The Really Nice Levelling Amplifier (RNLA) is a compressor, of sorts, with a character that works well with vocals, bass guitar, acoustic guitars and two-mix sources. A friend describes the RNLA's tone as "thick and gooey". Some very well-outfitted RNLA users report that even with a full complement of expensive, vintage levelling amps/compressors, the RNLA still fills a niche that the others don't!
The sonic performance of the RNLA harkens back to the Really Nice Compressor's (RNC's) origins. The original RNC was, in fact, based upon an optical gain element that was ultimately rejected (and tucked away) due to its imparting of a sonic signature (i.e., "color"). However, just like trying to throw away a ball of adhesive tape, this one has also stuck! What's the old saying? What's old, is new again? The implementation is a little different (i.e., no opto) from the 1984 version, but the final sound is eerily similar...
Wide Dynamic Range
Despite the unbalanced input/output connections, the RNLA has a dynamic range of 117dB, minimum, which is appropriate for today's digital systems and exceeds that which is attainable with many older, vintage levelling amplifiers. The RNLA offers a clip point (<3% THD) of 22.5dBu.
Although the RNLA is designed to dynamically “color” the sound passing through it, the channel electronics are fairly neutral and designed so that the output signal (statically measured) closely resembles the input signal (fidelity defined...though slightly paraphrased). Each channel is hand-trimmed to typically less than 0.005% Total Harmonic Distortion plus Noise (THD+N). Even this low-level distortion is predominantly second-order...a much less heinous form of distortion and agreed by many to impart a slight “sweetness” to a signal.
Ugly and Cheesy Box
Like its FMR brethren, the RNC and RNP, FMR uses a third-rack cabinet (still a hearty combination of extruded aluminum and steel) to allow them to throw the money they save in cosmetics into the quality of the audio electronics. Although FMR did decide to splurge a little by putting very red knobs on it along with a brushed-aluminum LexanTM overlay for that more impressively cheesy, “homegrown” look!
Easy-to-Read Panel Graphics
This may seem like an arbitrary and trivial point, but FMR thinks it's important: easily assessing the settings on a rack-mounted processor is important when you've got a lot of stuff going on during a recording session. Usually, dark lettering on a light background works better than the other way around.
Inputs and Inserts
As with the RNC, the RNLA has unbalanced inputs that also double as Tip-Ring-Sleeve (TRS) inserts to mate with popular mixer and equipment inserts. This allows you to connect, using only a single TRS-to-TRS cable per channel, an RNLA's channel (in & out) with a single cable to a mixer or other compatible device (such as FMR's own Really Nice Preamp, Great River Electronics MP-NV preamp, etc.).
The RNLA has balanced, non-differential outputs. Although the “cold” part of the signal is not driven (that would be a “differential” signalling scheme), the impedance in both legs are the same, thereby giving your audio the benefit of reduced noise if the RNLA is connected to a balanced line input.
Precise Gain Reduction Metering
A highly accurate gain reduction meter is provided to allow visual verification of what you're hearing. Although meters should never be a substitute for what you hear, a dynamically accurate meter is better than one that can "lag" or misread the actual dynamic performance of the compressor. Due to the digitally-controlled architecture, even the peak-detection errors of a pure digitally-implemented meter are avoided and a dynamically accurate meter is obtained.
Full Parametric Control
Some of the more common Levelling Amplifiers don't have full parametric control. Many LA's are missing the ability to control the ATTACK time. Some of them don't even provide a RATIO control, let alone a continuously-variable RATIO control! The RNLA provides both for maximum artistic flexibility. But, most importantly, both the ATTACK and RELEASE controls go to 11! In addition, all of the front panel controls are merely a “control surface” for the RNLA's internal digital engine. This means: (a) No main channel audio flows to/from the front panel controls that might increase its noise susceptibility (that's bad) or dreaded “scratchy pot syndrome” (that's annoying), and, (b) FMR can use a “ratiometric” measuring technique, along with robust digital filtering, to derive repeatable and precise compression parameters (that's good, if not a little geeky). Did we mention that the ATTACK and RELEASE controls both go to 11?
Alternative Release Contour
Loosely based upon the "Log/Lin" control on the Valley People's (Person's?) Gain Brain II, this control ("Log Rel") can help restore some "punch" that can get lost without an acceleration of the release envelope. So, when Log Rel is on, the release time is accelerated as a function of gain reduction amount. FMR has found this to be particularly handy on drum sub-mixes where one still wants the drums to "punch", but in a compressed and controlled way (you know, it's really true: talking about audio is like dancing about architecture...).
Made In The U.S.A.
FMR wants you to know that they do their own manufacturing in beautiful Austin, Texas ‘cause: (a) They live there. The're control freaks. They need things done to standards that are very specific and loftier than most. Manufacturing products there helps control important costs and reduce waste (there's more to producing a product than just considering the costs of labor and parts). All this helps ensure that your RNLA will retain its value and continue compressing for many years to come, (b) Austin's resources and culture--from a very lively music scene to lots of high-tech companies/products--help inspire and maintain FMR's commitment to music and technology, and, (c) In order to help others, here and abroad, FMR believes they've got to be vital and capable themselves. Their first choice is to employ as many U.S.-based resources as possible in the design, manufacture and distribution of their products.
The RNLA is designed for the real world. That means its knobs are spaced so you can turn them without screwing up other settings, and FMR carefully selected its fonts and colors so you can read your settings from across the room regardless of lighting conditions.
You can't escape, the BIG RED KNOBS! Even from across the room, they beckon "Turn me! Turn me!". Once you've turned one, you'll be hooked...
The RNLA can be wired in two ways, using TRS or TS cables. TRS cables allow you to connect the RNLA directly to mixer inserts with one cable per channel; TS cables allow for other applications, such as patchbay connections. The sidechain uses a TRS connection; use an insert cable to connect it to a normalled patchbay.
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