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Bluetooth dual footswitch and remote control for tablets, smartphones and computers


Laptops, tablets and smartphones have become ever more essential to everyday life, and musicians are no exception. In a relatively short time, these versatile devices have become valued partners in our music making activities - like recording, virtual instruments, music theory education, virtual amps and effects sims, and more.

 

One very popular use is for displaying lyrics, set lists and sheet music. With a stand adapter, a tablet makes a great tool for this application, and can replace unwieldy lyric notebooks and loose sheet music. But there's one downside - you have to use your hand to switch virtual "pages"; and while that's true for traditional sheet music too, fortunately there are solutions for tablets that you don't have with "real" sheets of paper. Enter the AirTurn Duo, which frees your hands and lets you change what's displayed on your screen while you keep playing. 





What You Need To Know

  • The AirTurn Duo is a compact unit that consists of two main parts - a BT-106 wireless Bluetooth transceiver remote control unit and a ATFS-2 two-pedal base unit. The BT-106 simply clicks into the center of the pedal base and can be removed from the pedals and used as a handheld remote. The overall dimensions are 4"D x 7" W x 7/8" H and the unit weighs about .81 lb.

  • Pairing with your device is as easy as any Bluetooth device. Turn on the Duo, then turn on Bluetooth on your device and select AirTurn from the device list on your tablet. Once your tablet or computer is paired the first time, it's just a matter of turning both units on.




  • The BT-106 has a six button keypad user interface, including the power button. A multicolor LED provides visual feedback. Six different operating modes come ready to use, with each of the keypad buttons controlling a different function, depending on the mode selected.

    Mode 1: Intended for use with Macs and PCs.
    Mode 2: Pro Tools keyboard shortcuts.
    Mode 3: Intended for use with iOS and Android tablets; this is the default mode.
    Mode 4: Used with some transcription software.
    Mode 5: Works with most multimedia players, and can also be used to trigger the camera in your iOS device.
    Mode 6: This mode is for use with Assisted (Assistive?) Technology.

  • The two footswitches correspond with buttons 1 and 3 on the keypad. More extensive control (keypad buttons 1-4) is offered by the four-footswitch version, the AirTurn Quad. The pedals use rare earth metals for the contacts, and unlike most switches, there are no mechanical parts to wear out and break.

  • On the back of the Duo are a micro USB jack for charging, and a pair of 1/8" TRS jacks for connecting the Duo's footswitches. A pair of short 1/8" TRS to 1/4" TRS adapter cables are also included. These allow you to use a variety of third-party momentary footswitches with the BT-106. Up to four foot pedals can be connected - two per jack.

  • The Duo has plenty of range for its intended purpose; in most cases you'll have it less than ten feet away from your tablet. You could triple that distance under fairly unfavorable circumstances (with walls in between, etc.) and still remain connected.

  • A product like this requires compatible software, and there's good news on that front, with nearly one hundred apps available for iOS and Android devices, as well as Bluetooth equipped Mac and PC computers. Set List apps, Teleprompters, sheet music viewers / page turners, backing tracks, virtual amp and effects pedals, music streaming services and players, and many other apps can be controlled wirelessly with the Duo.

  • The pedals are made of what appears to be a rugged polycarbonate material. I was concerned initially they would eventually break with repeated use, but that was totally unfounded - they've held up great, and are much stronger than their appearance might lead you to believe.

  • The pedals are utterly silent, both electronically and mechanically. Even if you need to switch pages in the middle of a pianissimo flute solo, no one is going to be distracted by a nasty click or pop.

  • The Duo comes with a micro USB charging cable. Charging time is relatively speedy, taking about 1-2 hours with a USB wall charger, and about six hours when connected to your computer. The battery life will depend on how much you use it, but can run up to 100 hours, which is excellent. I had no problems with using the Duo for days at a time without recharging it. When fully charged, the LED blinks green, and when it's time to recharge the LED gives you plenty of notice, turning yellow and blinking with 25% charge remaining, and red and blinking when you're down to the last 9%. At that point, you need to recharge immediately to avoid possible battery damage.  

  • Functionality depends largely on the software you're using, but the response time to stepping on a footswitch is generally excellent. And don't forget that when you don't need to be hands-free, you can detach the BT-106 unit and use it as a wireless Bluetooth remote.

  • The AirTurn Duo has a one-year warranty and comes with a thirty-day, money-back guarantee.

 

Limitations

  • While the pedals themselves seem to be quite sturdy and robust, take care with the built-in 1/8" and micro USB jacks. They're not supported by the unit's external shell and are soldered directly to the built-in circuit board. An accidental hit to either one will result in damage that could prove fatal to the transmitter pack, as I unfortunately discovered fairly early in the course of this review. With better care (and no further accidents) the replacement unit has held up well.

  • Running the battery completely dead risks ruining it and requiring a replacement. The manual warns you of this. It also recommends recharging the unit once per month to maintain battery health.

  • You can request transceivers with custom codes from the manufacturer, but there's no way for users to change the commands the unit sends other than selecting from the six stock modes.


Conclusions

If you want to control displayed lyrics and sheet music, or control various other aspects of your tablet's software via Bluetooth, the AirTurn units, coupled with the appropriate app are a great choice. Despite my initial concerns over "plastic pedals," they'll stand up to lead-footed stomp after stomp without problems - just keep an eye on the back of the unit and protect those sensitive connections! I was also impressed that the switches make no noise.

 

The pairing is easy and the range is more than sufficient. Battery life is impressive, and the product works great. Priced very reasonably, the AirTurn products are a solid musical accessory that modern musicians can really use - and really need. It's a must-have accessory if you use your tablet on stage.  

 

Resources

AirTurn Duo Bluetooth Controller with Dual-Pedals ($99.00 "street"

AirTurn Digit BT106 wireless Bluetooth Controller (no pedals - $69.00 "street")

AirTurn Quad Bluetooth Controller with Four Pedals ($149.00 "street")

AirTurn Tap with Two Drum Pads instead of pedals ($149.00 "street")

AirTurn's product web page  

AirTurn Duo manual (PDF file)

__________________________________________________




Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines. 

2 comments
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the_big_e  |  October 22, 2015 at 2:17 pm
These things simulate a bluetooth keyboard and turn pages by sending page up/down commands to the app. Since it is pretending to be a keyboard, if you need to type anything on screen on you tablet while the pedal is connected, the onscreen keyboard will not appear. Took me ages to realize that I had to turn the pedal off or disconnect it from the tablet to get the onscreen kb to pop up.
Reply   |  1 Reply
UlfHansson  |  October 20, 2015 at 7:37 pm
Highly recommended! But don't forget to check your music reader app of choice; you might want to go with four pedals if the app supports it.
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