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 @ 7:28 PM
The Groove Tubes Ditto is a really nice tube DI and is pretty cheap as well. Ever since the Brick came out, the Ditto dropped significantly in price and you can find them used for @ $150. If you don't need the mic preamp that the Brick also has, the Ditto is a real deal. I've got two of them.

Nov.20.2006 @ 8:55 PM
For live sound I don't worry about boutique stuff like the Avalon. If you show up for a gig and you're upset that the engineer doesn't have a U5 waiting for you... you should also throw a tantrum about the lack of full-sized slices of bread on the sandwich tray.

The Countryman DIs are nice, the Radials are nice, and my own favorite sleeper is the $50 active DI made by EWI ( link []">link [] carries them). I've even recorded with the EWI and gotten compliments on my bass tone.

Hey, if you have to deal with piezos and don't mind soldering, here's my cheapo solution to the problem: link []">link []


Nov.21.2006 @ 10:08 AM
It's not so much that musicians should expect boutique gear, but a good engineer should be prepared to deal with all of the weird esoteric crap musicians want to get sound from. For the money, the U5 just represents the most cost-effective way to deal with just about anything.
It's not about the gear. Anyone can hire a rig, and just about anyone can figure out how to get noises out of it reliably. A good engineer knows how to make it sound good, and with a minimum of effort. If there's another tool in the same price range that has the feature set of the U5 I'd certainly like to know about it. It's sort of like the Terrasonde AudioToolbox in that regard.

Nov.21.2006 @ 2:29 PM
Chris Randall
Amen to that.



Nov.21.2006 @ 6:15 PM
Well, as a live sound engineer I'd tend to view a U5 as on the boutique end - definitely not something I'd drag around on the off chance it would be needed, since I could fit 5-10 task-specific mics into the same sized box. I do understand the whole issue of getting piezo pickups to sound passable, since I did a couple years as an engineer at a folk club - that's where the little DIY piezo buffer came from.

Nov.21.2006 @ 9:27 PM
See, I mostly worked on symphonic/orchestral gigs, so my need for task specific mics was pretty limited. I came across some weird DI needs though.

Nov.22.2006 @ 6:30 PM
"See, I mostly worked on symphonic/orchestral gigs, so my need for task specific mics was pretty limited. I came across some weird DI needs though."

Weird - I would expect that in symphonic stuff you'd have no pickups at all. For me it was mostly a matter of "OK, a DI for the pickup, but let me put a mic on there as well". Generally a piezo sounds a *lot* better when you can mix in a mic, even a mic that doesn't sound that great by itself.


Jan.27.2007 @ 6:07 PM
Reverb and Beer
Howdy - If you don't mind spending $4000.00, the Manley Labs 'VoxBox' is pretty incredible. EveAnna Manley said she was suprised to hear about all the bass players using it (the original intent was as a vocal pre). It has an unbalanced instrument input - there is a short blub by the designing engineer on the Manley web site about using DI's and pre-amps together (attenuate then boost then attenuate then, etc. and the signal hasn't even hit the console yet...).

I run my Taylor 12-string through it and the warmth and fullness of the sound is remarkable. I use this set-up on 'Song Remains the Same' with my band, and it's very cool to have my acoustic guitar WAY out front of those annoying Marshalls...

Of course, this is MINE, and for riders I have 4 Countryman's, 2 LR Baggs para-acoustics, 2 Radial 48's and 16 ch of EWI active and passive (originally bought to be used as mic splitters - no complaints yet...). The only problems I've had with any of these have been directly related to the common sense of the user (me)...


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