Joemeek MC2: Over the years Joemeek has released many variations on the same optical circuit idea with different letter/number names. This one is a stereo half-rack unit, updated a few years ago from a previous model also called the MC2. The older model (which I probably should get and review sometime) has a flat light-green faceplate with five knobs, while the newer one I'm reviewing here has a rounded dark metallic green face and eight knobs.
It can achieve a certain amount of clarity, but most of its range of tone and action is in the more "heavy squash" and "effect" category. The tone is smooth and warm, with no rolloff of highs or lows, although the sound becomes notably colored (non-transparent) during the squash. If you hit with a very hot signal the low end can get a bit choked-sounding. The noise level is better than average, but not silent. Comparing the MC2 directly to an ADK CLA-1 and a Summit TLA-50 (also half-rack optical units), the ADK sounded beefier and fatter, while the Summit sounded cleaner and less "effecty", but the Joemeek had a zingier-sounding attack and lower noise. Also the MC2 has a more complete range of controls over the parameters, so it is possible to dial in a wider variety of action for different signals and playing styles.
The main controls include Input gain, "Compress" (threshold), "Slope" (ratio), Attack, Release, and Make-up gain (output level). Each of them has a wide useful range. The compression seems to kick in very dramatically even at lighter settings: hit the threshold, and bam! you get squashed for a few milliseconds until it releases. It's a very cool effect, a lot like the "dip and swell" of the Orange Squeezer, and I could see many bassists and guitarists really enjoying the funky swing it provides. However people looking for the most "natural" and transparent action should probably look elsewhere.
Hitting the MC2 with a hot input signal, it will not act as a hard limiter, some spikes will get through. You can reduce that by choosing a very fast attack, but I felt the tone and action suffered at those settings, sounding more flat or artificial. I got the best results for my tastes with a slower attack setting and smoother playing.
This model was really meant for stereo operation, but it can be used for mono by just plugging into only the left in/outputs, and turning the Stereo Width knob fully counterclockwise. It will operate best with line-level input, and there is a switch for either -10 dBV or +4 dBu line level. It can also work well with an active instrument plugged straight in, at the -10 setting, though if the instrument output is low then you may get more noise. The input jacks can take balanced or unbalanced connections.
The bypass is clean and effective, though I don't know exactly what type it is. There is a row of LEDs for metering the amount of compression. While the meter is very good to have, it can be a bit confusing because the response of this comp is not "clinical" and your signal will be over the threshold a lot, so this particular meter may make it look like you're overcompressing even when you're only applying moderate effect. The construction quality is decent--it's inexpensive mass production, but there's nothing really wrong with it. As with most other half-rack units, it can be surprisingly difficult to mount in a tightly-fitted rack next to a half-rack unit from another brand. It's powered by a 12V AC wall wart.
Price in USD: new $249, used $100-$150.
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