Review of Tonerite for Cello

Price: $349


(Photo1 – ToneRite in action)


As a young performer, one is faced with the enormous difficulty of finding an instrument which has the quality and power necessary for international concert halls, but at a price that is actually affordable.


A few years ago, having spent several years playing on a beautiful old English cello - which produced the sweetest of sounds, but just didn't have enough power to cut to the back of a hall - I decided to buy a modern cello by one of the most experienced and reputable cello makers around: Colin Irving. I went for it because I could tell the instrument had huge potential and the old cellos which I had tried of the same calibre were at least four or five times the price. Having been used to the old mellowed resonance of my previous cello, it took a while to get used to the brighter modern sound, and of course I was aware that I must give it time to be 'played-in'. After a couple of years, the instrument was sounding a lot better, and was definitely a more complete cello than my previous one, but I could not help but feel a little impatient because of the sensation that there was still a lot more untapped potential in the instrument waiting to get out...and that this would take more time. It just felt as though the cello was still a little tight and edgy, despite the fact that it was undeniably a very fine instrument.


Then, in September 2010, I received an offer any cellist could not refuse - the loan of a Stradivarius cello! I started to think about what I would do with my Irving cello whilst I was playing on the Strad. I had heard that there was a device on the market that could continue to play in your cello for you, so intrigued by this idea I did a bit of research and came across the Tonerite.


Tonerite is a device that sits on the bridge of the instrument and vibrates at a low frequency, with the idea being that the vibrations sent through the wood enhance the tonal properties of the instrument. While the device appears quite chunky (see photo 1), it is actually very light, weighing only about the same as an iPhone, and I certainly have not been worried at all about the extra weight exerted on the cello bridge.


Powered from the mains, Tonerite only uses about 3 watts of power - so on energy consumption it uses significantly less than a light bulb. Tonerite has one adjustable control on it - a simple turning knob (see photo 2) which controls the level of intensity of the vibrations - so it is extremely easy to use. It is recommended that for the first use, one leaves the Tonerite running for at least 72 hours in order to start to see the benefits. As is explained in the instruction manual, the device is best left on higher settings for increasing brightness of sound and volume, whereas leaving it on the lower settings helps cultivate a more mellow, sweeter sound from the cello.


(Photo 2 – the adjustable control)


After having used the Tonerite on my modern cello on and off for over the past few months, I must say that I am very impressed with the results. My cello has never sounded better. I have used the Tonerite on a variety of settings during this period, and the result is that the cello has a much more open and smooth sound and it is definitely more resonant than before. It was always a very responsive instrument, and that is still the case, but now the response is backed up with a rounder, fuller sound. It is easier to play and I can play very close to the bridge without the cello biting back.


I experimented a bit with tuning the strings down on the cello and leaving the device to run whilst the instrument had less tension on it, and this seemed to give even better results than using the device whilst the cello was tuned normally. However, I did not have a way of accurately measuring the results yielded, so can't say for certain exactly how much the tuning-down improved the process.


For using the Tonerite in Europe, it is necessary to purchase a separate power adapter (which runs at 50Hz, not 60Hz as in the USA). The adapter which I got to use with my Tonerite, manufactured by "Seven Star" (see photo 3), and available to purchase through the Tonerite website ($20), is a little clunky and not particularly well put together - after a few months the casing of the adapter has slightly come apart, although it still works. It also runs quite warm, which just makes me a little nervous when leaving the Tonerite running for hours on end. Perhaps I was just unlucky with my particular unit, and of course it is worth mentioning that the adapter is made by a different company, so this is not a reflection on Tonerite itself - just a suggestion to other potential buyers that it might be worth shopping around for a power adapter of better build quality. (I ended up ordering a replacement power adapter unit, and whilst this one seems to be fine so far, I am definitely not convinced about its build quality. Leaving the device plugged in, but off one night, I checked the next morning and the adapter was running warm…so I now switch it off at the plug after every use.)


(Photo 3 – the ‘Seven Star’ (!) power converter)


When properly fixed on the bridge of the cello, the Tonerite produces a low 'humming' noise which is not particularly loud (in fact if using the lowest setting, it is very quiet), but if using a medium setting or higher, you are certainly aware of the noise if in the same room. However, when using my first Tonerite unit on its highest intensity setting, it would quickly work its way loose on my cello's bridge and as a result would buzz very loudly, no doubt also greatly reducing its efficiency at transferring the vibrations through the body of the cello. Whilst it was never in danger of coming off completely and damaging the cello, it was quite annoying, so I contacted the Tonerite sales team about this. The Tonerite staff were extremely nice and helpful and explained that they believed that I had a slightly faulty unit so immediately offered to send me a replacement device. The replacement Tonerite gripped onto the bridge better than the first, but still had a tendency to work its way a little loose on the high intensity settings and produce more noise than necessary. I quickly found however, that I could counter this problem by positioning the power chord of the device in such a way that the chord’s tension pulled the device onto the bridge.


My modern cello may or may not end up sounding like a Strad...who knows, it may even end up sounding better! I am already tempted to say that there are now certain parts of its sound spectrum that I find even more appealing than the Strad’s. I believe that there is an important distinction to be made between what age does to the sound of an instrument and what playing does to it. At the moment, my modern cello still has a 'modern' brightness to the sound, but now I have used the Tonerite on it over an extended period it simply sounds better and freer across its whole range. The bass is fuller and the A string more open - I really notice a difference in the confidence this inspires for all the big A string melodies. My cello used to be slightly weak in the 4th position on the A string, but this region now sounds just as good as the rest of the A string. I would highly recommend Tonerite as an effective and relatively inexpensive way to help get a modern instrument to sound at its best. Especially if you are able to let the device run for a long period of time, the $349 retail price is an extremely reasonable investment, given that the improvement to the sound is permanent and there is no limit to how long you can continue to use it for. I for one will be continuing to use Tonerite on my modern cello as much as possible and am excited that I have a much improved, quality instrument to play on now that I must give the Strad back soon.


Ashok Klouda, September 2011


(Photo 4 – all the equipment)