Since the dawn of amplified music, musicians have struggled with the challenge of making the direct output of an acoustic guitar actually sound like an acoustic guitar. There have been a handful of devices that have done a reasonable job of achieving this task. The Fishman Aura actually brings this dream closer than ever to a reality.
The Acoustic Sound Imaging technology built into the Aura holds 16 Sound Images which Fishman describes as “the musical, genetic material of a variety of the world’s choicest acoustic guitars and microphones.” According to Fishman, when an acoustic guitar is plugged into the Aura, its algorithms transform the signal into the sound of a acoustic captured by a high-end microphone.
Fishman’s Sound Image technology is the backbone of the Aura’s performance. A Sound Image is a sophisticated algorithm that transforms the signal from a pickup into that of a microphone in front of a guitar, mandolin or other stringed instrument. The algorithm adjusts the phase and frequency response of the pickup to match the instrument and microphone in the Sound Image template. Sound characteristics like body size, radiant sound from the guitar, body resonance and mic distance are all included in the algorithm’s calculations.
The Aura, priced at $429.95, ships with 16 factory-loaded Sound Images of various guitar, microphone and pickup combinations. Of these 16 factory-loaded Sound Images, 12 can be replaced with new Sound Images. Since each Sound Image in the Aura is specific to body size, microphone model and pickup type, Fishman recommends that the user-savable images be replaced with presets that are perfectly matched for the instrument being used with the Aura. Sound Images can be downloaded from the Aura website and then transferred to the Aura via its MIDI-In port. Fishman offers an ever-expanding library of new digital Sound Images at www.fishmanaura.com.
All of the Aura’s connectors are located on the rear panel of the box. Audio output is provided via a male XLR connector and a 1/4-inch jack. The XLR connector provides a +4 dBu balanced signal and the 1/4-inch jack provides an -10 dBu unbalanced signal. A second 1/4-inch jack provides audio input. The input is optimized to work with “string-sensitive” pickups, i.e., undersaddle pickups or magnetic soundhole pickups. The Aura does not perform well with soundboard type pickups, such as the Fishman SBT or any other pickup that locates on the soundboard, away from the bridge.
A ground lift switch (labeled Gnd/Lft) helps eliminate the ground loop hum that can occur when the XLR and 1/4-inch outputs are used simultaneously. The power jack accepts power from a regulated 9V, 200mA AC adapter. A Fishman 910-R AC adapter is included with all units sold in the USA, otherwise the power supply must be provided. The Aura has no power switch. Connecting the 9VDC input turns the box on and disconnecting it turns it off. The MIDI-In jack provides a means to transfer Sound Image data to the Aura from the ever-expanding library at the Fishman Aura website.
All of the controls for the Aura are located on the front panel. The output level control sets the overall level of the XLR and 1/4-inch outputs. The phase switch is provided to improve the amplified response at low volumes and to help reduce feedback at high volumes.
The input level control allows the Aura’s input to be matched to the pickup’s output for the cleanest possible signal. The Effect on/off switch turns the digital Sound Image on and off. A green led illuminates when the Sound Image is active.
While in Edit mode, the Parameter control selects the parameter to be edited and the Data control adjusts the parameter. The Data control scrolls through the program locations in the Play mode and calibrates the reference pitch in Tuner mode. The Edit/Play Switch switches between Edit and Play modes. In the Edit mode the 11 adjustable parameters can be accessed, and in Play mode, the 50 program locations are accessible. The LED display references the 11 parameters in Edit mode, the 50 program locations in Play mode, and the pitch names and calibration frequencies in the Tuner mode.
The Tuner Off/Feedback Cancel Footswitch disengages the Tuner and turns the Feedback Cancel feature on and off. The Tuner On/Program Change Footswitches activate the chromatic tuner and change program locations.
I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks with a Martin acoustic guitar equipped with the new Fishman Onboard Aura system and to say I was impressed is an understatement. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the standalone version of the Aura and when I did, I was once again overwhelmed.
The Aura’s manual is well written and easy to comprehend and I found the Aura to actually be very intuitive once I started digging in and adjusting parameters and loading presets. I’m disappointed that there is no MIDI output and, therefore, no way to save all of the parameter tweaks I have made from the Aura into a computer or other MIDI device. I like the idea of having my exact configuration saved to my computer so I can instantly get it back if my Aura gets delayed on a flight and I have to rent or borrow another.
I had remarkable results adding the direct output to my normal recording setup. I had a session where a difficult acoustic guitar intro (which was completely exposed) was performed perfectly yet was compromised by a sound from the adjacent room. I was able to use the signal from the Aura instead of the microphone’s signal and it worked perfectly. I was so pleased with the sound of the Aura that we ended up using it for the entire tune. It’s nice to know that if the guitarist breathes too loud or taps their foot during a quiet finger-picking portion of a song there is always the option of using the ambient noise-free Aura channel.
There were a couple of instances when I was simultaneously using the 1/4-inch and XLR outputs and I could have benefited from individual output controls instead of a single shared output control, but it wasn’t too difficult to adjust the gain of one of the signals post-Aura. Typically, I had the best results combining about two-thirds Aura signal with one-third pickup, but I tried several guitars and the preferred blend varied slightly with each instrument.
The Aura truly is a groundbreaking innovation in processing acoustic instruments. The system provides a sonic quality that is surprisingly in the same league as the combination of a high-end microphone and mic preamp. After recording acoustic guitars with a microphone for nearly 20 years, it’s nice to finally have a viable means, up to my sonic standards, for recording them direct.
For more information contact Fishman Transducers at 978-988-9199, www.fishman.com.