Posted by Doug Young
L.R. Baggs has been providing innovative amplification solutions for acoustic guitarists for decades. Consequently, anticipation has been running high since it announced its latest system, the Anthem, which combines a new microphone design, which Baggs calls the Tru-Mic, with the well-regarded Baggs Element undersaddle pickup and an unobtrusive set of controls that fit inside the soundhole. Systems that combine two or more types of pickups or internal microphones are not new, of course, and the Baggs Dual Source system has been a popular choice for years. But the Anthem takes a novel approach, relying on the microphone as the primary sound source while using a crossover circuit to allow the Element to handle just the lower frequencies. In addition to the main Anthem system, Baggs is also offering the Anthem SL ($289 list/$199 street), a simpler unit with fixed settings between the Tru-Mic and Element pickup with soundhole-mounted volume and mic-level trim controls. We took a look at the full Anthem system, installed by Baggs in an all-mahogany Larrivée L05-MT guitar.
Mic Is Primary SourceIn most dual-source systems that include microphones, the microphone is meant to add only a little “air” to the primary pickup, but Baggs has turned this idea around so that the Anthem’s microphone is the primary sound source, at least for frequencies above 250 Hz. Below 250 Hz, the sound is provided by the Element, with the split managed by a fixed-frequency electronic crossover circuit incorporated in the all-discreet internal preamp.
Instead of being placed inside the soundhole like most internal mics, the shock-mounted microphone sits inside a rectangular plastic housing attached with double-sided tape to the bridge plate, a location commonly used by soundboard pickups such as the Baggs iBeam. Some may be concerned about the sonic impact of attaching an object to the bridge plate, but the Tru-Mic is remarkably lightweight (only half an ounce) and should have no noticeable impact on a guitar’s acoustic sound.
The Tru-Mic uses noise-cancellation techniques to reduce the boxy sound usually associated with internal microphones and sits just three millimeters above the surface of the bridge plate,reducing feedback potential. Baggs says that this close placement works on a boundary-effect principle, effectively averaging the sound over the entire top of the guitar.
The full Anthem system includes a small set of controls that sit neatly inside the soundhole. The controls include volume, a handy battery-check feature with an animated row of battery-strength indicator lights, a phase switch, and a mix control, all easily accessible. An additional recessed mic trim control can be reached with a small screwdriver to adjust the volume of the microphone relative to the Element.
Mix and Crossover Controls
To dial in the best sound, it helps to understand the mix control. It’s easiest to think of the Anthem’s two sources as the Tru-Mic and the Element, ignoring the fact that the Tru-Mic is always augmented by the Element at low frequencies to some degree. With the mix control fully toward the neck, the sound comes from the Tru-Mic. Rotating the mix control toward the bridge blends in more of the direct Element until the sound consists of the Element alone in the extreme position. In between, you get a mix of the direct Element sound and the Tru-Mic, providing a range of useful colors. To my ears, the most natural sound comes from using the 100 percent Tru-Mic setting—with the Element providing only the low frequencies, but you might choose to use the Element alone for higher-volume situations or a blend of the two sources for some tonal variety.
To further tweak the sound, you can also use the recessed trim control to adjust the volume of the mic relative to the Element in the crossover circuitry, essentially balancing the high and low frequencies, because the mic handles only frequencies above 250 Hz. This is not an adjustment you would typically make on a gig; it’s intended to fine-tune the system to account for differences in guitars, installations, or your playing style.
Loud and Natural Sound
I played the Anthem through several different sound systems, from a small combo amp to studio monitors. I was able to dial in a pleasant sound on my AER AcousticCube after rolling off a bit of the high end, but the tone through larger full-range systems was far more impressive. Using a Pendulum SPS-1 preamp to feed a pair of powered JBL EON PA speakers provided a huge sound, with sparkling trebles, warm mids, and big solid lows, and the sound through a pair of midfield studio monitors came the closest to the fabled “like my guitar, only louder” amplification ideal I have heard from anything other than a pure microphone. Fingerpicking the Anthem through the larger systems produced a warm, natural tone with just the right amount of presence, while strumming hard created a shimmering sound with no sign of breaking up and plenty of low end. With all sound systems, there was no trace of the boxiness often associated with internal microphones.
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The flatter full-range systems were also very feedback resistant. I achieved a volume level far louder than I’d need with no hint of feedback through both the studio monitors and the PA system. However, I encountered high-pitched squeals with the full-mic position at modest levels when facing the combo amp. Of course, in challenging situations, it is possible to use the Element pickup alone.
Given the quality of the live sound through my studio monitors, I was anxious to try recording, and the results were very satisfying. In a simultaneous A/B recording with a high-quality condenser tube microphone (a Brauner VM1), I slightly preferred the ambience of the external microphone for fingerpicking parts, but a flatpicked lead sounded better with the Anthem. The Anthem tracks had a trace of the characteristic Element sound on bass notes, and the mic tracks had more room sound, but the differences were subtler than I expected. While recording, I especially appreciated the Anthem’s natural decay. Many pickups give themselves away with an unnatural sustain, but the Anthem’s response and behavior was identical to the unamplified Larrivée, even reproducing string squeaks with slightly unnerving accuracy. At the same time, I was able to play along with drum loops with no bleed into the guitar track, without using headphones. All in all, the Anthem produced a recorded sound I’d be happy to use as a final take in many situations, and being able to record and overdub without microphones and headphones makes recording fast and easy.
Impressive Mic and Pickup System
While many companies are pursuing modeling approaches to overcome the limitations of traditional pickups, Baggs has chosen to take a decidedly different direction, and the results are impressive. Because so much of the Anthem’s sound comes from the microphone, I suspect the Anthem will respond differently to each guitar and to each player’s touch, so your results may vary. But if you’re looking for a more natural amplified sound, the Anthem might be just what you’ve been waiting for.