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Fuzz 04/2000

From the article: New B-Band alternatives for acoustic guitar

by Paul Guy, FUZZ 4/2000

EMF Acoustics B-Band / Core99 & New2 Frontier

The EMF family has grown since the previous test in FUZZ 10/97, offering several alternatives to the original B-Band/Core system. The range now covers almost any requirement, from a straightforward pickup with endpin jack preamp to advanced systems with dual sound sources in the guitar, with both inboard and outboard mix and EQ controls. Let´s take a look at the Core99 and the New2Frontier.

When I tested the Finnish EMF Acoustics B-Band undersaddle pickup and Core preamp for acoustic guitars in FUZZ no. 10/97, I was mightily impressed by the sound quality and dynamic range. The principle differs from practically all other undersaddle pickups on the market, which use the piezo effect. The 0.3 mm thick B-Band pickup contains, namely, "EMFi-film", EMF´s proprietary electret condenser material.

The B-Band pickup

The B-Band pickup itself comes in several versions - two "long" for steel-string guitars, in two widths - 2.2 and 2.9 mm, for 3/32" and 1/8" saddle slots - and a "short" in the 2.2 mm width for nylon stringers and small-bodied instruments. The first 80 mm (3.15") of the ribbon is active, and will accommodate even the widest string spacing. A version for steel strung guitars with split bridge saddles - where the high E and B strings have their own separate saddle - is also available.

As I wrote last time, the B-Band "lacks" the "quack" in the high register that most often accompanies piezo systems (the "MTV Unplugged" effect, as I call it), and is very warm, responsive and dynamic. You can turn up the volume pretty far before it starts to feed back, and it does not distort on the attack when you really lay into the strings. I have had a B-Band in my own guitar for over two years now. That guitar has had numerous different pickups in and on it in the 27 years I have had it, but it´s only now that I really feel happy with the amplified sound.

I am every bit as impressed by EMF's electronics packages. You dont even need to fire up the soldering iron to install anything, everything is "Plug'n Play". There are several options here too.

Core99 preamp

The simplest model, Core99, mounts internally on the endpin jack and has no controls, for those who prefer not to drill holes in the guitar. It has two channels, an extra input and output being provided for an optional internal condenser microphone. EMF´s own mike has a nifty clip for mounting it on one of the braces, allowing placement in almost any location. The mike signal is taken out on the ring contact of the output jack, which has an extra contact over and above the usual two plus ground, allowing it to work in stereo and still provide a battery switching function. If a standard mono cord is used only the B-Band signal will be heard.

The Core99 has four internal DIP-switches for the B-Band channel. Two of these activate gentle but effective "enhancers" which can be used alone or together to match the individual instrument - small-bodied guitars can be given a boost in the bass, or instruments which lack treble given some sparkle. Of the two remaining switches the first pads the output level by -10 dB and the second lowers the high pass filter frequency from 70 to 35 Hz, for use in acoustic bass guitars.

New2Frontier preamp

For those who feel the need for volume and tone controls on the guitar, EMF offer the side-mounted New Frontier preamp, which is easy to install, entailing no major work. There are two versions - the single-channel New Frontier, for a solitary B-Band, and the dual-channel New2 Frontier, which, like the Core99, has an extra input for a condenser microphone.

Both versions have excellent "Bottom" and "Edge" controls, which are not really tone controls in the usual sense, as they do not work on the direct sound, but on a side chain. The output of these high- and low-pass filters is added to the unaltered direct sound in a mixer stage. They work very effectively, with no unpleasant side-effects. The New2 Frontier has an extra control for the internal microphone level, which has a clever twist. At the center detent the mike is silent; turning the pot clockwise mixes the mike signal in phase with the B-Band, anti-clockwise mixes the mike out of phase (this can be very helpful in canceling a good deal of feedback in some circumstances). The mike signal is mixed with the B-Band on the output jack`s tip , and/or can be taken out unmodified on the ring. The system therefore works with both mono and stereo cords. The microphone channel is provided with gain and high pass filter (70 Hz - 1.5 kHz) trimpots.

Entity

EMF will shortly be introducing their new "Entity" system, with a separate free-standing mixer/EQ for dual-source operation - B-Band + internal condenser mike, for example. The mixer will accept virtually any kind of input, including magnetic soundhole pickups and the output of most preamp stages. The endpinjack mounted dual-channel Entity buffer amp is phantom powered from the Entity mixer unit, which has extensive functions, separate send/return loop jacks on each channel for further processing being just one of them. The quoted price for the complete kit is $668, and I doubt you will find better value for money - or as good a sound - anywhere else.

Conclusion

I can think of no better way to conclude than to quote what I said to an American colleague about the B-Band - "Best damn acoustic pickup I ever heard"

Paul Guy

© Copyright 2000 Paul Guy, FUZZ