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This article was originally published in issue #27
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Fishman has become one of the world's leading manufacturers of guitar electronics such as Piezo pickups, pre-amps, acoustic guitar amplifiers, and various other high quality products designed to faithfully reproduce acoustic instruments such as guitars, mandolins, banjos, pianos etc, so when we were looking around for a really high-end DI box to review, a Fishman seemed the obvious choice and the company's Aura Spectrum was the one we settled on.
As well as being a pro-quality balanced XLR D.I. the Fishman Aura Spectrum is a powerful pre-amp, featuring a three band EQ, a built in stage tuner, a compressor and an anti-feedback device. These crucial tools would suffice to make this an indispensable pedal for live and studio acoustic guitar work, but what makes the Aura Spectrum an outstanding and revolutionary tool is its built-in acoustic imaging technology, which enables it to get one of the most pure and realistic acoustic guitar tones I have heard through an amp or a PA.
Most acoustic guitarists have had to get used to the tonal double-identity of their acoustic instrument used with or without an amp, in a studio through a good condenser microphone or live through a piezo pick up or a combination of goose-neck built-in microphones and various transducers, most of which help to various degrees of success but more often than not leave a little to be desired.
One of the most challenging tasks for acoustic guitarists using an amp or PA is in fact to get a realistic natural acoustic sound.
The most effective way to amplify an acoustic guitar is by using a condenser microphone, however, this may not be possible in a live gig particularly when playing at loud volumes, or with certain instrument and/or styles, as feedback is likely to occur.
Built-in microphones can be effective but they are also prone to feedback and tend to sound a little nasal and boxy, as they reproduce the guitar sound from the inside of the body, which, of course, is not where the sweet tonal spot can be found.
Piezo pick-ups deal better with feedback, however, these tend to alter the natural acoustic tone qualities, failing to reproduce some crucial and idiosyncratic acoustic guitars’ characteristics.
The Fishman Aura Spectrum, improves dramatically the sound of the under-saddle Piezo pick up by restoring the pure acoustic guitar tone qualities that we are used to hear when playing unplugged, or when using top-end studio mics.
The way you achieve this is simple, or rather, Fishman made this look simple to us! You simply select the guitar type that matches yours; for example a dreadnought guitar, a nylon string guitar, a twelve string etc. For each guitar type you can choose the preset sound you like the most out of 16 different acoustic guitar 'images', simulating the sound you’d get with different permutations of tone woods, microphones type and techniques. Many more 'images' can be accessed with the Aura Image Gallery software, providing an ever-expanding list of instruments recorded using world-class studio mics and techniques.
Using this system you can blend the original Piezo pick up sound with the Aura images as we see fit with a single knob, which makes it easy to tweak the overall blend during a gig or a recording session.
The built-in EQ and the compressor help expand your guitar tonal palette, while the anti-feedback circuitry is extremely useful and effective on its own, or in conjunction with a phase switch, helping even more to combat feedback and enhance the bass frequency at certain volumes. The built-in chromatic tuner is triggered with a foot switch, like the anti-feedback. By pressing simultaneously these foot switches, the pedal can be bypassed completely.
This, in my opinion, is probably the best acoustic guitar image pedal in the market - certainly the best I have ever tried! It's sturdily built, runs on mains or battery power, looks and feels great and most importantly it helps improve dramatically the amplified acoustic guitar sound, enhancing all of those beautiful and inspiring natural acoustic guitar qualities which more often than not are not reproduced accurately through an amp or PA.
If you are an acoustic guitarist, make sure you test the Fishman Aura Spectrum D.I. I'm sure you will be more than impressed - I was and I'm certainly adding this pedal to my arsenal!