From the March/April 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY EDDIE SCHER
Projecting the tone and dynamics of an acoustic instrument at volume shouldn’t be that difficult. But with sound reinforcement, it’s often the simplest things that are the biggest challenges. You can dial in your tone to perfection at home, but say hello to a drummer, or the rowdy party at table two, or the big bouncy brick wall in the back of the room, and amplification can get very complicated, very quickly.
A pickup plugged into an amplifier gives you the most control. But now you’ve reinvented the Telecaster, and any change in volume is going to have a big influence on how you sound. A microphone is the best way to preserve the response and tone of an acoustic instrument, but playing into a microphone quickly loses its charm when you realize that even slight movements can change everything. Oh, and feedback.
The CloudVocal iSolo Choice is a wireless condenser microphone specifically designed to capture the full dynamics and tone of an acoustic guitar, attach and detach easily from your instrument, and free you from dangling wires.
Elegant Apple-like design makes setting up and syncing the pickup/transmitter and preamp/receiver straightforward. The microphone unit is tiny, smaller than a business card, and its metal enclosure is finished in an unobtrusive matte black. There are two microphones: one on the underside of the unit that picks up vibrations directly from the soundboard, the other on a flexible gooseneck that allows you to move the microphone around to find the tone you’re looking for. Sonically, it’s just like having a condenser mic in front of the instrument, except that it moves with the guitar and stays clear out of your way.
The kit comes with three mounting options. The pickup fits snuggly into a soft rubber soundhole cover that reduces feedback. Another option is a soft rubber mount that suspends the pickup above the soundhole. The mounts are available in two sizes to fit classical or acoustic guitar soundholes. Both worked great with my trusty Gibson and a borrowed Martin.
Things got more interesting when using the two-sided sticky tape mount. I switched between two recent National resonator guitars and two vintage archtops dozens of times. None of these instruments are easy to amplify. It took me a while before I was willing to try the sticky tape on my prewar guitars, but when I did I found applying and removing the mic was simple and didn’t leave any residue. The tape holds the mic tightly to the guitar, and the kit includes a storage card you stick the microphone unit onto to keep dust and debris off the sticky pad, so the same pad should last a long time.
For each guitar I was able to quickly find the ideal place to position the transmitter and gooseneck mic. On the archtops, the sweet spot was behind the bridge with the gooseneck pointed into an f-hole. The mic delivered the punchy midrange that makes these guitars ideal for swing comping and Gypsy jazz. On the resonators, I was happiest with the unit positioned on the lower bout, out of the way, with the gooseneck reaching up into the grill to capture deep growls. The mic delivered the wide dynamic range, overtones, and harmonics of a metal slide moving on metal strings through metal cones without any of the non-musical thumps you can get with the wrong setup—especially when you hit open-tuned strings hard.
The mic unit has an on/off button and a three position-gain switch—all the controls I needed, as the preamp/receiver unit includes controls for treble and bass EQ, and gain, and master volume. A mixer control on the receiver allows you to blend another pickup to the iSolo’s sound. There are also four built-in effects: room and hall reverbs, chorus, and delay, with separate controls to dial in the effect parameter—the extent or speed of the effect—and a dial to control the wet/dry blend. In just a few minutes, I was able to find a great modern acoustic-bluesman wet chorus tone and rockabilly slap-back delay. And all that tone control on the preamp means less gear in the gig bag, fewer cables and batteries to worry about. The room and hall tones proved their value in the final important feature of the iSolo—recording.
Open up GarageBand or your recording software of choice, plug the iSolo interface drive, which is basically a USB memory stick, into your computer, and what you play is wirelessly transmitted to your computer as a mono input source. It took me a while to get the interface to work, and the iSolo is such a new offering that I didn’t find a detailed manual or the myriad DIY videos that are usually available for these kinds of products online. But once I established the connection, I was able to get great-sounding recordings from the guitar, beamed directly through the device to the computer.
Reading about the iSolo, I was hoping for a setup that would attach securely and then leave no trace, capture all the tone of my acoustic instruments, and operate simply and reliably to make life on the bandstand easier, and not more complicated. After hours of playing with different instruments and setups, through different amps and PAs, and at an outdoor gig on a crowded stage, the iSolo delivered on its promise.
MICROPHONE TRANSMITTER Condenser mic on flexible gooseneck; built-in soundboard mic; onboard preamp with three gain modes (low, medium, high); USB charger
STAGE RECEIVER 1/4″ instrument input with line/mic level control (0 dB–40 dB gain); 1/4″ balanced/unbalanced out; bass (±6dB@200 Hz) and treble (±6dB@8 kHz) EQ controls; ±6dB gain; 5-hour operation time, near mode (7 hours in far mode); 9-volt DC input for charging
EFFECTS Reverb (hall and room), chorus, and delay with blend level control and effect parameter level control
Made in Taiwan
PRICE $499 street
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.