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Guitar Buyer 12/2003

From the article: Band of Gold

By Mick Taylor, Guitar Buyer 12/03, issue 28

In a never ending quest for better electro-acoustic tone, Finnish company B-Band unveils its latest contender. Mick Taylor plugs in to see what's new.

Have you ever played an acoustic mic'd up through a PA? Ever used an electro-acoustic at gig volumes? If you've answered yes to either of those questions, you will also have another in your head - why does my guitar never sound like it does when I play it acoustically?

There are many reasons, not least the quality of the amplification you're using, the amount of Jack Daniels inside the sound engineer and more often than not, less than spectacular monitoring at most small venues. By all outside influenes apart, the one thing most people agree on when it comes to electro acoustic sound is that it's damn near impossible to convey all of that soundbox sonic information through a thin piezo-magnetic strip, wedged 'tween saddle abd bridge.

B-Band is a company that's doing everything it can to remedy the problem. Employing a different take on the electro-acoustic transducer theme, its electronics know-how and constant innovation has netted a raft of retrofit and OEM products, dedicated to making life better for all the strummers and pickers out there.

From the simple A1 endpin preamp through to the all-singing A6 system, there's as little, or as much on-board tweakability as you want. And the latter is about to get upgraded...

Construction & features

So what we have here is the new A6 preamp which differs subtly from the first incarnation, launched at the beginning of 2003. The unit remains unchanged in terms of key features, most importantly that it's fed by two different transducers - one under the saddle (UST) and one stuck to the underside of the bridge (AST).

It's these electret transducers that sets B-Band apart from other electro-acoustic pickup manufacturers in that rather than using piezoelectric film, here we have "EMFiT" electret film, a different type of material that is claimed to offer a more natural response as a result of its structure. B-Band uses the phrase "microscopic lens-like gas bubbles", which refers to Emfitech's high-pressure gas injection technology... Now as this begins to sound like a marketing conference, the everyday result is a much more flexible film that is claimed to be more sensitive, and as a result of those MGLB's, imparts something of a condenser effect on the signal; a minute softening, compared with the harsh response of piezoelectric film. Read into that what you will - without research labs, white coats and Tefal-sized brains it's impossible to test this stuff. But we do have ears...

Controls on the preamp include sliders for bass, treble and middle frequencies (±11 dB at 70 Hz, 1.1 kHz and 10 kHz respectievly), plus a notch filter spanning 100-330 Hz with 15 dB cut to kill troublesome feedback frequencies, or indeed shape the overall tone. You also get a phase switch witch deals with problems between the guitar and the amp/speaker. There's no best position for it; you simply experiment to give the tone you're happy with. More often than not, one setting will sound "fuller" than the other.

In terms of layout the A6 is very logical, with the different types of function (EQ, volume and notch) set apart. Practically, that means there's unlikely to be any confusion if you need to make quick adjustments on the fly.

So while all the above remains as the original A6, the new feature comes in the mix control between the AST and UST transducers. Whereas the previous model simply enabled you to select either undersaddle or acoutic soundboard pickups in isolation (and of course mic them to any degree), this variant changes the relationship.

Now, the UST operates in conjunction with a crossover, so that anything below 700 Hz comes from the UST, and everything over from the AST. Now, if you consider that what's generally good from undersaddle pickups is the bottom-end response, while the highs and mids are often somewhat harsh sounding, this setup makes a lot of sense. The bigger transducer sits under the bridge, and isn't under so much pressure, so logically should produce a more even response - hopefully more natural - for the mids and highs of the guitar.

Sounds

The new A6 system came to us ready installed in a Legend D-102 dreadnought with a solid spruce top and solid rosewood back and sides (read more about the guitar in The Mothership boxed section, below).

Our test rig was the SR Technology mini PA reviewed on page 34, chosen for its full-range, fairly unforgiving - ie honest - reproduction of what you feed in the front.

There's no doubt the A6 and Legend combination sounds sweet and balanced. The initial feeling is perhaps that it doesn't change the world - this is still an electro acoustic - yet even on its own, the UST pickup sounds more "acoustic" than your standard piezo-equipped electro. Dial in the AST, and the sound rounds out, not in terms of bass, but more in the middle and treble frequencies. There's still sparkle if you want it, but the attack is softer, seemingly with less edge and the real eye-opener is when you bring in some guitars for comparison.

First up is hopefully easy meat; an Applause AE28M with rudimentary piezo pickup, more volume and tone. The Legend/A6 absolutely slays it for depth, projection, response and overall acoustic feel. Next comes this month's Freshman FA400 on page 78, equipped with a Fishman Classic 4 system. This is a tougher opponent, altough a bit of A/B testing soon reveals the Fresh/Fishman to be much more edgy in the mids; all round more harsh and without the natural bottom end of the Legend/A6 system.

The same Fishman system in the Martin DCX1E looked at on page 70 offers a little more meat in the bottom end, though the top is still edgy and harsh in comparison. Finally, it's down to Fishman's Prefix Pro in the Martin OOOCXE (also on page 70). With its extra tone-shaping controls, the Prefix Pro is much more of a match; more gain and balls, and more convincing than any of the challengers yet. However it's still extremely difficult to dial out the rasp and harshness once you've heard it against the Legend/B-Band combination - remember that we're using exactly the same amplification.

Certainly, the Legend guitar with its warm sounding rosewood body may be a factor here, yet regardless of body material, the comparison guitars - composite bowlback, solid mahogany and Martin's HPL - all shared the inherent edge and harshness commonly associated with piezo pickups.

Conclusion

With its tweaked AST/UST mix control (and indeed without it) the A6 is a fine sounding electro-acoustic system. Anyone used to a rudimentary, cost-effective electro simply won't believe their ears, while those slightly higher up the food chain into Takamine EN10 / Fishman non-mic-equipped territory may have to reluctantly accept that this just sounds more like an acoustic guitar. The internal electrics are wonderfully easy to fit, though whether you'd want to chop your guitar about for the preamp housing is another matter (there's also the A2 internal preamp that works with AST/UST and requires no woodwork). From a cost and hassle point of view, adding a decent magnetic soundhole pickup to your existing electro may be an easier option for most players, but that's not to take away from the B-Band's sonic performance - it's the closest yet we've heard to a real acoustic tone along with Taylor's Expression System. Hopefully we'll see them installed as OEM fitments on more companies' guitars in the future. It would certainly improve a great number of electros we could mention.

B-Band A6 preamp gold stars

* Compact preamp
* Very natural sound
* Easy to use

Black marks

* Tone costs money

Ideal for...

* Gigging musicians who want more "acoustic" than "electro"

Mick Taylor

© Copyright 2003 Guitar Buyer
Reprinted from the No. 28 issue of Guitar Buyer.
Reprinted with permission from Guitar Buyer.