Mi-Si Magpie

Mi-Si

by Teja Gerken

Founded in 2004, Mi-Si Electronics Design is a relative newcomer to the acoustic-guitar amplification world. Based in Massachusetts, Mi-Si makes several pickup systems, some based on undersaddle designs and others using magnetic-pickup technology. But there is one noteworthy feature in all of Mi-Si’s products: instead of using a battery to power active electronics, the company relies on rechargeable technology, which is more friendly to the environment and avoids the hassle of replacing batteries. Mi-Si’s original Acoustic Duo 2 magnetic pickup won an Acoustic Guitar Player’s Choice Award in 2011, and the company recently released an updated version, the Magpie, which I had a chance to check out.

Small & Lightweight

The Magpie is the same shape and size as the original Acoustic Duo 2, but instead of the distinctive brass housing, it uses a more conventional black-plastic enclosure around its single-coil design.

The Magpie also has some new features: rather than using an output cable that is permanently attached, the unit has a minijack on the treble side that can be connected to either a standard strap-button jack installed in the guitar or a longer cable for temporary installation.
The Magpie also includes controls for volume and tone; they’re mounted side-by-side on the bottom of the unit and accessible through the soundhole.

Like many other soundhole pickups, the Mi-Si mounts with a simple clamping mechanism on each end of the pickup—small pieces of cork protect the guitar’s top from the brackets. To install it temporarily, with its cable hanging out of the soundhole, all you’ll need is a Phillips-head screwdriver. I installed the Magpie with the included wiring harness (which includes a minijack for the pickup on one end, and an endpin jack on the other) in a Taylor 712c. Because this guitar already had its endpin hole enlarged to fit a jack from a previous pickup installation, I just needed a small crescent wrench to tighten the endpin jack. If you have a guitar that doesn’t yet have a hole large enough for a jack, it would be wise to leave the installation to a professional.

Charging the pickup is simple. Mi-Si comes with a wall-wart–style power supply with a standard 1/4-inch TRS (tip, ring, sleeve) plug on the end of its cable. Inserting it into the pickup’s output jack for about 60 seconds provides enough charge for eight hours. However, that isn’t just playing time, but total time between charges, as the pickup’s capacitors will only hold their charge for a limited time. Realistically, this means you’ll need to charge the pickup every day you plan to use it. If you forget your charger and find yourself with a dead pickup, you can use a TRS cable and
a nine-volt battery to charge the system by holding the contacts of the battery to the end of the jack (Mi-Si provides instructions for this procedure in the pickup’s manual), but since few guitarists use 1/4-inch TRS cables as part of their setup (they’re typically used as part of a stereo or two-pickup system), it’s a good idea to plan ahead.

Clear, Magnetic-Style Tone

I played my Magpie-equipped Taylor through an AER Compact 60 amp as well as my home studio setup, which includes a Mackie 1202 mixer and M-Audio BX-5 speakers. In both cases, the pickup delivered clear sound with the typical soft attack and great low-end response that are trademarks of high-quality magnetic pickups. A slight upper-midrange accentuation gave the unit a definite pickup sound—the Magpie is not likely to fool anyone into thinking the guitar is being amplified with a microphone. But the kind of assertiveness and clarity offered by a magnetic pickup are required in many situations, especially when playing with a band or at high volume, and the Magpie delivers these qualities in spades. It was also very resistant to feedback, and its single-coil design is surprisingly quiet. Mi-Si says that its unique planar-coil design is less susceptible to AC hum, and judging by the sound of the Magpie, I’d say this design is really effective. The unit’s volume and tone controls worked well, but I would have preferred to have the controls reversed, with the volume control in the more easily reached position near the edge of the soundhole.
Overall, the Mi-Si Magpie is a cool addition to the current crop of magnetic acoustic pickups. The rechargeable active design is unique to Mi-Si, the Magpie is among the smallest soundhole pickups available, and its onboard controls add useful functionality.

Specs Planar single-coil design.
Active, capacitor-powered electronics.
Volume and tone controls. 1 Kohm output.
4 1/8 inches x 1/2 inch x 1 1/8 inches.
Includes AC charger and wiring harness
with prewired endpin jack. Made in USA.
Price $244.95 list/$186 street
mi-si.com

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar February 2014

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