Acoustic DI Boxes Part 2 – DI Box Showdown

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How does one go about trying out a bunch of DI pedals?  A credit card and music stores with a 30 day return policy!  I couldn’t get every DI box on the market – there are lots – but I got quite a few of them and I started plugging stuff in to see what worked for me.

Fishman

Fishman Aura DI boxStarting with the Fishman Aura DI (10MΩ input impedance) I was lost in all the different settings and thought about all the different places I was going to play, how much “air” do I dial in and the imaging and it quickly became too many choices for my goals.  I can see this really working for solo performers and definitely finger pickers and folks that really enjoy wood-shedding with endless amount of settings but for me and my strumming – the air that this pedal added with the imaging took away too much of my acoustic sound, which I really like.  It became more about what I thought an acoustic should sound like than what my acoustic actually sounded like.

LR Baggs

LR Baggs Para Acoustic DIThe LR Baggs Para DI was next (10MΩ input impedance) and I liked this  DI box a lot, it even had an effects loop that allowed me to put my Boss tuner and RC-1 loop pedal in the chain and not have the tone get squashed.  Bonus!  My main frustration was that the EQ was always on and yes it sounded good but there was no way to bypass it, even setting it flat seemed to color the sound.  The layout is pretty simple and easy with the notching labeled well.  This was my second favorite.  I toured with this pedal for a summer and I often forgot to even check where the knobs were – it always sounded good and the few times it didn’t was because a knob got moved in transit to one of the extremes.

LR Baggs Venue DIThe LR Baggs Venue DI (10MΩ input impedance) has a built in tuner and a boost function so I was really keen to try this one.  It even came with a carrying case – bonus!  This one was pretty easy to work and dial in but I couldn’t get this upper mid harshness out of my guitar.  The tuner works, but it didn’t track all that quickly and it was frustrating that in the time I was waiting for the tuner, I just clipped a Snark on and was done with it.  The boost was awesome.  I loved this feature.  But overall, not for me. 1This did end up with my friend Ben Riddle who uses it regularly and it even survived a full glass of wine being spilled directly on top of it Even though I don’t use this one anymore it’s become integral to Ben Riddle’s2we tour with him in Riddle & The Stars set up as his tenor guitar has very low output and setting his acoustic sound levels and then balancing the lower output guitar with the boost function really made things easy.

Radial

Radial Pro DIThe Radial DI box. (140kΩ input impedance) I know they just came out with the PZDI, a special DI made for piezo pickups,
but no one near me had one so I bought what I could find and it was the ProDI.  It was fine.  It was easy.  It was…bland.  There’s no knobs to turn so it was easy to use but I wasn’t inspired by the sound.  It took more knob tweaking on the PA to get it sounding good.  I know the input impedance played a big role in this.  And here’s the thing – I looked up the values after I tried them out.   Like I said, I wanted to try the Radial PZDI but I was unable to put my hands on it.

Other DI Boxes

Behringer, Rolls, Sansamp.  All worked fine but Rolls Matchbox DIagain, the sound was uninspiring.  Ok, so the Sansamp was miles better than the Behringer or the Rolls 3The Rolls was the worst of the bunch but still just..eh.  It had a boost type of function but overall it seemed to compress the sound, less sparkle and dynamics for my style of playing.

Custom Made DI Boxes

Bobbo's Fancy ABY/DI Bobbo's Ernie Ball Volume DIThere were 3 of these and I got way into “oh, this one is using a Jensen transformer” and audiophile technical shit and didn’t know to take into account the input impedance that would have really made the difference.  There was the Ernie Ball Volume DI mentioned in Part 1 and the Fancy DI which was an ABY pedal so I could have one guitar cable for acoustic and electric guitars and just switch where the output went to.  Still a great idea that fell short in the R&D department.  All of these pedals were 1MΩ input impedance and the piezo didn’t stand a chance.

 

 

 

 

The Winner

Fishman Pro EQ PlatinumNow the Fishman ProEQ Platinum (10MΩ input impedance) is an older model Fishman but it was the winner for me. This DI has EQ sliders and a big volume knob but what it also had was a “pre/post” switch so you could use just the DI section and bypass the volume or EQ if desired.  For me this was the best sound.  My acoustic into the DI with no EQ in the chain was big sounding with easy dynamics and not harsh.   Winner.  Not only that but because of the pre/post section it works as a two channel DI for me where I can plug my 12 string acoustic in and have different EQ settings and volume just by engaging the EQ section.  Easier and more versatile than the rest.

I did all my testing on a pair of powered 12″ PA speakers, 10″ powered monitors and a Fishman SA220.  I used an Allen & Heath Zed10 mixing board and kept the EQ flat during the preliminary testing.  For consistency I used my Gibson J-30 acoustic guitar equipped with a Fishman Infinity Matrix system.

The big takeaway for me 4Aside from the folks at GC and Sam Ash are tired of me returning DI pedals! was that you have to just trust your ears.  I had a lot of nice, fancy, expensive gear and the winner for me was an older model Fishman – that they don’t even make anymore!  At one point I plugged in my Gibson J45 and it was significantly bassier than the J30 and I was reluctant to turn the bass down on any of the EQ’s or mixer – I kept staring at it thinking  “but turning the bass down this low just doesn’t LOOK right”.  The key is to trust your ears and drop those kinds of built-in assumptions we have – the EQ might not “look” right but does it “sound” right?

But the thing to remember is – if you want it to sound like an acoustic, put it through a DI and into an acoustic amp or the PA, don’t try to put it through your effects pedals and into an electric guitar amp and hope it sounds like an acoustic because it never will. 5Definitely put your acoustic through pedals and amps if you want to experiment with sound, just don’t expect it to sound “acoustic-y”.

In Part 3 we will tackle when you want distort your acoustic and make it NOT sound like an acoustic.

Notes:   [ + ]

1. This did end up with my friend Ben Riddle who uses it regularly and it even survived a full glass of wine being spilled directly on top of it
2. we tour with him in Riddle & The Stars
3. The Rolls was the worst of the bunch
4. Aside from the folks at GC and Sam Ash are tired of me returning DI pedals!
5. Definitely put your acoustic through pedals and amps if you want to experiment with sound, just don’t expect it to sound “acoustic-y”.

4 COMMENTS

  1. After not being satisfied with every other electrical device I’ve run my acoustics through (except for the BBE Acoustic Preamp 386 and that’s an older rackmount unit, not great for plugging in at your feet by the mic stand, but it does sound great) I took your advice and found a Fishman ProQ Platinum on eBay and damn, it actually works well! I also like that it has some HEFT to it so it’s likely to stay in place without a pedalboard. Thanks!

      • Mostly in post, gonna give it a serious go at the next gig. My Epiphone usually sounds great just straight in but I like the way the “Smooth” knob compresses, it really does smooth out the sound a bit without clamping it down (I run it about a quarter to half way up depending on which guitar) and the EQ is easy to adjust when I change from one guitar to another. Really, I run it mostly flat, just pulling a slight bit of the mids out. So far there’s not anything I DON’T like about this pedal. I’m really a bass player, so easy to use is a plus in my book.

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