To The Rescue: The Lampifier 111 Vocal Mic
Certain things just work well together. Think Peanut Butter and Jelly. Ham and Cheese. Gin and Tonic. With that in mind those of you who use a bit of compression on your vocal mix raise your hands. Nearly everyone? No news there. Who among you get tired of either dragging around an extra piece of gear just for that purpose or would rather not have to bother depending on the bored sound engineer who looks like they would rather be anywhere but sitting behind the mix console optimizing your mix? Well boys and girls, today is your lucky day. Like our beloved PB&J, American ingenuity has come to the rescue again by way of a new type of professional vocal microphone: the Lampifier 111 Vocal Mic!.
Lampifier 111 Vocal Mic: No Setup Required
Say hello to my new little friend: the super-cardioid phantom-powered Lampifier 111. So what you say?!...There's a million different handheld vocal mics out there. Well sure, but nobody except Lampifier has gone a step further to incorporate user programmable built-in dynamic sound processing i.e compression directly into the mic. What's compression? Quick 30,000ft overview: an audio compressor reduces the volume of loud sounds and amplifies the volume of quiet ones by narrowing or "compressing" an audio signals range.
The brainchild of inventor Gary Osborne Lampifier was the result of his quest to create an easy to use product that would consistently deliver superior sound results for whomever the end user be it a vocalist, speaker, or other instrumentalist - no setup required. While they haven't been on the scene long Lampifier has already seen some notable recognition most recently being awarded "Best Audio Product Microphoneâ€� award at the Worship Facilities Expo (WFX) in Atlanta, GA in November 2010.
Lampifier 111 Vocal Mic Technology: Lighting Up
So what makes it tick? Time to talk turkey. For today's lesson we take a trip back to the 1930's when audio compressors first started to become popular to boost the overall sound without clipping in noisy movie houses. These early audio compressors utilized a rather simple yet unreliable light bulb solution in the audio circuit and generally had a short life-span due to the power requirements to keep the bulb lit. It wasn't long after that the photoelectric cell became more popular from both a reliability standpoint as well as from a cost basis. Light bulb or opto-compression has been used off and on over the years in higher end pro-audio offerings (think big old Neve consoles) but never has it been scaled down and simplified to a size which fits completely inside of a handheld mic. In the spirit of simplicity the Lampifier circuit is 100% analog and features 2 preamplifiers bookending a specialized audio bulb and a load resistor. On a basic level when a signal is fed into the first preamplifier it in turn drives the audio bulb which as the bulb filament heats up increases the electrical resistance of the filament. This in effect changes the input drive to the second preamplifier and in effect the output to the mixing board. As the signal level drops the reverse occurs. Simple right?
In addition to the base program the Lampifier 111 comes programmed (with in my case the Pro Concert Vocal program). The Lampifier is user configurable with over 30+ different programs. Now keep in mind reprogramming will require removing the electronics and moving some jumper cables but just about anyone with a few basic tools and the ability to read some simple instructions should be just fine. Lampifier even has a slick little programming tool on their website which allows to to tailor the exact sound you want.
Lampifier 111 Vocal Mic: Design And Durability
According to Mr. Osborne the baseline sound for the Lampifier 111 is modeled loosely on the industry standard workhorse Shure SM-58. Indeed even the overall look and ergonomics of the Model 111 would make it easy to confuse with its long-standing brethren. Personally I felt the overall look to be fairly me-too and not particularly attractive considering its street price of $155.95. That being said the construction and fit and finish are right up there with the best of them. Club owners take note: The thick alloy construction and durable grill would likely do a pretty good job of protecting the innards when subjected to that one problematic singer that likes to throw things.
Lampifier 111 Vocal Mic:Test
I degress. In live room testing with a full band consisting of guitars, drums, and bass I decided A/B the Lampifier up against another mic in the TMVJ test barn - the Rode M1 - an excellent mic previously reviewed by TMVJ a few months back. Since I did not have access to an SM-58 and the M1 is a mic that I feel based some of its design around the warmer easy-going sound of the SM-58 I felt this would be an appropriate choice. Both mics were run straight into the board with no additional effects or EQ.
After a relatively short amount of testing it became clear who the clear winner was going to be. The Rode possesses a rather warm natural sound with a slight tendency to sound a little flat and muffled. While it generally sounds nice by itself when the full band was introduced into the mix I found myself starting to over-sing to be heard through the mix. I was able to overcome some of this by driving the mic a bit harder with additional gain and this helped for more dynamic vocal passages but the problem returned during quieter whisper like sections in my material. Short of introducing some EQ to add a bit more crispness and some additional processing by way of an external compressor I found the M1 by itself leaving me feeling a bit shortchanged.
Switching over to the Lampifier with the identical flat EQ settings I was immediately aware of the additional amount of presence and cut introduced. Top end is well executed and gives the vocals a nice amount of shimmer without being over the top or shrill. While my vocals took on a little more of a scooped effect than I generally like it wasn't over the top and decidedly sounded just fine in the mix. The Lampifier actually has a nice proximity effect when you get right up on the grill which thanks to the compression is well controlled without getting too squirly. It's a nice tool if you want a little extra girth in a particular passage. According to Lampifier if you want even more proximity effect you can do so by removing the ring located below the grill. Additionally I found the way compression circuitry can also act as a gate to be especially useful for controlling feedback when the mic is pointing places other than directly in front of the mouth.
WRAP UP: Believe in the Light
As per their slogan "Believe in the Light" I believe that Lampifier might just be onto something here. Some of us either don't have the knowledge, the money or just plain don't want to mess around with additional outboard gear. Sometimes we just want to plug in and sound good. The Lampifier 111 is a huge step in that direction. Is it perfect? No. Is it nice to look at? Not really. But it sounds dang good. Good enough that it could hang with a lot of the big boys at Shure, Audix and Rode among others. And for $155.95 you get a mic AND a compressor. Hows that for a deal?
c/o Music44.com, Inc.
5348 N. Tacoma Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46220
Review by Travis North