Populele 2 Pro Smart Ukulele - REVIEW

12 Dec 2021

Populele 2 Pro Smart Ukulele - REVIEW

This week a return for a ukulele I have looked at once before, but with some additions. I wonder whether the upgrades match the suggestions I suggested in my first review? This is the Populele 2 Pro.

Populele 2 Pro ukulele

I tend to have a policy against reviewing 'updates' to existing ukuleles, but as this one included at least one of my 'wishlist' complaints about the first I agreed to have a look. That first one was the Populele 2 ukulele that I looked at in 2020 and whilst I liked it on the whole (and gave it a recommendation) I could not for the life of me understand why what was ostensibly an 'electric' ukulele didn't have a pickup. They've remedied that this time as I will come on to, but will they have addressed other issues I mentioned?

I will just say, that first review was extremely long as there was a lot to get through. I would, however, encourage you to also read that first review alongside this as this posting is more of an 'update' rather than me going through all the same details. A lot of it is largely unchanged unless I point out a difference.

The body is identical to the original ukulele and is still a shape I rather like for being 'different'. People will point out that it is similar (very similar) to the Lava U ukulele, but I as with the first model I 'believe' that this first came to light before the Lava. It's also the same carbon impregnated plastic which, like all other brands also do, really irritates me by calling it 'carbon fiber'. That is a mis-nomer as carbon fiber is a very expensive material made by layering sheets of carbon matting in a resin. This is not that, and neither is the Enya Nova, the Lava or the Outdoor Carbon. Like the Nova and Lava, this too is powder coated with a choice of colors (white, black, mint green and pink). I am seeing reports lately of people saying the finish on the Nova U is easily chipped showing off the black core material underneath. There are no 'chips' on the body here (though there are scuff marks), but there is one on the bridge material which, sure enough, is showing black underneath. Hmmm.

Populele 2 Pro ukulele body

The bridge is made from a material they call HPL Synthetic Fiber. I have NO idea what that is, but it looks plastic to me. The white finish is clearly a coating as I say above because there is a small chip showing near one of the slots.  That really stands out on a white instrument. It's a bit scruffy around the edges too and arrived like that. It's a slot style and holds a bone compensated saddle. String spacing here is 41mm.

Populele 2 Pro ukulele bridge

Elsewhere on the body you get the same offset round soundhole with a chrome edging ring which I still prefer to the Lava shape. And the other addition addresses the main complaint I had with the first version and that I mentioned above. It now comes with a transacoustic pickup system that both allows you to output to a jack socket on the base but also apply effects to the acoustic tone through an actuator inside. Readers will have seen these on several ukes before, including the Flight Soundwaves, the Enya Nova U and the Lava U, so the concept is not new, but it's nice to see here. This is  charged by an included USB-C cable and gives you the option of applying delay, chorus and reverb to your sound. They call their system the 'Popuboost Preamplifier' but to my eyes it looks completely identical to the model made by Double on the Lava U, even down to the slider on the internal panel which to this day I have no idea what it does.. Also on the back of the body is the battery compartment for powering the smart features as there was on the original. There's a gripe - why on earth couldn't they use the rechargeable battery for the pickup to power the smart features too? You need to both charge this AND use batteries. Crazy.

Populele 2 Pro ukulele sound hole

It's also worth noting that both the offeset sound hole and, more importantly, the location of the controls means this won't really suit a left hander. I cannot see a left handed option on their sales page either.

Inside there isn't much to say as it's a black cavity. Naturally, compared to the original there is a mass of wiring from the pickup system and you will spot the actuator stuck to the back for the onboard effects.

Populele 2 Pro Ukulele inside

Like the original the neck is integral to the body and tapers to the same fairly flat profile but an average 35mm and 27.5mm G to A. Because of the profile I find it comfortable enough and the satin feel is nice. I liked the neck on the first, and I like this too because it's identical. 

The fingerboard is the same and holds the LED lights for the learning function under the plastic. For that reason I realise why it needs to be plastic, but still wish they gave it a matte finish rather than the glossy which I think looks cheap. I also think it's a shame that another of my original gripes have not been addressed, namely that there are still no side dots and that the 14 frets are still plastic. When you are not using the smart mode here there are no dots whatsoever and I think simple white dots on the side would make total sense.  I don't have an issue with plastic frets myself, but they do rule out the use of wound strings or compound material like Aquila Reds.  I think they should have taken a tip from the Enya Pro and installed metal ones. They are going with a 'Pro' tag here which so far has only meant the inclusion of the pickup and nothing else. They had a perfect opportunity to address both of those points. And come on.. side dots shouldn't even be a 'Pro' feature anyway!

Populele 2 Pro ukulele neck

Beyond the integral nut is the same headstock with the, rather attractive I think, hole in the middle and the Populele logo at the top.

Populele 2 Pro ukulele headstock

The tuners are largely the same but instead of black plastic buttons, the buttons here are chrome. Is that the one other 'nod' the the Pro styling? Maybe... Not a huge one though! They work ok.

Populele 2 Pro ukulele tuners

It comes with nothing else bar some un-named fluoro strings and the lack of a bag or any accessories needs to be considered against the comparisons I give below too. (There is a case, but it costs extra). Another 'Pro' opportunity missed I think.

As I said from the off, it's all largely the same bar the pickup addition and... the price. This comes in RRP at $279 against what was the RRP of the standard model (when I reviewed it) of $189 and currently $179. That sort of increase for the pickup is not surprising and the same sort of increase you see between the acoustic and EQ versions of the Nova U Concert (albeit you get a bag and extras with that ukulele). In fact, that Nova U EQ is probably the best comparison ukulele to this one so let's look closer at pricing. In UK money the Nova U EQ can be had for about £175, whereas the Populele 2 Pro has a UK equivalent of just over £200.  OK, that too seems fair enough to me because this does contain that extra functionality in the 'Smart' neck that has a value. The question seems to be, therefore, whether those smart features are worth the (admittedly) small step up in price over the Nova. I'd say probably so, but only IF you need them.  Perhaps another comparison should be with the extremely similar looking Lava U  (admittedly also with a bag and metal frets). That comes in at a frankly ridiculous £329 and shares what looks to be the exact same pickup. Compared to that instrument this model is a bargain. If it plays ok that is.

(And sorry to labour the review on pricing, but there is one other angle that needs mentioning - though I stress that what I am about to report is something I in NO WAY blame Populele for doing. With the original, they found that many other sellers were getting hold of them direct from the factory and selling them at hugely deflated prices - so whilst the original was meant to be a £150 instrument you could easily pick one up for £100 if you shopped around. That's good for the buyer of course, but less good for keeping the brand in business.  So with this one there is a point to bear in mind. If you don't buy from Populele direct (link below) you will not get a VIP card in the package that unlocks the lessons part of the app (you still get the playalong songs). To do that will require an extra purchase. I get why they have done it, but it's all oh so confusing that I got a bit irritated reading about it. It shouldn't be like this of course, but there you go - it happens a lot with Chinese instruments, and is such a shame.)

Populele 2 Pro ukulele back

Back to the uke. My feelings are largely the same as the original and I still like the look and feel of it. The addition of the pickup is an extremely sensible one considering their popularity, but I really think they missed an opportunity to big up that 'Pro' tag with other improvements. The chip in the coating on the bridge worries me about the hardiness of the finish, much like with the Nova U reports, so perhaps the black model would be more sensible for hiding them. It's noticeably much heavier than the original and perhaps uncomfortably so at 920g. That's nearly 170g extra.  The balance is slightly off too insofar as being a touch body heavy. This comes as no surprise with that extra gear inside but it feels like a brick. And i'm afraid I have another gripe, and that is with the setup on this example. I don't really talk much about setup in terms of action height with reviews because they really can come in a range and are fairly easily adjusted. This one though is CRAZY high at the saddle with a string height above the 12th of about 3.7mm.  Yes, I could fix it, but considering they sent this to me as a review model I am staggered! I rarely adjust scores for action because it IS adjustable, but I do in severe cases like this one because it's simply unacceptable to arrive like this. Incidentally, the nut is too high too, though not quite so severely. Your mileage may vary, but as they are not going through dealers i'd be cautious.

Populele 2 Pro ukulele pickup controls

Tone wise acoustically this is very much the same as the original. That is to say that the volume, clarity and sustain are all very good. I sense it's a slightly fuller and 'better' tone than the Nova U. Not by much, but to my ears it's there. There's just more about it and it's not as thin. I've done a back to back in the video below so you can judge yourself. Put more simply, they are both decent sounding and competent for a 'plastic' ukulele. In fact it doesn't sound like plastic at all. The set up though is certainly making my play uncomfortable, though it isn't affecting intonation. That's a worry in itself as I'd be concerned that taking the saddle down could throw it out and then need other adjustments to the break points. And on an integral nut that could be tricky. As it is, it's accurate and gives off a nice sound but is a pig to fret the strings.

Turning on the transacoustic system and it performs like the others I have played. They are a lot of fun and give you another dimension to your play. As with all of these I find the chorus to sound very artificial but it's the reverb and delay that are a hoot. One gripe for those who DO like the chorus sound is that it shares a dial with the delay setting, meaning you can't use both at the same time. And, answers on a postcard please as to what the slider inside the sound hole does because I can't sense any change in sound no matter where it is set. Maybe it affects the jack socket output, because this comes with one allowing you to send those same effects to an amplifier. Dunno.

Then we have the smart settings. I am not going to say too much here because it's really no different to the lengthy description I wrote in the original review. The app has been spruced up for iPhone and Android and 'looks' a lot better and now includes some video lessons too which are helpful for beginners. Also one other gripe I had with the original has gone away and that is the tuner and microphone sensitivity. With the original I found it simply didn't always pick up what you were playing and often missed notes. Here though it feels like they have tweaked it as I had no problems with it recognising chords or the tuner acting as it should. But other than that, they are the same. A large song library to play along to, perform with or run through practice 'games'. There is also the learning element too which my daughter loved last time and played with a lot. For more seasoned players, perhaps you may avoid this though. Then there is the ability to have the fretboard show a library of chord positions on the neck, practice sessions on both chords and scales, or the ability to just make the lights flash when you play. I found the original a bit of fun in this regard and think the same here. I remain bothered though that you have no dots at all when it's 'off' and that it requires battery power despite charging the instrument. You have to think about longevity of support here because if the app is no longer supported you won't get the lights at all.. But for now it's enjoyable. I run through the various pages on the video if you are interested, or you can rely on the original review to give you a flavour.

So, all in all I'm afraid to say that this one hasn't pleased me in the way I hoped it would. Don't get me wrong, as a core ukulele I like it just as much as the original and the pickup system is a great addition. But I think there are a few open goals that were missed in calling this the 'Pro'. I think they really should have considered metal frets, certainly should have included side dots you could see regardless of it being 'active' and sticking with batteries for one part of it and a charger for the other is baffling. The lack of a case also seems an obvious omission considering it's unusual shape. My concerns about the longevity of the smart features still stand, but then, they ARE still in business so maybe that is unfounded for now. Add in a poor setup and confusion about the 'VIP voucher' thing and it started to just annoy me as a package.

I still like the concept though and in the world of carbon mix composites, I think the core uke stacks up well against the Nova U EQ and is far better value than the Lava U. But none of these came together with the higher price to make me increase the score. In fact they caused the score to go down a little as I think it all needs to be considered as a whole. In summary I just don't think this has been thought through as an upgrade to the original as much as it could have been. 

A tough one to sum up this as you can probably tell! For me, I think if you really can see a use for the smart features, you'd take this over the Nova U with a pickup, but if not i'd either suggest the regular model or the Enya alternative.


Model: Populele Pro 2
Scale: Concert
Body: Composite with added carbon
Bridge: HPL Synthetic Fiber
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at saddle: 41mm
Finish: Powder coated colour in satin
Neck: Integral to body
Fingerboard: Plastic with integral lights learning system
Frets: 14 moulded to board
Nut: Integral to fingerboard
Nut width: 35mm, 27.5 G to A
Tuners: Chrome sealed gears
Stings: No brand name fluorocarbon
Extras: LED light learning system, transacoustic pickup
Weight: 920g
Country of origin: China
Price: $279


Decent core build
Good volume and sustain
Clear tone
Smart features are fun for kids
Addition of transacoustic pickup is a real bonus
Comfortable to hold and play


Some finish mark worries
Terrible action setup on this model
Heavy and slightly body heavy
Charging AND batteries??
Still don't like the shiny fingerboard
The 'Pro' tag amounts only to a pickup addition
Smart functions may still be limited by longevity of the app
No case included for asking price
Price no longer so keen


Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7 out of 10
Sound 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10









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