After spending hours pouring over reviews and my own experience, we have nailed down the list of the best Di boxes for bass players. Whether you are using for guitars or vocals, our recommendations will make sure you get the right equipment for producing better sounds.
- 1 What is a direct box (DI)?
- 2 Passive vs active direct box
- 3 Why do you need a direct box for your bass guitar?
- 4 How do you choose the best direct box for your bass?
- 5 Best direct boxes for guitars
- 6 A word on bass DI box vs preamp
- 7 Final words
What is a direct box (DI)?
Also known as direct injection (DI), a direct box is a device which converts the unbalanced, high impedance output from an instrument to balanced, low impedence input into the mixer. A typical direct box has an output to an amplifier and another to a PA system. The DI also allows signals to be transmitted along long cables without adding noise. Therefore, they are extremely useful for large concerts, such as those performed in stadiums.
Passive vs active direct box
A passive DI is basically a transformer. It is notably favoured for its ability to eliminate hums, and handle high-level signals without distorting them. Once overdriven, passive direct boxes become saturated, providing a smooth transition from soft to loud much like the behaviour of a limiter.
A passive DI is called passive since it does not require a power source to operate, which is also a significant strength, as this basically means that a passive direct box can last forever. Passive direct boxes are sometimes preferred for live performances as they eliminate the need for AC power sources or phantom power.
Passive direct boxes, however, are not particularly good at passive and low- level signals, such as electric basses, passive electric guitars or vintage pianos and keyboards.
Active direct boxes are preferred when handling of low-input signals is required. They are basically preamplifiers, providing higher input impedance than that of a passive DI to drive low-level inputs.
The disadvantage of using an active DI is the abrupt volume change it produces when it is overdriven by high-level inputs. For instance, when used to drive the input from a distorted electric guitar, the active DI may go from completely clean to suddenly loud and harsh, which is generally not desirable.
Active direct boxes take their power from batteries or phantom power from a mixer. The latter option is generally preferred for professional touring and performances as the batteries may die in the middle of a set.
Why do you need a direct box for your bass guitar?
The low-level, high impedance signal from an electric bass guitar requires a direct box to convert it to a balanced, low impedance signal, which can be passed into a mixer with other instruments. The use of a DI also allows the signal from the bass to be passed along long cables without producing noise.
Simply put, you need a direct box to make your bass signals easier to manipulate in a mix console, as well as to get rid of the line noise. It makes you, your bass, and your bandmates happy.
How do you choose the best direct box for your bass?
The answer depends on the type of instrument you play and the kind of sound you want to achieve.
As a rule of thumb, use passive direct boxes for “active” inputs (instruments with built-in preamps such as acoustic-electric guitars and basses), and active direct boxes for “passive” inputs (those without built-in preamps such as electric basses and guitars).
Furthermore, in general if you desire a warmer, rounder and more vintage tone for your bass, a passive DI may do the job. If you fancy a little spice on the higher frequencies, then an active DI may make a better fit. Be careful of the overload on active direct boxes though. They can produce abrupt volume changes, for example when you slap on the bass and go full aggressive metal mode. One way to avoid this is to select an active DI which can handle high voltages.
If you like more thunder, thud and beef in your playing, an active DI is generally a better choice.
Best direct boxes for guitars
Most musical instruments including both electric and acoustic guitar, have unbalanced outputs. Without a DI box to balance this out, connecting them straight to a mixer can lead to un-optimized listening experience.
Radial Engineering J48 Review
This active DI is designed specifically for handling high voltages, which makes it an ideal choice for electric bass players who need the higher frequencies to be reflected honestly and pristinely in their playing. The result is minimal harmonic distortion, smooth volume transitions, and pure bass thud.
The Radial J48 provides maximum headroom, allowing a wide range of frequencies to be played without getting distorted. As it runs on phantom power, you can plug it straight into a mixer without worrying about the DI going dead in the midddle of the set. You will also not have to worry about having to look for an AC power source on stage, minimizing the fuss when performing live.
Packaging wise, it has a very solid steel casing that prevents it from being damaged easily. The same case also acts as a shield to prevent outside inference from influencing the sound quality.
Whirlwind IMP 2 Standard Direct Box Review
An extremely affordable option for direct box for bass players, this little beauty does the job exceptionally well for her price. As the Whirwind IMP 2 is a passive DI, it is ideal for acoustic-electric bass guitars, which already have an active built-in preamp. Perfect for small, intimate acoustic gigs, recording sessions in the studio, or simply for trying out a new bass guitar!
Its biggest feature is the excellent ground lift that will block out the noise emitted when mics drop on the floor etc. You don’t realise how important this feature is until you see how it saves your butt on the many occasions that ground noise came up.
However, if you are thinking of using it for more complex instruments beyond keyword and guitars, then this DI box might not be ideal. It cannot handle higher frequencies as well as the Radial J48, which is my suggestion to get for non keyboard and guitars.
Side note: Whirlwind Imp 2 vs Radial
A common question folks will be asking is what is the difference between Whirlwind imp 2 and Radial J48 so here is a checklist to help you see the differences:
- Price: Radial J48 is the more expensive of the two but it is really good. However, if you are on a budget, go for the Whirlwind Imp2
- Flexibility: One reason why many people like Radial J48 is that it can handle a wide range of frequencies and sound without so much as a hiccup. Whirlwind Imp 2 handles the low bass and non complex sounds really well but you can hear a difference beyond these 2 conditions.
- Sound output: There is a difference in sound output between the 2 DI boxes but only when you have high end equipment such as a good mixer to hear these differences. If your studio set up comprised mainly of cheap gear that doesn’t output high quality sounds, you can’t tell the difference between a Radial and a Whirlwind.
- Shielding: One reason for Radial’s higher price is the quality shielding or casing. Beyond just protection from physical damage, it also cuts down a lot of interference from devices such as guitar amps.
- Quality of Transformers: High end DI boxes have very good transformers that wouldn’t distort the sounds quality. Cheaper one like Whirlwind Imp 2’s transformer can handle the transformer from simple instrument like a bass guitar but will face the distortion problems for more complex sounds.
Behringer ultra-di pro di800 review
Who says you can’t fit everyone in the band inside a direct box?
Featuring a monstrous set of 8 input channels, the Berhinger Ultra-DI Pro DI800 makes sure no one ever feels left out. Now you can record everyone at the same time into the same mixing board, with minimal fuss!
The ground lift on this box is also amazing and on par with some of the best in the market. Just a simple switch and all the ground noise disappears. Amazing!
Side note: Behringer di800 vs di4000
A related question is what is the difference between Behringer di800 and di4000. See below for a detail comparison between the 2 models.
- Channels: di800 has 8 channels while he di4000 has 4. For bands who need multiple inputs. the di800 is a better fit
- Sound distortion: Comparing the two, it seems that di800 allow noise and hums to be color the original sound while the di4000 does a better job of preventing this from happening.
- Input: the di800 improve on the design of the inputs such that musicians don’t have to tamper with the rear rack anymore. The inputs can be seen at the front and that makes setting up much faster.
Countryman type 85 review
Want an active direct box that can capture the best tone of your precious bass pickup? The Countryman DT85 Type is definitely worth a go. Giving you a faithful pristine voice of the bass, your groove will be smooth as butter with this beauty. Definitely one of the best active DI’s for live gigs in the market.
Countryman type 85 vs radial j48
Both models actually give you great sound so it is hard to choose between them. The difference lies in very small details that are only beneficial to select target groups:
- Polarity switch and merge: Radial J48 has these 2 useful features that takes 2 outputs and combines them into one. This is great for keyword DIing.
Countryman type 85 vs type 10
Another common comparison is between type 85 and type 10. Both perform well but get the type 85 if you want something simple with no fuzz. If you like additional features, such as the ability to handle hot output from keyboards, then type 10 will be a better choice. Other type 10 features missing from type 85 will be things like monitoring battery usage and quality of phantom power.
Radial ProDI Review: Best DI box for recording
One of the best direct boxes for recording in the studio, the Radial ProDI brings out the best in acoustic-electric bass guitars, eliminating ground loops and bringing out the rich, warm sounds of your bass guitar.
Being ridiculously easy to use, the Radial ProDI is also one of the best direct boxes for new recording artists.
Famous for being a rugged passive direct box with stella-quality transformers, the Radial ProDI is an affordable yet extremely reliable choice for the home recording artist or hobbyist, as well as the busy gig player. Forget the trouble of looking for an AC power source on stage. Never mind that nervous guitarist who is constantly worried that his active DI batteries will die before the second set. Just plug in your ax, and you’re good to go!
Avalon U5 DI Review
This is a super high end DI box meant for professional studio recording. The Avalon U5 Pure Class A Mono Instrument DI eliminates line noise and capture the best dynamics of your bass playing, giving you that pure, powerful, rich bass. Your fat and fair lady (the bass guitar) will be as happy with this fellow as you are!
For guitar plays, both electric and acoustic, the sound quality you get from this will be second to none. It balances the sound so well that what comes out from it is pure guitar goodness.
The downside is the cost, which is one of the highest among all the models reviewed here in this article. It is not a mono device, meaning it can’t handle stereo sound well.
Radial Engineering JDV MK3 Direct Box Review
Want an active DI that can boost the levels of your bass without unnecessarily coloring your tone? The Radial JDV might be the ideal choice for you!
Giving you the exceptional tonic quality synonymous with Radial direct boxes, the Radial JDV provides that coveted, truly natural and honestly reproduced bass sound that the audiofiles crave so much. This beauty is truly one of the best available direct boxes for your home studio.
Radial jdv vs Avalon u5
So, among the two high end DI boxes, which is a better choice? Again, no clear winner but there are differences between the two:
- Portability: The Radial JDV is compact so it is easier to ship around for shows and such
- Mic preamp included: If your set up needs a mic preamp, then the Avalon u5 is better as it is already included within the DI box
- Sound reproduction: For exact sound reproduction, you will want the Avalon but if you want to color the sound, then the Radial model is a better fit.
A word on bass DI box vs preamp
A DI box is specifically used to convert an unbalanced, high impedance, instrument level input to a balanced, low impedance, microphone level output which can be fed into a mixer. On the other hand, a preamp is a general term to describe any device that serves one of the following functions: increasing the gain, altering the tone of the input, or converting unbalanced inputs to balanced outputs, just to name a few.
While some bass DI boxes have the functions of a preamp, for instance active DI boxes generally increase the gain of their low- level inputs, it is not correct to assume that all active DI boxes are preamps, or that any preamps can perform the functions of an active bass DI box. These two types of products simply have overlapping features and sometimes perform similar functions, and should not be deemed interchangeable.
As usual, take into consideration your total studio budget when choosing the right DI box for your bass guitar. Your direct box will most likely not be the only piece of equipment you need to record or perform live, so it is advisable to not pour all your budget into purchasing a bass DI box.
According to the guys at Radial Engineering, for every 5 dollars you spend on your instrument, you should invest 1 dollar into your direct box. So if your bass costs $1000, you should invest roughly $200 into a direct box (I will not be held responsible should you choose to follow this rule!).
It is perfectly normal to have both a passive DI box and an active one, as they serve different purposes and perform better in different settings, as discussed earlier in this post.
Take some care in deciding your recording and gigging needs, and good luck in choosing the best DI box for your bass guitar.