Review: Wireless Trym floor stomp tweaking with an Aero controller
Back in 2014, Norway's Aalberg Audio hit Indiegogo with the Ekko and Aero, a digital delay stomp for guitar and the means to change its parameters without having to crouch down during a song and twist away at its control knobs. Though the crowdfunding effort proved unsuccessful, the company forged ahead with production anyway and released the novel double act last year. More effects pedals have since been added to the range, including the Trym tremolo unit that Gizmag has spent the last few weeks wirelessly tweaking on-the-fly with the Aero Bluetooth controller.
The tremolo sound is basically a variation in amplitude (not the pitch) of a note or collection of notes. Depending on the chosen speed, wave and depth of the effect, the player can dial in anything from a slow, atmospheric rise and fall to brisk fade in/fade out shudder to something approaching the signal break up caused by a bad instrument cable or dying amp valve. Fine examples of the effect's captivating power can be heard on Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones, Uncloudy Day from the mighty Staples Singers and Green Day's Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
A quick tour of the TR-1
The Trym TR-1 tremolo pedal wears black and bright orange coloring wrapped in textured aluminum for a modern, fun feel. The plastic base is pedalboard-ready out of the box, but includes rubber feet for bedroom floor placement, and, unlike many stomps available today, the unit doesn't have a battery compartment and needs to be powered by a 9 V/250 mA mains adapter (not included).
On the upper face are two footswitches, one to activate the effect or to engage bypass mode (which removes the effect's influence from the signal path) and the other for tap tempo or FX Select (to cycle through active parameters). There are three black plastic knobs in the middle, and above each is a thin level indicator that fills up with light as the knob is turned to the right. The knob to the left adjusts the speed of the effect, the middle knob controls the wave shape (sine to square) and the knob on the right determines depth. The name of the active parameter is backlit when the unit has power.
At the head of the 142 x 93 x 57 mm (5.6 x 3.7 x 2.2 in), 372 g (13 oz) unit are three lights under a plastic orange hood. The one in the center shines to indicate that the unit has power, while the others flash to the set tempo. We found the Trym's lighting particularly useful for visual checks on what's what when ambient lighting was low, such as kicking out the jams at the local club without needing to switch on the pedalboard light or even just dimming the bedroom lights to create the right mood for some laid back noodling.
The Trym can be used as a stand-alone tremolo unit, but really comes alive when paired with the Aero AE-1 wireless controller for effect tweaking right from the guitar.
Getting to know the AE-1
The Aero is about the length of a USB thumb drive, at 73.3 mm (2.9 in), is 43.3 mm (1.7 in) at its widest point, 30.3 mm (1.2 in) high at its tallest, and has the look of a stretched-out guitar pick. Its plastic housing sports a multifunction knob (rotary encoder) up top that's used to alter selected parameter levels, set tap tempo or initiate pedal bypass. Around the edges are five click buttons, a micro-USB port and a power on/off switch. Three of the buttons are used to select or store presets, the other two cycle through the paired pedal's parameters.
The Bluetooth controller comes with a clip for attaching to a guitar strap or belt and two Velcro discs for attaching to an instrument's body and, at 37 g (1.3 oz), is light enough so you won't even notice it being attached. For every 2 hours of charge, its internal battery is reported to give 9 hours of constant use. Daily sessions of an hour or so over the space of just over a month have resulted in the battery being charged just twice from empty (not including the first pre-use top up).
Plug in, set up and rock out
We found synchronizing the Trym and Aero to be pretty straightforward and trouble-free, and should be very familiar to anyone who has paired a smartphone to a Bluetooth speaker. But there are clear step-by-step instructions included in the box for pairing novices. Once completed, there's no need to repeat the process at subsequent power-ons.
In common with other Bluetooth systems, the wireless range between Trym and Aero maxes out at about 30 m (100 ft), though solid objects (such as walls or amp stacks) may cut that back a tad. Selecting presets on the Aero, moving between the three parameters and raising and lowering the chosen parameter brought about the appropriate results pretty much instantaneously, so close to real-time in fact that the hand of our stopwatch didn't get a chance to move.
The Trym can be activated by holding and releasing the multifunction knob for around 2 seconds. While this helps keep bumps and knocks from accidentally altering active parameters on the Trym unit, it does mean keeping a playing hand away from the strings for what can seem like an age (you can always hit the stomp with your foot, of course).
We also found using the knob in this way generally resulted in the active parameter being altered as the freely-moving dial inevitably turned slightly when pressed. Settings stored as presets can be restored with a quick press of a button, but on-the-fly parameter tweaks made before a performance could be in danger. The easiest way to avoid such mishaps is to launch straight into a stored preset by pressing one the preset buttons on the Aero.
The Trym itself proved a very capable tremolo unit. The parameter knobs are not locked to a strict 1 to 10 range, but move freely clockwise or anti-clockwise, with levels indicated by the light bar above. The speed (rate) and depth parameters were pretty much the same as those offered on my usual analog trems of choice, and the range between smooth sine waves and harsher square waves was about par for the course, too.
The 24-bit/48 kHz audio quality was top notch, though the sound did have more of a sharper edge than the TR-2 it replaced on the board during the review. Unlike that Boss unit, the Trym sports stereo and mono in and out jacks for mono, stereo panning, dry/wet split or dual mono configuration options.
Up to three presets can be stored on the Aero controller for quick recall, which is achieved by setting the various parameters to a preferred level using the cycle through buttons and the rotary encoder knob and then pushing and holding one of the three preset buttons until all three parameter labels light up on the pedal.
Though the Trym spent much of its time sat next to the Farmer's Mill on the pedalboard for this review, we did cable it up to the send and return jacks of the FX loop on an amp to activate, modify and call up presets on demand from an effects unit hidden away from sight. And it worked flawlessly, demonstrating the potential to wirelessly dial in and control Aalberg stomps that are part of an off stage effects rig.
The Aero is also reported capable of being used to control up to eight Aalberg pedals simultaneously (though the range as writing consists of just four, the Ekko – delay, Rom – reverb, Trym – tremolo and Kor – chorus/flanger). Once paired, pressing the arrow buttons scrolls through the parameters of the pedals in sequence from left to right. It's also possible to store presets for all active pedals in a chain for quick multi-effects recall and place individual units in bypass mode using the Aero's controls. Since we only had one pedal to play with, we're unable to comment on whether this aspect of the system works as advertised.
The bottom line
Like other Aalberg effects pedals, the Trym has a sturdy build with a reassuring road-ready feel. The lighting used to indicate the active parameter, the effect levels and the tempo were a really useful touch. There were no huge surprises with the range of sounds on offer, but the output did register a little on the harsh side to our ears.
The Aero controller is small enough to attach to a guitar without spoiling the overall aesthetic, depending on where it's placed, it can look like just another of the guitar's own knobs from a distance. It has a big-hand-friendly parameter control knob up top, and intuitively-placed buttons on its edges (though chubby fingers may find them a bit fiddly to operate).
We didn't notice any lag when changes were wirelessly made, and the unit's battery life proved to be darn good. And if the Aero's juice does run dry during a performance, the Trym can still be used on its own.
The ability to store presets on the wireless controller allowed for real-time chopping and changing between some light Link Wray moments, Shaky Horton-inspired cotton patch boogie and, with a little reverb also mixed in, engage in some manic Pipeline-like picking. This would have involved much more time and effort using "normal" effects units, where changing settings mid song or mid session means stopping mid-jam, crouching down and grabbing the relevant dials on the tremolo pedal between thumb and fingers. As such, this feature made it quite a chore to return to non-wireless control.
We reckon Aalberg Audio is onto a winner with this combination of capable floor stomp and on-guitar wireless controller. Highly recommended, though the setup isn't exactly budget-friendly. The Trym TR-1 tremolo pedal is available now for US$299. The Aero AE-1 is priced at $129.