In its manual, FMR Audio's main man Mark McQuilken refers to the PBC-6A ($499 list) as "a nonlinear compression amplifier."
I'm not sure what "PBC" stands for, but I'll guess something like "pretty bad-**s" or "pretty b****in'" compressor, especially considering this product's distributor and close collaborator in production is Mercenary Audio, a pro audio store generally known for recommending and selling very good stuff while "telling it like it is," I guess you could say.
The PBC-6A must be considered alongside its FMR predecessors, those units that comprise the Really Nice Series — Compressor (RNC1773), Leveling Amplifier (RNLA7239), and Preamp (RNP8380) — which I recently reviewed in full [for PAR February 2009 — Ed.]. The PBC-6A is housed in an identically proportioned chassis as every component in the RN Series, but sports "pro-level" I/O; rather than unbalanced 1/4-inch ins and outs (like the two-channel RNC1773 and RNLA7239 units), the single-channel PBC-6A has balanced XLR input and output, a sidechain 1/4-inch jack, and a link 1/4-inch jack on its rear panel. On front, the PBC-6A offers five pots for the adjustment of Drive (compression level and make-up gain in one), Knee, Attack, Release, and Output parameters; one switch each for FMR's own Thick mode and Bypass (the latter with a single LED indicator); and an 8-LED Gain Reduction display: five knobs, two buttons and better- than-sufficient metering, just like every other FMR box.
Setting itself further apart from its RN Series brethren is its additional "hidden" mode, Special, gained and exited by pressing both Thick and Bypass simultaneously. You'll know you're there because the Bypass LED and one of the Gain Reduction LEDs blink incessantly while engaged. In Special mode, you may adjust sidechain filter (a lit Gain Reduction LED moves between "3" and "24" to indicate corner frequencies between 30 and 340 Hz) or link two PBC- 6As for stereo operation in one of three settings: "master, no hardware link," "master, hardware link," or "slave, hardware link."
I've now lived with a pair of PBC-6A units for three months, using them on a wide variety of instrument and vocal tracking applications, channel inserts, and the mix bus. Most often, the PBC-6A provided lush and complex interest to source signals, which most listeners in the room, including me, appreciated.
Using it alone in multiple applications within denser multitrack sessions (alongside other "neutral" compressors) — or, most notably, strapped across the stereo bus — the PBC-6A did sometimes build a stylistically compressed "residue" in, on, and/or around the mix. Considering that our industry regularly produces pop productions featuring squashed mixes, voices, and instruments to the liking of the masses, this may be just what you and your clients actually want. To be fair, what the PBC-6A does, even in signal "obliterating" measures, is more pleasing than you would likely imagine.
My favorite applications of the PBC- 6A's seemingly magical qualities include lead vocal and bass guitar DI. Also notable were applications on snare drum, kick drum, stereo drum overheads in spirited/loud performances, etc.
On vocals, the most common word muttered upon track playback amongst my recording cohorts was "finished." To "tape," the PBC-6A brought forward the vocal with notable warmth and, with Drive setting on or past 11 o'clock, a distinguished, subtle edge. If you're tracking with a good idea of what you'll need later, the PBC-6A on lead vocals is an ideal tool, a great time saver, and a real enthusiasm builder: Vocalists generally became more "into" a session after the first playback with the PBC-6A inline. With Thick mode on vocals, it was a tossup whether it was ultimately preferred or not; I'd describe it as choosing between Navy Blue and Violet Blue from a Crayola 64 crayon box: a fun choice, but hardly transforming of the picture at hand.
On bass guitar, I used Thick more often than not. I presume that this is because I tended to lean a bit harder on the PBC-6A in this application; the harder I leaned, the more the bass players liked it. We did have to contain ourselves and back off from time to time, but boy — the PBC-6A is a fun bass-sculpting instrument! Like on vocals, the unit "finishes" the bass track with a proud warmth and edge that still behaves itself in a mix.
I must note that while the PBC-6A's chassis, look, and price may keep it from being considered amongst our industry's "elite" compression/limiting devices, it does its job as any youthful, scrappy, and successful newcomer does: most often blatantly, yet with pro-level results for less money. In my use, the PBC-6A sat in chains following premier front ends (such as a SSL SuperAnalogue mic amp/DI, for example), was paired and linked next to far more costly stereo compressor/limiters, and usually was the most affordable box in the mix. As a result, I gladly bought one of the two review units from Mercenary. If I had found its more "extroverted" characteristics desirable on stereo pairs and mixes, I wouldn't have hesitated to buy both. So I recommend that you try at least one PBC-6A if you've ever used the words "slammin'" or "brutal" — or "bad-**s" or "b****in'" if you're nasty — as a term of aural endearment.
Contact: Mercenary Audio (Distributor) | 866-968-0069 | www.mercenary.com
Strother Bullins is the Reviews & Features Editor for Pro Audio Review.