Joe Meek was a true maverick who pioneered many recording techniques that are still regularly used today. Just over 25 years after his tragic death in 1967, Ted Fletcher, one of Meek’s session singers, set up the Joemeek brand of outboard recording equipment, visually recognisable with its distinctive bright green colour scheme. Now, the entire range has been re-engineered by Allan Bradford and relaunched as The Next Generation Of Joemeek. This new range is still finished in green, but a less lurid shade than before, reminding us of the British Racing Green paint found on classic sports cars of the 50s and 60s.
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The Joemeek Twin Q2 under review here is a 2U, dual studio/recording channel comprising a mic preamp, compressor and EQ for each channel as well as providing both analogue and digital outputs. The front panel is chock-a- block with pots and push-buttons, while still leaving room for decent-size VU meters and instrument jack inputs.
The preamp offers up to 60dB of gain via a continuously variable pot, and while input gain can be monitored on the VU meter, a Peak LED above the pot illuminates red when the signal reaches 6dBbelowclipping.Asyouwould expect, switches are provided to select 48V phantom power, a 20dB pad, phase reverse, line input and a high-pass filter, while a button marked IRON allows line-level sources to be sent through the microphone input transformer to add colour to the sound.Premium Cinemag transformers and low-noise Burr Brown OPA2134 amplifiers are used in the preamp, offering increased headroom and lower power consumption than earlier designs.
Using the mic preamps alone, without compression or EQ, we recorded a simple two-mic acoustic guitar/vocal performance, followed by two further takes using both our DDA mixing desk mic inputs and our reference Thermionic Culture Earlybird valve preamp. Comparing the three takes, all recorded with an AKG C414 on guitar and Neumann U67 on the vocal, we found that the Joemeek take sounded noticeably brighter than the other two, with a certain amount of glare in the midrange. The sound also lacked a bit of body in the lower-mids, which was fine on the acoustic guitar – flattering, even – but less pleasing on the vocal, which sounded a little on the thin side. Better results were achieved recording electric guitar using a Shure SM57, with the upper-mid dominant presentation bringing out bite and lending the sound a tough edge; the HPF was selected for this recording, helping to round off the guitar tone and create space in the low end for other elements of the backing track.
Later, during a recording session that featured a number of vintage analogue synthesisers,we plugged a Roland Juno 60 into the instrument jack socket, finding that we could get some excellent tones by experimenting with EQ settings. Before we reached for the EQ, however, we engaged the IRON button, sending the synth’s signal through the microphone input transformer. The effect was subtle but nonetheless noticeable, seemingly introducing a touch of top-end sheen while imparting a smooth sound to the broad midrange. Incidentally, when using the instrument input with the Line switch engaged, anything that’s plugged in to the line input on the rear panel is overridden.
We next turned our attention to the compressor. Joemeek’s earlier optical compressors were, as the company freely admits in the manual,‘both revered and reviled for its somewhat “quirky” nature’, and we feel that most users will either love or hate this reworked version on the TwinQ. The operational controls included are Compress, which sets the threshold point; Slope, which sets the compression ratio; and continuously variable pots for attack, release and make-up gain. Although compression ratios are labelled from 1:1 (no compression) up to 10:1, the actual ratio is determined by the interaction of both the Compress and Slope controls, so setting the desired compression type is rather more intuitive than an exact science; the amount of compression applied to any given signal can be monitored on the VU meter by engaging the GR (Gain Reduction) switch.
Anyone who has used a Joemeek opto-compressor will know that it’s not a subtle, transparent or polite levelling amplifier by any means; this is a compressor with attitude, designed to be heard! A lightness of touch is required when smooth compression is desired, as it doesn’t take much to make the unit pump, especially at higher Slope settings with fast response times. Although this is great for creating big, rhythmic sounds, care must be taken not to over-do it when tracking, as an over-compressed signal can be very difficult to rescue. It’s worth pointing out that for all the TwinQ’s abilities as a recording channel, it can be used as a compressor and equaliser at the mixing stage, too.
This is when the full power of the compressor can be used to great effect. An untreated, fairly flat-sounding stereo drum mix was transformed into a huge, driving tour de force when pushed hard through the compressor. By carefully setting the attack and release times we were able to create an effect whereby the drums pumped along rhythmically in time with the track, sounding punchy and purposeful. Pushing the envelope further to squash the drums even more dramatically then mixing in some uncompressed signal to create a parallel compression effect sounded great; the TwinQ was really in its element performing this trick. Working in stereo, the Comp Link switch enables the attack and release pots on channel one to control both channels; however, all other controls operate individually and need to be matched to achieve a good stereo picture.
Moving on to the Meequaliser EQ section, which appears after the compressor in the signal chain, we have a three-band equaliser that offers up to 15dB of boost or cut at selected frequencies. The low frequencies can be set anywhere between 40Hz and 650Hz, while the midrange operates from 300Hz to 5kHz. Two high- frequency points, centred on either 6kHz or 12kHz, are selectable via a push-button switch and, like the compressor section, a button is provided to switch the EQ in and out of circuit. In some respects we found this section to be the unit’s best feature – it’s a powerful and musical-sounding equaliser. There is no control over the Q value of the peaking filters, which is set at 1.6 octaves, but we never found this to be problematic and, in practice, we were able to apply quite a lot of boost at all frequencies without ruining the sound in the way that many cheap EQ units can. The HF boost at 12kHz sounds particularly good on vocal tracks, providing a very glossy top end.
The output stage is controlled by an output volume pot, offering up to 10dB of gain boost along with attenuation to silence; think of it as the main fader on a conventional desk channel. Connectivity on the rear panel is comprehensive, with XLR connectors for mic input and main output and a second output available via a 1/4-inch jack connector. The operating level of the jack output can be set to either +4dBu or -10dBv and can be used simultaneously with the XLR output (useful when a separate monitoring system is employed). The Joemeek Digital Audio Interface features several types of digital outs along with built-in master clocks with selectable internal sample rates of 44.1, 48, 88.2 and 96kHz; an external master word clock can also be used with the unit if desired.
The Joemeek TwinQ2 is a very powerful tool indeed and will appeal to producers of highly processed pop music. The overall sound is quite coloured while remaining musical, the preamp imparting a slightly hot (as opposed to warm) character to microphone signals, while the compressor can completely transform the dynamics of sounds processed through it, with its aggressive, pumping nature. The Meequaliser is a class act that can shape the tone of signals in a dramatic way, but again retaining the inherent musicality of the unit.
Our main concern, however, is that with such a demonstrative device, novice users might get carried away and over-process their signals at the recording stage, particularly when using the compressor. That said, in professional hands the TwinQ2 could well be the most dangerous weapon in one’s arsenal. It’s unlikely to appeal to those that require accurate and transparent signal processing, but many will love the excitement and vitality it can add to flat, lifeless sounds.
+ Characterful mic preamplifier
+ Pumping compression effects
+ Powerful and musical EQ
+ Comprehensive connectivity
– Lack of transparency
– Unsubtle compression
The Joemeek TwinQ2 is something of a Marmite unit – users will either love it or hate it – but in the right hands it is a very capable and powerful device that can transform any signal that passes through it.