By Darius Van Rhuehl, Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
There’s being serious about your acoustic sound, and then there’s being Fishman Serious. People who fall into the latter category are on a never-ending quest for better sound—much like Larry Fishman himself, who, while searching for a good-sounding pickup for his beloved double bass, found himself on a journey of discovery that led him up and down the East Coast and ultimately back to himself. The discovery was the old cliché, "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." And that happy accident is how Larry Fishman became the top name in acoustic amplification, when all he was looking for was a way to have his bass heard alongside electric instruments. Still on the same quest for the ultimate acoustic-electric sound, Fishman’s latest advance is the Aura Spectrum DI; an eye- and ear-catching pedal that combines a high-quality DI/EQ/compressor with breakthrough Acoustic Imaging technology.
What’s in your Aura?
Beyond its understated elegance and solid build, you don’t have to be psychic to see there’s something very special in this Aura. Though the Aura Spectrum was designed as a high-quality, balanced DI, it offers so much more, including a three-band EQ; one-knob compressor; chromatic tuner; automatic feedback suppressor with up to three notch filters; effects loop with automatic ground lift for hum-free effects; a convenient mute/bypass switch; and last, but miles from least, Fishman’s remarkable Acoustic Imaging Technology. Think of it as an all-in-one acoustic guitar processor. And with 32-bit resolution and 24-bit A/D/A, the Aura Spectrum DI offers Fishman’s best sound to date.
If you’re not familiar with Acoustic Imaging Technology, here’s a brief primer: It’s designed specifically for guitars with undersaddle piezo pickups. Piezos are quite adept at picking up the resonance of your guitar’s top and body cavity, but in recording (or playing live), that’s not where all the magic happens. The sonic signature imparted by certain mics and preamps capturing the guitar’s sound as it blooms in a live acoustic space are the missing components of said magic. With Acoustic Imaging, a guitar, chosen for its combination of tone woods and body shape, is excited (vibrated) and recorded in a beautiful-sounding space through a number of premier mics and a high-end preamp. The resulting image is then processed along with your guitar’s piezo output, adding back the acoustic components that inject the magic into your guitar’s sound.
It’s all about having the right Image
According to Fishman, the best results are achieved by matching the Image as closely to your particular guitar as possible. To aid you, Aura Spectrum includes Aura Image Gallery software (PC only, with Mac support coming soon), a downloadable library of over 700 Acoustic Images. Simply enter the parameters of your guitar, including body type and tonewoods, and the Gallery pulls ups the corresponding Images, which you can download into the Aura Spectrum’s User Images bank via its USB port. As an added plus, the Images aren’t limited to guitar. Other stringed instruments include violin, mandolin, resophonic guitar, bouzouki, and ukulele. Fishman also offers the ability to create custom images for your guitar in their studio. Artists such as James Taylor, Steve Earle, and Ben Harper have taken advantage of this unique tone-boosting service.
Both ends of the Spectrum
As a DI with unique processing abilities, I was curious to see if the Aura Spectrum was better suited to live sound or studio chores. There’s not a lot of gear out there that can do both equally well. Starting with live sound applications first, I set up one of those affordable mega-bang-for-the-buck mixers and powered monitors. I was about six feet away from the speaker when feedback reared its rather unpleasant-sounding extremities. Good a time as any to test the feedback suppressor. Just by holding down the footswitch, it searched out the offending frequency. I was surprised at how effective it was, and how transparent-sounding the results were. With feedback under control and lots of tonal options to play with, it wasn’t long before the Aura Spectrum DI kicked the console’s performance up into big-boy territory. Giving the one-knob compressor a whirl—literally—yielded interesting results. Along with adjusting both threshold and ratio simultaneously, gain also came up quite proportionally. My immediate reaction was, "this will be really useful if you need to cut through an electric mix." Even as a straight DI, the Fishman front end provided a noticeable improvement over my mixer’s preamps (which weren’t all that bad to begin with). I didn’t linger over the EQ—it did exactly what an EQ should.
Moving on to the recording end of the Aura Spectrum: Lately, I’ve been recording a song that has an acoustic guitar intro. I recorded a scratch track direct using my guitar’s piezo pickup, and vowed to come back to it later on; which meant lots of time choosing and moving mics, and then trying to duplicate the feel of the scratch track, which I really liked. Initially I recorded another take using the Spectrum just for some A/B between it and an untreated direct piezo sound, but upon playback, discovered that I didn’t need to bother with miking and re-recording my scratch track. Now I have some pretty decent gear in my studio, but what I don’t have is a $3,000 Millennia HV-3D preamp, 16 mics hovering in the $2,000-$4,000 range (including Neumann, DPA, and Schoeps), and a mega-bucks treated live room. But with the Aura Spectrum, I do—and so can you. (If you guessed that’s the gear they use to record the Images, you’d be correct). Using it as a re-amping device, I was able to keep the feel of my scratch track with the added magic of Acoustic Imaging.
A full Spectrum cure
Going way beyond the functions of a straight DI, the Aura Spectrum will add wondrous colors to your guitar’s aura while allowing you to streamline your stage rig and bypass budget console preamps. If you already have an Aura pedal and choose to upgrade, you’ll be pleased to know that the image banks in the Aura Spectrum are the exactly the same, so you can use your normal presets and experience your preferred sound—and quite a bit more. If you want the shortest path to a great acoustic studio sound without having to sort out mic placement, preamp selection, and room treatment, the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI is the most cost-effective solution I can think of—and it’s always a big plus when you can find a cost-effective product that works wonders in both live and studio environments.
Features & Specs
- Award-winning Aura® Acoustic Imaging
- 128 pre-loaded Images
- Preamp with balanced XLR DI out
- Volume, Blend, and Image Select controls
- 3-band EQ
- One-knob compressor
- Automatic anti-feedback with up to 3 notches
- Effects loop
- 16 user-configurable Image locations
- USB interface
- Aura Image Gallery software (PC)
- Phase switch
- Automatic ground lift
- 9V battery or optional adapter operation