The Story of Onboard Auras Fishman-Martin Alliance

September 1, 2004

The basic idea of the new Fishman-Martin Onboard Aura System is this: Pick up either the new OMC-Aura or DC-Aura, and you’ll get one of C.F. Martin’s classic acoustic instruments plus Fishman’s new Aura Acoustic Imaging Blender system.

And what does that mean to you? How about a “virtual” miked sound from an onboard pickup—a sound that presents your Martin Orchestra or Dreadnought as if it were recorded in an exceptional studio environment with the sexiest and most prized studio microphones. But there are no mics onstage to maneuver around, no extra hardware, no feedback at any volume, and no screaming at the tech when your fragile acoustic world goes south at the big gig.

This new collaboration between C.F. Martin and Fishman Transducers—one of many in over 20 years of working together—is ample evidence of the venerable American guitar maker’s commitment to new technologies that offer more possibilities to crossover acoustic/electric players, and it aligns perfectly with Fishman’s ongoing quest to put acoustic musicians on equal ground with their electric counterparts.

“Typically, Martin leans a little toward the conservative side, but we want to dispel the notion that we’re not forward thinking,” says Dick Boak, Martin’s head of Artist Relations and Limited Editions. “In the last 15 years, we’ve introduced graphite, aluminum, high-pressure laminates, and archtop guitars. We’ve been anything but conservative, and when the Aura system went into development, Fishman shared its enthusiasm with us, and we decided to do it—even though we weren’t originally thinking of a digital product or anything that required cutting a hole in the side of a guitar. I’m very much the purist, and I don’t like to cut holes in guitars, but this system makes the instrument into a very useful tool, and we knew guitarists were going to want this capability on the guitar.”

Boak also recognizes that a substantial segment of the acoustic market is focused on appealing to electric players who want to play acoustic and/or acoustic players who want to plug in, and having electronics-equipped models is critical.

“Our numbers indicate that close to 25 percent of Martin’s total production is electronics equipped, and Taylor’s numbers are much higher than that,” he says. “What we’ve sought to overcome with electronics are the feedback problems, and the harsh sound and ‘unacoustic’ quality associated with pickups.”

The Onboard Aura System is driven by Martin’s Gold+Plus Natural pickup (which is actually a Fishman Acoustic Matrix). From there, the signal can be processed through six Acoustic Sound Images. These images are sophisticated algorithms that transform the pickup signal into that of a microphone placed in front of a guitar or other stringed instrument. This algorithm seamlessly adjusts the pickup’s phase and frequency response to match the instrument and microphone in the Acoustic Sound Image template.

“The guitars were recorded individually, with six custom images for each guitar,” says Larry Fishman, who pioneered the Aura system using his own instincts, some algorithmic resources from a friend doing research for the government, and a few ideas from Akai’s Acoustic Spectrum Technology. “Some were close-miked, some far-miked, and we used Neumann, Soundelux, Schoeps, DPA, and Earthworks microphones. This is where the different flavors come in—whether the image was derived from a large or small diaphragm mic, plus the characteristic sound of the brand and model of microphone. I originally came to Martin with 12 images for each guitar, and they chose their six favorites.

“When you get down to it, the Aura unit is basically an onboard blending system—you’re blending the under-saddle pickup sound with an emulated ‘miked’ image. You can either go 100 percent pickup or 100 percent image, or anywhere in between. If you’re recording with it, you’ll likely go to 100 percent image to get the ‘miked’ sound. If you’re playing on stage, and it’s really loud, you can put the pickup into the blend to give your guitar enough punch and definition to cut through the band. The pickup and the six images have digitally assignable EQ, so once you set the EQ that’s right for that image, you just save it. The Aura also has a chromatic tuner and a DSP-based anti-feedback filter, which automatically senses what frequency is giving you problems and makes it go away. And it’ll run about 40 hours continuous use on a 9-volt battery, which is pretty amazing. We wanted to make Onboard Aura really simple and easy—just plug and play.”

In terms of the DC-Aura and OMC-Aura models—both of which feature cutaways for greater access to the upper frets—the differences still come down to the instruments themselves.

“Processing aside, the DC dreadnought is still going to have a big sound,” says Boak. “The OM is prized by those who play fingerstyle guitar because the tone doesn’t break apart when you play rhythm. It’s almost like a coiled spring. We offer a lot of choices when it comes to electronics in Martin guitars, but Onboard Aura is absolutely the most technically astute.”

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