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This article was originally published in issue #24
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A good vocal sound is important for musicians, regardless of the type of music they play. In an ideal world we'd all have high quality mixers and high quality mixing engineers to go with them, but life isn't ideal for most of us, especially when we're starting out, so we have to make do with a pretty bare system, usually comprising a mic, a mixer (and not even always a mixer!) and a simple PA system of sometimes dubious quality. It's perfectly possible to set up a reasonable sound without a rack of effects, but have a look at any professional rig and you'll see 'toys' aplenty. They're there for a good reason and are one of the ways to ensuring a vocal performance that does the band justice.
This is fine, again, for pro bands or those who can afford hire companies but if resources are scarce, Studiomaster's VMS (it stands for Vocal Management System) is one way around the problem. It is small, neat, well put together rack mountable box and for anyone looking for a good quality vocal sound all in one unit without the need for multiple effects and harmonies, the VMS from Studiomaster has everything you need in one very easy to use package. It's designed for users who either don't have a mixer, or have one that doesn't come with effects, and it's priced to appeal to a budget conscious market.
The 1u rack has a mic preamp, noise gate, compressor, seven-band graphic equaliser and a choice of six DSP effects. There is a combi XLR/jack input connector on both the front and the rear, with a high-pass filter and 48v phantom power available via recessed switches also on the rear. Input level is controlled by the voice knob, which has six positions labelled LOUD to SOFT (referring to the volume of the voice, rather than level of gain). Next to the BYPASS button is the NOISE GATE section indicator and is activated by a switch and associated threshold control on the rear.
Understandably, this has been included to help cut out unwanted background noise when singing, but even on the lowest setting, I still found it too severe, cutting off the front of some words. The compressor section has no controls at all and the amount of compression is relative to how much level you put into it. This worked OK in general and kept everything under control, but if you want more headroom before compression, then you’d have to back off the input volume.
The graphic EQ section works really well and with the frequencies tailored for vocals, it was very quick to get a good sound. The illuminated faders are a nice addition and a great help on a dimly lit stage.
Next up is the DSP section. There are six choices: VOCAL 1, SMALL REV, LARGE REV, ADT, CHORUS and ECHO. Along with a global DSP on/off switch, each selection has its own switch with LED indicator. These are all preset effects chosen by Studiomaster with the only control being an illuminated level fader controlling the amount of effect compared to the dry vocal.
VOCAL 1 is a mix of reverb and delay and my favourite of all the effects, adding a little space and delay. SMALL REV is a room-type effect with LARGE REV being very large indeed. The ADT (Auto double-track) setting is a very short delay, but if pushed too far can sound very ‘ringy’ and bathroom-like. CHORUS was quite light and musical and sounded good at around the 60/40 mark. ECHO is a medium delay with a few repeats, but due to the lack of control over time or feedback, this wouldn’t suit all tastes.
I could sit make a wish-list of features that I’d like added to the VMS, but that would turn it into a different thing altogether and at a different sort of price. This has been designed as an easy to use, low-cost vocal processor for a singer to use in place of a dedicated mixer.
If you want to get a quick, good vocal sound without worrying about delay times, compression thresholds and the like, this is about as simple as it gets.