Hands-on review: James Romeyn's PrimeVibe seeks the ToneRite title
(ShackMan | Posted 2011-01-31)
It happens all the time in the film industry. There's one new blockbuster, and then ten other movies come out in the next year or two trying to be just like it. Most often, the original gets it best, showing a mastery of subject matter, creativity, and great storytelling, but then again, sometimes the new guy gets all the lines right. In the music industry, it's more often that the latter happens. Someone gets an idea, and somebody else studies it, pulls it apart, finds the flaws, and builds a newer, better model. The ToneRite blew me away, and I was a little skeptical when I first got that piece of machinery. I found it only fitting that I made direct comparisons to the ToneRite ($149) as I tested out James Romeyn's PrimeVibe ($99). Since part of Mr. Romeyn's pitch is that it matches up every bit to the ToneRite at $50 less, and since I already own a ToneRite, I decided a fair one-to-one comparison was in store.
It took me a second to get used to the name (PrimeVibe doesn't quite sound like something I'd use to season the wood in my guitar...), but opening up the box showed me the same fine velvety packaging that I saw with the ToneRite, and the PrimeVibe's three-piece setup shimmered purple in my workroom light. The PrimeVibe takes a little bit of work and space to get put together, but it can be done pretty simply. The two headphone-looking buds plug into the main amplifier via black/red stereo clamps. Set your guitar down on a flat surface, and place the buds just a few millimeters above the bridge and as far under the strings as you can without touching them or the bridge. Plug in your iPod or another sound source (not included) to the main amplifier via the included 1/8" audio cable and hit shuffle. As an added bonus, the PrimeVibe includes different jacks for the power cord, just in case you aren't a U.S. customer. You wind up with a setup like this...
The manual recommends that you move the buds around to get the best sound out of your guitar, usually near the bridge and as far under the strings as you can get. Find the sweet spots. Adjust the volume to your liking, and you have your own guitar-speaker combo.
As for the ToneRite, you lock it onto the strings just above the bridge like this...
...plug it in and turn it on to your desired frequency setting. The end. No need to have it level/upright/sideways, or any other requirements. The PrimeVibe was already not looking too convenient by comparison. Parts were made of light, cheap plastic that felt like it would crack easily and, although I never noticed any damage, something didn't sit right with me having hard speaker pads with no padding vibrating against the hardtop of my guitar. The ToneRite feels much sturdier, with pressed plastic and rubber padding to hold it against the strings.
Things took a turn for the worse when I came up against some issues in the PrimeVibe's design. Remember when I mentioned that your guitar acted like a speaker a few paragraphs ago? Using the PrimeVibe means constantly listening to your playlist, CD, or computer music library. You can certainly leave it on while you're away, or leave it on while you sleep provided you can fall asleep to music or you're keeping it someplace where you can't hear it, but even then, we run into another fundamental and very real problem with the PrimeVibe: It only lasts as long as your music does. While the ToneRite can go for weeks on end without any maintenance (and hardly any noise, for that matter), the PrimeVibe requires a constant source of music. Tell that to someone who has to change CDs after every hour. The initial treatment for the ToneRite was a recommended minimum of 72 hours without stopping, and, while I did see a difference after 72 hours, it took several weeks for me to see major tone-changing results. That's 72 hours with your guitar on a table taking up space and playing music, instead of just hanging on your wall as normal.
The bottom line
I received the PrimeVibe back in November, a little over two months ago, and I have been testing it ever since using the same methods with which I tested the ToneRite. I looked on an oscilloscope for an increase in volume, different tonal characteristics, or any changes at all to my guitar and it's qualities, and I found very little, if any. It definitely managed to break in my strings on two guitars somewhat, in that they were easily bendable and more apt to stretch after the continuous vibration. This did not happen on a third test guitar, possibly due to my placement of the buds, which were a few inches away from the bridge. It did not, however, give me any noticeable headroom, brighten, darken, or in any way recolor my guitars, and it did not in any noticeable way change the way my guitar feels. Through the testing, I became increasingly aware of another major difference. In your music, frequencies, volume levels, vibrations, etc., are random, and my only controls are the equalizer (if any) on my audio input device, and the volume control on the PrimeVibe. With the ToneRite, I have direct control over the harmonic content that gets pumped through my guitar. It's consistent and a quite powerful vibration, and that power was something I couldn't recreate on the PrimeVibe, even at high volume. This is largely due to the PrimeVibe's setup, with very lightweight speakers bouncing up and down fractions of a millimeter, but still coming up off of your guitar and back down thousands of times each second. The ToneRite wraps itself around every single string, and therefore gets vibrations directly pumped throughout the body of your guitar.
With the ToneRite, I had results in 72 hours, and major results in a few weeks' time. I couldn't seem to get results with the PrimeVibe no matter how I placed the speakers or for however long or loudly I played music. For $100, you can have a novelty item that plays music through your guitar, or you can spend $50 more, and actually do something about the sound of your guitars with the ToneRite. This is one copy that will go in the can with all the movies that weren't worth the two hours of your life you spent to sit through them. At best, the PrimeVibe left me unimpressed. At worst, it doesn't even work.
James Rushin is a bassist, keyboardist, writer, and composer living and working in the Greater Pittsburgh area. He has performed with Selmer artist Tim Price, Curtis Johnson, guitarists Ken Karsh and Joe Negri. His compositions have been featured at West Virginia University and Valley Forge Christian College. He will be spending the Fall and Winter months working on playwright Frank Gagliano's Voodoo Trilogy and Bodoni County Songbook.
Got questions? Comments? James can be reached as ShackMan in the Music Gear Review forums, or you may e-mail him at James.Rushin@MusicGearReview.com.