Smart learning uke fattens the tone with built-in pre-amp
PopuMusic has followed its learning ukulele from 2017 and last year's acoustic guitar – each featuring follow-me LED lighting in the neck – with a new version of the uke that rocks a different shape and features a built-in pre-amp with effects.
Learning to play an instrument can be a tough proposition, though technology can help – such as software-triggered platforms where students follow LEDs on keyboards and necks to nail songs and techniques quickly.
PopuMusic (formerly PopuBand) has been making LED-guided ukuleles and guitars for a few years now, and the Populele 2 Pro is the latest to join the family. The idea is that students place their fretting fingers on the neck positions illuminated by embedded LEDs, with connected software taking care of timings so that learners get to strum along to favorite tunes faster than doing so using tablature or music score.
The 610 x 210 x 70.8-mm (24 x 8.2 x 2.7-in), 800-g (28-oz) Pro rocks 56 follow-me LED lights embedded in the ABS neck (which are powered by two AAA-sized batteries), features an offset soundhole and larger soundboard than the first generation U1 uke for a brighter sound and more presence, and benefits from carbon fiber composite construction, which means that the instrument won't be affected by humidity or cold. PopuMusic has opted for PVDF carbon fiber strings too, which are said to last longer than nylon equivalents.
The smart uke connects to a smartphone or tablet running a new PopuMusic iOS/Android app over Bluetooth 5.0, which wirelessly triggers the LEDs in the neck when learning a song, playing a game or watching a tutorial. The company promises students a "vast song library" to hone their skills, and learners can control playback speed to start slow and move up to the correct tempo in their own time. That said, the company reckons that strummers can learn and play their first song in just 15 minutes.
We tried out the setup on the U1 back in 2017, and though the app we used back then was definitely geared towards younger players, it did have us strumming our first tune in a matter of minutes. The latest app looks to have grown up quite a bit, and is reported to accommodate players of all levels.
One potential downside is that the system relies on the microphone of the device running the app to register the pitch of the strings, though PopuMusic does say that the sound is routed through software-based noise reduction to remove unwanted background noise for improved accuracy.
The Pro also comes with a built-in pre-amp powered by a 1,600-mAh battery that features onboard reverb, chorus and delay effects for a richer unplugged sound, though there is an output jack for cabling up to a powered instrument amplifier or speaker. Battery life is reported to be 10 hours when unplugged, or 20 hours when cabled to an external amp/speaker.
Indiegogo pledges for the Populele 2 Pro start at US$149, with a less capable version (without the pre-amp) also listed for $109. Backers will also receive a VIP card to liberate tutorials and songs normally locked behind a paywall. If all goes to plan, shipping is estimated to start in October. The video below has more.