LR Baggs M80

December 13, 2012

One of the most adventurous soundhole acoustic pickups currently available, the M80 ($249 street) is able to operate in active or passive modes and has a secondary “floating” coil located under the main sensing coil that both cancels hum and acts as a 3-D body sensor. Tuned to respond to the entire frequency range of the guitar, the coil vibrates around its magnet array as the guitar is played, thus adding its own signal to what the upper coil is picking up from the strings. The result is a harmonically richer sound than would be possible with a pickup that only senses the strings, and also less sensitivity to feedback compared to other “dual source” soundhole pickups that use a built-in microphone to sense body vibrations.

The M80 incorporates a small Volume dial on the right (treble) side, and has adjustable polepieces that enable you to fine-tune the response to your particular guitar. It’s also the only pickup I’m aware of that comes with a pair of 3/4" poles that can be swapped into the B and high E positions when using electric guitar strings. Now you can enjoy the easy feel of lightgauge electric strings without the reduced output that typically occurs on the top two strings. Baggs also includes a 3/8" pole that can be installed in the G position when using an acoustic set with an unwound G.

We tested the M80 already installed in a Gibson J-45, but the manual provides clear guidance for doing the job yourself (or having it done by a tech if you don’t get along well with power tools). Basically, the endpin hole in the guitar has to be drilled out to accept the included endpin jack, which has a cable that plugs into the pickup once the unit is mounted in the soundhole. A small switch on the bottom of the pickup housing toggles between “active” and “passive” modes. In active operation, a discrete preamp optimizes the M80 for driving straight into a P.A. Running through a Fishman SA220, the M80 delivered a tight, accurate, and punchy sound with minimal noise, and the J45 retained its buoyant mids and superb top-to-bottom balance.

Active mode is the preferred way of using the M80 for most gigs, and Baggs provides an easy way to keep tabs on battery life: Pressing a button on the left side of the pickup illuminates four green LEDs with a fresh battery installed, indicating approximately 300 hours of playing time. When you get down to two LEDs, the time remaining is about 50 hours—enough to find a replacement CR2032 3-volt lithium watch battery. (Baggs includes an extra battery.)

Flicking the switch to the passive position cuts the preamp out of the circuit (handy if the battery goes belly up in the middle of a performance), and also allows the M80 to be connected to an amp via an external cable (sold separately) that you can drape out of the soundhole if you don’t want to permanently install the system on your vintage guitar. The M80’s output is a little weaker in passive mode, but in certain cases, and with some acoustic amps, it may be preferable to use the pickup this way to avoid doubling up on the number of preamp stages the signal runs through on its way to the speakers. I still found the M80’s response to be very smooth and open in passive mode, and the combination of string and body sensing certainly creates a nicely detailed and very natural amplified sound.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for an acoustic pickup that can cover just about any stylistic application with any flat-top guitar, and deliver a balanced response whatever it’s strung with, the M80 is an excellent choice.

Kudos Superb sound. Active or passive operation. Can be adjusted for optimum response with virtually any kind of acoustic or electric strings.
Concerns None.

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