Joemeek ThreeQ Channel Strip

The Joemeek ThreeQ ($299) is a fresh take on the earlier VC3Q model, and to be frank, the improvement in sound and features is impressive and commendable.
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If I could be allowed one New Year's prediction it would be that, based on the ThreeQ channel strip, good things are in store for the line of Joemeek products to be released this year by new owner PMI Audio Group. PMI principal Alan Hyatt has enlisted respected UK designer Allan Bradford (of CLM 'Expounder' fame) to re-evaluate and revamp the very popular and very green product line.
Product PointsApplications: Studio

Key Features: Single-channel; 48V phantom power; opto-compressor; three-band EQ with mid sweep; balanced I/O; +4/-10 output level; output and gain reduction metering

Price: $299

Contact: Joemeek/PMI at 310-323-9050, www.joemeek.com.
The Joemeek ThreeQ ($299) is a fresh take on the earlier VC3Q model, and to be frank, the improvement in sound and features is impressive and commendable.

Features

Like the earlier VC3Q, the Joemeek ThreeQ is a half-rack mono channel strip comprised of a mic/line input section, optical compressor, three-band equalizer and output amplifier. Without exception, all of the above sections of the channel strip have been improved both inside and out, as have the metering indicators, switches, pots and power supply. At the same time, the list price has dropped by $100.

The single-space, half-rack enclosure has been upgraded from a DIY kit-style box with cheap-looking knobs and stenciling to a sturdy and tight unit that features an extruded aluminum faceplate and a wholly professional look and feel. Before getting into other improvements, a run-down of the ThreeQ's features is in order.

On the far left side of the faceplate is a mic/line input switch with an LED to indicate when the line input is engaged. A detented knob sets the mic/line preamp gain and an LED indicator indicates when the input level is 6 dB below clipping. Microphone input level is marked from +10 dB to +60 dB, and line input level ranges from -15 dB to +35 dB with an indication for unity gain.

The compressor section follows, with controls for threshold ('Compress'), attack and release. Attack time ranges from 1ms to 100ms, and release time ranges from 100ms to three seconds. A "Comp" switch engages the compressor section, and a corresponding LED indicates when the compressor is in line. A four-LED array indicates gain reduction of 2 dB, 4 dB, 8 dB and 16 dB; compression ratio is 5:1, typical.

Next comes the three-band "Meequalizer" EQ section. The equalizer features fixed low- and high-frequency bands (80 Hz and 12 kHz respectively) and a sweepable mid band that ranges from 300 Hz to 5 kHz. All three bands are zero-phase distortion peaking filters with a Q of 1.9 and 15 dB of boost or cut. The section also has an EQ in/out switch with corresponding LED indicator.

Last on the front panel is the output section, which features a detented output gain knob that ranges from infinity (off) to +16 dB, an eight-segment LED output meter, and a LED power indicator.

On the rear panel is the 12V power adapter input, a pair of parallel balanced 1/4-inch TRS output jacks, a 1/4-inch TRS mix input, an unbalanced 1/4-inch send/return insert jack (post preamp, pre processing sections), a 1/4-inch TRS line input and XLR microphone input. The output level can be set to +4dBu or -10dBV via a switch; another rear-panel switch (with LED indicator) sends 48V phantom power to the mic input.

In Use

Having been in the industry for many moons, I have gotten a bit cynical about the constant recycling, minor tweaking and repackaging of products for the purpose of attracting fresh interest (the equivalent of the splashy banner on my toothpaste that proclaims 'Bold new look, same great taste.'). Having owned and used several VC3Q units for the last several years, I can assure you this is not the case with the new Joemeek ThreeQ.

In fact, rarely have I seen such an earnest and effective undertaking in order to improve the performance and features of an existing product.

The addition of Burr-Brown VCAs in the input section, sealed Silonex opto-isolator in the compressor section, toroidal transformer in the power supply, custom-machined knobs, high-quality potentiometers and switches, and through-circuit board components (no more surface-mounted parts!) raise the consistency in performance and quality of sound of this unit to the level of channel strips costing three to four times as much. At the same time, the list price has dropped from $399 to $299.

I have long viewed the Joemeek products I own or have used as great tools to have in the palette, but with a definitive time and place of use. Aggressive, quirky, and fairly noisy - perfect for achieving a certain effect, but hardly a universal tool. The reborn ThreeQ can still perform like the best of the Meeks, but thanks to the increased range of compressor settings and improvements in the signal path, many other uses are now possible.

Much-appreciated new features include the multisegment gain-reduction meter, sweepable mid-band EQ, expanded compression controls, enlarged output meter and front panel mic/line switch. This last feature is particularly useful to me, as all my outboard gear is on patch points; the VC3Q had no switch, which meant a trip to the back of the rack in order to switch between mic and line.

My only complaints are that the phantom power switch is still on the rear panel (and the phantom indicator LED has now been moved back there as well), and there is no way to link the operation of the compressor for using two of these fine and inexpensive units on stereo signals. I would gladly sacrifice one of the two parallel output jacks or the never-used (in my case) mix input jack for a simple level-detection link along the lines of the UREI 1176. Perhaps Allan Bradford would be good enough to forward a mod...

Summary

The Joemeek ThreeQ retains the best traits that make the Meek line unique while increasing the range of processing effects and significantly improving on overall sound quality. The upcoming release of the new TwinQ promises to be even more impressive.

Kudos to Alan and Allan for undertaking this bold transformation of the Joemeek product line. Impressive, indeed!