November 19, 2006

Direct Injection...

by Chris Randall

Since this can obviously become a point of contention, I'll nip it in the bud. Normally, I don't use a dedicated D.I. box in my own studio. I tend to either mic an amp, or use the front panel line input of my Brent Averil 312. (Usually only for bass, and even then only about half the time.)

But, on stage I bring my own D.I.s (this is a good habit everyone should have...) and I also have a pretty thorough experience with D.I.s in general. So, barring using the front panel input of a thousand or more dollar mic pre, here are my three choices for D.I. boxes, low, medium, and high-end:

GOOD: Countryman Type 85. $159 a throw. This is the standard the world over for stage D.I.; if you're a musician that needs to D.I. an instrument when you play live, and you're not rolling in cash, you should own one (or more) of these. Personally, I have 8. You literally can't go wrong with a Countryman. Another nice bonus is that if you show up to the gig with your own D.I.s, and they're these, the soundman (assuming he isn't a complete asstard) will automatically assume you know what you're doing, whether you do or not. (Note: sometimes the soundman will try to steal these from you when he's wrapping the stage. Make sure yours are well-marked, and you grab them literally before you do _anything_ else. The single most commonly stolen item in the music industry is the Type 85. How do you think I got 8 of 'em?)

BETTER: D.W. Fearn Passive Direct Box $300. Unless you have techs that will guard your shit, you generally don't want to be taking anything more expensive than that Countryman on stage, unless it's bolted in your rack. Thus, this isn't that good an idea for that particular course of action, as it's tiny and easily stolen. But if you need a good D.I. in your studio, you could do worse than this box. The thing is that in order to really see any benefit over the Type 85, you need a good mic pre to grab the info from this fucker, and if you have a good mic pre, it probably has an instrument input, which kind of obviates something like this. So it's in a hazy grey area. But I've used it, and it doesn't suck, not one bit. Handy if you have racked console pres, and they don't have instrument inputs.

BETTERER: Avalon U5. $575. Now we're getting in to heavy duty territory. The thing about the U5 isn't that it'll make your shit sound better than it already does. (In fact, its clarity will bring to light maybe some things you didn't want to hear, like fret buzz, hiss in your analog synth, and the like.) Rather, the U5 is the most eminently controllable D.I. made. It can grab pretty much any signal coming down a 1/4" cable and turn it in to something an Apogee can swallow whole. The best feature is that it has a power-soak input, so you can plug the speaker output from a guitar or bass head directly in to it. This is quite handy in today's home studio. I won't say it sounds great, as it doesn't sound at all. One of the most color-free devices made. If you're looking for an all-around studio D.I. that will absolutely be able to do whatever you ask of it without altering the input in the slightest, this is the box for you. Well worth the money.

BEST: Tab-Funkenwerk V71. $750. This is a D.I. made using the topology of everyone's favorite tube mic pre, the Telefunken V72. Absolutely the best thing going for bass D.I. If you want something that will fatten up the input, and give it some nice overtones, this is the box for you. Stellar for vintage analog synths, as well. Now, a caveat: if I was you, and I was looking at this box, I would just save a little more money and buy the TAB-Funkewerk V78 mic pre and a Countryman. Same net effect, but the V78 is a mic pre, and thus more useful in general.

As far as I'm concerned, the above are all one needs to know about D.I. boxes. What's stated is my opinion only, based on my personal experience.



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Nov.20.2006 @ 1:32 AM
I am just curious about your experiences with theft. I have never had trouble with theft at a venue, although I can say that given my complete lack of thought about the issue that it is probably more blind luck than any precaution that I have taken. I used to work for a record company that had a lot of bands on the road, although in that case they had roadies who watched the equipment for them, and so there wasn't any problem with theft either.

Since you mentioned it in this article... is theft really that much of a problem? I tend to be super sceptical about crime, just because I havent really been a victim of any crime at all and I am originally from Detroit which is know for being "full of crime" but in real life it is more racist paranoia than a rational concern...I am concerned about how careful I should be with equipment in a live situation. Is there reason to be worried? Just how common is theft? I know it is a little bit off topic, but you did manage theft in the article, and I think it is a topic a lot of musicians would be curious about. I admit that it is something I am completly clueless about.


Nov.20.2006 @ 2:14 AM
Most theft issues i've seen in LA from bands was when the band was uploading their gear or when their van was parked.
For example their entire backline waiting on the pavement in front of the whiskey on sunset strip...
i have never seen many thefts that happened when the gear was on stage.

Nov.20.2006 @ 2:58 AM
Chris Randall
I haven't had a lot of shit stolen from me, except in extenuating circumstances. (e.g. Never, ever trust a junkie. My own rule, and my own fault.) But I'm habitually careful about these sorts of things. Having worked in production basically all of my adult life, in Boston, NYC, and Chicago, plus played several thousand shows around the US and Canada, if there's any possible combination of events that could lead to something turning up missing, rest assured I've seen it at least once.

What _is_ incredibly common is a band leaving something behind, then someone on the production crew taking it home. When the band calls the club the next day to see if they still have whatever item it was, it has magically disappeared. I've seen that happen hundreds of times. I personally don't partake, but I look on it sort of as a stupidity tax, and a lesson learned, albeit at a cost.

We had one band opening for us on a tour, and the bass player had a beautiful vintage P-bass, worth a not insignificant amount of money. One night when he was drunk and chasing tail, he left it behind. We found it in the dummy check, of course, and loaded it in with our gear. Soundcheck the next day was amusing.

I know of several cases where a band's trailer was taken off the back of their van while they were at their hotel. This can usually be avoided with common sense. Personally, I use a pair of motorcycle locks to attach the trailer to the frame of the vehicle, a ball lock, and then I always make sure the trailer is backed up to a solid piece of concrete for the night. They may be able to get it, but I'm not going to make it easy on 'em. On tours where we've had two vans with trailers, we back the trailers up so their asses are against each other. This is probably the best method in this case.

In any event, usually theft isn't the real problem. In 999 out of every 1000 cases, alchohol is the ultimate culprit. People get so shitfaced before and during their show, their IQ is well down in the mid double digits by the time it's time to pack up their stuff, and they forget things, and other people take those things home. Simple as that.



Nov.20.2006 @ 2:59 AM
The U5 is a great bass DI. I need to chck out some of those others. The Countryman says that it can take a piezo, too. My personal experience with peizos is that, in and of themselves, they are very likely to sound like shit. At best, they do not convey the acoustic sound of the instrument they are mounted on very well. The L.R. Baggs para-acoustic DI doesn't sound great in and of itself, but it does a pretty good job of making shitty piezo pickups sound less shitty, and I think that for acoustic instruments, it probably occupies a nich similar to that of the countryman for electric instruments.

Nov.20.2006 @ 3:02 AM
Chris Randall
I wouldn't ever use a piezo in the studio, but on stage, where projection is more the issue, they're a god-send. The Countryman doesn't do what I would qualify as an excellent job smoothing things out. But it's so hard to get a piezo-mic'd instrument to sit in a live mix anyways, it's really pissing in the wind at that point.



Nov.20.2006 @ 7:44 AM
i'd like to see you do another post like this one, on your experience of mic-pre's, please chris!



Nov.20.2006 @ 8:14 AM
I wouldn't use a peizo for recording, either, but they are pretty covenient for live stuff, and the baggs box does a pretty decent job of smoothing out piezos for live stuff, especially if you use the eq right. That said, I actually went back to mics a few years ago, cause piezos sound like shit.

Nov.20.2006 @ 10:14 AM
from my experiences the radial stuff is very well built, and a decent value. their model JDI is electronically similar, possibly identical, to the Fearn passive DI listed in this roundup. jensen has a paper on their site for building a DI using their JT-DB transformer, and i doubt there's much reason for any manufacturer to stray far from their reference design.

it has been a while since i poked around inside an 85, but i'm pretty sure they have an output transformer AFTER the FET block. not the same design in terms of getting "teh w4rm s0und" but you do get the benefit of transformer isolation that way.

also, i've had good luck with the baggs paracoustic, which is pretty ruggedly built. the tiny knobs are a bit annoying, but you're unlikely to bump them. the sound is nothing super special, but the EQ, which is labeled in note names rather than frequencies, can really help acoustic instrument players fix up their mediocre pickup sound. obviously, most contact pickups (piezos, etc) are never going to sound as good as a mic, but as noted, on stage sometimes it is the only option.



Nov.20.2006 @ 11:56 AM
the groove tubes "the brick" seems to get favorable marks from engineer friends o' mine. i was contemplating picking one up for myself...

Nov.20.2006 @ 12:50 PM
Anyone have anything to say about Palmer DI boxes?

They get rave reviews in some parts for sound (espec. their guitar-oriented boxes) and for build quality (German engineering and all that).

I've got their Y-Box splitter/buffer, and am quite happy with it.


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