You might ask yourself at some point, "What is a DI Box?" Well, you aren't the only one that has asked this if you have as they aren't the first thing someone thinks of when they think about recording or live sound. However, DI boxes play a more important role in the studio and on the stage than you might think, but what exactly is a DI box? What does it do to help you? Do you need one or more? Let's first discuss what is a DI box.
What Is A DI Box? Do You Need One Or More?
A DI box takes an unbalanced signal and converts it to a balanced signal. For example, the instrument cable that you use from your guitar or bass guitar is an unbalanced signal, and you can plug an XLR cable (balanced) into the output. Boom! That's it
Now that you know what a DI box is, why would you need one. Well, let me paint a picture for you. If you use a nice Shure SM52 BETA to mic your bass amplifier for recording, you most likely will here some unwanted noise if that player is using a pick. I mean absolutely no disrespect to bass players, but in a recording, that picking sound can give a massive amount of headaches. 9 times out of 10, I try to push to use my BSS direct box for the bass player. I have the bass player plug into that, then I plug the XLR cable into my audio interface. Live, I would plug the other part of the XLR into the mixer.
Passive DI Boxes
DI boxes come passive or active. This means that they either have power (active) or they don't have power (passive). Simple as that, but how do you know which type of DI box you need? A passive DI box should be for an instrument that has strong outputs. Here are some of the most popular Passive DI boxes (The following products contain affiliate links, which means at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase):
Active DI Boxes
An active DI box includes a preamplifier which boosts a weak output from the instrument. In other words, the instrument you are wanting to run through the DI box, are the pickups passive or active. Think of single coil pickups. One thing to note about active DI boxes, is that most modern boxes have the capability to be used in passive mode as well. These boxes are going to be a little bit more expensive than passive DI boxes due to that it includes a preamplifier. Here are the most popular active DI boxes that we suggest:
You may have noticed by this point that all of the DI boxes that I have suggested are made by Radial. Radial makes the most popular of all DI boxes that are available. Now that we have answered the question "What is a DI box" and looked at the most popular DI boxes out there, let's take a look at some scenarios that you may want to use one.
When To Use A DI Box
Use a DI box any time you need to have a clear balanced signal going to your mixer. For recording and in live sound, there are many situations that you may want to have a clear, clean, uninterrupted signal running to your board or interface. The goal for this is a matter of getting a great quality sound. There are many uses for them, but let's look at a couple examples in which you may consider using a DI box.
Example 1: Pickups And The Bass Pick
As I mentioned earlier in this article, bass pickups will pick up the sound of a pick. When recording and in live sound, this can be a very undesirable noise. At the same time, the bass player will most likely want to hear himself/herself playing. Plug their bass guitar into the input of the DI box, the Thru plugged into the amp, and the output plugged into the audio interface or mixer. This will solve that clicking noise, giving a clean balanced signal.
Example 2: Guitar Amp Modulation
As technology has advanced, so has a new form of recording called "amp modulation." This is the process of a guitar running straight to the audio interface, and using a virtual guitar amp on your computer. Personal opinion: as a producer, I like amp modulation as I have more freedom during mixing. Plug your electric guitar into the input of the DI box, and the output to the audio interface for this method.