Can Studiomaster's Vocal Management System deliver everything you need for studio-like vocals in a single unit?
The Studiomaster Vocal Management System was developed as an easy-to-use live mic processor, and includes a preamp, a seven-band graphic equaliser, six mono DSP effects, an optical compressor and an automatic noise gate.
The mic preamp can accept both XLR and jack input using 'combi' connectors on both front and rear panels, while the high-pass filter and 48V phantom power are activated by recessed rear-panel buttons. The gain control is a six-position switch labelled Voice, with a 'softer' voice using less gain, while the seven-band graphic equaliser has handy illuminated fader shafts to show the settings even under poor lighting conditions. Output uses balanced XLR and jack sockets at mic or line level, as well as a headphone socket, a mixer channel-style insert send/return, and a 'direct' output that duplicates the main output pre-insert.
The success of a preset-based processor such as this rests on the quality of the presets. While the automatic compression helps level out the vocal sound, and does something musical and useful to the sound even at a low setting, I would have appreciated at least a threshold control to help prevent feedback. There's no problem with the graphic EQ, and you only need to use a fraction of the available 9dB of cut or boost to tailor the sound. The default noise-gate setting would work well in a band situation with a lot of spill, but even at its lowest setting (adjusted on the rear panel) it sometimes cuts the vocal breaths of quieter performers, so it's best left off.
The preset effects (Vocal 1, Small Rev, Large Rev, ADT, Chorus and Echo) each have a simple 'select' button and status LED, and can be bypassed using an optional footswitch. An illuminated fader controls how much overall effect level is added to the mic signal, while a global bypass switch disables all the effects and processing.
The Vocal 1 effect is a mix of delay and reverb, which works fine as a general treatment mixed fairly low, while the first of the dedicated reverb settings is also OK used in moderation but sounds a touch congested. Large Rev is pretty cavernous, and only really of use if you plan to perform Gregorian chants.
ADT offers the usual short delay, but the expected slap-back effect is ruined by a fixed amount of feedback, which produces an unnecessary, ringing tunnel effect. Chorus works fine, not that it is an effect I would normally apply to vocals, and so does the Echo setting as long as you don't turn it up too far. A tap-tempo button to adjust the delay time, and perhaps also the reverb time, would have made this section far more useful but as it is, it's a little disappointing.
I like the price of the VMS and I approve of the 'let's make it simple' concept, but where preset effects are on offer, more care needs to be put into making them musically useful. I found the effects didn't hit the mark, so not being able to tweak them was frustrating. There's also no level control for the headphone output, so if you crank up the input gain it can get scarily loud.
If you're part of a small group, adding something like the VMS might make sense, but if you already have a mixer with effects it's harder to justify. Many budget mixers provide far more than six preset effects, at least some of which will be more useful and musical than those on offer here. Ultimately, while I like the friendly approach and the affordability, the somewhat perfunctory effects detract from what could otherwise be a very attractive solution.
Digitech and TC both make compact vocal processors, though they tend not to be as simple to use as this one. In fact the closest alternative in terms of cost and features is probably one of the smaller Yamaha mixers (such as the MG82CX) with their built-in effects and compressors.