If you’re an iPad-using musician, chances are good that you’ve come across forScore, the single best sheet-music reader out there (in my not-so-humble opinion). Chances are also good that you are looking for a way to turn pages a bit more simply – and, of course, fancily. Those searches probably led you to discover Bluetooth foot pedals, and of those you probably are looking at one or both of the AirTurn or the PageFlip Cicada; in fact, both are linked prominently from forScore’s website.
I’ve decided that it’d be prudent to write a little bit about my opinion of these two devices stacked up against one another, in hopes that it might help the iPad/forScore-using public out there to make a semi-informed decision. For this article, I’m comparing the AirTurn BT-105 bundle that includes two ATFS-1 pedals and the organizer tray against the PageFlip Cicada unit.
So, here we go. First, some of the tangibles:
Size and weight: The two units are nearly identical in dimensions – the Cicada measures 6″x4.5″x1.25″ (LxWxH), whereas the AirTurn (again, on the tray) measures 7″x5.5″x1″. Both are quite manageable for a musician’s gig bag, though the AirTurn gains a slight advantage for the space-crunched musician if removed from the tray. Weight-wise, however, the AirTurn unit weighs 12.4 oz., nearly double the Cicada’s 6.6 (with batteries – only 4.8 without). Neither are unreasonably heavy, but if you’re a musician with lots of gear, the Cicada will travel lighter. Advantage: AirTurn for size, Cicada for weight.
Power: Both units can be plugged in via mini-USB, and can be operated while plugged in. For me, I used a mini-USB cable connected to my iPad’s power plug – which you’d likely have around anyway. For wireless page-turning, the AirTurn is powered by an internal rechargeable battery – less maintenance. The Cicada can be run on 2xAA batteries, which is more maintenance. However, another angle on this is that bringing extra AA batteries is always going to be a sound backup plan for the Cicada; for the AirTurn, you need to hope that you’re near an outlet if it runs out of juice. Advantage: Cicada for flexibility, AirTurn for simplicity.
Pairing with iPad: Most people know how to pair Bluetooth devices nowadays, so the only reason I mention this is for comparison. The Cicada required a passkey, which was a bit more tricky to get right than the AirTurn, which required no passkey. The Cicada has buttons on the face, in the upper right, which are numbered. To get 1-5, you press the button…to get 6-0, you hold one of the pedals (marked “Shift”) and press the button. It took me 2-3 tries to get my Cicada paired with the iPad. But, once it was done, it was done. Advantage: AirTurn.
Powering on and off / status indicators: The Cicada features a simple, no-frills on-off switch on the face. Can’t get simpler than that. The indicator lights are all on the front face, so you can easily ensure that the device is functioning properly. The AirTurn is operated almost solely with a single button on the back of the unit, and one indicator light (also on the back) that flashes combinations of green, yellow, and red. To power the AirTurn on or off, the button must be held, and the light must be observed. Powering on is usually no problem; powering off usually takes me 2-3 tries for some reason. At first, I was also nervous about not being able to see the indicator light on the unit while playing; the light also indicates when the battery is running low, and I can’t see that if the light’s not facing me. Advantage: Cicada, by a lot.
Changing keymapping: Both devices can be used with a Bluetooth-capable computer as well, and can be switched to send different keystrokes to those devices (up/down arrows, PgUp/PgDown, even mouse clicks). The AirTurn changes those settings by holding down a pedal while powering it up. I’ve done that accidentally before, and it caused me a good bit of frustration. The Cicada changes that setting with the numbered buttons I mentioned above in the “Pairing” section. The buttons aren’t “recessed” per se, but are flush enough with the surface to avoid accidental presses. The Cicada also has more options for specific keystrokes, whereas the AirTurn only has Mac/PC “mode” and iPad “mode.” Both worked fine with my computer (MacBook Pro). Now, how much you actually use these features? For me, not a ton. Advantage: Cicada, slightly.
Additional Features: Both pedals can accept input from other pedal sources. In fact, the Cicada works with the AirTurn’s pedals plugged into the unit. No biggie here. One additional feature for the Cicada, though – the “Repeat” feature. If you enable this, and hold down the pedal, the unit sends repeated keystrokes to the connected device. You can therefore turn multiple pages without lifting your foot. However, I’m not sure this feature is actually a good feature for reading sheet music on the iPad…I accidentally turned too many pages once by accident by leaving my foot on the pedal too long. Advantage: even.
Responsiveness: The two devices both send their keystrokes to the iPad with the same amount of perceived delay; maybe 1/10 of a second…that’s just my guess. Either way, it’s just long enough to notice, but not long enough to bother you. Advantage: even.
OK – those are the tangibles. Now to get into the “opinion” piece, which is the feel, noise, and durability…those things which I could measure if I were to go all Mythbusters on these pedals, but I don’t have the time or the budget for that (not to mention I don’t have my own TV show). Here we go:
Durability: The mechanism behind the Cicada’s pedals is some kind of spring/hinge mechanism. The mechanism behind the AirTurn’s pedals is much simpler, the pedals being essentially one piece, curled over tightly on itself (see pics below). My mantra (and that of many computer folks who use SSD drives) is that “the fewer moving parts, the better.” And, the Cicada’s pedals are made from lighter plastic. While that contributes to its overall lightness as a unit, lighter/thinner plastic is always more susceptible to breakage. As a habitual worry-wart, I envision this unit getting caught up on something in my gig bag, and one of these pedals snapping. Of course, the AirTurn’s pedals are connected to the main unit via 1/8″ connectors, so there’s a variable there as well – how long are those wires / connectors going to last? Both units have some places for concern, but they’re admittedly mostly minor. I’m giving the slight edge to the AirTurn here for its lack of moving parts. Advantage: AirTurn, slightly.
Noise: The Cicada’s hinge mechanism and ligher plastic do lend it to be slightly noisier than the AirTurn, which is one thing I’m super picky about. If I’m using technology on stage, it absolutely cannot distract from the performance. As I said, I haven’t done any formal testing on this, but on a hard floor, the AirTurn was nearly silent, and the Cicada was noticeably audible to me. Advantage: AirTurn.
Feel: One other construction issue that probably contributes to the noise of the Cicada also contributes to its feel – its pedals traverse roughly 1/2″ one-way for a “press.” The AirTurn, on the other hand, covers only 1/16″ one-way for a “press.” To be fair, you could consider the AirTurn more prone to accidental presses because of this trait, but I’ve had more problems with accidental non-presses of the Cicada than I’ve had accidental presses with the AirTurn. However, both units are fairly smooth, and require minimal effort while standing. While sitting, I give the edge to the AirTurn. Both units can be operated from a seated position “piano pedal” style without a problem (heel on the floor), but I found the AirTurn to be more organic this way, since my foot didn’t have to travel such a long distance. Advantage: AirTurn.
There’s one last thing I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s price. The AirTurn lists at $129.95, while the Cicada is a whopping $50 cheaper at $79.95. AirTurn occasionally has “scratch-and-dent” units available for $89.95, however, and that’s how I got mine. To be honest, I can’t even tell where it was supposedly blemished. The downside there is that you don’t get as much selection with your color; I was lucky enough to get my desired black color, but as of today’s writing, they S&D models aren’t showing any stock in black. Advantage: Cicada
Conclusion: It’s close. The units to have some fundamental differences, and you’ll ultimately need to decide what’s most important to you. I will conclude with this: both units are excellent, and offer all of the functionality that a musician needs. Perhaps the biggest disparity is price – a brand new AirTurn is over 1.5x as costly as a brand-new Cicada, which could be a major turn-off for some.
Personally, going forward, I’m probably going to keep to my AirTurn, because I am sold on the way it feels under my foot. I do wish it had some of the things the Cicada has, though – like a clearer on/off mechanism and a better-placed indicator light. But if you’re new to the game, and trying to decide between the two, there are a few things that I could see swaying you toward the Cicada instead – price, weight, power options, and interface clarity. All in all, both units perform admirably – you just have to figure out what matters most to you in a pedal.
Did my article help you? I’d love to hear about it! Please feel free to comment (top left), and / or send me an e-mail – mslibera (at) uncg (dot) edu