A great way to start learning the ukulele, the Populele 2 Pro features everything you need. It's light, easy to play, syncs with an instructive mobile app for Android and iOS where you'll learn new tunes, and app-controlled LEDs tell you where to place your fingers. It's expensive, but the price matches the quality of the instrument. The Pro model also features a preamp and output jack for connecting the ukulele to an amplifier.
- Bluetooth with app syncing
- LEDs embedded in neck for learning
- Preamp and output jack
- Type: Populele 2 Pro
- Length: 23 inches
- Strings: Fluorocarbon
- Body type: Carbon Fiber Reinforced SAN Composite, ABS neck
- Frets: 14
- Electronic enhancements: Preamp
- Brand: PopuMusic
- Lightweight and easy to play
- Produces a nice sound
- Good collection of songs in the app
- Too long for most uke cases
- Bluetooth connectivity a pain
- Lack of constructive feedback in the app
Ukuleles are immensely popular. Lightweight, and easy to play, these diminutive guitar-like instruments with four nylon strings are everywhere, in music shops, supermarkets, Amazon, eBay… you can't miss them.
But while easy to pick up and get started, the ukulele can be tricky to learn. Is the solution a smart ukulele connected to an app with responsive LEDs that tell you where to place your fingers? The team at PopuMusic certainly thinks so – they've released the Populele 2 Pro Smart Ukulele.
Can it help you improve your ukulele playing? To find out, I spent a week with the Populele 2 Pro.
What On Earth Is a Populele?
The Populele is a carbon fiber ukulele that can be connected to an Android phone or tablet, an iPhone, or an iPad. It features a companion app that helps you to learn the ukulele, and LEDs embedded in the neck of the instrument. These light up to instruct you where to place your fingers as you learn songs in the app.
We've previously looked at the PopuMusic Poputar which works to the same principle. I was pretty pleased with the instrument, from build quality to controls and the app itself, so had pretty high expectations for the Populele 2 Pro.
The Offset Sound Hole of Populele 2 Pro
You've probably seen a ukulele before. One of the key things you will notice is how it looks like a small guitar, with the strings crossing a sound hole. But the Populele 2 Pro ukuleles differ, with the sound hole offset.
It's all about the soundboard, the front-facing surface of the uke. A broader soundboard gives a wider area to vibrate with every note, while the sound hole continues to project the sound from the instrument.
While it looks a little odd, the resulting sound backs up the design choices.
What Populele 2 Pro Brings to Learning Ukulele
With the app connected to the Populele 2 Pro, you've basically got onboard learning.
A bunch of exercises and tutorials feature in the app, which I found to be far more polished than the version I used when reviewing the Poputar earlier this year. Here, you proceed through exercises about the basics of holding, tuning, and playing the ukulele, before the songs are unlocked, and you can begin learning them.
Songs can be played at slow and normal speeds, with LEDs lighting up early to give you time to perfect your chord shapes and fingering.
There are countless websites on the web – not to mention mobile apps – designed to help you learn the ukulele. Ranging from chord guides for popular songs to apps with a monthly fee from Fender, these tools all work to an extent. But they don't have a collection of flashing lights saying "press here". The Populele app, however, does, which is what sets the Populele 2 Pro apart for learning ukulele.
Populele 2 Pro Unboxing
The contents of the Populele 2 box Pro are modest. You'll find a multi-language quick start guide, a USB Type-C cable, and the Populele 2 Pro itself. The ukulele comes in two models (Populele 2 and Populele 2 Pro, the model reviewed here), with four colors available – Midnight Black, Snow White, Mint Green, and Light Pink.
Also in the box is a VIP Member Card. This features a redemption code that unlocks video
tutorials on the PopuMusic app.
Sadly, our test instrument shipped without a case, which would have been a big help.
Populele 2 Pro Smart Ukulele Specs
The Populele 2 Pro smart ukulele measures 610mm x 210mm x 70.8mm. That's 23 inches long, making it slightly too large for standard ukulele cases. It weighs just 800 grams, a little more with the two AAA batteries installed for the Bluetooth functionality.
This lightweight instrument is fabricated from Carbon Fiber Reinforced SAN Composite and features an ABS fretboard. The strings are made from fluorocarbon, which stretches more than nylon (leading to regular retunes after fitting), but has a better tone and is slightly longer-lasting.
The tuning gears are sealed diecast, the nut fashioned from cattle bone, while the bridge is HPL synthetic fiber.
Inside the Populele 2 Pro is a spring-loaded battery compartment, released with a small catch. This is where the AAA batteries sit to power the Bluetooth 5.0 BLE radio. There is also a PopuBoost Preamplifier, with volume, chorus, and reverb controls. This is charged by the USB Type-C cable.
Finally, the Populele 2 Pro has a quarter-inch output strap pin. This means you can connect it to an amplifier and benefit further from the controls on the preamp.
Pairing Populele 2 Pro and Exploring the App
Teaching ukulele with Populele 2 Pro is achieved via the PopuMusic app, for Android 8.0 or later and iOS 10.0 or later.
With a suitable phone or tablet and the Populele 2 Pro connected over Bluetooth, you can use the app to learn the basics, practice chords, learn songs, and tune the ukulele (although I found the tuner feature completely useless and ended up using a physical tuner).
Bluetooth syncing should be straightforward and certainly seemed to be. Yet it seems I got something wrong. Recording the video review for the Populele 2 Pro took me up a hill for some stunning backdrops. However, I failed to realize that I had not correctly synced the uke with the mobile app until I reached the top.
The lesson here is to avoid climbing mountains to play the ukulele. Also, check the Bluetooth is set up correctly.
Syncing must take place within the app, rather than the operating system's Bluetooth settings. Once you get around this and the assigning of permissions, everything starts to work perfectly.
There are some downsides, however. The first is that the app needs to calibrate your phone's audio, which can take a really long time.
Perhaps more importantly, if you already know your ukulele basics, you're going to have to sit through them regardless before you can learn songs and do exercises. It's a shortcoming, but not a deal-breaker.
Can You Learn Ukulele With Populele 2 Pro?
So, the Populele 2 Pro is intended to help you to learn the ukulele. It has built-in LEDs linked to Bluetooth which then syncs with your phone or tablet and a dedicated mobile app which features tutorials and songs to learn.
But does the Populele system really help you to learn how to play ukulele? Will you be able to play like George Harrison or Steve Martin or George Formby?
The app is gamified, a feature designed to encourage learning. So, goals are set, achievements can be unlocked, and you develop the urge to proceed while developing a new skill. It's like playing a videogame, but you learn an instrument.
Perhaps most importantly, it doesn't matter if you have an ear for music or not. The PopuMusic app uses a patented algorithm that filters audio from your phone's mic to collect an accurate frequency waveform of the notes you're playing. If you get it wrong, the app knows, and helps you; if you get it right, you hit the achievements. Even if you're tone-deaf, the app will help you stay tuneful.
There's certainly a feeling, however, that the app could be a bit better. In testing, it didn't offer any real feedback after playing through a song. Whether this was an issue with the phone's mic isn't clear, but things were certainly more instructive than interactive.
Populele 2 Pro: Probably the Best Ukulele Learning System Available
Learning ukulele is a combination of a simple instrument, straightforward techniques, but a very specialized application. Having a learning tool that can teach chords and fingering – remember, the typical tuning of a ukulele is different to a guitar – is important. With the instrument synced with PopuMusic, you have everything you need to get to grips with the instrument.
There's even the potential to become an above-average player in just a matter of days, or even hours with dedication.
Meanwhile, the ukulele itself is lightweight, sounds good, and feels easy to play. The LEDs are sufficiently recessed beneath the surface of the neck, minimizing the chance of damage, or catching fingers. The offset sound hole makes little difference to how you play, but the preamp could be a little louder.
Ultimately, this is an app-controlled ukulele learning system that gives you everything you need to get started and leaves you with a nice-sounding carbon fiber ukulele when you've completed the course. That's not a bad deal.
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