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This article was originally published in issue #49
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The StompLight DMX Professional is one of those great units that I didn’t realise that I needed until I saw it.
Very good lighting effects – especially the active modes
Compact, portable and easy to use
Perfect lights for small bands in small venues
Ideal addition to existing DMX-controlled lights
If a StompLight will do what you need, none.
Every now and then a product comes along that is almost uncategorisable. Take the StompLight. It's been a long while coming since the product was first mooted but now it's finally here, where does it belong - in with the guitar effects? In the Bassment? In the Quiet Room? In fact the StompLight can be used by all GI readers who take to the stage, where putting on a show has never been more important. Bob Thomas checks it out.
Stage lights are getting smaller these days. It isn’t that long ago that bulky PAR cans on heavyweight stands and a mains voltage thyristor-based dimmer gave way to LED arrays with built in DMX and sound-to-light, which meant that an eight lamp array (about the smallest you’d want to own) could be carried in the back of a small car, rather than half a Transit van (other vans are available).
However, with the launch of the StompLight DMX Professional, lighting up on stage just got very personal, easy and quick. The unit’s eponymous developers – StompLight International – are a California-based company aiming to offer artists the ability to add professional lighting and effects simply and portably anywhere.
The StompLight DMX Pro is a DMX512-compatible lighting controller and LED array that is extremely portable and is small enough to fit on a pedalboard. Built like the proverbial tank from thick, powder-coated, aluminium sheet, the StompLight incorporates a patented, fold-away, multicolour, three LED array that delivers a diffuse light wash over up to 180°, that is well-suited to lighting its subject from below. If you think of it as a close-up, traditional stage footlight, you’ll get the idea. The StompLight DMX Pro can act as either a DMX master – controlling a StompLight PAL slave light or any DMX 512 compatible lighting array – or as a DMX slave, where it and any DMX slaves connected to it can be controlled by any DMX 512 master such as another StompLight DMX Pro.
In terms of its own controls, the StompLight DMX Pro could hardly be much simpler – three footswitches (On/Off, Mode and Colo(u)r), two rotary knobs (Brightness and Rate/Sensitivity) and three small status indicator LEDs. In a nice touch that adds to the chunky, slightly retro appeal of the unit, the two knobs are identical to those used on the original MiniMoog – made me feel all nostalgic to see those again!
The powering options reflect the StompLight’s pedalboard credentials - for “normal” use, you can use the supplied external PSU, but if you want full, go-anywhere portability, you can purchase an optional accessory rechargeable StompLight Power Bank that will run the lights for up to seven hours from a full charge. This means that, using those battery packs, you can position your DMX Pro and a PAL anywhere on stage – even on a mic stand if you purchase the optional microphone stand adapter.
The StompLight’s three main multicolour LEDs are made by Cree, one of the big names in LED design and manufacture, and give full RGB colour mixing at 300 lumens. The lifespan of these LEDs is given as 50,000 hours, which equates to 25,000 two-hour gigs – certainly enough to see me out. The LEDs are actually controlled by an Atmel ATMEGA microcontroller interfaced to a compact, high-power LED driver.
The StompLight DMX Pro is sound active with a built in-microphone and instrument input/output jacks with adjustable gain. A nifty internal spectrum analyser creates dynamic sound responsive lighting synced to the ambient sound or audio input. Other lighting effects include a user selected colour, a colour wheel, and a strobe. The lighting effects can be easily user configured (fancy for saying you can add and subtract the effects you want)
When you first power up the StompLight, it comes up in is Colour Wheel mode in which it cycles through its entire colour spectrum. Using the Brightness and Rate controls, you can vary the lighting intensity and speed of change. This is the mode to use if you’re looking for a lighting effect that you can just set and forget.
Pressing the Mode footswitch will cycle you through the remaining four modes, the first of which is Solid Colour. As the name implies, you can select a single colour, cycling through the spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and full-spectrum white – using the Color footswitch. If none of those colours are to your taste, you can select any colour from the Colour Wheel mode by simply switching to Solid Colour when the colour you want comes round. Incidentally, the currently-selected colour is displayed by the Status LED, even if the StompLight is turned off via the On/Off footswitch. This mode is one to use to illuminate something that doesn’t move around the stage, such as your band banner, the front of your latest amp stack or your drummer.
The next two modes are the active modes that respond to the ambient sound – Microphone Active mode – or to the signal from your instrument, mixer, DJ console etc. – Instrument Input mode. Both modes utilise a 7-band audio spectrum analyser that responds to the signal from the StompLight’s built-in microphone (Microphone mode) or to the signal plugged into the rear-mounted Input jack socket (Instrument Input mode) to produce a result that is both level and frequency dependent.
The Sensitivity control allows you to determine the level, while pressing the Color footswitch lets you choose from eight preset colour-frequency combinations (see chart) and of course, Brightness determines how intense the experience will be. The lighting effect produced is dynamically-dependent on both the level and the frequency of your instruments, voice, band or music and on the preset combination that you’ve chosen.
The Microphone Active mode is the one to use if you’re driving the StompLight acoustically - especially if you’re a drummer or you’re wanting to get the effect of your whole band (or just you if you’re a soloist) or DJ setup and the audience’s whoops and claps. The Instrument Input mode is where you’ll want to be if you want the StompLight to respond just to your mixing desk, DJ mixer or to mimic the level and frequency of your own instrument.
Personally, I really liked the Instrument Input mode when set to give different colours at different frequencies (Preset 1). The one issue that I found (as you’ll have seen on the video) was that it was hard to work out which of the presets was active when I switched into the Instrument Input mode and I couldn’t find a way to predict what the preset would be before I switched. The only way I could find was to cycle through the presets (using the Color footswitch) until either I worked out where I was, or I happened upon the preset that I wanted. However, once I got where I wanted to be, the StompLight did the business.
The final mode is the Stroboscopic mode – which does what it says on the tin. Since strobes are something that you need to warn audiences about nowadays and actually wouldn’t suit many gigs, the StompLight has a User Configuration procedure that uses footswitch combinations at power on to disable certain modes, of which Strobe a is one – the others are the combinations of Microphone Active/Strobe and Microphone/Instrument/Strobe. In addition, you can set the DMX master/slave mode and disable the main LEDs.
The StompLight DMX Professional is one of those great units that I didn’t realise that I needed until I saw it. To me, it is a very effective and very compact way of lighting a small stage and a great way of adding accents if you’ve already got a couple of LED lighting bars for larger stages.
Price-wise, the StompLight is competing with the lower end of the 4-LED bar/controller set-up market but its portability and precision certainly gives it an edge. A StompLight DMX Pro and a StompLight PAL slave would be all you’d need if you’re a solo or duo playing in smaller venues where there isn’t the space or the need for a full-size set of lights. In that kind of situation, the StompLight really comes into its own. As I mentioned earlier, if you’ve already got some lights, the StompLight is a great way of adding accents. Either way, you really should check one out!