Paul White goes green with the latest Joemeek recording channel.
Over the past few years, we've seen companies such as TLA, Drawmer, Focusrite and most of the big US names come up with affordable recording channels that perform exceptionally well. Joemeek have also produced a number of audio processors that combine signal processing with a mic/line preamp, often incorporating their hallmark 'vintage' opto‑compressor circuit. Their latest take on the one‑box solution is the VC6Q British Channel, a 1U processor that combines a mic/line/instrument preamp with optical compression and a three‑band Meequaliser EQ. For digital recording applications, an output limiter would have been useful, but I guess you have to call a halt somewhere when building to a price! As with all Joemeek designs, the VCQ6 has a wide audio bandwidth and good overload margin.
The transformerless preamp takes balanced mic or line signals via the rear‑panel XLR and jack connectors or instruments via an unbalanced, high‑impedance jack on the front panel. Plugging into the instrument jack disables the mic input. A rotary pot sets the preamp gain and a red Peak LED warns of overload. Push switches are fitted to bring in a 20dB pad, phantom power and phase reverse, as well as to select between mic and line operation. All four switches have status LEDs, and an insert point is available between the preamp stage and the compressor that follows it. The insert point is a conventional TRS jack handling both the send and return signals, so it operates unbalanced.
Anyone who has used a Joemeek compressor before will find no surprises in the next section. The familiar opto‑compressor has controls for Compression, Slope (ratio), Attack and Release, as well as a bypass switch. A six‑LED meter monitors the gain reduction up to a maximum of 12dB. For those who aren't familiar with opto‑compressors, the main feature is the use of a lamp/photocell combination to provide gain control, rather than the more usual FET (Field Effect Transistor) or VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier). The non‑linear control law of the photocell gives the compressor a distinctive soft‑knee characteristic that happens to be musically flattering, especially on vocals; opto‑compressors are used as much to produce an effect as to control levels.
Stage three is a three‑band equaliser with a sweep mid control. The sweep range is 800Hz to 3.6kHz, but few details are provided other than that the cut/boost range of each section is +/‑ 16dB. As with the original Meequaliser, the high EQ is on the left and the low on the right, which is slightly unconventional. An EQ bypass switch is fitted, and the EQ is followed by a nine‑stage LED level meter. Directly following this is the output gain control, which feeds a pair of balanced jack outputs. These carry the same signal (they're wired in parallel), making it easy to rig up monitoring when you need to hear what you're overdubbing without the latency delay of the computer.
As I've already reviewed the original products on which the VCQ6 is based, I knew pretty much what to expect from the unit in terms of sound, and I wasn't far off the mark. The preamp section is quiet and transparent with plenty of headroom, the compressor flatters and thickens without dulling, and the EQ has a clear, musical character that enables sounds to be shaped without destroying the original character or making them sound phasey. Three bands of EQ may not seem like much, but for fine tuning vocals or acoustic instruments, it's fine. Not only is it easy to set up, but it sounds 'right' — something you only fully appreciate when you compare it with cheap desk EQs that don't!
The VCQ6 is also a joy to use on acoustic instruments such as acoustic guitar, while the high‑impedance instrument input makes DI'ing clean electric guitar and bass guitar fast and easy. The opto‑compressor seems to flatter everything it processes — it's not what you'd call it a transparent compressor — but it's hard to get it to sound unpleasant. As an all‑round input channel for getting signals onto tape or into a computer‑based recording system, the VC6Q is hard to fault for the price.
- Attractively priced.
- Straightforward to use.
- Very musical sounding.
- An output limiter would have been welcome for use with digital recorders.
A simple but great‑sounding mic/line/instrument channel at an affordable price.