The JoeMeek ProChannel VC3 has recently undergone a major redesign making it more suitable for professional applications, hence our reason for revisiting it. Those familiar with the original VC3 will know that it comprises a low noise mic/line amp, a simple compressor based on the JoeMeek optical circuit and a dynamic enhancer. All those functions are still present, but inside the box, the circuit has changed quite radically. The most obvious outward sign of change is the use of all‑black legending on the front and the words 'Balanced Outputs' on the rear panel. Apparently the US market demanded proper balanced outputs, so a completely new balanced output stage has been designed, though the use of stereo jacks rather than XLRs has been retained for ease of connection to patchbays. This new output stage can provide levels of up to +26dB without clipping, an important feature if you're driving a digital recorder that expects to see levels of +12dBu or more above the usual +4dBu level in order to provide digital full scale modulation. The output may also be used unbalanced by using regular mono jacks, and as with the original version, the output drives two sets of parallel jacks allowing two feeds to be taken where necessary. A rear panel insert point is also provided on a TRS jack.
The mic/line preamp is based on a five‑stage circuit that automatically switches to line mode when a jack plug is inserted in the rear‑panel unbalanced Line socket. The mic amp phantom power circuitry has also been redesigned to cope with those mics that take rather more current than average. Changes are also evident in the enhancer circuitry, possibly because one of the original chips was discontinued. The redesign claims to make the enhancer easier to set up, and the LED indicator response has been improved at the same time. This enhancer works by processing (through non‑linear compression?) a narrow part of the audio spectrum, then adding some of this processed signal back into the main mix via the Enhance control. The width of the enhancer's filter may be adjusted using the front panel Q control, while the Drive knob sets up the signal level feeding the enhancer section. As with most such enhancers, careful use creates the impression of a brighter, more detailed sound, while over‑use can make the signal sound harsh.
A five‑section level meter shows how much signal is present at the output, and an output level control is provided. As far as I can tell, the compression section remains the same as before, with controls for Compression and Release as well as buttons for Bypass and Fast/Slow Attack.
Despite its apparent simplicity and its half width, wall‑wart‑powered format, the VC3 is actually a very highly specified little box that also sounds very musical. The mic/line amp is clean, the compressor has the characteristically flattering JoeMeek sound and the enhancer adds a nice airy gloss providing you use it sparingly. The technical upgrades are relatively minor in terms of their subjective effect on the sound, though the ability to output more level and to handle more awkward phantom‑powered loads is to be welcomed. At under £200, this is a very professional‑sounding mic/line channel. Paul White