A few years back no one had heard of Joemeek products. Today, with a product line consisting of a dozen models, it seems green-faced processors are turning up everywhere. One of the newest Joemeek units is the C2 stereo compressor – it’s the least-expensive stereo unit in the line, and delivers the popular Joemeek sound for just $399.
Product PointsApplications: Studio recording
Key Features: Attack and release time controls; program and level-dependent ratio; balanced stereo I/O; optical electronics
Contact: Joemeek at 877-563-6335
+ Thick, aggressive sound
+ Simple operation
+ Low cost
– Hit-and-miss makeup gain scheme
– Input level meter is post-compression
– One knob (ratio) from perfection
The Score: Joemeek’s least-expensive stereo compressor offers great sound, good control and a few quirks of its own.
The Joemeek C2 is a half-rack compressor that can be rackmounted with an optional kit. It has the characteristic look and feel of the Joemeek line, right down to the blinding blue compression-on LED. All controls are located on the front panel, while the back panel houses balanced stereo inputs and outputs on 1/4″ jacks. The C2 uses a wallwart-style power transformer.
Controls on the C2 include input and output level, compression on/off switch, compression level, attack time and release time. A four-segment LED meter shows gain reduction due to compression, with indicators at -2, -4, -8 and -16 dB. An eight-segment meter tracks input level with a peak LED at the top.
The C2’s input gain control varies from complete attenuation to 20 dB of gain. This lets you boost the signal coming into the C2, which may be necessary to get adequate compression with some signals. According to the manual, this input level control also has some effect on compression ratio (as does program content and level). Compression ratios of the C2 range from 2:1 to 14:1, though it offers the user no direct control.
The C2’s compression on/off switch doesn’t function like a true bypass. Instead, the unit’s input and output gain controls are always working, regardless of the switch setting. The C2 drops system gain when you bypass the compressor, so flipping this switch doesn’t always cause a large shift in level.
Next in line is the Joemeek compression level control. This knob approximates a threshold control, though the C2’s actual threshold is hard to define due to the way the photo-optical control element works. Depending on the attack time setting, this knob usually stays in the top half of its travel to get enough compression with most signals. Attack and release time controls offer a range of 1 ms to 11 ms and 250 ms to 3 seconds, respectively.
The C2 uses an interesting method to compress the signal, splitting it through a sum/difference matrix before compression. Basically, the C2 applies gain reduction to the mono and stereo (difference) elements independently. After compression, the signals are converted back to a normal stereo signal. This makes it impossible for the compressor to induce any stereo shift due to uneven gain reduction, hence improving the image stability of the compressed stereo signal. For mono signals, the MS processing offers no real benefits.
The C2 delivered a sound very similar to that of other Joemeek compressors. Like the other popular green-faced models, the C2 abandons transparency and neutrality in favor of a more pronounced, colorful effect.
As it levels dynamics, the C2 adds a touch of attitude to most signals. Things get a little chunkier and thicker-sounding, which is a definite improvement for some sounds and a step backward for others. In most cases, I really liked what the C2 added to the sound.
True to my experience with Joemeek compressors, the C2 is thestuff for guitars, especially electric. Compress a few dB through the C2, and distorted guitar tones pick up a nice aggressive thickness. Acoustic guitar and bass sound great through the C2 as well. If an instrument has frets and strings, Joemeek will do it proud.
Though it’s not my first choice for vocals, the C2 put in a good showing on both male and female vocals. Even at moderate compression levels, though, there was a slight dulling that crept in along with the added thickness and increased sense of presence.
Where I found the C2 least adept was on full mixes – it was difficult to dial in settings that punched up the track’s energy without audible compression artifacts. To its credit, the C2 did maintain a rock-solid stereo image even under severe compression.
The Joemeek compressor’s gain arrangement may take some getting used to for those more familiar with traditional compressors. You have to drive the input gain pretty hard to get adequate compression with some signals, and there isn’t a makeup gain control.
Instead, the output level knob changes the gain regardless of whether the compression is on or off. In spite of the C2’s automatic makeup gain circuit, certain control settings cause a pronounced change in levels when the compression button is pushed. Many times, the C2’s compressed signal was actually louder than the uncompressed signal. Using that last knob for makeup gain would have been a better scheme.
Due to its optical control element, the C2 doesn’t offer ultrafast attack times. That said, the compressor still reacts plenty fast to reduce the attack of a strummed acoustic guitar or take some of the edge off a snare drum. The C2’s attack time control shows a range from 1 ms to 11 ms, but my ears hear a far slower attack than 11 ms at the top of the control’s range. Likewise, the C2’s fastest release time sounds considerably faster than the labeled 250 ms. All this points back to the C2’s nonlinear, quirky optical circuitry and its somewhat program-dependent nature. Call it sloppy or call it character – you’ll like what you hear.
On some signals, the C2’s effects are audible long before the first 2 dB gain reduction indicator lights. Though a 1 dB gain reduction indicator would be useless on most compressors, I found myself wishing the C2 had one. Add this to the best-guess knob legends, and you have a processor that forces you to trust your ears more than your eyes.
The only real glitch I found with the C2 was its level meter. Though this meter is supposed to read input level, it changes in response to gain reduction. It’s as if the meter is tapping the signal post-compressor instead of right at the input. Strange.
Finally, while I understand leaving a ratio knob off of the C2 reduces its cost and makes the unit easier to use, when compressing certain signals, I yearned for independent ratio and threshold controls. I wish there was some way to add that last crucial control without bumping the C2’s cost.
Joemeek’s newest stereo compressor is an affordable one that still delivers the thick, aggressive character that put Joemeek on the map. The old-fashioned optical technology used in the C2 places it in rare company indeed, with only one other optical compressor at this price point (the Applied Research Technology [ART] Dual Levelar).
Folks shopping for a fat-and-sassy stereo compressor at an appealingly low price will definitely want to give the C2 a close listen.