Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Creating a home studio for recording the classical guitar. Equipment, software and recording techniques. Amplification for live performance.
Hybrid

Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by Hybrid » Fri Nov 20, 2009 3:00 am

I just wanted to hip everyone to a wonderful product i just discovered. Its been around for a long time though.

Its the RNP 8380 (RNP =Really Nice Preamp) by a company called FMR. They are a relatively small "mom and pop" company.

This preamp is AMAZING for any price. But at only 475.00 usd, for 2 channels, with phantom power, Tons of headroom, completely transparent,
and just gorgeous sound quality, with no hiss or hum, its downright crazy. The philosophy behind this unit is a no frills, no bells or whistles design.
Very small and unassuming looking. Everything is poured into the signal path, and not cosmetics or gadgetry.

I bought this preamp as a back up preamp for my Thermionics preamp which is a hand wired, class A unit that cost nearly 3 thousand dollars.

The RNP sounds amazingly close to my expensive preamp. So close, you might not be able to tell the difference in a head to head comparison.

Anyway, if you're looking to step up to a world class stereo preamp, but want to stay under 500 bucks, this unit is incredible, and will absolutely fit the bill.

H

John O

Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by John O » Fri Nov 20, 2009 4:34 am

If I hadn't recently bought a PreSonus Blue Tube (only $120 used!), I might have gone with this FMR mic pre. They have a refreshing sense of honesty in their description!

Hybrid

Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by Hybrid » Fri Nov 20, 2009 5:32 am

Fugue wrote:If I hadn't recently bought a PreSonus Blue Tube (only $120 used!), I might have gone with this FMR mic pre. They have a refreshing sense of honesty in their description!
Presonus makes great stuff. Im sure you're happy with that unit.

The word "Budget" is certainly a relative term. I realize many people here spend less than 500 dollars on their entire studio setup including mics, interfaces,
software, etc.
But there are some gearhounds on this board who are like me, and are much more picky about recording stuff, and arent afraid to invest in it, just as we
would a nice instrument.

I dont play concerts, so recordings and videos are my window to the world, and great recording equipment insures that window is Big and very Clear.


H

John O

Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by John O » Fri Nov 20, 2009 6:01 am

Hybrid wrote:
Fugue wrote:If I hadn't recently bought a PreSonus Blue Tube (only $120 used!), I might have gone with this FMR mic pre. They have a refreshing sense of honesty in their description!
Presonus makes great stuff. Im sure you're happy with that unit.

The word "Budget" is certainly a relative term. I realize many people here spend less than 500 dollars on their entire studio setup including mics, interfaces,
software, etc.
But there are some gearhounds on this board who are like me, and are much more picky about recording stuff, and arent afraid to invest in it, just as we
would a nice instrument.

I dont play concerts, so recordings and videos are my window to the world, and great recording equipment insures that window is Big and very Clear.


H
It used to matter to me...a lot! I had some $2000 B&K and Schoeps mics at one point.

burnt_rissole

Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by burnt_rissole » Fri Nov 20, 2009 12:15 pm

How does it rate for cleanliness and clarity compared to something like the the earthworks?
Cheers

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Denian Arcoleo
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Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by Denian Arcoleo » Mon Nov 23, 2009 10:18 pm

Hi Hybrid,

Would the RNP fit into my setup ( NT5's, RME fireface, computer)? The Fireface, as you know, is a soundcard with preamps incorporated. So my question really is, would plugging my mics through the RNP and then from there into the RME give me better results than I'm currently getting?

Hybrid

Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by Hybrid » Tue Nov 24, 2009 9:24 am

Denian Arcoleo wrote:Hi Hybrid,

Would the RNP fit into my setup ( NT5's, RME fireface, computer)? The Fireface, as you know, is a soundcard with preamps incorporated. So my question really is, would plugging my mics through the RNP and then from there into the RME give me better results than I'm currently getting?

The mic pre's in your Fireface are quite good, and very quiet. I think you may notice a slight difference, but probably not 475 dollars worth of difference.

You're set up is really nice, and you dont really fall into the demographic im speaking of. This unit would be suited for those players whom have spent only a few
hundred dollars on an interface, and have poor, noisy preamps either built in, or are using a cheapo micro mixer to preamplify their mics.

Many of the cheaper interfaces have very decent sounding A/D converters. But the built-in preamps on something that costs less than 500 bucks or so, are just
not going to be good. And cheap preamps like the ones made by ART, RANE, etc, or the pre's in the little micro mixing boards are not very good either. Also, the preamps in the Zoom standalone recorders, and the like, arent good. The RNP is a great choice to really step up from that
level.

If you have a Fireface, or something of similar quality, its a tough choice as to wether you want to upgrade the preamps. I would say, if you're gonna upgrade from that level, you might as well step up into discrete class A territory, and go for an Earthworks, Grace, or something like that. We're talking a couple thousand dollars at that point though.

By the way, running into your Fireface from another preamp is easy. You'd just go from the new preamp's outputs, line level, with quarter inch cable, and into the Fireface,
with the preamps turned all the way down.

The thing to realize is, the RME is a high performance unit. When you get into the higher performance equipment, the differences made by even expensive upgrades
are very small.
As i mentioned, my 2,600.00 dollar Thermionics preamp only sounds about 15 percent better than the 500.00 RNP. But the RNP sounds more than 50 percent better than
the preamps in a little Mackie micro mixer. A little Makie mixer costs around 350.00. See what i mean?

H

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Denian Arcoleo
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Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by Denian Arcoleo » Tue Nov 24, 2009 9:45 am

Thanks for that comprehensive answer Hybrid. I understand what you're saying, so I think I'll stick with my current setup (you just saved me some money!)

All the best

Denian

Hybrid

Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by Hybrid » Tue Nov 24, 2009 11:17 am

No problem Denian.


There are other factors i'll mention too, since im its the middle of the night here, and i cant practice cause i dont want to wake my wife. :)

These factors move beyond classical guitar recording, to hopefully give you some more insight into why one would invest so much money in mic preamplification.

The high dollar preamps like the Thermionics will deal with dynamic, and Ribbon mics better than the RNP.

Also, the better the preamp, the more the quality and treatment of the room comes into play, so there are counterdependant variables at work.

The better the room, the bigger the gap in performance between the mid-range and high end preamps. In a boxy, ringy sounding room, the higher end preamp
can actually sound worse than a mid range preamp because the increased sensativity is picking up more of the bad sound of the room.

Some higher end preamps provide ways to better match
the input impedance of different microphones which can also increase performance.

When recording many tracks,and stacking them together in the case of recording genres like Pop music, where you may record 30 different tracks (vocals, drums, bass, guitars, percusion, keyboards, etc) the high end preamps can give you an advantage. The RNP does not have a bass roll off, which you would certainly need in
this case.
The RNP has a nice low noise floor, but a preamp with a 10 or 20 db lower noise floor, will out perform the RNP when recording and stacking 20 or more tracks together.

The RNP is pretty darn transparent, but does have a bit of color to the sound, which is ok for single, solo, stereo recordings. But sometimes, 100 percent transparency is needed. Again, especially when stacking multiple tracks.

The RNP has balanced line outputs, which are nice, and work fine. However, many high end preamps offer low impedence (xlr) outputs in addition to the line outs, as
well as ,in the case of my Thermionics preamp, even an onboard high quality A/D converter with Digital output. There extra outputs come in handy when the engineer needs to run the signal to multiple destinations for a variety of reasons.

Score a point for the RNP over my high end preamp for its intrument inputs though. My high end preamp does not provide instrument inputs for electric guitar, bass, or
synthesizer. I need to employ an external DI (direct input) box to do this with the Thermionics preamp.

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Denian Arcoleo
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Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by Denian Arcoleo » Tue Nov 24, 2009 11:54 am

Wow! Hybrid, I think that what you don't know about recording isn't really worth knowing :shock:

Thank you very much for that post, packed with information and lot's of food for thought.

I'm really looking forward to hearing you play some classical guitar with your updated technique.

:bye:

tocapuro

Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by tocapuro » Tue Nov 24, 2009 1:12 pm

Hybrid,
On a much lower level, could you explain the reasons for the preamp?
I use 2 Rode NT5s with a phantom power box which goes directly into my Tascam DR1.
I made the mistake of not buying the Zoom as it has two inputs and phantom power built in.
Would you recommend anything else to improve my recordings without spending thousands?
I really like the NT5s-I think they are very clean and true sounding and don't pick up
extraneous noise.
Anyhow, thanks for any advise. I'm new at this and have a lot to learn.
Dennis

Hybrid

Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by Hybrid » Tue Nov 24, 2009 1:44 pm

Dont let all my ramblings make you think this is at all too complicated. Its pretty simple.

A mic preamplifier simply raises the signal of the microphone(s). The way in which it does this can greatly vary from one preamp to another, based on
the design, and build quality of the circuit used in the unit.

The better the design, build quality, etc, the higher the quality of sound. Similar to an instrument.

Some can hear the differences more than others. You may not hear the difference between a 200 dollar preamp, and a 1000 dollar preamp, just as you may
not be able to hear a difference between a 500 dollar and 1500 dollar guitar. It really depends on alot of things.

However, certain things are more concrete. What we mainly want from a mic preamp (regarding classical guitar at least) is, Headroom, Low noise, and Transparency.

A quality mic preamp will give you the most out of your mics. I dont have to tell you why less noise generated by the preamp would be a good thing. You want to be able to crank your mics up without generated noise from the preamp. Cheap preamps can generate distortion even when the meters arent in the red.

Transparency = the sound is unhindered, or unchanged from microphone to recording destination. Cheap preamps add color and bumps/dips in certain frequencies that
cloud the sound. This may not be evident to you now, but if and when you upgrade to a higher quality preamp, you will hear a "blanket lifting" effect.

Headroom = headroom equals dynamic range. You want the highest ceiling you can get for dynamics. A quality preamp will handle high signal levels and low signal levels
from your mics, equally well. You may find with your current set up, that you push your signal into the red rather easily, when you turn you mics up to a healthy level, yet
when you turn them down so you dont overload the recorder, the signal then seems too weak, and doesnt pick up quiet nuances as well. This is an example of limited dynamic range.

Just understand that, i am talking from the audiophile perspective here. Its totally possible that you could buy the RNP mic preamp mentioned here, and not hear any difference from your current set up. It really depends on how discerning your ears are, and how picky you are about noise, dynamic range, etc etc...

Judging by your current gear choices, and the fact that you're a classical guitarist, i would have to assume, you would probably hear quite a big difference.

The Tascam recorder is very nice. And the NT5's are also very nice mics. I think a nice preamp would serve you really well.
If 475 is above your budget, i would suggest maybe one of the stereo ART preamps. They arent "fabulous", but they would certainly give you more "beef" than your current set up. Checkout the M-audio DMP 3. A very nice 2 channel mic pre for under 200.00 usd.
Though i would also add, you may want to watch my video tutorial on this site entitled "Recording Tutorial" viewtopic.php?f=16&t=44972&hilit=recording+tutorial which shows you how the room affects your recording, and some
things you can do to remedy the pitfalls of small, rectangular, drywalled rooms. When you step up your preamp, you will most certainly begin to hear more of the room
you're recording in, and this can be good or bad depending on your room.

Best of luck!!

Kris

Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by Kris » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:27 pm

I suspect this post will be a bit unpopular, but here goes...

I tried the RNP when I was choosing preamps last time. It is really quite a nice preamp, but I don't think it is very good value for money. In fact, I think most preamps are bad value for money :) Well, if you want to associate value for money with transparency and low noise.

The world of mic preamps is similar to the world of high end audio, where subjective quality is so often confused with the objective quality. The super expensive preamps in the studios are not that expensive because they are so much more transparent or quiet. Quite often they are very coloring and the noise levels, while never being problematic, are nothing all that special either. That's OK though, because the engineer will choose mic and preamp based on the source: a male soul singer, then this and that, a female pop singer, then that. They want that coloring! If it was about transparency, then just buy the best and use it for everything, right?

My recording experience comes from the world of acoustics research, and transparency and low noise was everything. Every mic comes with calibration charts, and every preamp guaranteed to be transparent. End let me tell you, the preamps were not that expensive. The mics yes, but not the preamps. Making a quiet and transparent preamp is relatively easy and inexpensive, with most problem solved many many years ago. Just ask David Mellor at Abbey Road. One of his students made a preamp out of a staggering $5 (!!!) worth of components, based on the INA217 integrated chip.

Here's a clip of a phrase repeated three times, recorded using the Neumann UA 87 microphone and three different preamps, one being the home made cheapo preamp. Listen to it through a good system, on good headphones if you can. The clip is not at it's best, as it was originally three separate clips, in AAC audio. Tell me which one sounds best, both objectively* and subjectively. I will later post which is which, and which Mellor's double blind test panel chose as best.

Here's the file: preamptest.mp3

When I was to buy a new preamp last time, I chose the M-Audio DMP-3. Very low noise floor, and huge gain. It is a bit warm compared to others, but a tiny bit of HF EQ solves that, if indeed you see that as a problem.

*Objectively. How do you know if it is objectively better or really transparent? Indeed, no way of knowing. Just say which you believe is the most transparent.

Hybrid

Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by Hybrid » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:34 pm

Gear shootouts are a useless waste of time in my opinion. If you want to talk about Neve's, 5 dollar diy preamps, and soul singers, then i would suggest heading over to the Gearslutz forums. They'll bite on that kind of stuff over there.

This thread is essentially about getting a decent preamp for a good price, that has a decent level of transparency,and a reasonable self noise.
Im sure you've seen Nathan Eldred's review on this preamp. I dont know who you are, but you're not the owner of Atlas Pro Audio, and Atlas Recording Studios,
so i'd have to say, if nobody takes my word for it regarding the RNP, im sure they'd take Nathan's word over yours any day. :D

H

Kris

Re: Wonderful Mic preamp on a budget

Post by Kris » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:55 pm

Well, that's pretty much the response I expected from you Hybrid. Gearslutz huh? You mean the same people who are obsessed with expensive gear and shut their eyes and ears at any mention of an objective test? :lol:

And what kind of argument is it that I am not the owner of Atlas Recording Studios? I don't expect you to take my word for it, but maybe consider David Mellor's word, from Abbey Road Studios. Or here's a thought..gasp!...listen to the recordings!

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