If I told you this was a review of another mic pre, you’d probably just yawn. If I told you it was a mic pre, optical compressor, and EQ, you’d probably pay some attention. Then if I told you it was a Joemeek product, you’d say, “What’s that son?” Well, that’s what it is. It’s a single Joemeek channel strip.
The sixQ has an XLR mic and 1/4" line input. The output is in the same configuration with a +4 or –10 option. There’s even an insert for effects and an instrument on the front panel! All standard channel strip functions are included like phantom power, phase reversal, pad and bass roll off switch. There’s one switch that is baffling though. It’s labeled IRON. The manual says it’s a transformer coupler. I suppose it has to do with the different impedances that a mic could be at. Not sure. Not enough information is available, but when you push it, the mic sounds different. So you choose the one that sounds best and use that? Is this like the loudness button or the quadralizer or the ambience button or any of the other cryptic buttons that have shown up on audio gear throughout the ages? It’s not that cryptic really. I just told you what it does, but you won’t know what it really does until you hear it yourself. Then you’ll say, “it sounds . . . different!”
I recorded the drums, the piano, the guitars, the bass, the voice, and the cat with this and they all sound like what I hear in the room. That’s a really good thing out of a mic pre. I would venture to say it almost has no character whatsoever. Very transparent.
By engaging the compressor, you lose all transparency and shoot down a tunnel while the BBC Radiophonic Workshop plays a familiar electronic composition and BOOM, your police box lands right in the early ’60s. I can’t say I love this compressor. I can only say that it has a very specific purpose. I did a few vocals through it and had a really hard time setting the compression so I could feel the results but not hear the compressor working. I was either not hearing much compression at all or really hearing the hammer come down. The gain reduction meter would say –2 or –4, but it always sounded like a lot more with no middle ground. The attack was fairly strange too. It was either not fast enough or too slow depending on the application (yeah, I know, is the glass half full or half empty?).
Then I plugged in the bass! All of a sudden I realized that this compressor was actually a time machine that transported me back. The slow attack (even in the quickest setting) made the bass sound like crap when played by itself, but put it in the mix with some psychedelic pop masterpiece and that was the sound you were looking for all along. I then gained a new appreciation for this compressor because I figured out what it did best. The manual even points out that the compression ratio is variable based on the amount of signal present above the threshold. That means you get a small amount of compression if you just pop above the threshold for a short period of time. You get the dialed in compression if the signal really hovers above the threshold for long periods of time. Very clever indeed!
The EQ section of this channel strip is amazing. All bands have a fixed Q of .9. The low frequency is sweepable from 40Hz–650Hz, the mid from 300Hz–5kHz, and the highs are fixed at either 6kHz or 12kHz. What I like the most is the return to the classic EQ where more than 12dB of total EQ was too much. This is the biggest point where digital and analog EQs differ. An analog, 3dB boost really is an acoustic 3dB boost where digitally it’s much lower. This EQ is also very musical like an old British console.
However this channel strip has a digital out! Capable of spitting out 44.1, 48, 88.2, or 96kHz. The manual doesn’t say the bit rate, but the website states it to be 24-bit. You have a choice of S/PDIF optical or electrical. There is also a jack on the back to send any line level stuff on the other channel of the digital stream. In essence you could use this mic pre to overdub yourself like we did with two boomboxes (but at a far better quality I can assure you).
So the best application for this channel strip would be in any pro studio as another alternate to your board pres or in the home-based project studio for a very fancy, all in one, quality overdubbing interface. This would surely improve the sound of even line-in keyboards. The compressor is very stylized and will take some getting used to, but the EQ will make your life much easier.
Take two and call me in the morning.