MiSi Acoustic Trio Air Ukulele - The new 'best pickup ever' - is it worth the extra money?
Living with the MiSi Air! Is it worth the extra money? Also, just how useful is an internal microphone in the live setting?
Southern Ukulele Store and the newly relaunched MiSi Air have a bit of a love/hate relationship. Back in 2016 we were one of the first European MiSi dealers to really get onboard with the 1.0 design - I mean what could go wrong with an incredibly quick and relatively painless installation process? The original MiSI air was an end pin jack socket with a tiny world class condenser Microphone soldered onto the board. It would take about 5 minutes to install and in theory would provide the purest sound ever heard on a Ukulele through an amp. Except of course, when it wasn't.
The problems with the original MiSi Air were because the microphone was too strong and just too damn good. It picked up everything from the sound of clothing on the instrument to internal bracing movement, the sound of strings stretching (no joke!) and on one absolutely amazing and unforgettable occasion - it actually picked up the sound of my heartbeat! The system worked but the extreme sensitivity of the microphone seemed to do more to hinder the users amplified Ukulele sound than enhance it. We tried several different MiSi Air's in several different instruments before conceding that this incarnation of the pickup just wasn't going to work without some adjustments to the settings and we quietly.
Fast-forward to 2019 and we had the pleasure of spending some time in MiSi's company at the NAMM show. They have taken the ever popular Acoustic Trio undersaddle pickup and added the condenser Microphone to the circuit to make the new MiSi Acoustic Air Trio UKE. The way MiSi have made this system work is extremely clever - the Capacitor driven active circuitry remains in place but the Jack Socket mains charger now charges two separate capacitors and a two button soundhole mounted control that allows you to blend the undersaddle piezo and condenser microphone to your output mix completely independently of each other.
Is there an easier way to word that? There must be... Basically, in the soundhole are two wheels. One acts as a volume for the ever reliable undersaddle system and the other acts as a volume for the condenser microphone.
Before concluding whether this new system would work practically for the gigging musician, I volunteered my Kanile'a Tenor Ukulele to be the guinea pig. So with little ceremony we removed my existing MiSi Acoustic Trio and slotted the new system in its place and left me for a couple of weeks to go and do some home recording, gigging and general playing around to see what the benefits and/or negatives of this system actually are.
So... Is it worth the extra money?
The Air system is about 50GBP more than the normal MiSi Acoustic Trio. The first thing I noticed that some people may need to consider is that the output of the system is about 70% that of the normal Acoustic Trio. When plugged into my AER, I did have to boost my overall volume on my Ukulele channel a little bit which is fine for me but would pose as a bit of a problem to someone using a smaller amplifier or relying on the sound engineer at the open mic night to make them sound their best. The condenser mic is definitely a nice addition and creates lots of tonal options.
For those desperate to know how it affects the sound - the best description I can give is that when turned up to 30% volume the microphone creates a slightly more natural crisper sound when you pick but as you roll the wheel up to halfway the sound can become quite thin with lots of background noise and slightly crunchy if you strum a chord with a lot of force.
I found myself quickly relying on the normal Acoustic Trio undersaddle pickup to create the cleaner, better plugged in sound whilst sound checking at the first gig I played. You start to get your money's worth when you introduce the microphone at low volumes in addition to the undersaddle piezo. If you were to turn the piezo off and lift the volume up past 60% on the microphone you would get a bit of squealing feedback and the sound of the Ukulele would be unusable - compressed, brittle and slightly distorted - not at all practical and had I done this I would have never been invited back to play that restaurant again!
Well, when you find that sweet spot and use the microphone as an accent to the main undersaddle piezo I found I was getting glimpses of the holy grail. the microphone adds some character to the overall sound and I felt like I could hear more of the actual tone woods of my Ukulele than you can when you rely solely on the undersaddle piezo. If you are a heavy player - don't buy this pickup - An active condenser microphone is just not the right tool for that job. If however, you play more of a melodic single note Hawaiian style or incorporate melody into the chords you are picking/strumming and you have mastered dynamics in your playing then having the microphone there just to top up as the supporting act to your normal piezo pickup then it's definitely worth paying the extra to have the microphone there when you need it. two weeks on, I am still experimenting with it but I did decide to keep it, pay the difference and not go back to my Acoustic trio even if some gigs I won't blend the microphone into my overall mix at all.
It's funny really... I was prepared to not like this pickup at all but the only thing I found really negative about it is the twin volume wheels which will be too small for a Soprano/Concert and can look a little bit ugly when you look inside the soundhole of your Tenor/Baritone.
My advice going forward to customer looking for the best pickup for their Ukulele is to really analyse how they play before choosing which pickup to install. The MiSi Acoustic Trio Air is a great pickup that adds another element to the tonal possibilities a player will have at their fingertips when they get to the gig. If you already have a good grasp on your electrified Ukulele sound then this will feel like an upgrade but if you aren't completely in control of how your instrument will sound to your audience, rely on shared band PA equipment or a higher overall output and/or if you are fairly heavy handed then it might make more sense to opt for the tried and tested Acoustic Trio undersaddle and save yourself a few quid.
I hope this helps?
Until next time