Top producer / engineer, George Shilling, also takes time out to review interesting audio equipmentGeorge Shilling reviews:

Joemeek MeekBox VC6



Since the introduction of the Joemeek Compressor a few years ago, Joemeek have been steadily increasing their range. They have found a particular niche with the all-in-one type of processor for use mostly as a direct-to-tape microphone processor.


Joe himself was a pioneer of Direct Inject recording, but nevertheless these are unmistakeably 1990's fad gadgets. From the budget VC3 Voice Channel, through the VC1 right up to the VC2 top-end valve-based design, there is something in the range for every pocket. I was therefore somewhat mystified to receive the VC6. It is more expensive than the VC3 but still somewhat cheaper than the VC1. Why bring out a fourth box that does pretty much the same job as the three already in existence?


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The mystery was solved by a quick call to Ted Fletcher, the Joemeek founder and designer. The VC6 replaces the VC3, with enhancements made to the old Voice Channel design which were requested by users. The most obvious change is that the unit is housed in a standard 1U rackmount case, as opposed to the VC3's half-width 1U size. This extra space has enabled the power supply to be moved to an internal location instead of the irritating external type of the VC3. The unit is nevertheless very light and shallow.


Ted has carefully positioned the little transformer as far away as possible from the mic amp. On the back is an XLR mic input, and unbalanced jack sockets for line input, mix in, and, usefully, two identical outputs. There is also a TRS jack insert socket, which is particularly intended for hooking up the new VC5 Meequalizer EQ introduced at the Vision and Audio 97 Show in London in November. There is lastly an IEC mains socket. On the front there is an instrument jack, which, like the line input on the back, has priority over the Mic input. This input has been optimised for instruments such as electric guitars, and was designed by plugging in a Fender Jazz Bass and experimenting to find the best matching. This turned out to be 180 KOhms - exactly the same as an Ampeg bass amplifier input. Great minds etc.


A gain pot is accompanied by a small phantom power switch with LED to indicate On. The compressor section has an On button. Adjacent is an LED that disconcertingly does not light when you press the button, but instead glows when the compression threshold is crossed, as no doubt do the two on the circuit board in front of the photoelectric cell. One knob sets Compression on a range of 1 to 11, continuing the perennial Spinal Tap gag. This knob increases the sidechain gain to the compressor as it is turned up, thus increasing compression. A ratio knob can be set between 1.2:1 and 6:1. There are no marks on the scale between these extremes, which makes noting settings difficult. It is the same with the Attack and Release pots. The Compressor is very similar to that found in the Joemeek Compressor. Next comes the Enhancer section, which is identical to that on the VC1. Controls comprise Drive, Q and Enhance. There is no bypass switch, you just have to turn the Enhance knob down. A dimly glowing LED brightens as the enhancer adds sparkle to the signal. I found it a bit edgy sounding, but used with care it is good. I preferred it on instruments rather than vocals.


The Output knob is accompanied by 5 LEDs that indicate level before the pot, to help you set input gain. The first one lights all the time to indicate power on. Personally, I would have preferred the LEDs to indicate gain reduction for the compressor rather than level: one overload light would have sufficed. Finally, there is a small front-panel power on/off rocker switch. I found the front panel legending nearly impossible to read: the labelling of the knobs is tiny, and black on fairly dark green is not the best contrast! However, it is easy to see the position of the black rubbery knobs with their green insert pointers.


The manual is written in Ted Fletcher's inimitable boastful yet charming style. It could perhaps do with a few diagrams but is otherwise a delightful read. The sound quality is very high for a budget unit. The overload margin is very high, and the compression is unusual. In terms of character it is slow, and sounds more like axle grease than WD40. This suits some vocalists more than others: for some it is perfect, but for others does not work as well. You won't be able to achieve the vicious graininess of some competing compressors, but this is not what Joemeek is about. Ted Fletcher places great importance on phase linearity right down to 5Hz and this pays off with a great solidity in the sound.


Costs have been kept down, for example by not using balanced connections, but there are a few cheaper competitors. However, this is quite different from the competition, and while ergonomics design is not its strong point, its foibles are probably part of its charm.


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Reproduced with kind permission from www.George.Shilling.Com.  Copyright ©

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