The latest Joemeek processor to benefit from the company's Meequaliser technology is the new incarnation of the VC1. Paul White racks it up...
The original Joemeek VC1 was a 2U processor that combined a mic preamp, a compressor and an enhancer designed for direct recording into both hardware recorders and soundcard systems. Since then, the Joemeek Meequaliser has been spun off into various product revamps including this one, the result being that the VC1Q retains virtually all the essential features of its predecessor, but gains a very musical sounding three-band EQ stage with a swept mid-range control.
Housed in the same 2U case, with internal power supply, the VC1Q employs a transformer-coupled input stage followed by a two-stage solid-state amplifier which offers between 15 and 70dB of mic gain. Connection is via a balanced line XLR input and an unbalanced instrument jack. The instrument input's impedance is perhaps a little low, at 150k(omega) -- while this might be fine for many instruments, I think it might not get the best out of some passive guitar pickups. Both the instrument jack and the mic input are on the front panel, though the mic input is also duplicated on the back of the unit. An unbalanced TRS jack provides an insert point between the preamp and the compressor.
JOEMEEK VC1Q £549
Warm, musical sound.
EQ and enhancer work well together.
No output limiter.
The VC1Q is a very well-specified front end for the price, providing all the tools needed to get a good vocal or instrumental sound down onto tape or hard drive.
Next in the signal chain is the compressor, which uses the familiar Joemeek photocell/LED system to implement its characteristic soft-knee response. Rotary controls for Compression, Attack and Release are provided, alongside a five-position rotary switch labelled 'Slope' which adjusts compression ratio. The Comp switch allows you to independently bypass the compressor and there is also a VU Mode button alongside the large moving-coil display which allows you to switch the metering to show the compressor's gain reduction rather than the output level.
The final processing stage comprises an enhancer plus an equaliser, and the two complement each other rather well. The enhancer employs a type of dynamic EQ principle and is useful for adding air and detail to a sound providing you don't push it too far. The effect is adjusted using a Drive control that affects both the amount and character of the enhancement, and a bi-colour LED shows roughly how much drive is being used.
The enhancement effect is achieved by taking a feed from the audio path, filtering it to isolate the high-frequency content, compressing it and then mixing it back in with the main signal. The De-ess/Enhance control varies the amount and phase of processed signal added -- this means that if the knob is turned clockwise you get enhancement, whereas turning the knob anticlockwise effects a type of de-essing though frequency cancellation. The Q control determines over what frequency bandwidth this processing is applied. An Output Gain control compensates for any gain loss brought about by compression and the output is available on both balanced jack and XLR.
The EQ section is very straightforward and, like the enhancer, may be bypassed if it's not needed. There are cut/boost controls for low, mid and high with a mid-band frequency control covering the 750Hz to 4kHz range. The LF control shelves at 100Hz while the high control shelves at 8kHz. All stages provide up to 15dB of cut or boost, and providing the EQ is used sensibly it sounds pretty sweet and musical.
All the stages in this processor work commendably well, starting with the very clean mic amp. As you might expect, the compressor is typically Joemeek, and more than the gentlest of applications produces a deliberate fattening and flattering effect that generally suits vocals and instruments such as acoustic guitar. When it comes to bass guitar, some users love it while others are less convinced. However, the one thing that the compressor cannot do, given its response characteristics, is reliably contain maximum signal levels, for which purpose a fast limiter would have been a useful addition.
While the EQ section is pretty basic, it is properly designed so that EQ changes can be made without ruining the basic tone of the sound being processed (providing you don't go mad with it!). It is particularly well suited to voice, though used in combination with the enhancer it can be used to fine-tune just about any sound source.
Overall, this is a very practical front end. All the elements that make up the VC1Q are familiar Joemeek components, but they all work well together to provide a flexible mic/line/instrument preamp that has just about everything needed for direct recording. The EQ and enhancer sections work well together for effective tonal reshaping while the compressor is just what you'd expect from Joemeek -- smoothness with attitude! The controls are large and clearly labelled, every section has a bypass switch and nobody could complain that the meter isn't big enough. If you thought the VC1 was good, the VC1Q is even better.