Sonic State Studio / Outboard / JOEMEEK VC1

Average rating: 8.5/10 out of 10

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Blue Q a Professional user from Canada writes:
My name is actually Joe! And truth is my voice right now is kinda MEEK, but I'm taking lessons. This thing is perfect for anyone named Joe with a meek voice - the fat bottom and warm mids really richen up the sound of the voice. Add a .7 to my 8 rating.

Rating: 8 out of 10 posted Sunday, 12-Jan-03 at 4:48
spectralab a Professional user from the great white north writes:
right off the bat I should mention that I'm reviewing the VC1Q model here, not the original VC1.

now that that's out of the way... all I can say is *sweeeet*. Joe Meek gear really seems to provoke "love-it-or-hate-it" reactons in those who use it, though most folks with whom I've spoken on the subject tend to fall on the "love-it" side of that line. I have been experiencing a continuous problem with my studio: I keep buying pieces of outboard gear (other than FX) that get little or no use, because I find I can acheive the same functionality in software while in the mixing stage. keep in mind, this is speaking as someone who presently does not have the budget for the top-flight Manley, Summit, Neve, Great River, Empirical gear he would *like* to own. the only thing in my affordable price range that has touched the *quality* of those units, was the FMR Audio RNC. alas, this unit was transparent and did not really pack much of it's own character, hence I found myself not using it much. well, let's just say that the VC1Q is the first piece of outboard I've run across that touches the *character* of those units. I do believe that this truly is the pre-computer tone-shaping tool that I've been searching for, bearing the budget in mind again.

now, my use of the unit so far has been restricted to instrument input, which is to say, I have not recorded/tested it with vocals or a microphone. for two reasons: 1) I do not currently own a microphone of befitting quality and 2) I almost never use vocals in my music.

the bulk of my use for it thus far has been with synths, and all I can say is that it is one of the better-suited pieces of outboard that I have run across for this purpose.

at a glance, what the unit offers may not seem like much: a pre-amp, a basic compressor and a limited EQ. and while the statement may be somewhat true, the compressor is anything but basic, and the EQ was clearly designed with the philosophy of "less is more", much the way gear used to be in the "good ol' days" ;o)

the pre-amp offers quite a range of gain, in stepped increments labelled -5 one on end to 60 on the other. I admittedly don't know a lot about the technical end of gain staging in pre-amps, but suffice it to say, I find the "stepped" approach to this knob quite useful for easy recall of well-liked settings. the manual claims that a transformer and two separate amplification stages are used to provide the gain, and that there is a higher-than-normal overload margin - fair enough. my ears tell me that this sounds just fine :)

the compressor: now this is where things get good. one might think that the unconventional settings would leave one without the conventional types of control one is used to. perhaps they do to an extent, but what they replace it with is much more pleasing to both my ears and my brain. you see, usually with compression, I find myself thinking more about the mathematics of the relationship between threshold and ratio and not focusing on the tonal and envelope shaping components. this box does just the opposite to me. input from the pre-amp will determine somewhat how "hard" the compressor is driven. the Compression control, according to the manual, controls the amount of gain sent to the detector circuit, so it acts as a sort of threshold. but, by doing away with the "linear" threshold style used by more modern VCA compressors, the results of this control becomes much more musical in effect. the Slope control simply chooses between 5 ratio modes, 1 being the gentlest and 5 being the most extreme. switching between them, you can certainly hear the difference. 1 is best for lightly ticking the compressor, 5 is best for smashing and pumping effects, and the middle 3 settings are well-suited to more precise gain-shaping. and then, of course, there are the Attack and Release controls, which are a little more similar. again, because of the optical nature of this compressor, it tends to be far more forgiving of transients than it's VCA-based counterparts, which in turn (again) yields much more musical, pleasing and natural results. the best way to think of the Attack and Release stages here, is in much the same way as you would approach the envelope (ADSR) controls on a synth. for example, by feeding a rather booming, low frequency percussion-oscillator tone to this compressor, I was able to use the Attack and Release to really change the amplitude characteristics of the tone. by dialing in a long Attack time, I kept the initial transient "click" while creating a slight sort of "fade-up". then, by using a moderate release time, I was able to dictate a sort of "fade-out" as well. pre-compressor, the tone was pretty much uniform in gain from transient through decay, and with these two controls I was able to make it far more animated and lively sounding. this is just one of many examples, of course. truly a musical tool.

then, we move onto the MeQ. a deceptively simple affair, with hi/lo shelving and a semi-parametric mid band. but hardly as limiting as it sounds. the lo shelf is set at 100Hz, the hi shelf at 8khz and the mid sweeps from about 750hz to 4khz, according to the manual. all I can say is that (to my ears) these frequencies are well chosen. the lo shelf is sufficient for adding a bit (or a lot, if you push it) of "oomph" to a signal, although I find it more pleasing in boosting than in cutting. in using it to cut, I often find it a tad too extreme, and the mid-band just does not sweep down low enough to compensate. nonetheless, it's still powerful and pleasing tot he ear. the mid band is really where the majority of tonal shaping takes place, as this covers the both the most sensitive portion of human hearing and the predominant frequency content of many instruments' sounds. this band is equally useful in both boost and cut for all manner of tone shaping. by setting a cut and sweeping it, one can often find a "sweet spot" where it accentuates certain nuances of a sound and deadens other nearby interfering frequencies, all in one fell swoop, er, sweep... the high shelf is quite useful as well, with a boost adding just the right amount of sparkle without overdoing it, or acting much like a non-resonant low-pass filter on a synthesizer when it is used to cut. very nice. the most noteworthy thing about this EQ is that, even at the most extreme settings, it rarely sounds harsh. my only gripe about it, is that I wish the boost/cut controls (3 out of 4) had a detente at the 0 mark, as this would make it easier to know when you're hearing a flat response in that band. bypassing the EQ section is one way around it, but this does little good if one wishes to hear subtle changes of one band in relation to the settings on the other bands. but nonetheless, since it is difficult to do anything displeasing with this EQ, it's not a huge bone of contention.

next up is the Enhancer/De-Esser. to be blunt, in the applications for which I've used this box so far, this section is pretty much useless. what it sounds like to my ears, is a dynamic EQ, seemingly centred around 5khz, that is triggred when input to the section reaches a certain level. using it Enhance mode seems to create a peak, while De-Ess mode creates a notch. there is a Drive control, which seems to set the amount of gain into the effect, and Q control which (as you might guess) widens or narrows the band around the centre frequency. the problem is, it seems you need to push Drive almost all the way to hear the effects at at all. and the problem is, doing this just adds harsh "spikes" in the audio in Enhance mode, or sudden abrupt "dulling" in De-Ess mode. in other words, perfectly useless on the synths I've been running through it. all that having been said, to add some perspective, I have never been a huge fan of Enhancers in the first place. and secondly, perhaps this effect is far better suited to vocal input, and perhaps I will find a use for it, should I ever have occassion to use this unit with vocals (which I am sure I will eventually).

well, that about sums up my feelings on this unit. it is 3/4 excellent, fun and musical to use. it is 1/4 useless. but the good parts of this unit (pre-amp, compressor, EQ) really are the important aspects (and one might even say raison d'etre) of a front end recording channel. the rest (Enhancer/De-Esser) is just a toy that is either 1) not useful on instrumental sources (De-Esser) or something that tends to get overused by folks who may not have the best idea of what they're doing (Enhancer). take all of that as you will, but this box still comes highly recommended as an excellent addition to any synth-based studio.

Rating: 9 out of 10 posted Sunday, 03-Nov-02 at 1:19
Stevie a Professional user from USA writes:
The VC-1 is great on anything you run though it ...I sold mine and I regret it...I would also say it sounds alot better than the cheaper Joe Meek stuff...although those an extremly great buy also...

posted Thursday, 23-Aug-01 at 0:36
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