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Sennheiser vocal mic puts singer in control

Sennheiser demonstrates a modified vocal mic system at Winter NAMM offering an inbuilt range of special effects, writes Mel Lambert

During the NAMM Winter Show, Sennheiser was wowing attendees with a fascinating technology demonstration of a modified vocal mic system that offered a range of built-in special effects and control functions, writes Mel Lambert. Housed within an extended body from one of the firm’s Evolution 500 Series handheld wireless mics was a custom-designed set of buttons with a companion fader. Using these simple controls, the system’s designer was showing how delay and reverb effects could be controlled by a vocalist. Sounds could also be panned between a pair of outputs simply by moving the mic to produce an attention-grabbing vocal effect. “The idea is to put controls where the vocalist can easily reach them,” explains Daniel Schlessinger (pictured), senior audio DSP engineer at the Sennheiser Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, CA. “We mapped the buttons and fader via MIDI to an outboard effects unit. Carried over an RF wireless channel, these MIDI commands were fed to a Muse Receptor effects box”, which provided the delay and sampled sounds. “I custom mapped the buttons to replay looped effects – allowing me to record a backing harmony and then sing over the top – or to add an ambient effect to a vocal, for instance,” he says. “A built-in motion detector can also provide direction-related panning – enabling a vocal sound to move across the stage, for example, between loudspeakers – and also to initiate playback of sampled sound.” Schlessinger had set up the system to replay a shaker sound when he rocked the mic from side to side. Additional buttons on the technology example stopped and started various sampled sounds, and controlled the overdub mode. The fader could be set to adjust output levels, or to continuously control programs and samples stored within the attached effects unit. Other uses might be to map these controls to a connected DAW’s plug-ins. “A vocalist now has complete freedom on stage to control the sound without being tied to a foot pedal,” Schlessinger continues, “or having to reach down to the front panel of an effects box. By putting such controls directly on the microphone, the creative possibilities are virtually unlimited.” A questionnaire was intended to secure valuable market intelligence from the NAMM audience. In addition to asking respondents how much they might pay for such a system – between $500 (£310 or €360) and $2,000 being the target range – Sennheiser’s questionnaire asked whether the planned product should be capable of controlling external effects processors, or offer built-in effects as a complete system. Although currently there are no plans to produce a unit derived from this patent-pending design concept, Sennheiser will continue to refine the concept and conduct further market research.