pro-audio products

advanced recording channel strip

bass recording compressor

product review

Toby Browning

I just received my new ARC 1.1 and needless to say, I am very impressed with it. I’ve made my living over the last 25 years a a voice actor in the Los Angeles market, also providing audio production services for client’s world-wide. I also happen to have a bachelors degree in electronic engineering. In evaluating gear, I have a bit of a unique perspective, being able to draw upon these different skill sets.

The ARC 1.1 arrived properly packaged. Double boxed, with a custom foam insert. This may seem odd to mention, but it has been my experience that the quality and care of packaging usually follows through to the quality of unit itself. The first thing I usually do is pop off the top and have a look inside. The quality of build designer Tim Farrant has put into this is stunning. High quality metal work. Shielded toroidal transformer. Well designed linear power supply with oversized heat sinks. The functional sections each have their own PC board/module. They are tied to a relay routing system using high quality cabling. This reduces the chances of crosstalk, and if ever needed, makes repair much easier.

The mic pre-amp is a transformer-less design, similar to the Buzz Audio MA 2.2 mic pre. It uses Tim’s BE-40 custom discrete amplifiers, running at higher voltage rails to ensure proper headroom in this critical stage. The rest of the sections appear to use high quality Analog Devices IC’s. It appears that Tim has chosen to use very high quality carbon pots vs. the conductive plastic variety. I was very happy to see this, as I have had many a conductive plastic pot go noisy on me, with no way to clean it.

The functional sections include the aforementioned discreet class A mic pre, a separate line input section, hi pass filter, 4 band parametric eq, optical compressor, brick wall FET limiter, output section with a switchable “effects” transformer and nice bright and fast LED metering.

Enough about the nuts and bolts. How does it sound?

I have used/owned many channel strips over the years, and while there are some very good ones out there, I have found that I always find at least one of the functions to be lacking. Either the pre is not clean, the EQ limited or the compressor is finicky, or poor sounding. This makes most of these devices limited in their use even though you are still paying for the “not so good” parts. The Buzz Audio ARC 1.1 is the only channel strip I have used where all of the functions are not only usable, but stellar. The preamp is ultra clean without being sterile. Its also dead quiet and articulate with gobs of headroom. My Sennheiser 416 has never sounded better.

The EQ section is very versatile and musical. For example, it allows you to really reach in and take out just the right amount of mud around 180, add a little presence at 3.5K and a bit of air at 12k. Control over the Q in the mid-band filters allows you to really fine tune things. The optical compressor is clean and, unless really driven, transparent. 5:1 in auto attack/release mode was just the ticket. The proprietary LED opto circuit is very fast, compared to an LA2 or even an LA3. It was able to track and control the spoken word very well, with no“lost words” due to slow release, etc. The FET peak limiter seemed to work quite well, but these days, the look-ahead capabilities of a good plug-in is hard to beat.

I love the metering on this thing. While in session, i can easily glance over an know exactly whats going on. The meters are bright with well chosen ballistics. The “Tranny” option is a steel-core effect transformer that, when switched in on the output section, adds a fairly subtle low end fullness to the signal. I loved the clean sound of the ARC and chose to leave this feature out.

I should mention part of the versatility of the ARC, is the fact that you can use the EQ and/or the Compressor as separate, stand alone units. Throw the routing switches to “external”, and they are accessible on dedicated I/O connectors. Along the same lines, the individual EQ filters including the HP, can be routed into the compressor side chain for frequency selective compression. I chose to leave the EQ filters in the main path, pre compressor. The HP filter was switched into the side chain. A nice way to reduce an aberrant plosive from affecting the level of gain reduction.

One other nice feature…… in addition to the main processed output, there is a direct output from the mic pre that is always available. I routed both of these outputs into my APOLLO 8, giving me a clean, dry signal for agency work and wet proceeded signal for station work. No patching necessary. Very handy.

Prior to the ARC, I was using a highly regarded outboard mic pre and UAD plug-ins for my mic chain. As good as plugs have gotten, I found myself still wanting more. In my opinion, well designed analog gear imprints another dimension to the sound you simply can’t get with software. Not yet anyway. In the ARC 1.1, Tim Farrant has meticulously designed a channel strip that is simply excellent from build quality, to usability to sound. I would not hesitate to recommend the ARC 1.1 to anyone looking for world class recording channel that is built to last one’s whole career.
Toby Browning is a voice over artist in the US.

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