The Really Nice Preamp
by FMR Audio is one of those items that
creates a stir in our community at studio-central. For those that have
it, the little box gets high acclaim, almost cult status. Its not only
the home recording people on modest budgets that sing its praises, but
recording studio professionals as well. My search engine at
studio-central pulls up 560 threads which mention the RNP; I'll link to some
below. Of course I had to get one to
see what the commotion was about. I've had mine about 9 months as of
The picture above is actually a
little bigger than the RNP is in real life. It takes up about a third
of a rack space. The case is made of plastic, with two small knobs
that turn in fixed increments of 6db. There are two XLR jacks on the
back, along with inserts and balanced line level outs. On the front,
as you see above, you get two high impedance inputs, for guitars, basses,
keyboards, whatever else you want to spruce up with gain. There's
standard 48V phantom power and phase invert switches. And that's it.
There is no compressor, though you can add the RNC (The Really Nice
Compressor) by the inserts jacks. There is also no output volume,
which some preamps have to allow you to make an extra final adjustment.
What the RNP does have is pure gain.
66db to be exact.
This is more than you will find on most preamps under a grand;
more than you typical mixer preamp and more than the preamps on your audio
interface or multitrack recorder. What is amazing is the usefulness of
this gain. You can stick almost any mic on the RNP and it will deliver
performance you did not know it had. While FMR makes no claims that the RNP is quiet, in fact they
even say "its not the quietest" in their FAQ, for those coming from built in
preamps its comparatively very quiet. When you uptick to the last
notch at 66 db yes you can hear some noise. But this has to be offset
by the fact you hear the same equivalent noise at around 50 db on average
preamps. This means you hear more of your signal and less preamp noise
and that means finer sound.
But there is more to it that that.
Its not just a good signal to noise ratio; its also the integrity of the
signal that is passed on. Another part of the equation here is
headroom. A device with poor headroom, like many cheap mixers, will
distort when the output gets overloaded. You can hear this
phenomenon on many home studio devices. They sound good to a point,
distortion sets in as you turn it up and the audio waveform clips. The
RNP is designed to pass a strong signal to the line level output, without
any sign of clipping. The RNP has a clip point of +27dbu. Translated,
that means you have headroom to spare on the RNP. It also helps
provide for an open and authentic sound, which a good monitoring
system will help reveal.
As I have mentioned in other articles,
there are two general philosophies regarding preamps. One is the get a
preamp that lets you alter and tweak the sound to the way you want it for
your recording. This kind of preamp often converts the signal to digital
inside the box. Once the waveform is digitized, its easy for the
manufacturer to add compressors, EQ, de-essers, and other processing
functions. The other approach is often called the "wire plus gain"
philosophy which simply tries to add gain and phantom power then exit
out of the box as cleanly as possible. The RNP, follows the latter
The RNP often gets compared to the DAV
Systems P-Solo, and
Grace 101 (the latter two only have 1 channel), which are also wire+gain preamps and the
MH443 and the
Eureka which have digital processing. Of course there are others,
but these five illustrate the point. Which way to go? It depends on
what you are doing. If you are mixing a live recording that cannot be
treated later you will need a compressor in your signal chain. However,
if you are recording track by track into a DAW or multi track recorder, you
can usually compress later and it will sound better. You will find
decent compression in nearly all DAW software. You might want to check your
multitrack recorder to see how happy you are with its onboard compression.
If you are, then there too, the wire+gain philosophy may win for you.
With the RNP you can always add compression by adding an RNC to your signal
Problems with the RNP are few, and
for me, cosmetic. I managed to lose two of the four set screws that hold on
the gain knobs after they worked their way loose. I had removed them while fitting the Funk Logic Tray adapter which allows the
RNP and RNC to mount inside a typical 19" rack. The unit also uses a
wall-wart (AC adapter). But given the low price, I can see why.
In all, just minor issues.
Who should get an RNP? Its almost
harder to point out who should not get an RNP. Those who are using
mixer and audio interface preamps, or the common preamps built in to a
multi-track recorder stand to benefit the most from getting an RNP.
The RNP also makes a nice second preamp for rigs that already may have a
premium one channel preamp. Because the RNP is two channel, it it well
suited for recording in stereo with matched pairs of mics. For a
professional, whether to get an RNP or not may depend on if you intend to
get something better to fit this need. But even so, the RNP is like to
still get some use. The more "colors" the better.
feedback on this article
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Learn more in
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True Systems P-Solo BETTER thna RNP overall
Valuable Lesson Learned
Would the RNP be a justifiable upgrade?
Members review of the RNP
RNP vs Mackie Preamps
RNP VS Grace 101 VS Focusrite
FMR's RNP or...
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