Roll Music Systems
Analog Recording Equipment From Minneapolis
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Frequently Answered Questions

So far, no question has been too stupid to be answered here. Maybe yours can be the first.

Questions about the RMS5A7 Tubule tube mike preamp module

Q. There's no high voltage plate supply in any 500-series lunchboxes, racks, or consoles. This has to be some lame starved plate "toob" circuit. Right?
The RMS5A7 is a real, transformer-coupled, all-tube preamp circuit. We use sophisticated modern power-management circuitry to generate the necessary high-voltage plate and high-current heater supplies from the available +/-16V and +48V rails. It works really well and sounds amazing.

Q. So it must use way more than the specified amount of current for a single module?
The RMS5A7 is carefully designed to be very efficient. It uses less than 100mA per channel.

Q. Sounds like it must be some wimpy little circuit then.
No way.
We started our design by looking at some classic, beefy circuits like the legendary BC2B preamp. We changed a lot of things, like increasing the gain and giving it a real gain control, but at its heart it's an old-school tube amp. Like we said, it's all about careful design and high efficiency in the power management circuits.

Q. Op amp output stage?
No sir.
All tube. Transformer input, transformer output.

Q. Does it run hot? Do I have to worry about my lunchbox overheating?
We've seen some very poorly-built 500-series racks out there that run very hot when you put more than a few modules in them. But the RMS5A7 doesn't produce any more heat than a typical module. It uses less than 3 watts, below the limit for a single module. Those watts can't tell the difference between a tube and a transistor!

Q. Can I get some good overdrive sounds out of this thing?
Unlike guitar amps, tube mike preamps aren't supposed to sound distorted. It's unfortunate that the proliferation of cheap starved-plate "tube" mike preamps (really just IC op-amp preamps with a tube stage thrown in for marketing purposes) has given many inexperienced users the mistaken impression that tubes can't sound clean. The RMS5A7 definitely has a rich character of its own, but it's not an effect pedal. That said, you can actually vary the amount of "tube coloration" you get out of the Tubule by twiddling the gain in different ways. The Tubule has more coloration at the highest gain settings. By turning down the input attenuator, or activating the -20dB input pad, you can then increase the setting of the gain control without producing unpleasant clipping distortion. Conversely, when you want a cleaner sound, you can maximize the input signal (to a point) and thereby reduce the setting of the gain control.

Questions about the RMS216 Folcrom

Q. Can I link two Folcrii together? How do I do this? Do you supply the cables and the paperclip?
Detailed instructions for linking two Folcrom units together for 32-channel operation are included in the user manual. It's easy, all you need is a pair of XLR "Y" cables (two XLR-F to one XLR-M) and a paperclip. The paperclip is used to reach a switch located behind a small hole in the rear panel, between the XLR connectors and the edge of the chassis. This switch re-optimizes the summing impedances for 32-channel operation. We don't supply the cables (or the paperclip) but they're standard items that should be easy to find through the usual channels.

Q. Why do I need to use mike preamps for makeup gain?
Every analog mixer in the world uses resistors to perform the electrical summing of all the channels. There is an insertion loss inherent in this operation. Most mixers have built-in amplifiers to restore the signal to nominal (line) level. The Folcrom is unique in that we've intentionally omitted the amplifiers. The outputs are 150-ohm balanced sources that require about 35-40dB of makeup gain. In other words, the outputs are "microphone level" signals. Microphone preamplifiers are the ideal choice to restore these signals to nominal line level. By leaving the choice of amplifier to you, the user, we effectively give you control over the actual sound of the summing buss. This opens up a world of sonic possibilities never before seen in a mixer. And by happenstance, it also makes our extremely high-quality summing device the least expensive one on the market.

Q. Can't I get the same effect with just the mike preamps and skip the Folcrom?
Feeding your line-level 2-mix signal into a pair of mike preamps will probably result in heavy distortion due to clipping. You could attenuate the signal first to prevent clipping, and you would get the sound of the preamp, but you would be applying that preamp sound to same digital mix most users are trying to avoid. By outputting 16 separate channels into the Folcrom, you get all the benefits of summing in the analog domain and you also get the opportunity to apply analog processing to individual channels as you see fit. All without generating a bunch of new latency headaches.

Q. Why is the Folcrom so expensive? Isn't it just a box of resistors?
It's true that the Folcrom is a very simple circuit. But it's also a very well-designed circuit built in a very durable way with very high-quality components. We feel it's priced very well, and is by far the best value available today in a dedicated summing solution. (Besides, it's also a box of switches, and good gold-contact switches like ours are not cheap.)

Q. Why is the Folcrom so cheap? Is it crappier than all the $3000 summing boxes out there?
The Folcrom was designed to be of the highest possible quality in terms of signal integrity, durability, and usability. By choosing a no-compromise approach, we found ourselves with an unusually simple circuit that leaves nothing to be desired. Anything else that could be added to the circuit would only get in the way of its ideal performance. This is one of those rare cases where less really is more, and the result is simultaneously the highest quality and the least expensive dedicated summing solution on the market. If spending more money makes you feel better, you should by a Folcrom and two channels of really sweet preamps.

Q. Doesn't passive mixing increase the noise floor due to attenuating the signal and re-amplifying it with a preamp? Wouldn't it be better to use an active mixer that doesn't have insertion loss?
In theory, it would be better to have a mixer with no insertion loss. Unfortunately, such a mixer does not exist in our universe. All mixers use resistive summing and all have an insertion loss. You simply don't notice it on most products because the makeup gain is integrated into the summing circuit and the output has already been reamplified. If we did a lousy job on the design of the Folcrom, there would be some risk of the low-level signal being degraded in transit between its outputs and the makeup gain amplifiers. But we actually did a very good job on the design of the Folcrom, and the microphone-level outputs are a robust, balanced, low-impedance signal which are very capable of running through a pair of short, high quality balanced cables into a nearby preamp. The results speak for themselves.

Q. The publisher of my DAW software says their math is perfect. How can analog summing possibly offer any improvement over internal DAW summing?
There are many different opinions on this subject, and we don't feel qualified to give a definitive answer. Some people think that internal DAW summing is just fine and there's no reason to leave the box. That's fine, this product probably isn't for them. Some people have found that their "bounce to disk" mixes are lacking, despite starting with high quality recorded tracks. Many of these users have been very satisfied with the Folcrom. Still others think the internal summing is okay, but they would like to leave the digital domain in order to use their analog processing hardware on individual channels. Many of these users feel the Folcrom is an excellent way to accommodate a hybrid approach without generating latency on some tracks that doesn't match the latency on other tracks. And there are many other opinions that couldn't possibly all be compiled here. The moral of the story is that everybody gets to choose their own process for mixing. Like any other artistic process, it's entirely subjective and we can't tell anybody they're right or wrong. Whether it's solving a technical problem in some DAW software, or adding a little pleasant coloration, or just making the workflow easier and more manageable - the large and growing crowd of Folcrom users agree on one thing: Mixing through the Folcrom helps them to achieve better mixes. That's all we need to know.

Q. I don't need 16 channels. Can I get a custom 8-channel Folcrom for half price?
We've heard this request a few times, but not enough times for it to matter. We could build an 8-channel version, but that would mean design costs for another chassis, marketing for another product, and another kind of packaging. These costs would be spread over a smaller number of units sold, and the result would be that an 8-channel Folcrom would actually cost more than the 16-channel unit. The best solution has been for us to make a single version of the Folcrom and keep the price as low as possible. Those users who only require 8 channels are welcome to use the 16-channel unit and simply leave the unused channels disengaged.

Q. Why did you decide to paint the thing such a hideous color? It looks like a dessert. What the hell is wrong with you people?
We like dessert. In fact, we believe you should eat your dessert first. That way, if you choke on a chicken bone during dinner, at least you won't go to your grave without something tasty in your belly.

Q. What's the best preamp to use for makeup gain?
What's the best preamp to use for a microphone? The answer to both questions has (almost) as many answers as there are preamps to choose from. Any high-quality mike preamp will work well with the Folcrom, so long as it has low noise and is capable of delivering a reasonable amount of gain. Which high quality preamp sounds better than the others is a question of taste, and it'll vary with the music, the mix, the mixer, and the listener. Nah, just messing with you. The correct answer is here.

Questions about the RMS755 Super Stereo compressor

Q. 1. Does the Super Stereo sound like (insert registered trademark here)?
We hope not.
Our goal was for the Super Stereo compressor to not sound like anything at all. We certainly don't want it to sound like another compressor on the market. There are compressors on the market that are practically ubiquitous. They can be heard on some of the most famous recordings in music history. We feel that new music should have a new sound, not just try to copy something that was successful before. Furthermore, we've strived to make the Super Stereo compressor as transparent as possible. We think we've succeeded. The idea is to control the dynamics and bring a sense of cohesion to your mix that makes it sound "like a record" without stamping it with some particular sonic signature.

Q. What's the frequency of the sidechain hi-pass filter?

Q. What does the DUAL button do? Also, why isn't there an "auto" release setting?
The DUAL button works very much like the "auto release" setting on some other compressors. It's a dual release time, which is program-dependent. The idea is that the compressor recovers quickly from short transients, while releasing more slowly after long passages of loud music. It differs from most "auto" settings because it doesn't take control away from the user. The Release Time control still functions (though it's not "WYSIWYG") in Dual mode to control the short aspect of the dual release time. Try it and see how you like it. Extra smooth. Be warned though, the moment you press the DUAL button, it will actually do the opposite of what it eventually is going to do. So wait a few seconds (a capacitor needs to charge) before you judge it.

Q. If I use the hi-pass filter with a fast attack time and/or a high ratio on a mix with heavy bass drum, it causes more pumping instead of less.
Don't do that. Actually, this isn't a frequently asked question. Nobody ever notices this quirk because nobody ever uses a compressor this way. Setting it up with a high ratio and a fast attack is basically making it behave as a limiter. Why would you want a limiter to ignore bass peaks?

Q. Why aren't there any numbers on the Threshold control?
Because they wouldn't mean anything. The actual threshold changes depending on the ratio selected. This is intentional. The threshold goes up as the ratio goes up so that when you're switching between ratios to find the one that sounds best, you continue to get approximately the same amount of gain reduction. Otherwise it would be very difficult to make a solid evaluation of the sound.

Q. Is there something you can do about the continuously-variable threshold and gain controls so I can recall exact settings?
We're big fans of completely recallable and resettable controls. We've been thinking about the best way to accommodate this request without pissing off the users who like a continuously-variable makeup gain control. If you really need the recall ability, give us a call. We'll be happy to discuss your needs and find a custom modification that will make our product work for you.

Q. I get distorted audio or a 6dB level shift or distortion or bad sound when the unit is engaged. It works fine in bypass. What's wrong with my unit?
It sounds to us like you've got interfacing issues. The Super Stereo has electronically balanced, but not floating, inputs and outputs. If you feed it with an unbalanced source and/or feed its outputs into an unbalanced load, you may experience unusual behavior if you don't interface it properly. First of all, if you're feeding the Super Stereo into an unbalanced load please be sure that you're not grounding the unused pin (usually pin 3) of the output connector. To do so will cause distortion. Secondly, if you've got an unbalanced source AND an unbalanced load, make sure they're of the same polarity (pin 2 hot or pin 3 hot). Otherwise, the hard bypass mode of the Super Stereo will result in silence.

Q. I bought my Super Stereo in North America or Japan, and now I'm moving to the rest of the world (or vice versa). How do I make the unit compatible with a different mains voltage?
All Super Stereo compressors are internally configurable for nominal 115V or 230V mains supply. Some early units (SN#RMS755055 and below) may require replacement of the power switch assembly (contact us for that). Current production has an easily identifiable switch on the inside of the unit. If you're not qualified to go poking around inside a piece of electronic equipment, then don't. Get professional help. All Super Stereo compressors require a change of the mains fuses (inside the power entry module, accessible from the rear panel) when the mains voltage is changed. 80mA fuses are used for 230V operation, and 160mA fuses are used for 115V operation. Never use a fuse that's rated for a higher current than is specified.

Q. The Super Stereo is promoted as a mixbus compressor. Can I use it for tracking vocals or bass guitar?
Shit yeah!

Q. I'm connecting the Super Stereo to unbalanced sources and loads, or a combination of balanced and unbalanced gear. How do I make sure everything's wired correctly? Do I float Pin 3 or ground it?
Never ground either pin 2 or pin 3 of the output connector.
Grounding an output pin won't damage the unit, but it will cause distortion that is not the good kind of distortion. It's the bad kind. So don't do it. Okay?

General questions about Roll Music Systems

Q. Can I buy directly from RMS?
or you can contact one of our independent dealers.

Q. Are you the same company as Rolls Corp, maker of headphone amps and various other what-have-you??
We are Roll Music Systems Inc. We are not affiliated in any way with Rolls Royce, Rolls Corporation, Tootsie Rolls, or any other Rolls. We've been known as Roll Music Systems Inc, Roll Music Systems LLP, Roll Music Systems, Roll Music Studios, and Morse & Sommer. That's it. You can call us Roll Music for short, or even Roll. But please don't call us Rolls. That's a different company with a different name. We're not them. Thank you.