The Little Lanilei Rotary Wave is an ingenious attempt to offer the sound of a real rotary speaker system in a compact and lightweight form without resorting to electronic simulations. By miniaturising a single‑horn design without any internal amplification, this has pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of making a rotary speaker system for recording which you can pick up with one hand!
Inside the unit is an upward‑facing 35W driver around five inches in diameter firing into a lightweight, rotating baffle which deflects the sound outwards through grille apertures on all four sides of the vinyl‑covered cabinet. Full marks for ingenuity here, as the polystyrene rotor is actually fixed to a wooden disc, which is in turn stuck to the face of a DC‑drive equipment cooling fan. The wire‑wound speed‑control pot varies the motor current, and hence the speed. An integral switch provides an 'off' position while a jack socket allows the included footswitch to be used to change the speed between fast and slow. A Start button on the front panel kick starts the motor if it should stall when the speed is set very low. A quarter‑inch jack socket is used to feed from your external amplifier to the speaker, while power for the baffle motor comes from an included wall‑wart power supply.
As the Little Lanilei has no rotary horn, the sound is less bright and less complex than you'd expect from a full‑size rotary speaker, and, because of the modest size of the driver, it tends to be a bit mid‑heavy. Admittedly you can reduce this boxiness by EQ'ing the Little Lanilei's audio feed, and the subjective sound is certainly smooth and musical. You can vary the sound depending on how you mic it up and, although close miking will pick up a little wind noise from the rotor, this is pleasingly 'vintage' and not unduly intrusive.
The speed‑change aspect is less successful, though, as the baffle drum takes a long time to slow down due to the lack of any kind of active breaking system. The speed‑up time is somewhat better, but you can't really 'play' the speed control as a good organist would do with a Leslie. Nevertheless, the end result is definitely organic and works wonderfully well with guitar or keyboard.
The Little Lanilei isn't a direct replacement for a Leslie speaker, but it does provide the means to add a nicely subtle rotary speaker effect to any instrument or voice. On the plus side is portability and subtlety of tone, while the weaknesses are the long slow‑down time and the somewhat mid‑heavy tone — the former is perhaps the harder to forgive at this price. For recording, the unit offers something that digital emulations still can't quite match and, provided that you work within its limitations, you can coax some really nice sounds out of it. Paul White