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Lampifier 111 & 711 Microphones

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22 June 2012

In most respects Lampifier microphones are regular, hand-held dynamic mics but beneath the surface they have something that elevates them to somewhere between “why hasn’t this been done before?” and “what will they think of next?”. Inside every Lampifier mic there is a light bulb (lamp) installed after the diaphragm. It combines with two preamps and a resistor to alter the dynamic range of the signal by offering varying amounts of resistance to the signal generated by the diaphragm. Hey presto! Instant compressor. A small circuit board offering a noise gate and a way of reprogramming the parameters of the gate and compression characteristics of the lamp complete the package and make for a very different type of microphone.

LIGHTBULB MOMENT

The idea has been tried before. In the 1930s, primitive lightbulbs were used as the basis for compressors over the audio track in cinemas but they were unreliable and power hungry. WWII saw the development of the more efficient and reliable photocell compressors and the bulb was forgotten… until Gary Osborne, inventor of Lampifier microphones, had what was no doubt a “lightbulb moment” and decided to revisit the lightbulb concept. This time using a modern bulb that has been designed for reliability and sound reproduction rather than light output.

The result is a microphone that has largely self-adjusting compression characteristics that change according to the strength of the input signal. At low levels it applies a gentle compression, at medium/high levels it has a faster attack and acts more like a limiter, at very high volumes it returns to compression. Lampifier microphones are supplied pre-programmed for general purpose use but the broad parameters can be changed by opening up the mic body and rearranging shunts on headers to either pre-programmed or custom settings. It’s a little fiddly, and could take some experimenting to get the right setting for a particular application, but the settings don’t have to be exact and once you’ve got them right for the situation it’s set-and-forget.

THE 111

Lampifier offers two models. The 111 is a hyper-cardioid dynamic design that has been developed with live vocals and higher volumes in mind. It looks like a big SM58; it’s got a similar presence peak and it sounds similar too. To be fair to the 58, it has better resistance to feedback and less noticeable handling noise,  but the Lampifier has dynamic control built-in. Straight out of the box, using the pre-programmed general purpose settings, you can hear the compression the first time you give it a decent Check 1, 2. The compression sounds good — like a quality bit of outboard gear set to grab hold of the signal when it gets loud but otherwise leaves things alone. Of course, I wanted to start changing parameters to see what difference it made, so in I went. It’s fun: you get to see the lamp, and if your eyesight is in good shape, and your hands are fairly steady, it’s easy to change the shunts to the desired positions. Lampifier supplies a map and a bag of shunts; handy because they’re small, and if one of them hits the floor, it’s probably gone. The 111 also has a Bass Boost ring that fits under the head and lifts the head 7mm so the user gets further away from the capsule and the proximity effect is reduced. It really should be called the ‘Bass Reduce’ ring but it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it… Regardless, this ring makes quite a difference and for close use it should be in place to avoid excessive proximity-generated boominess.

NEED TO KNOW

  • PRICE

    $179 each

  • CONTACT

    Musiclab:
    (07) 3332 8188
    sales@musiclab.com.au
    www.musiclab.com.au

  • PROS

    • Programmable dynamics
    • Good sound quality
    • Well-built
    • Great price

  • CONS

    • Cheap clips

    • The on/off switch on the 711 will be a turnoff for some

  • SUMMARY

    Well-priced, nice-sounding live mics with nifty, customisable compression features. I’ll take both thanks.

THE 711

The other model is the 711 (where do they get these names?) and it’s a cardioid dynamic design developed for vocals and instruments in less-than-high-volume situations. It’s big like the 111, but better looking, with a sleeker, finer-meshed grille and a nicely rounded body. It’s got a flatter mid-range response, a wide boost of around 5dB centred at 100Hz and a similar boost in the high end, centred around 8kHz. It’s a nice mic; it’s warm and flattering in use on vocals or instruments and would excel at vocal-only or sparser musical acts where a rich tone is preferable to the relative harshness of vocal mics designed to cut through a loud stage sound. The 711 has its lamp pre-programmed with a threshold 4dB lower than the 111 (–12dB compared to –8dB) to reflect its intended use in softer applications. Also included is a silent off/on switch, not usually considered to be a good thing for live music as it’s easy to accidentally activate the switch, but lots of non-music users and public speakers like them.

OUTPUT LEVEL CONTROL

As if the compression function is not enough, the Lampifier mics both have programmable output level controls and noise gates. The output level can be high or low and the low setting is used either as a pad to compensate for a high signal level, or to reduce the output level on programs with high compression settings that boost the signal level. The noise gate has an adjustable threshold between –5dB and –55dB with selectable fast or slow release. In use, the gate is effective and invisible if you’ve got the threshold right.

STEPPING TOWARDS THE LIGHT

At $179 RRP these mics seem like an absolute bargain to me. They’re well-made and feel tough enough for live use. The only evidence of cost cutting is in the packaging and the stand mounts. The mics are supplied in a simple box with instructions and a small bag of shunts. The leatherette protective case is pretty cheap and the supplied stand-mounts are either straight out of the 1960s (the 711) or barely able to hold the mic in place (the 111).

Overall I thought these were terrific mics. They start with good dynamic capsules that would provide quality sound even without the dynamic control of the lamp. Having the programmable compression is a huge feature and there are a lot of singers and sound mixers who will appreciate the way the lamp positions the voice in the mix, frees up or eliminates outboard gear and reduces setup time. I want both of these.

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