It’s been hard for me to keep up with the world of music tech now that I’m no longer employed full time “in the industry.” But thanks to a few savvy readers and eager vendors, I think I’ve finally gotten myself at least somewhat back in the saddle.
It’s also worth mentioning that I’m really (seriously this time) working to transition this blog to my own personal server, in which I have grand designs to cover more than “just” music technology.
What’s in store in this post – I’ve been fortunate enough to finally get my hands on all three pedals in the brand-new PageFlip Pedal Lineup. This includes my current favorite pedal, the PageFlip Firefly, and its two new siblings, the powerful Dragonfly and the budget-friendly Butterfly. In the past I’ve done this “showdown style” between the two industry leaders – PageFlip and AirTurn – but this time around I’ll take a look at just this lineup of PageFlip pedals. I will evaluate each one individually, going beyond the basic feature comparison. (Interesting side-note, all of my weights are different from what’s listed here. Different batteries, maybe?)
BONUS – the folks at PageFlip have a special offer for readers of this blog through the month of April. I’ll elaborate more at the end (yes, cliffhanger alert).
Fair enough? Let’s get down to business.
The Firefly – two years in
PageFlip’s second-eldest pedal, the Firefly, took the things that I liked about its first offering – the Cicada – and brought the pedal to the next level. At the time of the Firefly’s release, I was loving the AirTurn BT-105 and ATFS-1 pedals. Between the fact that the Firefly completely surpassed the Cicada in quality, and AirTurn’s new BT-106 and ATFS-2 pedals were (in my opinion) a step backward, the Firefly vaulted into everyday use for me. I used it regularly for all musical rehearsals and performances for over 2 years, without a single problem.
I’ll therefore use this as a baseline. To recap, the vitals on this pedal are:
- Dimensions: 6.75″ x 5.75″ x 1.375″ (with the very front of the pedal being only 0.5″ high)
- Weight: 11.4oz with batteries, 9.6oz without
- Power: Batteries (2xAA) or USB
- Pairing: dedicated button on back of unit
- Power button: Physical, dedicated
- Status indicator lights: one, red, top face of unit
- Keymapping: 5 modes built-in, customizable via software
The reasons I like this pedal so much are:
- Great feel to the pedals
- Travel distance for a “press” is excellent (short)
- Easy on/off
- Silent operation
My knocks on it were:
- Slightly on the heavy side
- Anti-skid was not always reliable
The more detailed breakdown is available in my last pedal showdown post, and so I won’t go too much into detail here, other than to provide an update after 2 years of steady use.
After 2 years, this pedal has shown absolutely no discernible wear, despite my frequent “toss it into my case or gig bag” mentality. I’ve never once had a problem with dropped connections, accidental presses, multiple page turns, or anything. At all. I perform with it usually 1-2x per week, regularly – sometimes more if I’m heavy into gig season. I have never once thought about reaching for one of the other pedals I own – the Firefly has been that good. I trust it completely as an everyday pedal, and absolutely love the fact that it runs on AA batteries, which means all I have to do is carry some spares and I have no worries. Even with that said, I think in the past two years I’ve changed the batteries…once, maybe twice? It’s been so few times that I can’t even remember. (I use rechargeables – Sanyo Eneloop or Apple.)
On the downside, I really don’t have anything myself. The only caveat I have here is that some folks reported Bluetooth problems with the V2 pedals. Mine is a V1, and I’ve never seen the problem with mine (connection dropping, trouble connecting). Reportedly, the V3 pedal addressed this issue. (Edit: PageFlip staff confirm that V3 and V4 alleviated the Bluetooth issues.)
TL;DR: The Firefly has been as solid of an everyday pedal as anyone could ask for. If anything it’s a bit on the heavy side with the batteries in there, but even still, the extra ounces are well worth it.
Now, on to the newcomers in the line…
The Butterfly – lighter, shorter, simpler
The new Butterfly is Pageflip’s most pared-down pedal. I don’t have the same 2-year backlog of usage on the Butterfly (or the Dragonfly, next up), but I’ll share my thoughts after a few weeks of use.
The main differences that you will notice about the Butterfly are:
- Lighter and slightly shorter back-to-front
- No USB connectivity (and therefore no USB power)
- No pedal lights
- Three modes (vs. 5 with the other pedals)
- $20 cheaper ($90 retail vs the Firefly at $110)
This unit weighs in lighter than the Firefly, at 9.25oz without batteries, and just over 11oz with. It’s the same height and width as the Firefly, but slightly shorter back to front – about a half inch. For most folks the savings of a half ounce or so isn’t a game changer, but if you’re really über-conscious about keeping your gig bag light, then the Butterfly is a good choice.
I’m pretty nit-picky and hyper-analytical about most things, and so I noticed some things that probably not all folks would notice about the Butterfly. First, and most notable, is the pedal height. Between my old V1 Firefly and this new Butterfly, I notice a pretty significant difference in how high the pedal extends above the base of the unit. Specifically, the Butterfly’s pedals are lower. The Firefly was fantastic in this regard to begin with, easily outstripping the AirTurn ATFS-2 pedals in “travel distance for a press” (TDP), and the Butterfly improves on the compact design of the Firefly even more.
At the risk of complicating this concept a bit, I did notice that the pedals on the (admittedly brand-new and not worn-in) Butterfly were a bit stiffer to press than my old Firefly. However, the important piece here is that there was no discernible difference in performance even so, presumably due to the shorter travel distance for the pedal. In other words – though they’d be a bit stiffer by a force gauge, the effective distance to register a “press” (TDP, remember?) is slightly less than my old Firefly, and so the feel / behavior is pretty much the same.
One other slightly nit-picky thing to mention that’s somewhat related. The Butterfly is about a 1/2″ shorter back-to-front than the Firefly. With this more compact design comes a slight tradeoff – the “effective pedal area” (EPA – yes, evidently I love making up abbreviations) on the Butterfly is actually a bit less than on the Firefly. What I mean by that is…there is a shorter distance from the front of the pedal to the point where the “hinge” on the pedal starts. So the area in which you can push down to register a “press” is a bit less on the Butterfly… specifically about a 1/2″ shorter (which makes sense, given that that’s the difference in size between the two units).
How much does EPA matter? Well, I think that’s personal preference really, but for me the answer is “not really at all.” The only time I’m ever concerned about it is when I’m in an environment where I’m potentially moving around a lot while playing, usually standing up, and therefore have to have a bit of flexibility in where I press on the pedal to turn the page. On either unit, to really run into trouble here, you’d have to be trying to tap up near the controls to get a failed attempt. So realistically, that 1/2″ difference in EPA is negligible in my book. Well worth the tradeoff in size.
Finally, one great thing that I noticed (and I’d like to think I might have been responsible for influencing) is the much, MUCH improved anti-skid pads. In my last pedal showdown article, I noted that both the AirTurn unit and the Firefly were not so great at staying in place – they could be accidentally shifted pretty easily with an errant pedal press or accidental nudge. Well, the folks at PageFlip took notice, and the anti-skid pads on the Butterfly (and the Dragonfly, and the V4 Firefly model) have been vastly improved. The difference is very noticeable and I am thrilled with it. Especially on hard surfaces, I can now count on the pedal to stay in one place throughout the entire session. Bravo to PageFlip on this one.
The Butterfly could easily become my everyday pedal. The inability to charge / operate via USB is possibly the highest-impact omission on this model in my eyes. Since all of my devices have Bluetooth, power is my only concern, and this is easily mitigated by a) the incredible battery life on the unit, and b) something I do regularly anyway – carrying an extra set of batteries. My opinion is that, unless you’re in need of custom programming on the pedals, or more modes than the Butterfly has to offer (PgUp/PgDn, up/down, left/right), or lights on the pedals, the Butterfly is easily just as good as the Firefly.
PageFlip bills the Butterfly as a “new and improved version” of the Cicada, and I agree with that 100%. It’s easily the best entry-level pedal on the market.
TL;DR: the Butterfly pedal retains or improves upon everything I loved about the Firefly, and I don’t miss the features that it omits from the Firefly. At $90, it’s a great bargain and just as solid as the Firefly – you can’t go wrong with that.
The Dragonfly – power and flexibility, while still compact and dependable
The new Dragonfly is PageFlip’s new high-end pedal. I’ll start off by saying that it’s not going to be for everyone, but at the same time, it easily could be. What do I mean by that? Well, hopefully it’ll become clearer as I go.
As with the Butterfly, I’m giving the Dragonfly a review after only a couple weeks of solid use, vs. a couple of years of experience with the Firefly, but I feel good about what I’ve found anyway.
The main differences that you will notice about the Dragonfly are:
- A 4-pedal design
- As such, it’s a bit heavier and larger than the Firefly
- $20 more expensive ($130 retail vs the Firefly at $110)
Unsurprisingly, the Dragonfly is the most hefty of the PageFlip pedals, weighing in at 11.6 oz without batteries, and 13.4 oz with, which is a full 2 oz. difference vs the Firefly – not insignificant. More predominant, however, is the difference in dimensions. The Dragonfly features two additional built-in pedals on the unit, located up toward the controls, and elevated to avoid accidental presses when aiming for the primary pedals. So naturally, we expect it to be larger. Comparing the backs of the units (not including the pedals), the Dragonfly is a good 1/4 to 1/2″ taller than the Firefly, and then the extra pedals give it about another 1/2″. So we’re talking about almost an extra inch in height. Again, not an insignificant difference. Finally, there’s another 1/4″ on the width, and an extra 1/2″ on the length (back-to-front) vs. the Firefly. So yes, it’s bigger than the Firefly / Butterfly, in every dimension.
You may wonder why I am comparing this pedal to the Firefly. True, it has 4 pedals, and the argument could be made that it’s aimed at a completely different consumer base (more pro). While that may be true, I would argue that this unit is built in a way that is meant to try and offer some of those “pro” features to the everyday user, since the footprint of the unit isn’t that much different from that of the Firefly. In other words, I believe this unit attempts to bring “more power” to the everyday user. (And succeeds in doing so. But more on that in a minute.) I believe that those considering the Firefly should also consider the Dragonfly. Read on.
First, I will say that if your priority is on lightweight, low-profile pedals, then the Dragonfly is probably not for you. Probably. I say that because, generally, I’ve favored that over the years in my pedals. Portability has been close to #1 in my book (behind reliability), and really, that hasn’t changed much. The key here is what you get with the Dragonfly’s extra bulk.
Four pedals. My first thought as I pulled the Dragonfly out was “what the heck am I going to use those other two pedals for?” This is probably what many “basic users” think as well – if you are currently using a pedal (or looking for a pedal) for the sole purpose of page turning, then yes – we were (are) in the same boat. But here’s the kicker – I did not realize just how much you can do these days with four pedals. Now, the Firefly is capable of giving you 4-pedal functionality, but you a) have to buy the other pedals separately, and b) thus have to carry them around with you, and c) have to plug them in every time you want to use them. Here’s where the Dragonfly shines.
The Dragonfly gives you 4-pedal power in a 2-pedal body. (Or at least close.)
OK, OK, the question still remains – what do you do with those extra pedals? Well, my answer is still “I’m not quite sure.” But as an iPad user who uses forScore, the possibilities are quite diverse. forScore allows you to map keystrokes to a plethora of different functions in the app, some of which I never knew I needed until I had them. I actually found myself consistently switching between different uses for the extra pedals, in some cases for testing purposes, but eventually in earnest to suit my current situation. Here are some examples:
For practice – one extra pedal is mapped to the metronome, a feature of the forScore app that I rarely used before because I found it cumbersome to get to. The other extra pedal is mapped to one of: the “annotate” function, so that I can make markings; the “tuner” function if I’m really woodshedding intonation; or the “record” function if I’m doing a run-through.
For rehearsals, or performances with flexible setlists – In rehearsals, or situations where your setlist is a bit more fluid, I have found it helpful to use the upper pedals with the “Next Score” / “Previous Score” functions in forScore. This allows me to easily flip to the correct piece of music without having to even put my instrument down. I sometimes still leave one pedal set to “annotate”, and the other set to “notes”, especially during early rehearsals where I anticipate making more notes.
For performance with a fixed setlist – My performing comes mostly in the form of fixed setlists – for example, I play with symphony orchestras. In those situations, the setlist is fixed, and I know the exact order of the performance. Thus, really, all I should need is the forward/back pedals. In these cases, my upper pedals are mapped to either a) nothing; or b) Perform mode.
So really, in using the Dragonfly regularly with these mappings, the 4 pedals have become nearly indispensable for me. This is why I’ve prefaced this section the way I did; I was never really in the market for a 4 pedal system, but I’m sure enjoying the convenience now that I have it.
The most amazing part of this is the flexibility of the programming on the device. Here’s where things get awesome. Switching the keystroke mapping within forScore (to change what the upper pedals do) isn’t that bad, but can still be cumbersome, especially if you forget to do it before you begin your practice / rehearsal / performance. But thanks to the Dragonfly’s custom mapping software, this becomes silly-easy to work around. Connect the device to a computer, and use their software to map some of the other modes to different buttons. By default, Mode 3 is up/down/left/right, and with this mode 4-pedal mapping works out of the box with forScore. However that’s the only mode for which that’s the case. But, not to worry. Hook up the Dragonfly to the software and reprogram Mode 4 to up/down/q/w, reprogram Mode 5 to up/down/a/s, and so forth, and then all you need to do is set your forScore mapping once, and then with a press of a button on the Dragonfly you’re in “practice” mode or “rehearsal” mode or “performance” mode.
I never used the custom mapping on the Firefly; I never had a need to. But with the extra flexibility afforded by the Dragonfly, it’s a must in my book. The ease of mode-switching on the Dragonfly, and the ease-of-use on the programming software make this so dead simple, that you’ll wonder quickly how you ever lived without 4 pedals.
The one worry I’ve had about the 4 pedal system is accidental presses. The more features and buttons you add, the more likely it will be for you to hit one accidentally when aiming for another. In my weeks of using the Dragonfly (in practice, rehearsal, and yes, performance), I’ve not hit the wrong pedal once. These upper pedals may seem silly at first, but they are so well-conceived and well-placed that I don’t ever worry about “wrong pedal” presses.
Now, enough about the pedals. Some other pieces about the Dragonfly – the same anti-skid improvements that the Butterfly boasts are also here on the Dragonfly. Unbelievable improvement, and even more important with the addition of the 3rd and 4th pedal. Again, great work here by the PageFlip folks.
I mentioned also the difference in pedal height and therefore TDP (travel distance for a press, remember?) with the Butterfly. Impressively, the same improvement has been made on the Dragonfly. It’s a shorter distance traveled, and slightly stiffer, but effectively it’s just as easy to press as the Firefly.
Also, I mentioned EPA (effective pedal area) with the Butterfly being a bit smaller than the Firefly. Well with the Dragonfly, you get a full extra inch in length of EPA – I can trigger the press on the lower pedals almost all the way up the pedal.
So really, I’ll say again – if you’re in the market for a two-pedal system, don’t rule out the Dragonfly. It is once again as solid as the Firefly has been, and the extra features on this unit are – to me – worth the extra $20 over the Firefly. I’ve moved to using this pedal as my everyday pedal, unless I am in a situation where the extra size of the unit is impractical (which is rare). There is no other 4-pedal system on the market that fits into this small of a profile.
TL;DR: The Dragonfly is the most compact 4-pedal system currently on the market, without sacrificing the reliability and durability that the PageFlip brand has shown to me over the years. It’s a great 4-pedal sytem for all – those who are looking for 4 pedals, and for those who don’t even know they want 4 pedals.
Conclusion, and special offer!
Boy, PageFlip has come a long way since the Cicada. The Cicada was a respectable unit in its own way, but I continue to be flat-out impressed with the way that the folks at PageFlip improve their products. The Firefly quickly became my everyday pedal over my then-trusty AirTurn BT-105 (with ATFS-1 pedals, which I still maintain are superior to the ATFS-2), and I have not looked back, even despite the release of the AirTurn BT-106 / DUO and AirTurn PED (which I have yet to write my review for).
For me, it boils down to this: musicians need to be able to count on their equipment working – and these days that extends beyond just their instruments and gear, and into their portable technology. The Firefly has always been a “set it and forget it” device for me; for over two years I never worried about meltdowns, disconnections, or other problems. It just worked. I go into my gigs focused on the music, and can 100% trust that my tech will work. There’s not much tech I can actually say that about these days, and so I would consider that high praise. I am looking forward to spending more time with the Dragonfly, and seeing how it evolves as my new everyday pedal.
Thank you very much for reading – I know I can get long and drawn out sometimes. As a “reward” I’ve been given a great offer by the folks at PageFlip to extend to all of my readers out there:
During the month of April 2017, readers can receive $20 off of the purchase of a Firefly / Dragonfly, or $10 off the purchase of a Butterfly. First, place your order (at full price) on http://www.pageflip.com. Then, email firstname.lastname@example.org and cite this blog post to receive a refund.
Folks, really – don’t miss this deal. These pedals are top-notch. Nobody is paying me or bribing me to say any of this, and I don’t get a cut of any sales. I’m just a tech-enthusiast musician who understands how important good, reliable equipment is. For anyone who wants to go digital with their sheet music, I wholeheartedly believe that you can’t get a better pedal right now than a PageFlip pedal.