Paul White tests the latest incarnation of the Joemeek VC3, which now sports a three band equaliser in addition to its mic/line preamp and opto‑compressor.
Just when you think those clever guys at Joemeek have put together just about every possible permutation of their technology, they surprise you by coming up with another. Their VC3 combined mic amp, opto‑compressor and enhancer has been around for quite a while and has gained a reputation as a warm‑sounding box that offers something a little bit different from a conventional compressor. I rather liked the enhancer, but apparently the US market didn't really go for it, so Joemeek have produced a new version where the enhancer has been replaced by a fixed 3‑band EQ based on their Meequaliser design.
Like its forerunner, the adaptor‑powered, half‑rack VC3Q can accept mic or line signals via rear‑panel XLR or jack respectively. There's also a Mix In jack that can be used to mix another signal with the existing mic or line input. A TRS jack functions as an insert point for patching external units into the signal chain or for isolating the preamp section from the compressor or EQ. The two identical balanced outputs make life easier if you're working with a soundcard studio and need to set up input source monitoring to avoid the effects of latency while overdubbing.
The mic preamp is simple but nicely quiet and transparent with just a gain control and a phantom power active LED. Phantom power is switched on via a button on the rear panel. A separate button puts the compressor into circuit and, because of the compressor design, no make‑up gain control is needed — the only knobs are Compression, Attack and Release. The VC3Q works by the Compression control, in effect, setting the gain of the input signal relative to a fixed internal threshold. As with other Joemeek compressors, a lamp/photocell system which makes it very non‑linear in a musically interesting kind of way, with quite a soft knee. I like the effect on vocals, where you want the result to sound compressed, and it can work well on guitar and bass, but as with any other 'attitude' compressor, you'll occasionally come across a sound source that it doesn't get along with.
The EQ section provides three fixed bands at 80Hz, 1.8kHz and 8kHz, the upper and lower bands being shelving while the middle has a traditional bell response. There's an ample 16dB of cut and boost, and though the EQ may look limited compared to a parametric, it actually sounds nicely musical and the frequencies have been chosen with care. Should you prefer not to use it, it can also be bypassed, just like the compressor. A five‑section LED level meter and an Output Vol knob allow you to control the overall output level from the unit up to a maximum of +26dBu, so even those signal‑hungry soundcards should get enough level. A red warning lamp lights if the signal at the equaliser stage approaches clipping, due to excessive use of boost on already hot signals.
It's a while since I've used the original VC3, but the VC3Q preamp and compressor sections seem to perform in exactly the same manner as before: the preamp is quiet and very clean, while the compressor has a distinct 'effect' quality that requires fairly careful adjustment of the Compression knob to optimise. It's ideal for that vintage 'Hey, look, I'm compressed!' sound, but with less compression it can be reasonably subtle. The EQ is quite straightforward but it has a classy quality to it. It can be used to make adjustments in the most needed areas of the audio spectrum without the sound losing its focus, but it's still best to regard it as an instrument for fine‑tuning rather than radical reshaping. Overall, the VC3Q is a strong performer in all areas and would make an ideal partner for both computer‑based and more conventional recording setups.
- High quality mic preamp.
- Vintage opto‑compressor sound.
- Well designed equaliser.
- The external PSU.
- Compressor doesn't suit all material.
An attractively priced, easy‑to‑operate recording channel which represents good value for money.