Joe Meek MC2

I don’t think there’s a single piece of outboard gear in my rack that costs less than a mortgage payment. So it can be difficult, when you are used to SSL everything, to approach a unit that is barely above the price of your monthly studio coffee bill in an objective manner. But hey, I review things . . . and here’s what I found.
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OVERVIEW

The half-rack MC2 is a workhorse — effectively pulling triple duty as a line-level stereo pre, stereo optical compressor, and stereo width processor, making it a smart (and incredibly cost-effective) addition to your rig. The back panel has two input and two output 1/4" TRS jacks (for balanced or unbalanced operation), with an associated button to select +4dBu or –10dBV operation. There’s also a compressor sidechain insert jack (unbalanced, 1/4" send and return) labeled “s/c insert.”

Accurate metering is offered for every relevant aspect of the unit: A peak indicator for monitoring the input level, an eight-segment LED VU meter that displays the unit’s output from –24dB to +12dB, and an eight-segment gain reduction meter (2dB to 16dB). Furthermore, there are on/off indicator lights for the compressor, stereo width section, and GR Hold section (more on this later), so you can be sure which components of the piece are active.

APPLYING THE MC2

As a line level stereo pre, the MC2’s gain range is –6dB to 15dB and offers a fairly transparent sound. It focuses solely on boosting line input signals without adding any special (potentially unwanted) character. Bottom line: It sounds fine, but it’s hardly the most impressive element.

The stereo optical compressor is essentially the same compressor as the Twin Q, yet stereo, and boasts more controls. The MC2 features gain, compress (threshold), attack, release and even slope controls, thus offering the same functionality as many more expensive products. This makes the unit perfect for just about any scenario that calls for compression — from single track applications, to stereo bus insertion, to overload protection from blasts that occur either onstage or in the studio.

The MC2’s Stereo Width function came as a nice surprise; it modifies the stereo image range from mono to stereo to “extra-wide” stereo — the latter of which adds a greater sense of depth to your mix, or more “beef” and “punch” in a live application. Activating this feature on sources such as drum overheads, dual guitars, horn sections — any tracks with two or more sources — really spreads the image out, and helps breathe life into the mix. For example, I was running out of channels in a Pro Tools mix and forced to subgroup six horns down to two tracks in order to open up some faders. I generally hate doing this, as it doesn’t seem to allow me the same feel of control over the “width” of the two-channel out. But, by using the MC2’s Stereo Width feature, I was able to compensate and spread the image as wide as I wanted. Two thumbs up.

Likewise, the GR Hold (an automatic way of “freezing” the gain reduction level at the same spot as it was just before it dropped below the threshold setting) was very useful in helping preserve a solid, stable sound devoid of dropouts and level dips . . . and is a great tool to prevent raising the volume of background noise, and some transients, that can be downright annoying.

But perhaps my favorite MC2 feature is the side chain insert. The s/c insert offers a direct link into the compressor, allowing you to, say, insert an EQ into the compressor control path, resulting in frequency selective compression for applications like sibilance control. Translation: greater control options than the average compressor.

CONCLUSION

Having used the MC2 on three separate mixing sessions over the past few months, I’ve come to the conclusion that with a price point of under $300, this is not only a bargain but one of the better buys on the market. Perhaps most importantly, whereas most pieces in this range sound “prosumer,” the MC2 offers high enough quality sounds that I’m not ashamed to throw it into my bank-breaking outboard rack. In fact, I’ll probably end up using it just as much as some of those ten-fold priced competitor’s models we all swear by.

Product type: Stereo line level preamp, stereo optical compressor, and stereo width processor.
Target market: Project studios, especially those on a budget, and home studios.
Strengths: Affordability/value. Chock full of features such as stereo width processor, s/c insert and GR Hold function.
Limitations: S/c jack requires Y cable. Half-rack size crowds controls somewhat.
Price: $299.99 list.
Contact: www.joemeek.com