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McLane: A Peek at the Newest FM Optimod

 We suss out some details prior to the unveiling at NAB

Radio on-air processing fans will no doubt be watching closely what the major names will be up to at this spring’s NAB Show.

Radio World has gleaned some details about the pending new Orban Optimod-FM 8600, the latest FM processor from that big player in the high-stakes, high-emotion FM processing niche.

While the 8500 will continue to ship “for years into the future,” according to company insiders, the 8600 will begin shipping within weeks of the spring convention and the price of the earlier model will fall.

Here’s what RW has learned:

Orban will emphasize that the 8600 gives “dramatically improved” peak limiter technology that decreases distortion while increasing transient punch and high-frequency power handling. “Compared to the FM-channel peak limiter in Optimod-FM 8500,” company materials will state, “the new peak limiter typically provides 2.5 to 3 dB more power at high frequencies, which minimizes audible HF loss caused by preemphasis limiting. Drums and percussion cut through the mix. Highs are airy. ‘Problem material’ that used to cause audible distortion is handled cleanly.”

Orban will tell NAB attendees that while the design offers “about the same loudness as 8500 processing, its main goal is to make FM analog broadcasts more competitive with the cleanliness, punch and open high frequencies of the digital media against which FM analog transmissions now battle.” The company states in a product summary: “The FM loudness wars were so 20th century; in the 21st century the new foe is digital media.”

Features also will include parallel processing for digital channels like HD Radio that simulcast program material on FM analog. Except for the AGC, the analog FM and digital radio channels will be independent and separately adjustable. The 8600’s digital radio channel promises a new peak limiter. As before, an FM-only model without processing for digital radio will be made available at lower cost.

Fans of the 8500 can run their favorite presets on the new unit. Various popular 8500 features are carried over to the 8600.

The new unit also lets users in countries enforcing ITU-R 412 MPX power limits to apply MPX power gain reduction after the clippers so that the texture of the processing can include more “clipper sound.”

The processor will offer six structures. Four are the same as in the Optimod-FM 8500. New “MX” structures (five-band and two-band) are similar to their earlier counterparts but use the new peak limiting technology, which Orban says will decrease distortion while achieving big improvements in transient punch and high frequency clarity. “This advanced technology requires more input-to-output delay than the older structures, so it is impractical for talent to monitor these structures off-air with headphones. The 8600 offers a special low-delay monitor output for this purpose.”

The Optimod-FM 8600 HD Digital will retail for $13,990 while the non-HD Radio version will be three grand less. The current 8500 drops in price; the Optimod-FM 8500 HD Digital becomes $9,590 while the FM-only version is one thousand less.