McGary Audio

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Home Recording Review!
JDK Audio R20 Microphone Preamp,
R22 Compressor, R24 Equalizer

Price: $1,195 each
Likes: Sound quality, build, classic looks
Dislikes: No attack/release controls (R22),
No bandwidth control (R24);
More info: JDK Audio

by Andrew Roberts

It’s been more than a decade since I wandered into the control room of a 1960s-era Radio Observatory, deep in the Canadian wilderness. I still remember gawking at the racks of military style gear with VU meters and chicken head knobs — all harkening back to a bygone era. That’s the same impression I got when I unboxed a trio of products from JDK Audio — a division of legendary audio manufacturer API.
These made-in-USA analog audio products (the R20 stereo preamp, R22 stereo compressor and the R24 stereo equalizer) are classic 2RU and, with garnishes like Bakelite style knobs, large graphics, a flat green faceplate and VU meters (on the R20 and R22), they exude a 1960s-era military vibe.
Besides their vintage looks, the R20, R22 and R24, priced at $1,195 each, are great sonic tools for home studio recordists/engineers who want a step-up in quality for their analog signal path.

In addition to the VU meters, the R20 microphone preamp features two channels outfitted with mic and instrument inputs, gain controls with peak indicators, switches for phantom power, a pad, phase inversion, and a switch for mic/instrument level. The R20 is an analog piece but, unlike many components from the 1960s era, it does not have vacuum tubes. Instead, it utilizes THAT Corp. 1512 mic preamp ICs, renowned for low noise, low-distortion and high-headroom audio. Looking inside the chassis, the unit is neatly wired and looks robust; you can see its high-end, API influence, just by looking at the unit’s internals.

The R22 compressor features two channels outfitted with VU meters, threshold and ratio controls (no attack or release controls here), a makeup gain control, switches for “Thrust” (a proprietary feature that is claimed to protect high-frequency content under heavy compression), hard- or soft-knee compression, VU function (gain reduction or output level) and bypass.
The R22 uses the same compression circuitry as that found in the legendary Paragon live sound consoles that were manufactured by ATI (related to API today) in the 1990s. One reason the Paragon desks were so coveted (back in the pre-digital era) was because of their onboard dynamics.
The R24 EQ, like the R22 compressor, borrows circuitry from a classic product; it is based on the APSI (API) 562 4-band EQ from the late '70s and early '80s. It features two channels, each with four bands of semi-parametric EQ. The four bands are configured as Lo (20-200 Hz), Lo-Mid (100-1000 Hz), Hi-Mid (500-5000 Hz) and Hi (2 kHz-20 kHz). Each band has a bypass switch. There are no controls for bandwidth or Q. Each band can be adjusted +/-12 dB and comes outfitted with a bypass switch.

In use
I had the pleasure of using the trio of JDK units in a range of audio scenarios. Whether in my home professional studio or on a live concert stage, the R20, R22 and R-24 were rewarding to use. Despite the drab-olive military color, these units score high on the sexy factor. They look nice in a gear rack and the indicator lights are all properly intense. The power light glows dimly in a light rose hue, while the switch indicators are a slightly more aggressive red; most aggressive are the bright red peak lights (on the R20) and compression (R22). The VUs are nicely backlit and easy to read.
I found the R20, R22 and R24 very pleasing to the ear and, honoring their pedigree, they offer clean, analog tones that are welcome in this day of abundant digital processing. I particularly enjoyed using the R20 mic preamp and R22 compressor. As the front end and dynamics for acoustic guitar tracks (via an Audio-Technica AT-4050 microphone) and vocals (via a Lawson L47FET microphone), the R20 and R22 worked well together and yielded wonderful sounding tracks with just the right amount of analog flavor. The same results occurred using the R20 on a live vocal — bypassing the house console’s preamp.

The JDK R series units comprise a high-quality signal chain that offer classic analog relief from all the “me-too” digital processors so common these days.

The R22’s compression is sweet and gentle, even when “knocking down” as much as 6 dB. Whether clamping down on bass or vocals, it has a distinctly “musical” character, which means the R22 maintains the instrument’s harmonic characteristics, even in the face of significant gain reduction.
The Thrust control is very subtle and I appreciated it most when compressing a picked bass part. It improved the attack of the pick, while still clamping down on the general bass level. I like the controls of the R22, but I found myself missing the typical attack and release controls of analog compressors. Just my preference.
The R24 EQ was very competent and easy to use for those equalization duties on live and studio tracks. It is powerful and provides impressive EQ processing. However, without a typical bandwidth control, I found it to be less than precise when making precise surgical cuts in certain bands.

The verdict
The JDK R series units comprise a high-quality signal chain that offer classic analog relief from all the “me-too” digital processors so common these days. With a price tag that is downright reasonable, these made-in-USA, professional-grade, JDK units offer a “boutique” quality at a chain store price. Sonically, they net a Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

Andrew Roberts is a Maryland-based studio and live audio engineer. As a live mixer and system provider, he has worked with diverse musical acts from Classical to Rock, as well as countless DC-based sound jobs. He also has been a perennial favorite at the annual awards of the Washington Area Music Association.

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