarinet, and three types of saxophone. Super Nice also worked amazingly well on hammered dulcimer, bringing out great detail and allowing the instrument to cut through a dense mix without an increase in level.
DOWN AND DIRTY
Though the RNC is remarkable for its clean and transparent sound, it can get nasty. I experimented with a variety of extreme settings while processing various drum, bass, and synth samples, and I was able to get some truly hair-raising results. The RNC can not only pump and breathe in ways that would bring a smile to Joe Meek's face, but it can also be overdriven into raspy distortion tones that would please Trent Reznor.
Finally, I also patched the RNC directly into some guitar and bass rigs — both between the instruments and their amps and in the amps' effects loops — and it performed extremely well in all cases. Minimal amounts of compression made guitars and basses sound great, so you might consider just patching an RNC in and leaving it on all the time.
Whether you're a compressor aficionado wanting to expand your collection or a newcomer searching for an inexpensive, multipurpose dynamics processor, the FMR Audio RNC1773 could be just the box for you. This little wonder provides clean, quiet, supertransparent compression; two very different modes of operation; and all the control you need to handle a wide range of signals. The RNC not only beats out most comparably priced competing products, but it also performs as well and sounds as good as some products costing tens times as much. In short, the Really Nice Compressor really is really nice — really!
Barry Clevelandis a guitarist, engineer, and producer living in Belmont, California. He is the author of Creative Music Production: Joe Meek's Bold Techniques (MixBooks, 2001), and his latest CD, Volcano (AMP Records, 2002), has just been released. Check outwww.barrycleveland.comfor more info.
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE4.0AUDIO QUALITY4.5VALUE5.0RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Clean, transparent sound. Precise parameter control. Super Nice mode is subtle enough for mastering applications. Compact. Mono or stereo operation.
CONS: Wall-wart power transformer. Requires adapters for use in balanced audio paths. Not dual-mono capable.
Audio Inputs(2) unbalanced ¼" TS/TRSAudio Outputs(2) unbalanced ¼" TSSidechain I/O(1) ¼" TRSMaximum Input Level+22 dBuMaximum Output Level+22 dBuFrequency Response10 Hz-100 kHz (±0.5 dB @ 0 dBu)Signal-to-Noise Ratio>90 dBu (20 Hz-20 kHz)Distortion>0.5% (1 kHz, 6:1 ratio, 6 dB gain reduction)Crosstalk>-90 dBu (@ 1 kHz)Meter8-segment LED; gain reductionThreshold-40 to +20 dBu (continuously variable)Ratios1:1-25:1 (continuously variable)Attack Time0.2-200.0 ms (continuously variable)Release Time0.05-5.00 secs (continuously variable)Makeup Gain±15 dB (continuously variable)Power Supply9 VAC adapterDimensions1.6" (H) × 5.5" (W) × 5.5" (D)Weight2 lb.