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Bassbalsereit „Studio“ – pickup review

Discussion in 'Amps, Mics & Pickups [DB]' started by William Hoffman, Sep 28, 2010.

  1. William Hoffman

    William Hoffman Supporting Member

    Jul 25, 2009
    Lodi, California
    I went to Willi Balsereit’s luthery Diastrad e.K. in the old town of Cologne last week and tried out all three Bassbalsereit pickups. For your info, Willi Balsereit invented and patented the original Balsereit pickup some 20 years ago. But several years ago Michael Schäfer, a bassist with a computer and electronics background, took the old version of the piezo pickup to a higher level with his new generation of the old Balsereit, including two new “active” versions. I spoke with Mr. Balsereit briefly and also in more detail with Mr. Schäfer and Jonas Lohse prior to going to Cologne. I used an AI Focus III and a Wizzy 10 for this, borrowing a truly wonderful Pöllmann from the Diastrad shop. I am, for the record, not associated in any way with any maker or seller of this equipment, and am reviewing this only because there was a definite lack of information here on TB about this pickup.

    All 3 Bassbalsereits require a cone-shaped hole in the bridge, which is drilled through the bridge from bottom up using a standard size cello reamer. This means the Bassbalsereit pickup has a highly advantageous position. Unlike other pickups, it does not sit between the bridge foot and top, or between wing and leg, or anywhere else on the surface of the bridge, but is embedded inside the wood of the bridge itself at a point that has been electronically determined to pick up the vibrations best. That point, according to Mr. Schäfer and Dr. Uta Führer, a luthier at the Diastrad shop, is on the E bridge “leg” just opposite or under the wingtip. Mr. Schäfer advised me that, for a darker sounding bass, the hole should be closer to the “heart”. All 3 versions have the ability to adjust tone and volume by moving the brass cone in the hole, looser or tighter for more volume, or turning it clock- or counterclockwise to change the tonal quality. This requires some experimentation to find the richest tone on any given bass.

    The “Standard” Bassbalsereit is an “improved” version of the original pickup. Asked what the improvement was, Mr. Schäfer told me that a more accurate manufacturing process for the brass cone results in a better pickup. He also said that the piezo element in the Standard is larger than in the other two versions. Unlike the other two versions, the Standard requires a preamp and does not require phantom power. So how did the Standard sound? I plugged the XLR cable into an F-Deck preamp using a straight adapter plug, and from there into the AI. I left the HPF off at first. Other piezos (Bass Max, DBTwin, etc) could be compared, but the best comparison for me here is to David Gage’s Realist. This is a piezo-to-piezo comparison – the basic difference is the location of the Bassbalsereit’s element inside the bridge leg, while the Realist is sandwiched under the bridge foot on the top. To my ear, the Bassbalsereit is punchier, clearer (less grain), and brighter sounding than the Realist, while the Realist has a darker tone, more grain (less clarity), and less string articulations. Unlike the Realist, the Bassbalsereit Standard lost its clarity less at a higher volume, although it had increasing grain. The Standard kept its clarity, punch, and overall brightness even on the lower notes on the bass and at higher volumes. At one point, when I had pushed the cone very tightly into the hole, the volume was of course immediately higher and this produced feedback with the bass facing the Wizzy 10 at a distance of about 3 feet. But the pickup is not prone to feedback under normal conditions at all. In sum, the Standard is a good piezo pickup, perhaps even an exceptionally good one, but not really the “sea change” I was hoping for.

    Impressed favorably but not overwhelmed, I moved on to try the other two. I skipped the intermediate “Aktiv” version for the moment and went straight to Mr. Schäfer’s top model, the “Studio” (a slightly misleading name, because this version is also good for amp use on smaller or large gigs via house). By the way, the brass cone is identical in all three versions, and the main differences are in the electronics contained in the outgoing XLR jacks attached to the element, which jacks, depending what version you are talking about, have different sizes. The “Studio” is the fully symmetric version with 2 tiny phantom-power driven preamps built into the pickup itself and has the largest jack (see photo of my bass taken this morning). The Studio requires fully balanced amp input jacks and phantom power (any voltage between +7 to +48 V will do), which means that it will work well with an AI Focus or Clarus III head. Soundwise, having just tried out the Standard, the Studio’s sound was a startling improvement. The Studio provided an incredible degree of clarity without any noticeable grain and without any other sound except the bass. No thick muddy “piezo pick up” sound here. My immediate feeling was: “Yes, it’s a piezo, but it doesn’t sound like one, sounds more microphone-like than any piezo I have tried.” The Studio transmitted deep, fat low notes without losing clarity, even at higher volume. The main benefit of full symmetry and a preamp built into the pickup, however, is, according to Mr. Schäfer, the absence of cable noise. When you are not playing it, you don’t hear a thing. When you play it, you hear your bass at your bass and also exactly your bass coming out of the speaker, with all the nuances and variations of right-hand technique. Clarity, depth, true bass sound. This for me was the sea change I was hoping for, it was like going from mono to stereo. I confess, folks, I bought it on the spot. But not before trying out the Aktiv.

    Finally, just to complete the tour, I tried the intermediate version, the “Aktiv”. This version is not symmetric but asymmetric, so soundwise you expect to hear more noise. The Aktiv will work with balanced or unbalanced input jacks, while the Studio requires balanced input jacks. The Aktiv also requires phantom power to drive a tiny preamp located in the pickup, but, unlike the Studio, the Aktiv requires phantom power provided only (according to Diastrad) by a DI box specially designed for the Aktiv. I was surprised to learn that, so I tried it first using only the AI head’s phantom power, but this pickup did not work well at all that way. However, with the Bassbalsereit DI box hooked up, the Aktiv version worked very well. Sound? My first impression was that the Aktiv’s sound is somewhere “between” the Standard and the Studio. More clarity than the Standard but less clarity and more grain than the Studio. For me, an important consideration was the necessity of the DI box (another box to lug around and set up). But after having heard the Studio (which needs no DI box), I can say that the Standard and Aktiv versions, soundwise, while they are very good piezo pickups, clearly play second fiddle to the Studio. The Studio, to my ear, is by far and away on a level of sound quality that all other piezo pickups I have tried to date do not attain. I can (w)hole-heartedly :D recommend the Studio if it might fit your needs.

    Let me also say why the Bassbalsereit Studio is what I was looking for. I play a '93 Gruenert, a fairly heavy student 3/4 size bass with a thicker rather than thinner top. It has a darker sound, but responds well to higher tension strings with a mids presence, e.g., Spiro Mittels with a Stark E. After working with several different pickups, I knew I wanted one with a sound that has bass body in it any yet also some brightness, punch, and clarity. I didn't get all of that from the other pickups. It seemed the Bassbalsereit might give me that, and it turns out to be the right pickup for what I want on this bass. The high quality of the sound amplified through the fully symmetrical electronics that Mr. Schäfer has developed were, for me, just a plus and a welcome surprize. Given my specific need, this may not be the pickup for just any bass and you would need to think it through and go and try one out.

    One final note: I asked the obvious question you all would have regarding whether or not the drilling of a hole in my precious bridge would diminish the sound of my bass. Dr. Ute Führer of Diastrad gave me the surprising answer that no, no diminution of sound is involved, and that holes are part of a bass bridge’s structure and holes actually tend to strengthen bridges. Without testing it electronically, I cannot confirm that the new hole in my bridge had no effect, but to my ear my bass sounds even better this morning than before the hole was drilled (owing perhaps in part to the fact that over the weekend I thinned the bridge top out a tiny bit and improved the bridge string grooves, and removed the Realist from under the bridge foot). :smug:

    End of long-winded review.

    Attached Files:

  2. William Hoffman

    William Hoffman Supporting Member

    Jul 25, 2009
    Lodi, California
    Here another shot of the Bassbalsereit "Studio". I set it up with self-adhesive strips of velcro so the XLR jack sticks to the underside of the TP.

    Attached Files:

  3. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    Nice review William - very thorough. Now I want to hear one myself! ;)
  4. William Hoffman

    William Hoffman Supporting Member

    Jul 25, 2009
    Lodi, California
    Thanks, Jake. It was confusing at first to sort out all the differences. I hope it is useful to someone! Be well!
  5. Hey William,

    not with the Ehrlund anymore? Or am I remembering wrong?


  6. geoffbassist

    geoffbassist UK Double Bassist Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jul 17, 2006
    Founder - Discover Double Bass
    Hi William.
    Thanks for the great review.
    Cheers Geoff
  7. William Hoffman

    William Hoffman Supporting Member

    Jul 25, 2009
    Lodi, California
    Sidecar, I use the Ehrlund on the other bass all the time... with guts.

    I've added in a note above to say why the Bassbalsereit Studio was what I was looking for. On the '93 Gruenert, a fairly heavy student 3/4 size bass with a thicker rather than thinner top, I get a darker sound overall, but it responds well to Spiro Mittels with a Stark E.

    I wanted a pickup that accurately relates not only the bass body sound but also the brightness, punch, and clarity of the bass. It seemed the Bassbalsereit might give me all of that, given its position. Actually, it gives more, given the quality of the sound. So the Studio turned out to be the right pickup for what I want on that bass.

    I wouldn't necessarily recommend this pickup blindly to anyone or for any and all basses. But it might be worth checking out for anyone interested.

    Cheers, Bill
  8. William Hoffman

    William Hoffman Supporting Member

    Jul 25, 2009
    Lodi, California
    One further note on the Bassbalsereit Studio. As noted, this version needs not only phantom power but balanced XLR input jacks. Apparently, not all heads have that, even if they have XLR inputs.

    For example, the Bassbalsereit Studio did not work with my EA Doubler. It produced a hum, indicating something is lacking there. Since the Doubler has adequate phantom power, I assume the XLR input jack is not correct. EA says it is "balanced low impedance" and the Studio may require a high impedance input jack. There may be another explanation, and perhaps Mike Dimin can explain. But clearly, the Bassbalsereit Standard version would work with the EA Doubler, provided a preamp is also used, as would the Aktiv version with the DI box.

    Edit: Since writing the above, Mike put me in contact with Gary at EA Amps. Gary tells me that Doublers that were made more than one year ago, i.e., before about Fall 2009 or so, would give a humming sound when used with a pickup that draws strongly on the phantom power. He said this problem has been repaired in many units and in all units since then. He will repair mine for me, so if that is so, then the Bassbalsereit should also work well with the EA Doubler.

    The good news however is that the Studio works wonderfully with all Acoustic Image heads. Not only with the Series III Focus and Clarus, but even with my old Coda Series II (anno 2003). I tried the Coda out yesterday -- rich sound and noiseless backrground. I contacted Rick at AI and he confirmed that all AI heads have always had balanced XLR input jacks. So at least for AI users, this pickup is worth checking out.
  9. jonas


    Dec 9, 2003
    Frankfurt am Main/Germany
    Kontrabass-Atelier, Lando Music (Germany)
    If you need to be more flexible – e.g. if you often use different amps, with or w/out balanced input – the combination of the Standard model (passive) with ANS cable DI (same electronics as in the Studio model) is a good option, too.
  10. JOR


    Jun 15, 2016
    Are you still satisfied with this pickup?
    I'm thinking of trying one of the models, looking for something in the middle of Wilson and Realist in sound. And of course most of my bass own sound.


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