Review: Fredenstein F200 Dual Channel Microphone Preamp/Compressor

Have you heard about Fredenstein, a “new kid in town” making waves with a wildly diverse analog processing product line?
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Have you heard about Fredenstein, a “new kid in town” making waves with a wildly diverse analog processing product line? With an American/German design team and Taiwanese manufacturing (and corporate offices), the company literally covers a lot of ground. For example, they offer a $4,000 F660 Limiting Amplifier with Fairchild 660/670 circuitry under DSP-regulated tube control, the Artistic, a $199 500 Series mic preamp and the F200 two-channel mic preamp and compressor, among other interesting products.

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Features

I’m unsure about the F200’s design specifics other than the preamp and the compressor are solid-state and the compressor is FET-based. I can tell you that Fredenstein, via their website, speaks unequivocally of their zero negative-feedback designs with “internally and externally balanced” circuitry (fully differential) designed with linearity in mind “to avoid the harshness of typical negative feedback designs with a warm and dynamic character.”

Feature-wise, the F200 packs a lot of function into 1U with two channels of pre-amplification, each featuring 60 dB of gain, phantom power, -20 dB pad, line-level input capability, polarity flip, a switchable 60 Hz Low Cut (high pass) filter and a front panel quarter-inch DI input (balanced or unbalanced). Its compressor/limiter offers a continuously variable ratio (2:1-100:1), attack/release parameters and stereo linking. Regardless of actual parameter values, all knobs are uniformly labeled from 0 to 10 so you’ll have to rely on your ears for settings. The unit offers XLR I/O, VU meters (output or attenuation), universal 90-240 VAC, 50-60 Hz operation (via IEC connector) and the ability to blend the outputs of the preamps and compressors (parallel compression) with separate pots.

In Use

At first I felt that operating the F200 was a little cramped; 1U is very little space for four fully featured audio components (pre x2, comp x2). I also thought the F200 was a little dark without the brighter sheen and “forwardness” that often accompanies affordable gear. I found setting levels a little cumbersome as balancing input gain, compressor output and direct output could be a little sensitive.

However, I stuck with it and soon discovered that the F200’s layout really was ideal for having so many controls; the colored LEDs per switch proved quite helpful. I found that a particular methodology really made operation easier: start out with mic output fully open, compressor output at zero, mic gain set so that peaks are at -12 dBFS (save some headroom, you’ll need it) and then slowly bring up compressor output (with a low ratio) to about equal loudness with the dry signal. Get accustomed to this NY-style parallel blend and then attenuate the dry signal, isolating your compressed signal. Tweak your time constants/ratio and, most importantly, tweak HPF for colorful compression, blending dry signal back in until about equal. This sounds tedious, but it’s not; I found myself repeating this process with almost every input combo available over the next two months.

Whether paired with electric guitars (the F200’s best friend), electric bass, stereo keyboard/synth DIs (the quarterinch inputs sound great), drum overheads, vocals, BGVs, or effects, having a versatile compressor right there, with no patching required, was a huge time-saver. Sometimes I did my usual thing: I squashed the hell out of stuff because I could (and because I could make it sound great), with lots of density and thickness readily available by bringing that compression in up under the dry signal.

Don’t get me wrong: the F200 is clean, yet not as transparent as my standard-bearer, Millennia Media’s mic pre/comp combo. And the F200 isn’t euphonic like some gear that’s loaded with tubes and/ or transformers. It is basically neutral with a slightly warm, and perhaps slightly veiled, sound. Coupled with its compressor, the F200 consistently takes on a slightly dark, non-forward, midrangethick, squeezed character that I found rather desirable.

I mix a lot of rock and lately “in-the-box” productions quite a bit. In these applications, I found the F200 to provide a smoothing, pleasant treatment that benefited often loud, potentially harsh sources, especially those that would otherwise stay in the digital domain.

To My Ears

The F200 may not be the pristine choice of golden ears and audiophiles like siblings the F660 or F676, but this much utility, versatility, convenience and dark-and-chewy sonics deserves a closer look for producers of loud music and edgy sound source wranglers. Available for $800 street, the F200 is a truly great deal and a useful addition to most any recording rig. In fact, while recording on location, I found the F200 to have the right utility vs. weight/size ratio. That did it, so I bought one.

 Contact: Fredenstein | http://www.fredenstein.com