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Anthem vs Session VTC vs Session DI

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  • Anthem vs Session VTC vs Session DI


    I have a multitiered question I'd like to ask to Caleb or any other knowledgeable person from LR Baggs or the forum. It's a multilayered concern/ indecision problem that I have and I feel I must explain myself in detail. Thus, apologies beforehand for the length of this post and the wall of text that's about to ensue.

    A bit of context first. My pride and joy is a Gibson J200 on which I installed a M1 Active years ago. Although the M1A has done me well and has satisfied me over the years, I've grown bored of its metallic sound. I also own a Gigpro pre amp which I've ocassionally used for taming a bit its overtly bright/metallic sound as well as other frequencies towards a more balanced sound. Mind you, its not that I dislike the M1a, it certainly has a character that has its uses, it's just that now I'm after a more natural sound, one that does justice to a beautifully aged, opened up, j200 jumbo acoustic sound. Having in mind this context, I've narrowed down four options to follow, and I want YOU to help me weigh them in and tell me what would YOU choose if u were in my place. Here they are:

    OPTION #1: Anthem. This is the option I am more inclined towards given all the reviews I've read, videos I've watched, sound samples heard, etc. The only problem I have is that (a) kinda concerned of how would the mass of that big preamp unit will affect the unplugged sound of my guitar. This same problem I have with the M1a, it is too big and to my ears it somewhat dampens the unplugged sound ... to the point that there have been times when I've had to remove it just cuz I missed the full unplugged beauty of my guitar... and (b) putting an Anthem wont give me the extra perks of option #2 and #3 explained below.

    OPTION #2 : Session VTC. The main draw of this option is of course, having built-in compression and analog warmth right there, just plug n' play without having to carry a comp pedal or having to hope that the guy in the console knows what's he's doing . I know it may not give me that actual mic-in-body full sound that the Anthem would give but I'm willing to overlook that just for having compression built in right off the bat. The problems of this option is (a) the preamp looks to be as big as the Anthem's so same concern about how it would affect the unplugged sound ... and (b) there are virtually no reviews, videos, sound samples available of the Session VTC in action. Not even LR. Baggs has posted them. So I kinda feel that if i buy it I would be doing so blindly. It would really help if someone (wink wink I'm talking to YOU people at LR Baggs) would post a professionally made video/sound clip of a comparison between the regular Element VTC vs the Session VTC installed on the EXACT same guitar, same strings, same pick, same guitar player and same tune. This would help a LONG way for customers to HEAR ( as opposed to READ) the differences between both.

    OPTION #3 : Session DI. If I take this option the M1a would stay hoping that besides the dynamic compression, analog warm, etc the DI brings it would also help me tame the metallic sound of the M1a. This option also has the benefit that it would allow me to use the Session electronics on my other two gigging guitars: an Ovation Adams 12 string and a Yamaha Silent Nylon string. The concerns of this option are : (a) would it actually help tame the metallic sound of the M1a? moreso than my Gigpro already does? And (b) to which extent would the Session DI compression eq, etc; work on a nylon string electric acoustic?

    OPTION #4: Wait and see if LR Baggs releases the Session Anthem pickup. By now you may have realized that given options 1-3 the obvious compromise would be to buy an Anthem AND a Session DI and use them together. Problem is that my budget for this upgrade is a bit more than around 300 bucks, including installation costs, so I cant afford buying the Anthem+Session DI. Still, it would kill me if I decided on either option 1,2 or 3 just for LR Baggs to release next year the Session Anthem pickup ( or whatever name u put to a system that is the Anthem plus Session electronics on its preamp). So, I guess my concern is: Does LR Baggs have any plans in this direction?

    Just for helping you help me choose , next is a list of other options that I already considered and discarded, so you don't need to bother on suggesting them:

    - Session DI+ Anthem: nope, dont have the money.

    - M80: nope, I know its a noticeable upgrade over my M1a but I want to go away from the magnetic sound , something that is more natural and at the same time, conspicuous... I now prefer my J200 to be without a visible pickup on its soundhole.

    - Anthem SL: nope, I want FULL control of my sound and I cant be bothered to be in a situation where I want to tweak it in a middle of a live but can't because of some hard-to-reach, hard-to-turn knob inside the guitar.

    So, that's it, those are my options. Please, Caleb ( or anybody really ) throw me a bone here. I am torn between these options and can't decide. It would be helpful if when you answer, you could weigh in on each my concerns with options 1-4 and then give me your opinion of which one would be the best solution given my situation.

    Thanks in advance,

    Last edited by Ethereal; 03-23-2017, 09:02 AM.

  • #2
    Hey Ethereal,
    Thanks for posting.

    I'll try to break down my thoughts based on your given options.

    Option #4
    I can say with confidence that we won't be able to put the time and engineering resources into a Session/Anthem any time soon. We have a lot of projects that are taking up our time and energy, at least for now. So I definitely wouldn't hold out on getting a great system now.

    Option #3
    The Session DI is an absolutely fantastic piece of gear. The most common sentiment we get about it is "once you use it, you can never play without it". As a Session user myself, I can definitely agree with that statement. However, in your situation, if you are trying to get away from the magnetic sound, starting with a new pickup will give you more change in the right direction for your money.

    Options #2 and #1
    The Session VTC is a killer undersaddle pickup, but it is still an undersaddle pickup. I recommend the VTC highly for anyone who's guitar doesn't cooperate with mics, or if they just LOVE the sound of a UST. However, if you want to choose between the Session VTC and the Anthem, then I would absolutely steer you towards the Anthem. The systems are relatively the same size/weight, but the Tru-Mic on the Anthem is absolutely worth the price difference. I may sound like a broken record in favor of the Anthem, but it comes from my own experience playing and engineering for live and in-studio situations. I started out with the regular Anthem, but found that I never altered the mix position away from the full mic setting (which is really about 70% mic because of the crossover). So now, I use the SL for it's smaller size and more simple operation. However, if you want the added control, the regular Anthem can't be beat!

    We actually have J200 here in the shop, and it is our go-to demo guitar for the Anthem. It really sounds fantastic.

    I hope that helps.


    • #3
      Hi Caleb,

      Thank you so much for your reply, it has definitely helped me narrow down my choices , i.e. now I know that the Session DI alone won't give me what I want and that I shouldn't wait for the "fabled" Session Anthem system. However, after your reply I still have 4 concerns that are making it really hard for me to make a decision. I hate to bother you again with my indecision but at least (a) this post will be a tad shorter than my first one so you'll need to read a tad less and (b) I PROMISE that if you answer me the following concerns I'll stop bugging you for good and finally decide on one of the options!

      CONCERN #1: PU System Mass and its Effect on Unplugged Sound. I know for a fact that no matter how small the footprint is of a PU system, anything that is attached/in contact with the guitar's top will somehow influence the unplugged tone. My M1A certainly does, and I know that any other system ( not only LR Baggs') will do so in varying degrees, that is a fact of acoustic amplifying life that we all need to learn to live with. The key phrase on this statement though is "with varying degrees", and therein my concern and my questions for you. You say that that Anthem and Session VTC have pretty much the same mass, so :

      1a) In terms of comparing the dampening effect an M1A or M80 would have on the unplugged guitar with whatever dampening effect the Session VTC or Anthem would have ... would you say that the Anthem/Session VTC would dampen it more or less than say, an M1A?

      1b) You made me reconsider the Anthem SL as an actual option. Since the SL version has a smaller mass footprint, would you say it would affect the unplugged tone more subtly than the Anthem or Session VTC?

      CONCERN #2: Anthem SL's Optimized Settings for a J200. You mentioned that you favor the Anthem SL over the full Anthem because of its smaller profile ( less dampening effect??) and also because you've found the sweet spot on how to set-and-forget that hard to reach knob, at least for your particular guitar, right? This statement made reconsider the Anthem SL so now it has become Option #3. You also say that you guys have a J200 on the shop which is your go-to Anthem demo guitar. If so, can you tell me, in yours or in LR Baggs' vast experience on trying the Anthem SL on J200s, what would be that sweet spot for this particular kind of guitar? Mine is a 1996 Gibson Montana J200, and yes I understand that wood is an organic, dynamically ever changing material that makes each guitar an individual. Two J200s are never gonna be 100% alike, even if they were produced on the same year, same wood, and same luthier. However, still, I imagine that you guys must have tried/heard at least dozens, if not hundreds, of Gibson J200s with Anthem SLs on them ... have you found any "in-most-case-scenario-set-and-forget-sweet-spot-setting" for them? I ask because If I do buy the Anthem SL, I would just tell my guitar tech to set this or that knob on "X" o'clock because " LR Baggs told me so" and then never attempt to change it myself again, I'd rather learn to coax out whatever resulting unbalance/feedback with outboard eq/notch filter/phase inversion,etc; than fiddling with the actual pickup screw "knob" myself.

      CONCERN #3: Interaction of the Session VTC with Acoustic-Resonance-Type Outboard Effects. I'm still considering the Session VTC because that dynamic com/eq feature draws me to it but I understand that it's still, in essence, just an UST solution. Yes, I am after that extra oomph of a full body sound but the reason why I would still be willing to go for an UST is that I have the BOSS Acoustic Resonance effect. I understand that what I'm about to write in the following lines might be uncharted waters for you or other peeps at LR Baggs, as you might not have tested this particular effect ... but still I would like to pick your brains about it cause regardless, you would obviously have more experience and knowledge on this issue than me. Just bear with me for a bit please. So, here's the deal: my current gigging amp is a BOSS Acoustic Singer Live which has a quite useful "Acoustic Resonance" effect on it, which in essence what it does is to digitally add that extra oomph of full body resonance to piezo equipped guitars, taming down in the process that nasal "quack" that they tend to have. BOSS also offers this effect on its AD-2 and VE-8 pedals. I use this effect on my Adamas 12 string and it works well. If you listen to it carefully though, it is indeed a bit "digitally synthetic sounding" as in "not necessarily analog warm sounding"... but even if it is so it's still pretty good at what it does. Can't use it with the M1A cause it horribly amplifies the metallic sound coming from it. My Yamaha SLG 200N Silent Nylon guitar has a similar onboard effect called "S.R.T" that does basically the same effect plus also simulating mic'ed tone. I'm sure you've heard other brands of pickups, pedals and amps that also have similar solutions geared towards the same effect, which is to compensate for the general shortcomings of UST pickups. My point of writing all of this is that, if I buy the Session VTC, I would do so hoping that the onboard Acoustic Resonance effect on my BOSS Amp would add that extra oomph I'm after. Yes I know that you might not be able to give me a 100% informed reply, but as I already wrote I'd be happy with just your educated guess on this issue, so here's the question:

      In your (non)experience using/hearing the Element and/or Session VTC systems played in conjunction with outboard acoustic-resonance-type effects, what's your opinion/educated guess about the resulting sound?

      CONCERN #4: ETA on Pro-Made Sound Samples/Demos of the Session VTC. This one is self explanatory. Can LR Baggs please post some sort hearable evidence of the Session VTC's features? Example: Can you guys make an Element vs Session VTC shootout so customers can judge with their ears whether it fits with their goals or not? Pretty please?

      Thanks in advance for your reply and sorry for bugging you so much.

      Last edited by Ethereal; 03-23-2017, 07:21 PM. Reason: Clarity


      • #4
        Here we go...

        Concern #1
        As you said, all pickups will alter the tone of an acoustic guitar to some degree. In general, the M1A doesn't have much of a noticeable effect. So if you notice a tonal change while using the M1A, then you will probably notice more of a difference using an undersaddle pickup (any undersaddle pickup). The actual control unit doesn't effect the tone as much, since it is placed in a pretty firmly braced area of the guitar. Most players who do notice a difference attribute it to the UST. Many players don't notice any difference at all. In my opinion, some players just think they hear a difference. There is definitely a difference, as you mentioned, but I personally believe that if you can amplify your guitar well, it is absolutely worth it.

        This is why, if you are choosing between the Anthem and Session, which both have the same relative tonal effect on the guitar (preamp size and UST), the Anthem is the better choice for natural amplification. The SL does have a much smaller footprint and lighter weight, but it is still a pickup in your guitar.

        Concern #2
        I'm sharing a lot of my personal opinion here, but that's kind of what you've asked me to do.

        I think that the SL is really the "sweet spot" of the Anthem overall. The mic trim setting will need to be adjusted (sometimes very differently) from guitar to guitar, but the SL overall is more consistently great-sounding in acoustic guitars compared to any other pickup I've installed. I will say with confidence that there is no way to recommend any setting for that control without hearing it. It is a sensitive control, but once it is set, you really don't need to think about it again.

        Concern #3
        Most resonance controls or Piezo controls are just glorified mid-range EQ cuts. Some do more than that, but in most cases they just EQ out a harsh mid "quack" frequency and add "air" by boosting the EQ above our audible hearing range. Since the Element is a UST, it can benefit from that type of control, but it's not as precise as using a pretty basic parametric EQ and dialing it in yourself. Not everyone has the ears or EQ to do that, but it definitely yields better results.

        The Session's Comp deals with a goo deal of the less-natural mid-range in the Element, and the Saturation helps to warm up the low end. Adding the Acoustic Resonance feature on your Boss will still have the same mid-neutralizing effect on the tone of the Session. It just may not need as much as you would typically use on another pickup. It's really hard to say, having not heard it for myself.

        Concern #4
        I asked our marketing guys about this, and it's something that they're working on. The Session VTC is still a brand new product, so we're working on getting some recordings done. It probably won't be a shootout, but if we get the time, you never know. As I mentioned before, we've got a lot of projects going on right now.

        I hope that helps!

        All the best from LR Baggs!


        • #5
          Awesome! Thanks Caleb. You convinced me on getting the Anthem SL... ordered it and it's on its way. Sorry for having had to put you through reading my walls of texts, infinite thanks for your patience.

          I'll be using it with my Gigpro, as a means of somewhat adding to the SL the control of the full Anthem. Any last suggestions on "re-preamping" the Anthem SL with the Gigpro? I'll of course test it with my ears as soon as I have the SL installed, but do you have any thoughts / experience regarding the interaction between the trim/gain knobs of both the Gigpro and the SL's when used together?


          Last edited by Ethereal; 03-24-2017, 11:29 PM.


          • #6
            Set the gain on the Gigpro with the SL's volume at full, and while playing the guitar pretty hard. Get to where the Gigpro distorts a little bit, and then back the gain off until it cleans up. Once that is set, you can make adjustments to the EQ and the low frequency trim. The trim shouldn't be too necessary unless the SL sounds boomy or you're trying to reduce feedback. It should sound great!