|Nordic Semiconductor's nRF51822 powers Aalberg Audio's wireless effects pedal for electric guitars
Oslo, Norway - August 20, 2014 - Ultra low power (ULP) RF specialist Nordic Semiconductor ASA (OSE: NOD) today announces that Norwegian startup, Aalberg Audio, is employing Nordic nRF51822 Systems-on-Chip (SoCs) to provide the wireless connectivity in the world's first remote controlled effects pedal for electric guitars. Aalberg Audio says the development represents the biggest evolution of the guitar effects pedal since its earliest use by legendary guitarist Keith Richards on the 1962 Rolling Stones hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction".
Called 'stompboxes' in the guitar industry, effects pedals (which as a category include a variety of wired add-on effects pedals that musicians use to achieve around 15 separate audio effect-types from electric guitars such as 'wah-wah', 'fuzz', 'reverb', and 'tremolo') were used to create some of the most famous sounds of the 1960s and 70s. The pedals were made famous by such legendary early adopters as Jimi Hendrix and The Kinks and have been at the feet of virtually every electric guitar player ever since.
To be introduced on crowd funding website Indiegogo later this month (see
aalbergaudio.com/cfaalberg), Aalberg Audio's solution comprises the "EKKO EK-1" wired delay effects pedal and a light weight (37g), palm-sized (30 x 73 x 43mm) "AERO AE-1" wireless companion controller that is attached to the body or strap of a guitar. The solution allows guitarists to control every effects parameter - including up to three saved presets - on their pedal using their hands from wherever they are on stage (up to a range of 30 meters / 98-feet) rather than being restricted to the position of a conventional foot-operated pedal.
"One of the biggest challenges was making sure that by replacing a hardwired solution we didn't lose the reliability or introduce any wirelessly-induced delays, that guitarists simply would not tolerate, compared to the 'instant response' of a wired connection," comments Aleksander Torstensen, CEO & Co-Founder of Aalberg Audio. "To make things even tougher, we also wanted a single-chip wireless solution with enough memory and processing power to handle what would otherwise demand two chips and lead to a significantly more complicated, costly, and cumbersome product form factor.
Nordic's multiple award-winning nRF51822 is a highly integrated single-chip ULP wireless solution that incorporates a powerful 32-bit ARM Cortex M0 microprocessor, 2.4-GHz multiprotocol radio, up to 256kB of flash memory, and 16kB of RAM. The ARM microprocessor is easily able to handle both RF protocol and application software. Aalberg Audio uses nRF51822 SoCs running a 2.4-GHz proprietary RF protocol software ('stack') but the product can also support Bluetooth Smart® (formerly known as Bluetooth low energy) and ANT+ stacks.
The SoC also features a unique, industry-first software architecture that separates the stack from the application software. This arrangement eases product design because engineers can develop the application code safe in the knowledge that the factory-supplied stack can't be corrupted. This software separation also improves operational reliability and stability.
"The Nordic nRF51822 is designed 'out-of-the-box' to be immune to other nearby 2.4-GHz transmitters [such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi,, and many cordless phones] via its proprietary [Nordic Gazell] frequency agility protocol," continues Torstensen. "This immunity is particularly important in a concert environment as there can be thousands of Bluetooth-equipped cellphones in the audience and we can't afford any interference with our product's wireless operation otherwise the musical performance will be affected.
"The frequency agility protocol automatically looks for an adjacent clear channel if interference is detected so that it can hop to a clear channel before interference becomes severe enough to cause audible delays. In addition, the protocol transmits identical data packets across three channels simultaneously so that if one packet is lost it can be immediately replaced by an alternative one."
The nRF51822 SoC's ultra low power consumption also enables the AERO's rechargeable 3.7V 200mAh lithium-polymer battery to run for an entire day [under typical usage conditions] overcoming the difficulties of having to recharge the product half way through a performance.
"Guitarists have used stationary wired effects pedals for so long that they've learned to live with having to run over to the stompbox in the middle of a song to change effects," continues Torstensen. "But it is restrictive as the guitarist never feels comfortable venturing too far away from their pedals. Our solution is highly liberating because the guitarist can access all our effects no matter where they are on the stage - which is great for creativity and is why I think this product is the next big evolution in effects pedals."
"Creating music with electric instruments is all about controlling sound," adds Jake Hertzog, award-winning jazz guitarist. "The fact that Aalberg's system gives the player greater 'in-the-moment' control of their sound represents a paradigm shift in what can be created with an electric guitar. To have your effects parameters at your fingertips dramatically enhances the playing experience and paves the way for infinite new musical ideas, drawn from this innovative technology."
Aalberg Audio says the EKKO EK-1 delay pedal is also just a first step and that it intends to build a full suite of AERO AE-1 compatible effects pedals in the future.
The AERO is available to order from August 27 direct from the Indiegogo campaign website for (estimated) March 2015 delivery (
aalbergaudio.com/cfaalberg) for $249 to the first 100 'earliest-birds' and $299 to the next 150 'early birds'. A further 1000 units will then be made available for May 2015 delivery (estimated) for $299 along with 10x 5-pack 'reseller' bundles comprising 5x EKKO+AEROs for $1,250 each.
"Nordic is used to seeing many brand new and innovative applications exploiting wireless connectivity using the nRF51822 SoC," says Geir Langeland, Nordic Semiconductor's Director of Sales & Marketing, "but Aalberg Audio's invention adds a wonderful twist to a fifty-year-old product that sits at the heart of some of the most influential classic and modern music culture.
"It's also quite exciting to think that some time in the near future Nordic's technology could be at the heart of a thrilling performance from one of the contemporary guitar greats."