PreComp™ Development

As with all innovative products, the PreComp is truly a result of filling a need in the market. The proliferation of the 500 series format has spawned all kinds of mic preamps and compressors, but oddly enough, Radial appears to be one of the first manufacturers to combine both into a single wide module, creating a full-function channel strip.

The all-in-one format presents many benefits:

  • For the studio, the ultra-clean signal path and super easy control over dynamics makes the PreComp a natural for project studios where noise can be a concern and getting quick results without overload is important.
  • For the live engineer, the high quality signal path with control over ballistics assures clean, distortion-free recording in less than ideal live environments. The compact design and lower price point makes it easier to record multiple channels.
  • For the broadcaster, it enables the engineer to set up a great sounding on-air mic channel and control the dynamics without having to combine multiple modules. With the move towards smaller, more flexible studios, the PreComp is a natural fit.
  • For the post production house, voice-over talent can now be recorded with complete control. The compact design makes it easy to assemble multiple PreComps in a 500 series power rack to record several artists at the same time.

Establishing the feature set

When we started to lay out the PreComp's design, the greatest challenge was deciding which features we would include within the limited space afforded by the 500 series format. In fact, this question led us to create two products: the PreComp and the PreMax – a channel strip that combines a preamp with an EQ. With the PreComp, we decided to focus on signal clarity, simplicity, low noise and keeping the track out of the red.

Standard features that we felt had to be on board included a 48V phantom switch – recessed of course to prevent accidental turn-on, a 180° polarity reverse to enable a stereo set of PreComps to be used together, a low-cut (high pass) filter to eliminate troublesome resonance, and a 'compare' switch that would enable the engineer to audition the compression versus the original non-compressed clean sound.

The Preamp

Traditional preamp designs generally set the gain at maximum while the 'volume control' is in fact an attenuator that reduces the input sensitivity. This results in a signal-to-noise ratio that certainly works well when used at higher input levels and under most conditions. Concerns arise during softer musical passages where the background noise can become audible. This of course has become more acute in recent years with the advent of digital recording where background noise from tape hiss is no longer present to mask any equipment noise.

The PreComp addresses the problem with Radial's Accustate gain control that simultaneously sets the input sensitivity and output via a custom designed dual wafer potentiometer. This 'auto-padding' circuit lets you quickly adjust the gain while reducing noise. And with 60dB of gain, it is perfectly adaptable for use with even the quietest microphones.

The Compressor

As odd as this may sound, the most frustrating aspect to using a compressor is actually making it sound good. The problem is that for most vocal tracks or instruments, there are more controls and switches than you really need. Unless you are an experienced engineer, these can get you into trouble! The PreComp's compressor is designed to be intuitive, easy to use and sound great – fast!

By paring the design down to the essential, it is amazingly easy to get great results. Because the preamp is integral, the input to the compressor is matched – so you simply set the threshold level, dial in the amount of compression with the ratio control and then set the make-up gain to suit. The VCA compression chip incorporates an algorithm that automatically transitions from a smooth soft-knee effect to a more radical hard-knee as you increase the signal level. This results in a more natural sounding compression that effortlessly flows with the program material across the stereo landscape.

Pairing things up in stereo

The PreComp is also stereo ready. In other words, when using two PreComps together, you simply engage the stereo LINK on your Radial power rack, and both compressors will share the same dynamic control, for a more even effect.

As evident, paring down the feature set to fit inside the limited space of single wide module forces one to really focus on what matters and what does not. The PreComp is magical in its simplicity, yet stunning in its functionality and range.