Selecting a Direct Box
Q: I’m looking to upgrade my setup a little… shrink down my 4×10 cab to a equal power 2×10 and maybe buy a DI box for a live PA setting and a studio recording setting. In looking through the number of DI boxes, it’s hard to see what exactly makes a pedal a “Direct Box” as I’ve seen many so-called DI boxes with solo-boosting capabilities, EQ settings, the availability of 2 inputs, impedance matching (what is that?!) … the features are endless, it seems (see your recent review on the Basswitch for my point). My question is this: what makes a DI Box a “DI Box” (what allows a pedal to be called a DI Box), and what do you use/would you suggest as a good first DI Box to play small venues with my passive Stingray IV?
A: Well, essentially, DI stands for direct input. So essentially, of all the pedals that do all of those things you’ve mentioned, the “DI” feature is really just the XLR output that an engineer or sound person will use to patch your bass signal into the board or PA.
While I’m not a gear-head as it relates to the engineering and deeply technical part of this conversation, I recommend you read this PDF from Radial Engineering to get some of the insights you’re seeking.
What I can offer is real world stories on several DI’s, from sound to road-worthiness:
- Radial DI’s are the high-end standard. They are built like tanks, sound great and come with a variety of options to suit your needs. They’re also fairly compact and easy to carry around. Radials are my choice for a standalone DI box (I like the JDI model).
- Aguilar’s Tone Hammer kicks some butt if you’re looking for a DI with some extras. It has a wonderful Aguilar Preamp which you can engage or disengage (nice if you want to have a “solo boost” button or just need a little tweak to dial in your sound. It also has the “agro” switch which is an overdrive. A great thing if you want a little crunch, although I’ve never used it.
- BassWitch. You mentioned my earlier review, and things are well covered there. This is the best “do it all” pedal I’ve ever seen or heard. It has the features of the Aguilar (minus the overdrive) but also includes two effects loops. This has been wonderful for me as I play in SO many different situations throughout the year. I don’t always need all of the features of the BassWitch but, at some point, I will have used them all throughout the year. It’s built very well and sounds incredible.
Those are my 3 favorites. I’d suggest you read up online about what a DI actually does and figure out what your needs really are. I personally, love bringing my own DI with me to larger venues and studios. This way, I know what I’m working with and I can trust it. I hate showing up to a venue with my great gear and have my sound dialed in on stage and they have me going through a 30 year old DI box that’s been duck taped together and buzzes like crazy. Most people are really just hearing me through the house speakers in a large venue anyway, so I’d like to make sure that my signal is strong and clean.
And studio situations? I’m only going to hear myself through the headphones anyway so I need to make sure that I like my sound, otherwise my comfort (and playing) will suffer.
If you just need a DI box, I wouldn’t worry about the “do everything” pedals. Just get a solid, well reviewed DI box, and you’ll save yourself money too. If you’ve come to realize that some of those other features would be handy after all, check out the ones that offer the best combination for you. Practically every company that makes pre-amps, power-amps or audiophile gear of any kind offers a DI in their product lineup. Read the reviews, do your homework, see what people are saying about them and trust your gut.