I have a couple of questions about that Tonedexter device: you really think it works? I despise the sound of acoustic guitar pickups, I've never heard one I thought sounded nearly as good as a decent mic. To clarify, this device only works if you have the specific guitar, teach the device with a mic, and then record or playback a track through it? Am I correct that it wouldn't be useful on a prerecorded track I've been given to mix where I don't have access to the original guitar?
Thanks for reading the report.
I've heard a few pickups that, in the right hands, on the right guitar, played by the right guitarist, for the right kind of song, sound as good as a decent mic on the guitar. But that's a lot of conditions. The ToneDexter has some potential for getting the sound closer to what a mic would sound like if the "mic sample" you take sounds like what you want the guitar to sound like in the context it's being played. The guy who makes it says you only need to do it once for a particular guitar, but I'm sure you can do better than that. I wouldn't necessarily use the same mic set up the same way to record a guitar that's doing background strumming than I would if it was fingerpicking a rag, or doing a blazing imitation of a nervous mandolin player playing a bluegrass solo, or backing up an old time fiddler. But if I had three or four presets stored for the guitar and used them in the right places, I'd probably have better results than just plugging the pickup into a DI and maybe adding some EQ to de-honk it.
Here's what I wrote when I talked to them last year, so it's more complete than what I wrote in the report this year, and despite my comment about wishing I had a few of those to use at folk festivals, that would really never work because there isn't enough time to set it up for an instrument before the set starts. We're too busy trying to figure out who's going to be on stage and where they'll stand, and guess who's going to be talking because they always say "he doesn't sing so he doesn't need a mic" and then he does.
ToneDexter from Audio Sprockets might be my favorite product of the show. I’m throwing it in here even though it’s not a computer interface, but it’s more than a DI. It’s a very smart interface for an instrument with a piezoelectric pickup.
In addition to the instrument input jack, there’s an XLR mic input with phantom power if it’s needed. No, it’s not a mixer that blends the mic and pickup signals. The way it works is that you first find a mic that sounds good on your guitar - you can play around in a studio-like environment, experimenting with different mics if you have access to more than one, and find a good position for the mic on the guitar. Then you put the ToneDexter in learning mode and play for a minute or so. The unit samples both the mic and pickup signals, determines the difference between the two, and calculates an algorithm to process the pickup signal so that what comes out sounds like the microphone.
It’s doing a lot of work here, I suspect operating in the time domain as well as simply generating an equalization curve. The clue to this is that there’s a control labeled “Focus/Bloom” which, when turned toward Focus, removes some of the room ambience to give the effect of moving the guitar closer to the mic. For the demo setup at the show, not only could I hear the pickup with or without processing, I could compare the processed pickup sound with the mic sound, and they were remarkably close. Without the processor engaged, the pickup sounded brittle and quacky. You can save 16 processing algorithms so you can use it with different guitars, different mics, a mandolin, maybe a uke. It doesn’t do much for magnetic pickups, but then they don’t sound as bad, or sound bad but not in the same way, as piezo pickups. The developer said that’s because the transient content of a magnetic pickup’s output is too different from that of a piezo pickup around which the algorithm was designed.
Controls are fairly minimal – there’s a three band parametric equalizer for touch-up or compensating for room acoustics, gain controls for the pickup and mic, a mysterious Character knob, a gain knob for the Boost switch, and a Feedback knob which I believe is a notch filter. There’s an effect send and return in case you want to corrupt your nice acoustic sound, and a DI output at mic or line level from an XLR connector. I wish I had a couple of these for the folk festivals I work, where there are many bad sounding pickups.