Review: Audio Sprockets ToneDexter Acoustic Preamp/EQ

My buddy Rob has been pestering me about how great this device is for a month, now. He finally made it down with it the other day to impress me. Let me cut to the chase: I am effing impressed. I am so effing impressed that I asked him to come back the next day so I could shoot a few photos of it. It turns-out he needed to because he wanted to get a second guitar of his hooked-up with this using one of my mics.

This is basically a computerized 2000-band equalizer that automatically converts your acoustic guitar (or acoustic whatever) pickup signal from its semi-ok, mostly-untrue sound into something that sounds like a decent mic in front of your guitar. It really is that good.

Step one is to plug your guitar into it via the usual 1/4" jack. Rob's guitars both have K&K pickups in them, which are my go-to brand for acoustic instruments. Then you get an XLR cable (preferably a good-quality one with low capacitance...) and hook-up a natural-sounding condenser mic to it...

Here I've got my Sennheiser MK4 jacked-in about a foot and a half from Rob.

Then you find an open slot on the ToneDexter's 22 preset slot-list to make a new "profile" for your guitar and its pickup. After that you engage its training mode and in a minute or two of playing, the ToneDexter learns how to EQ your pickup's signal so that it matches-up to the frequency response and body tone (read: natural reverb/decay of your guitar body's internal volume/airspace) and then you're done.

In two or three tries at this, you will find one that is -- for all intents and purposes -- just as good as sticking a mic in front of your guitar and holding real still for your performance... without having to do that. It EQs the pickup signal so you can do-away with the mic during performance. It's crazy.

I got to listen to Rob (playing his OM-42, above) on the headphones hooked into the device as he went through this process on two different guitars. It figured them out quickly. My ears heard it go through phases of adding slapback delay and/or reverb and toning it down as well as changing all sorts of EQ band responses until it'd tailored it to the sound that the mic was getting. It's amazing and wonderful to hear it work -- because it does.

I will say that mic choice and location makes a gigantic difference in the overall result, however. I heard some settings Rob had recorded with different mics (a cheap MXL pencil condenser and my friend Greg's Ear Trumpet Labs mic). Unsurprisingly, he got the best results when he hooked it into my Sennheiser pointing roughly at his soundhole. It's probably not because the Sennheiser is better (though I have a thing for their products), but that it's better for the job as it's got a flatter response and fuller body to the sound.

The Ear Trumpet mics are excellent gigging condenser mics as they reject feedback and scoop the signal into mostly mids and highs so you get a lot of clarity from a single-mic setup. The MXL pencil condenser... well, it's just an MXL condenser. They sound like a mic, at least.

Anyhow, check this product out. I have a feeling that this is absolutely not the kind of thing you want to use if you're looking for that midsy "cutting" piezo tone to work with a rock band or for high-volume applications. It is exactly what you do want to have if you want to sound like you're playing through a mic and all of the full-spectrum sound that implies. It's perfect for someone playing acoustic material in duo-to-quartet environments that are not muddied-up with all sorts of other noise. If you've played with only mics on acoustics and voice in a live setting, you know how that sound can sometimes get covered-up due to the nature of the setting you're playing-in or the band members you're playing with.


Rob Gardner said…
Very nice post, Jake. These things really are kind of magical. I don't know by what mathematical craziness they figure out what they do, but it sure works. A lot of players have gone through a whole lot of pre-amps and dollars trying to improve on under-saddle and soundboard pickups, but the Tonedexter is the first device I have seen that really makes your guitar sound like your guitar only louder, like it was in front of a mike. Looks like I need a haircut, though...

Hello Jake, enjoyed reading this review.
I also posted a review on the UK Acoustic Soundboard forum, and it has had an amazing response. Take a look!