Joemeek VC6Q “British Channel”

PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in February 2000, contributed by then Editor-in-Chief Rip Rowan. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!

The Joemeek VC6Q is a one rack space unit that includes a mic preamplifier, optical compressor, and three-band EQ.

Joemeek VC6Q

The green faceplate says it all: pretty color. “Interesting” and “powerful” sounds are usually the result of beneficial, musical coloration. The VC6Q excels at producing a beautiful coloration. Moreover, thanks to the tremendous amount of gain present in this unit, the VC6Q can also achieve reasonably pristine sounds.

Features

The preamp section includes a front-mounted unbalanced instrument jack , -20dB pad, phantom power, line input switch, phase switch, gain knob and overload light. Strangely missing from the preamp is a low-cut switch, something that pretty much every other preamp I’ve ever used has had. I suppose that a low-cut switch would run counter to the Joemeek philosophy of extended bass response. Still, I would like the option of a low-cut.

The preamp’s output is metered by a 9-stage output meter on the far right of the unit. The placement of the meter is misleading: the meter is measuring output from the preamp stage feeding the compressor, not the overall output of the unit. I would have preferred this meter on the left side of the unit in the preamp section so that it would be close to the corresponding knob.

Next in the signal path is the compressor. The compressor is a photo-optical design, and includes controls for threshold, attack, release, and ratio. A pretty blue light indicates whether the compressor is switched in or out of the signal path, and a four-segment LED indicates gain reduction.

Ratio is adjustable from 1.2:1 to 10:1, allowing some very gentle compression effects. The attack is adjustable anywhere from fast to really fast: 1 ms to 10 ms. The release is adjustable from slow to extremely slow: 250 ms to 5 s.

Don’t try to limit with this compressor. Even though the attack can be set really fast, it always overshoots a little, and with all the gain in this unit, the overshoot will clip whatever it is you’re trying to protect. Needless to say, this compressor is not designed to be really flexible. It’s designed to produce a signature sound.

The EQ is laid out exactly backward from what I would expect, with treble on the left and bass on the right. I’m not sure why, and I don’t like it. I inevitably wind up grabbing the wrong knob. The VC6Q offers low and high shelf EQ and a swept midrange control.

This is not a surgical EQ. Rather, it’s designed (like the rest of the unit) to offer useful coloration. The bass control is fat. Turning it up adds real weight and power to the bass. The treble is glossy and shiny. The midrange control works only on the midrange from 800 to 3.6KHz, useful for pulling sounds forward (or pushing them backward) in the mix. I found the EQ to be quite musical, if not overly flexible.

The unit’s final output is controlled by another gain knob. Use this to make up for gain lost in the compressor or EQ, or run the preamp hot for a slightly limited sound and cut back a little gain with the gain knob. There’s a lot of gain in this output knob, so be careful.

Inputs and outputs are straightforward. The back of the unit offers a mic input and a line input. A pre-compressor / EQ insert is provided so that you can use the compressor and EQ as a track insert. Conveniently, two outputs are provided for digital recordists so that you can plug the unit directly into your digital recorder and use the other output to drive your monitoring system.

The operative word for this preamp is GAIN. The VC6Q has a tremendous amount of gain, at least 60 dB (it “feels” like about 80 dB). Whatever the noise floor of your room is, you’ll find it with the VC6Q.

Joemeek claims that the VC6Q is extremely linear to 10 Hz, which I easily believe after performing some listening tests. This baby got butt, let me tell you. It was instantly noticeable the moment I turned the preamp on. I was surprised at first, and went back to compare it to some of the other preamps I was reviewing as well as the preamps in my Mackie mixer. The VC6Q clearly had the largest low-end sound of any preamp in my collection.

Joemeek has a motto: “if it sounds good, it is good.” Evidence of their philosophy can be found throughout this unit. For example, at first I missed the typical center detents on the EQ controls. “How am I supposed to know if it’s flat?” I thought. Aha! It doesn’t matter if it’s flat! All that matters is “does it sound good?”

Well, it does sound good, but before I get into the sound of this unit, I have some more gripes. OK, the green faceplate is striking. You can always spot a Meek in a rack of gear. But the small black print is very hard to read. And I’ve got good eyes. Once I knew where all the controls were it wasn’t a big deal. But be prepared to get really close to the knobs and squint. If your control room isn’t lit by a bank of fluorescents, you might want a flashlight.

Another gripe is two-edged: the VC6Q’s strength (it’s dynamic punchiness) is also a drawback when tracking digitally. Trust me, this unit is almost hyperactively punchy, and very unpredictable when tracking to digital. Leave at least 12 dBs of headroom when tracking with this puppy. It can really nail your converters. I understand the point of all this punchiness, but it would be nice to have a limiter between the VC6Q and the converters.

The final gripe is (don’t laugh) the manual. I don’t expect much. But, c’mon guys, let’s at least proofread the manual. At one point the text stops in mid-sentence! What a joke.

In case you haven’t noticed, I have a lot of really bitchy little complaints about this unit. That’s my job. A good reviewer points out all the plusses and minuses. I’d hate for you to think I wasn’t thorough.

However, I think it’s critical to point out that if I were evaluating this unit for my studio, none of my little gripes would affect my decision to buy or not buy this unit. Hell, if it sounds good, I don’t care about the color of the knobs, or the manual. So, let’s get into the sound.

Performance

I spent some time tracking male and female vocals with the VC6Q using several mics: a Shure KSM32, an Audio-Technica AT4050 CM5, a Crown CM700, and a Neumann U87. Overall the preamp responded well to the various mics, but I found its sound better suited for the male vocals where I wanted more coloration. I would generalize this preamp as a good choice for rock vocals, and anywhere you want to achieve a warmer, thicker tone. On a female folk singer I found the sound to be a little thick and weighty. But on male singers the preamp was able to reduce harshness while adding size and sheen to the track.

The female vocalist I recorded has a beautiful, pristine, almost childlike voice. On her vocals I found the VC6Q’s compression and EQ coloration to be a little strong, and wound up recording her without compression or EQ. Again, with the compressor and EQ switched out of the circuit, this preamp is an excellent stand-alone unit with a ton of gain and headroom, and a nice, clear, natural sound. You can tell there’s a lot of headroom in the unit by listening to its effortless reaction to transients.

In particular, male rock vocals sounded great through the VC6Q. I found myself doing a surprising amount of compressing when recording. Usually when I’m tracking I use only the slightest compression (if any at all) just to tame the peaks. With the VC6Q I found that I really enjoyed the colored sound of the compressor, and on a few occasions I really dug into the compressor while tracking.

The front-mounted instrument jack and overall sound of this unit also provide a great front-end for a guitar or bass. I really liked the sound of the VC6Q on snap-funk bass. The compressor added a lot of snap, and the high headroom and fat EQ really made for a BIG sound. You can plug a guitar direct into this thing and get a great snappy sound for a clean blues strat.

Then there was the electric guitar. Running the Meek on an electric guitar was a real AHA! moment for me. This is, after all, the “British Channel.” Can you get the “British Sound” with it? You better freakin’ believe it. We’re talking about guitars that snap and pop out of the mix – when the strings are hit, the air moves, and when the amp roars, the air shudders. The compressor is perfect for electric guitar – especially edgy rhythm tracks that need to have energy. BAM! Instant energy. The entire band was high-fiving each other when they heard the rhythm guitars recorded with the Joemeek compression. Very British, very energetic, and very, very cool.

Conclusion

I did a lot of listening to this preamp, and discovered that I really like it. A lot. That being said, it’s not the best preamp for everything. Using this preamp is quite a musical choice. You can take the EQ and compression out of the signal path and arrive at a reasonably straightforward sound (with lots of gain) but that’s really kind of missing the point of this preamp.

Overall, I give this unit very high marks. Some people don’t like the sound of Joemeek units. If you don’t like “the Meek sound” then you probably won’t like this preamp. It’s not the preamp you want to use on all your tracks. It isn’t really a “Gold Channel” – it’s a “Green Channel.” But, as with all great gear, there are some applications where nothing else will do. If you’re looking for a unit that has a lot of headroom and that can add fatness, energy, and size to your important tracks, be sure to check out the Joemeek VC6Q.

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