180 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2009 www.premierguitar.com
Fishman’s Aura Spectrum DI is a revolutionary
beast. It’s not a modeler, designed to make your
guitar sound like something it’s not, so get that
idea right out of your head now. What it does
is return things like Helmholtz resonance to the
sound of your pickup, in order to restore the
sound of the guitar as heard when professionally
mic’d in a pro studio. And if you didn’t know,
Helmholtz resonance is basically the sound of
the air coming out of your guitar, and is one
important piece of what defines the sound of a
guitar. It’s what a mic pics up when you place it
just to the northeast of the soundhole in a studio—that amazingly complex and rich tone that
sounds so deliciously guitary. No matter how
good your pickup is, it’s not going to deliver
that tone, so the clever wizards at Fishman decided to create software images that allow you
to blend that resonance into your sound. This
was the impetus of the Fishman Aura system,
and now the Aura Spectrum DI.
According to Fishman, they recorded several
hundred guitars with a generous sampling of
mics in different placements and at the same
time recorded the output of the Fishman
Acoustic Matrix undersaddle pickup. Then, using
a proprietary computer algorithm, they created
what they call Images. When you use an undersaddle or soundhole pickup to play back through
an Image, the microphone recording is restored.
Because every guitar has a signature sound, Fishman stresses the important of using the exact image (or as close as possible) for your instrument
in order to achieve the most realistic sound.
The Aura Spectrum DI can be used to go direct
to a PA system or a mic preamp for recording,
or you can use it with an acoustic guitar amp. It
uses either a 9V battery or a DC power supply,
but cannot use phantom power. The Spectrum
DI comes with a CD containing additional Images and the Aura Image Gallery software to
install them into the User Images bank.
Be Not Afraid
It’s an overwhelming array of buttons, knobs
and selectors, but it’s really pretty intuitive.
There’s Volume and Blend, and between them
there’s a big knob with a bunch of numbers,
and a curved slider with the different banks
printed alongside that allows you to choose
from Dreadnought, Orchestra, Concert,
Jumbo, Nylon, 12-string, Bluegrass or User
images. The Bluegrass bank actually includes
images of fiddles, mandolins and dobros.
The next row of knobs is the 3-band EQ section (Low, Mid and Hi), and the compressor.
The EQ section default is for the guitar’s pick-
up only, but if you want to EQ the images you
can do that, too. The bottom row includes an
effective and easy-to-use anti-feedback switch
and the tuner switch, and a panel in the
middle that tells you what settings are cur-
rently active or if you are in program mode. I
found the tuner to be a little frustrating, but
tuners always frustrate me. It was a little too
slow to respond, and a little difficult to read
from five feet six inches away. I didn’t have
an opportunity to test the anti-feedback, but
according to the manual all you have to do to
use it is turn it on. Easy is good.
The unit also includes an effects send and
return, and both 1/4" out and XLR out, which
can be used simultaneously, for example if
you want to send the 1/4" out to a guitar
amp that will act as a monitor on stage and
send the XLR out to a house board. There is
a ground lift that kicks on when both outputs
are active so you don’t have any hum.
The Nitty Gritty
Now to the Images themselves. This is kind of
a hard concept to understand. Basically, these
Images blend with the sound of your guitar
and pickup to give you more of a studio-mic’d
tone. It’s not trying to emulate any other guitars, or make your steel-string dreadnaught
sound like a nylon-string guitar. Its purpose
is simply to enhance your pickup by allowing
you to blend in the Image of what your guitar
might sound like mic’d in a studio.
I have an L.R. Baggs iMix pickup in my spruce
and rosewood Gallagher GA- 70, so I set the
pickup blend to the saddle transducer only.
According to the manual, I need to choose the
“orchestra” bank, which is done by moving
the slider next to the big knob on the top row.
Now I have sixteen Images to choose from
in the orchestra bank. The manual contains
tables of all the Image banks. You choose the
type of wood your guitar is made from (cedar
or spruce and mahogany or rosewood are the
BY GAYLA DRAKE PAUL