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JoeMeek VC4

Paul White checks out Joe Meek's first stand‑alone enhancer.

It's human nature to want to make everything look or sound better than it really is, which is why special effects and enhancers are the audio industry's equivalent of cosmetics. (They're also, to the best of my knowledge, not tested on animals, though I have my cats lined up for a listening test later in the day...) Ted Fletcher's Joe Meek range has included enhancement sections in some models before now, but this is the first stand‑alone enhancer from the company, and at first glance it looks deceptively simple — just five control knobs per channel. The VC4 is a 2‑channel device with completely independent control over both channels, so it's equally at home processing two different mono signals or a stereo mix. Its self‑confessed purpose in life is to add that elusive sonic 'glitter' to music, and it does this by extracting a portion of the high‑frequency end of the spectrum, compressing it, and then adding it to the original signal. In this respect, the circuit is more akin to a dynamic equaliser than to a traditional harmonic exciter, though I wouldn't be surprised if some harmonic generation was also taking place. No bass‑end processing takes place, but the circuit goes down to 20Hz so as not to introduce any unwanted phase shifts into the signal.

Housed in the familiar green rack box, the VC4 connects to the rest of the audio world via balanced jacks, though these may be used unbalanced without any loss of signal level. Two paralleled output sockets are fitted to each channel, providing a convenient way of splitting the signal. Mains power comes in via an EC connector, and there's provision to change the mains voltage from 230V to 115V should the need arise.


In order to enable it to work with pretty much any signal, the VC4 is fitted with an Input Gain control that matches signals levels of between ‑20dBu and +10dBu, and this is accompanied by a five‑LED level meter with a red clip LED in the highest position. The first green LED remains on to show that the unit is powered up, and the aim is to set as high a signal level as possible with the clip LED coming on only very occasionally, if at all. A further gain control is used at the output so that the enhanced signal can be brought up to any required level.

Three controls relate to the enhancement effects, the first being the Drive control, which regulates the level of the high‑frequency side‑chain signal fed to the internal compressor. As far as I can see, the frequency of the side‑chain signal is set, but the Q control may be used to vary the bandwidth of the affected region from very narrow — in its anti‑clockwise position — to quite broad, in its clockwise position. The Enhance control then sets the level of compressed high end added back into the main signal, and a bi‑colour LED below the Drive control helps the user set the optimum drive level. When sufficient signal is available, the LED flashes green and turns orange on the signal peaks, though at narrower Q settings I found it impossible to get to the orange stage. This is understandable, as the narrower the filter, the less signal passes through it, and it didn't seem to compromise the process in any way. Each channel has its own Bypass button, though these are positioned between the knobs and are not as easy to operate as they could be.


Fed from a stereo mix, the unit is quick and easy to set up, though there's quite a lot of leeway in how you set the Drive control, so you may need to experiment to get the best results. A medium Q setting is a good starting point, after which you simply advance the Enhance knob until the right amount of brightness has been added. The aim is to emphasise high frequencies in such a way that the mix sounds clearer and brighter. Interestingly, the subjective nature of the VC4's enhancement isn't radically different to what you'd expect from a basic Aphex model, though the ability to vary the Q makes the process quite flexible if you want to pick out drum or cymbal sounds. On the down side, higher Q settings used over a complete mix will help lift out the hi‑hats, but vocals can tend to become sibilant, so you have to be sparing in your application.

Used with care, the VC4 can make a dramatic improvement to sounds or mixes that are lacking definition.

On individual instruments, you can afford to be a little more heavy‑handed, and you'll find that drum sounds, both real and electronic, will take on a new edge with much improved definition. Acoustic guitar tracks can be given that 'new strings' gloss; wider Q settings help breath new life into vocals by giving them more air and space. However, if you listen to the enhanced portion of the signal turned full up, some sounds, such as acoustic guitar, can get quite nasty on the widest Q setting, so I'd recommend that you check the sound this way before backing off the enhance level to a more realistic value. As with other exciters and enhancers, instruments tend to sound better separated in the mix, but over‑use can cause harshness, so it's wise to use the Bypass buttons on a regular basis to see exactly how much processing you've added.


I have to confess to a liking for Joe Meek products, and this one is both effective and simple to operate, though I don't think the results that can be achieved are radically different from what you might expect from, say, a basic Aphex or BBE enhancer. Turn any enhancer up full and it'll probably sound quite different to the competition — but use it properly and the amount of enhancement involved will be fairly small, which is why the various types tend to sound more similar than you might imagine. The VC4's adjustable Q control provides a little extra flexibility in one area, but not having control over the filter's frequency detracts in another, so the overall flexibility is probably about the same as you'd get from an Aphex Type B or C.

Used with care, the VC4 can make a dramatic improvement to sounds or mixes that are lacking definition, and medium Q settings are relatively gentle on delicate sounds such as voices or acoustic instruments. The enhancer market is a tough one to break into, with the likes of Behringer dominating the low‑cost end and SPL's Vitalizer still taking all the prizes at the higher end, but Joe Meek products have a good reputation and a high profile, which puts the company in as good a position as anyone to stake a claim in the middle ground. Like cosmetics, all enhancers have to be used carefully if the the results are to be artistically pleasing, but I've heard enough to recommend that you listen to the green alternative before deciding which one is right for you.


  • Easy to use.
  • Effective on a wide range of source material.
  • May be used as a dual‑channel unit, or to process stereo mixes.


  • Addresses only high‑frequency enhancement with no facility


A simple and reasonably versatile enhancer which can be used to add definition and clarity to most types of source material.