Joemeek MeekBox VC2
I have long been a fan of Joe Meek's productions. I even went to a Joe Meek Appreciation Society event a few months back. But until recently I had not tried any of the famous JoeMeek range of outboard equipment, designed by Ted Fletcher. From what you see in some magazines, you would think that the most important thing about the JoeMeek range is the colour of the front panel. I wanted to know more, so I got hold of the top of the range all-in-one box, the VC2. Could I recreate Telstar in my spare bedroom with it? (Maybe.) Would it blend in visually with my other rack equipment? (Nope.)
Being a mono unit was an impressive start - some of Joe's best productions were mono! The VC2 comprises a Microphone amplifier, a Compressor, an Enhancer, and an Output stage with gain make-up. It is not only the paintwork which makes the appearance endearing. There is a lovely big old-fashioned looking VU meter with a particularly attractive metallic strip on its scale. The knobs are black, and look like they came free on the cover of Electronics Today. There are handles for pulling it out of the rack. And all the pushbuttons are bright red.
On the back there are XLRs for Mic and Line Input, and Output and -40dB Output for connection to an external Mic amp (though I have no idea why you would want to do this!) There are jack sockets for an Insert point, a mix input and TRS balanced output. There is also a mysterious shiny gold-plated unlabelled phono socket. No don't be daft - it's not a digital output! It is for stereo linking two units together. The manual waffles away about 1960's and 1970's technology, and boasts about such features as an unusually high overload margin. Reading it, you feel more and more like Ted has revived some long lost ancient British craft, and you can almost imagine him hand-building these in some chaotic workshop full of ancient test equipment and components. I was hoping to smell the valves when I turned it on.
No such luck, but I did like the yellowy-white illumination of the VU meter. I had some vocals to record with a session singer: no time for faffing about! Fortunately I found the unit quick and easy to set up. Partnered with a bog-standard Neumann U87 I was astonished at the clarity of the sound. After setting a rough level I pushed in the Compressor switch. Boinnngggg!!! The singer pointed out that it sounded a bit compressed - he wasn't wrong! There are two modes, a threshold knob, and knobs for attack and release times. I had switched on with mode 2 engaged. This is for people who crave the sound of compression, and want to hear it pump. I reverted to mode 1. This was smoothness beyond compare, and we got on with the job in hand. The compressor uses photoelectric technology, which many prefer over the more recent and more common VCA technology, and on many different types of program it does work very well. However, there is no graininess, even when at the fastest settings, so if you are after crunchy extreme compression effects for percussion you might have trouble achieving them with this kind of unit, wherever you put the wide-ranging attack and release knobs..
The Enhancer section is included to add a bit of sparkle. This is not a subtle thing either - extraordinarily powerful, with a wide range of adjustment. A drive knob is set to make the dim green LED glow bright green on signal peaks, but not red which indicates overload. Then you can ease up the Enhance knob to taste, tweaking the Q control to affect the length of the high frequency harmonic after the sound that created it. The manual wisely advises caution when using the Enhancer, but used subtly and carefully it is quite appealing. All enhancer effects are a matter of taste - I am not a huge fan of any of them - but I must admit I was led into temptation by this unit!
In terms of layout, the front panel is fairly sensible. No scale is indicated on the Compress knob, because as Ted states is the manual there is no clearly defined threshold. For my liking there are a few too many LEDs which don't really help much, but just add a bit of confusion. Perhaps if the buttons used had a deeper travel it would be easier to tell at a glance which modes are in use.
The tube is in the make-up amplifier section, adding a characteristic warmth. I was impressed with how low the noise level was.
The VC2 is most enjoyable to use, and something slightly unusual. I gather it is selling well in the States, and it is not hard to see why: characterful retro looks combined with a wonderfully smooth sound. I don't think it would be historically accurate for recreating 'Telstar', but is instead a useful tool for modern recordists.
Reproduced with kind permission from www.George.Shilling.Com. Copyright ©