If you’re looking for hardware to add to your sonic arsenal . . . consider a sonic Arsenal (all prices are MSRP).
No matter how much you work “in the box,” try living without a great mic preamp— or seeing whether your plug-ins can match quality outboard EQ. API’s Arsenal line addresses those needs with API’s technological lineage, but at a project studio-friendly price.
When you pull the Arsenal gear out of the box, you’ll feel as if you’ve just received some sort of vintage military equipment—each has a tag letting you know about the series of tests it has endured. And after testing each piece extensively, I have to say I not only liked these units, but also the sonic characteristics they added to the signal.
R 20: As with most high-end preamps, the R 20 includes switches for phase reverse, phantom power, –20dB pad, and mic/instrument (high-impedance) input. Each heavy-duty switch is accompanied by a bright light going through translucent glass for that truly vintage look; you’ll also find a big gain knob with up to 54dB of gain (and a peak light). Having plenty of headroom for almost any recording situation, quiet or loud, this preamp stays silent and will make your mics happy.
I used the R 20 in many different scenarios, and was impressed every time. I really liked a signal chain consisting of a piano miked with two Neumann KM100s going into the R 20. Using a basic spaced pair on the piano, the signal sounded clear and full, with no undesired sonic qualities (which some of the more “colorful” preamps sometimes add). Another signal path that I used on multiple sessions because of the detailed yet slightly warm sound included a pair of Coles 4038s placed as drum overheads. When recording this to two-inch tape, the R 20 provided a great front end as it did not warm the signal up too much, leaving plenty of room for the tape to add its oh-sobeloved warmth and saturation.
As you’re getting high-end API mic preamp technology for under $550/channel, I’d recommend the R 20 to anyone who wants a full, detailed sound on anything from drums to vocals.
R 24 and V 14: The R 24 is a twochannel, four-band equalizer modeled after the classic APSI model 562 EQ. Having big knobs, with just the right amount of friction, makes this an analog aficiondo’s dream. (I used the R 24 as a hardware insert in Pro Tools; in today’s digital era, the average engineer doesn’t use outboard EQ in the channel path, so this seemed like a realistic test.)
After trying the R 24 in applications ranging from guitars to drums, I feel it has that elusive “musical” quality. Two situations where the EQ’s musicality and overall sound were stunning involved a stereo vocal subgroup and a stereo drum subgroup. With up to 12dB of boost/attenuation, and separate knobs for frequency selection and gain, dialing in a sound feels great. Even though the Qs are not adjustable, they’re well-chosen (not too sharp); while I thought this might be a problem, in practice it didn’t affect my EQing goals.
The V 14’s sonic characteristics and vintage look match the R 24’s, while fitting into API’s 500 VPR Rack. There’s only one downside: The gain and frequency knobs are stacked on top of each other and with nearly friction- less potentiometers, it’s possible to move one unintentionally while adjusting the other.
When companies go downmarket, you can never be quite sure whether they’re cutting corners to cash in on a name, or taking advantage of the experience they’ve accumulated to give more for less. One listen to the Arsenal line, and you’ll know it’s the latter. —Mike Rozkin