From the December 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY DOUG YOUNG
Guitarists are always looking for new options to overcome the challenges of amplifying their instruments. CloudVocal International in Taiwan has used Indiegogo to introduce a new solution, a device that combines the sound quality of a real microphone with the total mobility of a wireless system. Best of all, it requires no modifications to your instrument.
The iSolo is a wireless microphone system that consists of a small transmitter with an attached mic, and a choice of two different receivers, one optimized for recording, the other for live performance. There are three iSolo packages—iSolo-Live, iSolo-Recording, or iSolo-Live+Recording—which vary only in which receiver is included.
The compact, lightweight transmitter supports a tiny antenna and a small microphone on a gooseneck mount, as well as a three-position volume switch and a button that doubles as an on-off switch and a wireless pairing function. The transmitter operates from a rechargeable battery, which takes two to three hours to charge (in my tests, the charge lasted around three hours), and connects to the receivers via 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi. Unlike wireless systems that involve a pickup connected to a belt pack, the iSolo is totally self-contained and requires no wires.
The iSolo-Recording package includes a simple USB receiver that looks like a typical thumb-drive. It can be plugged directly into a computer, PC or Mac, and can be used with Android or iOS devices with an adaptor (included). The receiver included in the iSolo-Live package is the size of a small effects box, and has an attached rotatable antenna, volume control, low cut control, and a line out to send the signal to an amp or PA. The Live receiver supports multiple channels to allow different performers to use iSolo systems on stage at once.
The Transmitter is the most ingenious part of the iSolo package. It is small, lightweight, and most importantly, attaches quickly and easily with no modifications to the guitar. There are three options for mounting the transmitter. The first is the “Magic Carpet,” a small foam sponge-like pad that adheres to the guitar with a quick press, and removes with a simple twist, seemingly like magic. With the device attached to the guitar top, the mic can be routed into the soundhole and positioned to taste. An alternate mount allows the transmitter to be clipped onto the soundhole, with the device inside the guitar, nearly invisible. A third mount, still being developed, allows the transmitter to float across the soundhole, much like a magnetic soundhole pickup.
One obvious concern is the impact of the rubber mounts on the guitar finish. I noticed that, as the company claims, the Magic Carpet mount leaves no residue, and the company says they have tested the iSolo with fine violin finishes with no problem. However, it would be prudent to limit the time the iSolo is in contact with your instrument, and remove it when you are not using it. I had no problem with the Magic Carpet staying in place, but
I can imagine it might lose its staying power over time. The product includes several replacement pads, and the company says cleaning with water restores the stickiness.
Using the iSolo is extremely simple. I plugged in the iSolo Live Receiver, pushed the pairing button to connect the transmitter, and immediately heard sound from my amplifier. After pressing the transmitter onto the top of my guitar and running the mic into the soundhole, I was rewarded with an impressively accurate sound. The tone of the mic doesn’t have quite as much presence as a high-quality external microphone, but is far more realistic than traditional pickups. The gooseneck allows you to alter the sound by changing the mic location, so some experimentation can help fine-tune your result. The mic appears to be optimized for locations inside the guitar—although it is possible to keep it outside of the guitar—and has less of a boomy, bottom-of-the-well sound than typical internal guitar mics. Especially when paired with the Live Receiver, a combination of mic placement and low cut filter allowed me to dial in a top-notch sound easily.
Using the recording receiver was equally straightforward. My Mac recognized the device as an audio interface as soon as I plugged it in. There are no controls on the recording receiver, so the only operation is to set up pairing between it and the transmitter. I was also able to record to my iPhone using GarageBand simply by connecting the receiver using the supplied USB to Lightening adaptor cable. Although there’s no low pass filter or volume on the recording receiver, you can adjust EQ and levels on your recording software.
Feedback & Other Practical Issues
Feedback is always a concern with amplified acoustics. With the iSolo, it’s important to realize that the device is a real microphone, and therefore no different from any mic with regards to feedback. If your stage volume allows you to use a traditional mic on a stand, the iSolo should work great. The iSolo may be even a bit less feedback-prone than a stand-mounted mic, since the mic can be partially shielded inside the guitar. But if you play in a loud rock band, or stand in front of loud wedge monitors, feedback is a potential challenge with any mic, including the iSolo.
One issue with attached mics is that they tend to pick up body noises from the guitar. This can be a desirable feature – playing percussion on your guitar top, for example, but you may also be surprised by how many extraneous sounds you hear from the guitar rubbing against your body, arm movement, and so on. The gooseneck on the iSolo provides some isolation from vibration, as does the Magic Carpet, but the mic picks up all sounds quite effectively, so it can’t totally exclude unwanted sounds.
For live use, the iSolo receiver needs to be fairly close to you. Within about 15 feet, the sound is uncompressed, but between 15 and 30 feet, you will get reduced sound quality. You may also experience signal drops at longer distances. So you probably can’t plan to place the receiver in the back of a large venue with the sound guy. But the design lends itself to mounting along with effects boxes on your pedal board, or sitting on top of your amplifier, both of which should be well within range in most stage setups.
For home recording, the iSolo may be an attractive option for guitarists with less than optimal room acoustics. With the mic inside the guitar, it is less sensitive to external noise, reverberant rooms, and more. It also provides an easy solution for portable recording. With your smartphone and the iSolo, you can record anywhere from the subway to the beach, making it a great way to capture audio for location videos.
A Creative Solution
The iSolo is a creative solution to amplification for acoustic guitar, as well as other instruments. The device is well-designed, and seems reasonably rugged. I wish the recording receiver supported 24-bit audio, and the rechargeable battery life is a concern. But for those looking for a better sound than you can get from traditional pickups, or those who want to avoid modifications to their guitars, or want to easily move a single system between guitars, the iSolo is hard to beat. For both recording and live performance, good sound and ease-of-use make the iSolo a welcome addition to any acoustic guitarist’s toolkit.
At a Glance
Size: 1 inch x 3/8 inch by 2 ¼ inches; weight 1 ounce
Integrated mic on gooseneck
3 switchable volume levels
16 bit/48Khz USB receiver/audio interface for Mac, PC, or iOS and Android devices with adaptor
Volume and low-cut controls
Battery and connection indicators
Rotatable directional antenna
9-volt power adaptor
12-20ms latency, 2Kohm output impedance
Range up to 30 feet
iSolo-Recording, $199; iSolo-Live, $299; iSolo-Live & Recording, $349
Made in Taiwan
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.