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We met Norway’s Aalberg Audio a few NAMM shows ago, when GP columnist Jake Hertzog said he was doing demos for “this cool pedal company that lets you control parameters from your guitar.” Sure enough, we saw the “Hey Jazz Guy” star playing his hip future-jazz through a delay pedal that he could manipulate with a wireless controller that was Velcroed to his instrument. It took a little while, but we finally got our hands on Aalberg’s stompboxes and controller, and they were worth the wait. There are basically two inter-connected stories here: the effects and the wireless Aero controller. First, the effects themselves.
This smart-looking delay features a blue top panel with LEDs that pulsate at the selected tempo, and three blue illuminated bars that show settings for Time, Level, and Feedback. It’s a good interface that provides plenty of information at a glance, but isn’t so flashy so as to trigger migraines or seizures. All of these pedals feature a somewhat substantial footprint, so keep that in mind if ’board space is tight. The two footswitches control effect on/off and FX Select/Tap Tempo. Ekko ($299 street) is a very clean, straightforward, sweet-sounding digital delay. There is no control for darkening the repeats, but I found its inherent tone to be quite musical. The stereo ins and outs allow for mono, ping-pong, wet/dry split, or dual-mono operation. Nice!
Decked out with green LEDs, Rom ($299 street) also has three knobs to tailor its reverb effects. The key for me is the EQ control—a low-pass filter that can take you from bright and shimmery to dark and lugubrious. Holding down the FX Select/Alt footswitch for two seconds toggles between a short pre-delay and a long pre-delay. Both are useful, although I definitely favored a darker EQ for the long pre-delay setting. In fact, that was probably my favorite sound on the Rom.
The orange sibling of this trio, Trym ($299 street) gives you Speed, Shape, and Depth for controlling your tremulations. This is a very transparent-sounding trem, which is why I initially favored the more square-wave settings of the Shape control. I grew to really appreciate the Trym’s subtle swells, though, and I’m very impressed with the range of the Speed knob, which goes from superslow to hummingbird-fast. I wish there was a level control, because all trem effects benefit from a slight boost in my opinion, but I can’t argue with the sounds. The Tap Tempo feature will undoubtedly come in handy as well.
AERO WIRELESS CONTROLLER
Obviously, the “unique selling feature” of these effects (and what caught our eye in the first place) is the ability to control parameters remotely, right from your guitar, with the Aero ($129 street). As an admitted real-time control/expression pedal nerd, I was anxious to see what this was like. I paired the Aero with the Ekko delay—a simple process—and it automatically came up with the Aero’s wheel controlling the Time parameter. I rotated the wheel and sure enough—my short delay time turned into a longer time, and the LED bar on the pedal moved accordingly. I used the Aero’s Right/Left buttons to move to the Level parameter and that’s where I saw the true genius of this. Now I could go from a very faint echo to an end-of-the-world infinite repeat just by swiping at the knob. Yes! What’s more, the knob is also a button that controls Tap Tempo, so I could effectively manipulate two parameters on the fly. I saved that as one of the three presets on the Aero and felt like I had super powers.
It’s possible to control several Aalberg effects at once with the Aero. I went through a slightly different pairing process to control all three pedals. I then set Ekko for a slapback, Rom for a short reverb, and Trym off. I chose Ekko’s Feedback as my parameter to control with the Aero knob, and saved it to Preset 1. Then, for Preset 2, I turned Rom off, set Ekko for a long delay, and Trym for a deep, slow tremolo, with Aero controlling the Speed parameter of Trym. Now I could wirelessly switch between these two distinct sounds—with pedals turning on and off as well as changing settings—and control the most important parameter in real time, and still have Tap Tempo from anywhere onstage. It really works and it’s simple and intuitive.
Although I’ve never owned one, I always secretly thought that those wacky guitars with all the onboard effects were pretty cool. Aalberg Audio has basically given us that, but with pristine, modern sounds. One Aero can control up to eight Aalberg pedals (at press time they currently also offer the Kor chorus/flanger), so if you really buy into this technology, you could have a very powerful wireless switching system at your disposal. Kudos to Aalberg for making all this a reality, and doing it with style, tone, and musicality.
Kudos Pristine sound quality. Amazing wireless control possibilities.
FROM THE DESIGNER
Rune Aalberg Alstad, the man behind the effects on review here, explains how he came up with the idea and where he sees the technology going in the future.
“Being a guitar player for over 25 years, I was tired of always having to bend down to my pedalboard to change effect parameters while playing,” he says. “I thought, ‘I can already change the tone and volume from my guitar—why not the effects?’ I opened the pickguard on my Stratocaster and connected the two tone potentiometers to the Time and Feedback connectors of a Boss DD-6, allowing me to control it from the guitar. I found it very useful to be able to change the delay on the fly at rehearsals and gigs. My system kind of evolved from that, with new types of effects and the communication between the controller and pedals becoming wireless.
“This system simplifies how you use effects, because with one click on the AERO controller, you can recall presets that change the parameters on several stompboxes at once. It’s also ideal for the more experimental player who wants to be able to tweak sounds on the fly when creativity knocks. Players are used to changing volume and tone settings, so using an extra pot to modify effects should be a familiar thing for most guitarists.
“As more and more gear is becoming wireless in other industries, such as sports, gaming, healthcare, etc., I believe wireless control is here to stay for musical gear also. Why not? The Bluetooth standard today is much more stable and energy efficient than it was just a few years ago. I think this is a trend, and that we will see more and more products like this in the future.”