Joemeek oneQ2 Master Studio Channel

By Barry Rudolph

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Mix Magazine "Compression And Compressors"

 Who Was Joe Meek? 
Legendary British recording engineer Joe Meek's subversive "If it sounds right, it is right" mantra was heresy amongst the engineering establishment of his times. Meek, a trained electrical engineer, called the recording studio his 'musical instrument' and created unique sound treatments that soon became a big part of the identifiable sound of many hit records he produced for 'British Invasion' bands during the early '60's.

Joemeek oneQ2 Master Studio Channel The updated Joemeek oneQ2 Master Studio Channel keeps all the color, charm and naive quirkiness of the original, 2U OneQ but widens its operational range, reliability and usefulness. Primary among the many improvements are the 'remixed' front end, a 10dB increased in headroom and lower noise floor for the entire unit all conjured up by audio magus Paul Wolff.

There are seven analog processors in this single channel unit: mic preamp/Input section, Joemeek's signature optical compressor, Meequalizer, De-Esser, Enhancer, Master Fader and A/D converter. Any section can be inserted, "On" in Meekspeak, into the signal chain at the touch of a button. The large, lighted Nissei VU meter switches between measuring the preamp's output, gain reduction, and final output. The Master Fader section provides up to +10dB additional level and functions as a master fader for direct recordings.

Burr-Brown OPA2134 op amps are used throughout and the input Gain control now ranges from 18dB to 60dB for both the mic and line inputs. A Cinemag transformer (CMM1-10PCA) is always inline for the mic input and but also available for line level processing when toggling the Iron switch. The 80Hz, 12dB/octave high pass filter is now available for all three sources: mic, line and the 1/4-inch instrument input. The 1/4-inch DI input now has a 0dB to +40dB operating range.

The mic preamp accepts up to +24dBu with the -20dB attenuator pad inserted. The line input gain range is now -19dB to +22dB with unity still at the straight up 12 O'clock knob position. A red LED lights when the preamp section clips at around +15dB. The Input section finishes with +48-volt phantom, polarity flip, line/mic button, and a rear panel unbalanced TRS send/return insert jack.

The A/D converter has AES/EBU, S/PDIF, and Lightpipe TOSLINK digital output connectors, plus BNC connectors for external Word clock in/out. The original 24-bit Wolfson A/D converter is used with sample rates up to 96kHz selectable on the rear panel. The output Peak FSD LED lights at +16dBu or 2dB below full-scale digital clip. There is a single balanced TRS 1/4-inch analog line level input jack on the rear panel that utilizes the otherwise unused right channel of the stereo A/D converter.

Compression, EQ and More

The compressor section is unchanged and uses the same Silonex opto-coupler. Controls are: Compress for setting threshold, Slope or ratio adjustable from 1:1 to 10:1, program-adaptive Attack and Release controls, and a Make Up gain control. The Post EQ button toggles the compressor before or after the Meequalizer.

The Meequalizer has two overlapping semi-parametric mid-range sections: low-mid section has a variable frequency range from 120Hz to 2kHz and the high-mid section goes from 600Hz to 10kHz. They each have a fixed Q of 0.9 There are two 12dB/octave shelving EQs. The high shelf has 7kHz and 14kHz positions and the low shelf with 80 and 120Hz choices.

The Enhancer section has a variable control over the frequency: 800Hz to 16kHz--above which boost is dynamically added according to the amount set by the Effect control. The Q knob sets the amount of a resonant peak at the selected frequency from 0 to 10.

The De-Esser has a Listen button to aid in setting controls for its frequency (Tune) from 2kHz to 10kHz and amount (De-Ess) 0 to 10.

All the sections and controls on the oneQ2 Master Channel interact greatly; while audio is coursing through the unit, there is an unavoidable level shift or slight pop when toggling in/out any of the sections.

Feeling The Love

For all evaluations, I kept the Cinemag transformer always inserted; it rounds out the low frequencies in a clean, polyunsaturated way. I used the secondary analog line level input that feeds the right channel of the unit's built-in A/D converter the best way to evaluate the oneQ2 Master Channel's performance because a common A/D is used throughout all testing.

I routed the A/D converter's digital output to the stereo AES/EBU Enclosure XLR input on the back of my HD 192 I/O and recorded into Pro Tools HD 10 24-bit/44.1kHz. I externally clocked both the HD 192 and the oneQ2 from my Benchmark Media ADC1 A/D converter over short BNC cables.

My first test was recording a direct Fender Strat. I used the Creation Audio Labs Studio Tool MW1 to provide two identical guitar signals from one instrument. One signal connected to the oneQ2 DI jack and the other to a RTZ Professional Audio 9762 Dual-Combo Mic Preamp--it also has a high impedance DI. The line level output of the RTZ connected to the second analog input on the back of the oneQ2. The RTZ is a copy of the Neve 1272 circuit but custom-built to mil-spec.

Joemeek oneQ2 Master Studio Channel Once I matched impedances (the MW1 does this), matched level and flipped the absolute polarity to check null--I could hear no difference between the DI paths of these two units. About 45dB of gain was required and both units portrayed the exact sound of my Fender Strat in all ways I know well.

When a 1/4-inch plug is inserted into the front of the oneQ2, the XLR mic input is defeated. Having a front panel mic input XLR is handy but there should be a way to disconnect it from the rear panel mic XLR--they are hard-wired in parallel.

 Try This! 
For super-fidelity vocal recordings, start compression ratios at 2:1 or lower for minimal control and use attack times (5 to 10ms) and medium release times (0.3 to 1 second). The visually helpful GR LED fades down during release and lights up with every new attack. The Compress knob or threshold was at 0dB.

High gain (vocal) recordings and hyper-compression effects are where all sections of the oneQ2 come into play. Using the same Pearlman 250 set up, preamp gain went full CW (60dB) and the 80Hz HPF was required.

If I ran compression threshold set at -15dB, 6:1 Slope, 3 to 5 MS attack time and 0.3 or longer release time AND +20dB make up gain, it's a whole new processor. The Enhancer and De-Esser sections will ameliorate (or boost) the havoc sibilants cause using this much gain!

I used a Pete's Place Blast Filter and kept spitballs, Higgs Bosons and plosives to the sub-atomic bomb level and away from the sensitive capsule. I then recorded whispery vocals within inches of the mic and produced an angry vocal sound with 1dB of dynamic range!

Barry Rudolph

A troublesome direct bass guitar recording was easily fixed using both the Compressor section and the De-Esser section to reduce transitory, bright moments, especially whenever the player/part went up the octave or he did occasional "pops" that jutted way out in front of my mix. Using the Listen button, I set the frequency to 2kHz and was able to come to a good balance without the tedium of drawing breakpoint automation--plus this sounds better.

The Enhancer section works the other way around from the De-Esser. Using both sections together at cross-purposes: boosting frequencies above 1kHz, Q knob on 10, Effect on 10 with the Enhancer and then De-Ess at 5kHz; these two sections become analog sound-designer tools capable of very interesting sound treatments akin to software-based tools--plus this is faster.

The Meequalizer works excellently for both smooth touches--+/-3dB all the way to massive EQ cranks, vocal effects and radical boost/cut EQ styles. It has a broad mid-range character and overlapping frequency ranges.

For all microphone preamp tests, I used a transformer mic splitter box made using a Jensen JT-MB-E to split the output from a Pearlman 250 tube condenser microphone (cardioid, no roll-off, no pad) between the oneQ2 and the RTZ.

I used about 50dB of gain on both units for quiet singing. I found the oneQ2 to sound slightly thicker and the RTZ more linear in its overload characteristics.

The oneQ2 is excellent for vocal recording or processing during mixing. In general, I preferred using the compressor first in the chain followed by various amounts of the Meequalizer, Enhancer and De-Esser--a little of those three goes a long way for natural sounding recordings.

(Dist. by PMI Audio Group)
Price:  $1,200
Pros:  Modern/pro updates extend its usefulness
Cons:  Needs routing switch for front-panel XLR

Using Hardware Processors Like Plug-Ins

When crafting a unique sound treatment I 'channeled' Joe Meek's methodology and left no controls or section un-maximized, undiscovered, unused or uncombined in pursuit of the unquantifiable and hopefully, the sonically attractive. With the oneQ2, being able to audition each of these sections individually or in any combination is like using a chain of software plug-ins in a DAW only these are all real analog processors. Joe Meek would love this and so do I!

Barry Rudolph is an L.A.-based recording engineer. Visit his Web site at: WWW.BARRYRUDOLPH.COM

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