Physically speaking, the AIPs are impressive. They all feature a tough-as-nails aluminum enclosure that’s held together with recessed hex screws and sports stylish and very silky feeling metal knobs for Volume, Select (a 16-position rotary switch that accesses the Images), and Blend (adjusts the mix of the straight and processed signals). There’s also a flip-open compartment for the single 9-volt battery, and an adapter jack for use with an external supply (not included). On the right side is a small Trim control that is used to set the input level (the Clip/Battery LED should flash when you strum hard), and there’s also a top-mounted Phase switch, as well as a separate LED that indicates when the circuit is active. A slight concern is that the brushed aluminum top can be quite reflective in bright sunlight, making it difficult to see the indications of the LEDs.
The simple controls belie the heavy-duty processing power housed in each pedal, and with no programmable functions or hidden parameters to confuse matters, the AIPs are as easy to use as a Tube Screamer. To get a bead on what these boxes do, I used a Martin D-28 equipped with a Fishman NEO-D soundhole pickup for the Dreadnought AIP, a Greg Bennett OM5CE for the Orchestra AIP, and a Takamine CD132 SC and a Carvin NS1 for the Nylon String AIP.
With the AIPs feeding a Schertler Little David acoustic amp, both the Martin and Greg Bennett guitars sounded deeper, vibier, and, in the latter case, way less piezo-y. Not every Select position yielded optimal sounds with these particular instruments, but a number of settings definitely did improve their tone significantly. I can’t say my ears are good enough to detect whether or not the sounds are exactly like those you’d get using real mics, but the virtual representations all create a sort of ambience that is quite different than what you get by slathering on effects such as delay and reverb. Fishman says nothing about the microphones or setups that were used to create the Images (I assume they prefer to keep people from getting too hung up on what “mic” they’re selecting), but the Images all sound different enough to make for some intriguing exploration with whatever kind of amplification or recording setup you’re using. Worth noting too is that the AIPs are all very quiet. If you’re expecting a backdrop of digital hiss, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
I found the Nylon AIP to be especially effective. Used with the Takamine guitar, I was able to coax a richer and more nuanced amplified sound than the guitar’s fairly sophisticated onboard electronics alone could produce. With the amp turned up high enough to mask the acoustic sound, I could really hear the instrument in a whole new way, as each setting imparted something enticing to the tone. One position might be bright and snappy, another mellow and sweet—some were even very hi-fi, while others were noticeably funkier. But they all had the net effect of making the Takamine sound more “produced,” and ready to be recorded. Occasionally, a flip of the AIP’s Phase switch was all it took to obtain just the right focus with some settings.
Where I really got off on the Nylon AIP, however, was at a couple of gigs with a small group playing jazz and world-beat music. I plugged the Carvin NS1 directly into the Nylon, and ran the pedal’s output straight into a reissue Fender blackface Deluxe Reverb—not the optimum amp for such a task by any stretch, but the results were still very cool. The guitar instantly sounded fuller with the AIP on, and with a few clicks of the Select knob, it could be instantly optimized for whatever the tune required. One setting might be better for soloing with a flatpick, while another would work better for fingerstyle. And one thing I really appreciated was that I could pick as hard as I wanted on the NS1 without the slightest whiff of piezo crackle. Several times, I punched the AIP’s bypass button just to hear the difference. The NS1 still sounded good without any AIP conditioning, but the plasticy artifacts emerged more readily, and the tones just didn’t sound as organic. The Nylon AIP made it more fun to use this guitar live, and that’s why I’d use it again.
The Aura AIP pedals are not effectors per se, so if you’re wedded to chorus, delay, or reverb (or all three all the time) you’ll have to get those sounds elsewhere. But what the AIPs do is pretty unique, and given the difficulties of getting a truly satisfying acoustic tone through an amplifier or P.A, system, they may be just the tools you need to make your sound as cool as you’ve always imagined it could be.
Kudos Improves the amplified sound of many types of pickup-equipped acoustic guitars. Quiet operation. Elegant design and functionality.
Contact Fishman Transducers, (978) 988-9199; fishman.com