Why is DI so important to bass players?

(Quick info for those that don’t like to wait and want a DI box now: See the SansAMP Bass Driver DI and SansAMP Character Series VT Bass DI.)

“DI”, which most players know as “Direct Injection” (meaning not Direct Input and I’ll explain why in a moment), is a very standard thing to use when playing the bass guitar, be it for recording or live.

But why?

The answer depends on whether you’re using it for studio or stage application. But before I get into that, a quick question answered:

What does DI mean?

DI is typically defined as Direct Input, Direct Interface or Direct Injection. And yes, they all count.

Personally, I think the best definition of the three is Direct Injection because you are literally injecting something into the signal in order to change it.

“Direct Input” could mean simply plugging a bass direct-to-board without DI, and “Direct Interface” literally translates to “something that connects two things” and doesn’t really cover the tone changes that DI does; that’s why I prefer to use “Direct Injection” when referring to the technology.

What does a DI box actually do?

A DI box, such as the SansAMP Bass Driver DI or the SansAMP Character Series VT Bass DI (both noted above), provides electrical ground isolation between input and output, and matches impedance of the source to the load.

In plain English: Gets rid of line noise, and makes the bass tone much easier to control when plugged into a console mixer.

What’s the advantage of using DI for home recording?

A DI box is much cheaper and easier compared to the traditional way of recording.

Traditional way: Build a proper sound-controlled room (that will cost a few grand), buy 2 to 3 quality microphones with appropriate stands (at least another grand), place one mic in front of the speaker off-axis to the cone, one in the rear to “recover” bass frequencies not heard from the front mic, spend at least 30 minutes mixing all that crapola, then bang your head on the desk because there’s something in the signal causing a buzzing noise and you can’t figure out what it is or where it’s coming from.

DI way: Plug in box to console, tweak a few knobs, record.

What’s the advantage of using DI for stage?

For the player: If you gig regularly, there are “good rooms” and “bad rooms”. When you encounter one of the bad ones (and you will), a DI can be a life saver to tweak your tone in such a way that accommodates the crappy room better – with little to no noise even with the “dirtiest” of power.

For the sound guy: Sound guys love DI boxes because they’re much easier to mix at the console as DI works very nicely with mixing consoles.

Are all DI boxes the same?

No. You can consider a DI box the same as you would your favorite stomp-box pedal effect. You use certain effects because they have a certain sound that your ears like. The same can be said for DI boxes.

Some DI boxes modify the sound in a way that will achieve “that perfect vintage-60s tone”, while others will be punchy-extreme no matter what settings you use.

Several DIs lean towards “sounding vintage”, and Tech 21’s VT Bass DI is one such example. This isn’t to say that’s all it can do as it can be used to simulate many different amp environments. But the “lean”, so to speak, is towards a more vintage sound.

Should all bass players own a DI?

Yes. DIs aren’t just for pros anymore.

For the home recording enthusiast that just wants to post some of his or her songs out to YouTube or SoundCloud and actually have it sound good (or “good enough”), the DI is the easiest way to go about it:

38 thoughts on “Why is DI so important to bass players?

  1. I think it’s important to draw a distinction between traditional DI’s (Type85, rJDI, etc.)and preamp pedals with DI output (like the sansamp BDDI, EBS Microbass, etc.). If it has knobs it isn’t a DI in the traditional sense and the goals and sounds are quite different.

    • +1. The article continues the confusion around what a DI is and does- the original purpose of a DI, however you interpret the acronym, is to take in something and output a balanced, low-impedance near-exact-copy that you can plug into a mic input on a mixing board. Inputs include high-impedance unbalanced guitar/bass signals, line-level signals out of an iPod, or the speaker signal coming out of a guitar or bass amp (some DIs advertise that you can connect them to 110VAC house electricity and they’ll happily send a 60Hz signal to the mixer). Not many DIs do all of these, but they all handle at least one.

      If it has knobs, or “a sound,” it’s really a preamp, even if it has a mic-level balanced out on an XLR and calls itself a DI.

    • Yes. Some DI boxes have dual outputs: one going to the console, and one to go out to an amp. It’s one way to have a nice, constant “clean blend” when playing so you don’t lose your low end and definition.

  2. I won”t play a gig with out my Seymour Duncan Paranormal! Got it on a no reserve auction on Ebay for $61! 10 minutes after I plugged my ’81 Veillette Citron into it, I had exactly the sound I wanted!

  3. There are really two things going on here. First is your sound on the stage, how you’re going to fulfill your functions of providing pitch, pulse, and phrasing to tie the band together. This has to be very authoritative, very confidence-inspiring. It’s the functional aspect of playing. You might be responsible for delivery of this product to the band as a whole, involving some compromises, or a monitor engineer might better deliver individual mixes to each player. Second is how your engineer is going to make their butts twitch out there in the room. These two can be very different, and a DI helps keep the jobs separated. Amps are essential in rehearsal, but live, they can be quirky and can contaminate the best environments, so sometimes, with great sound support, it’s better to run no bass amp at all, just the DI.

  4. Love my Hartke VXL. Very tasty flavorings, very easy to get a great sound, but no fun for those who love to constantly twiddle knobs. Twiddlers piss off sound men like nothing else, anyway, and are likely to be dealt the “safest” (most boring) sound and be put down in the mix.

  5. anybody have any input as to why most live sound engineers have such an aversion to the DI built into most heads? On a recent gig right in the middle of a 30 minute set the sound guys were swapping my DI out for a mic. Everything was sounding fine but they looked really concerned. I’ve owned several amps (Eden, Markbass, now Hartke) and it’s been the same situation.

    • Its because your bass head EQ may have sounded OK on stage but horrible in the room. Also, your DI out on some old amps is POST EQ. That means when you change a knob on your bass head it’s changing EQ sent to the sound board! That is a HUGE NO NO for FOH sound. You ALWAYS want your bass head output to be PRE EQ, and never POST. Early GK bass amps were notorious for having thier direct line out bing post EQ. That was a huge mistake. Nowadays most direct outs are switchable between pre and post. Make sure to always send PRE to the FOH sound man. He’ll love you for it.

  6. Use my Radial BassBone at every gig, and recording. Recently did a session with only that pedal. Used one of the default settings and it sounded great for what they wanted.

  7. I’m surprised nobody mentioned the Sadowsky outboard pre & DI. With my 75 Jazz this thing has been the “where have you been all my life” piece of gear!! Sound guy at the gig the other night says “what kind of DI is that? By far the cleanest, best sounding Bass DI I have ever worked with”. Dude was blown away.

  8. For the past 10 years I’ve used a Avalon U5 DI for stage and house sound with a Crown power amp and assorted cabinets. With only a 6 preset tone bank and a volume in 3db increments you can’t go wrong. In regards to the guy with the built in DI issues, try a “600ohm isolation block” between your DI and their board. Cost about $35-$40. Great for places with bad AC .

  9. I have an Aguilar DB750 it has a balanced Jenson XLR out -30dB pre and post EQ. Do I still need to use a DI to the board for a live gig?

    • Nope! As a sound engineer I would concur that is a proper DI. however, you will find some of us have qualms about keeping everything consistent between bands when doing multiples per day and may want you to plug into their own DI. But this varies and since I double as a bassist, I would fully approve that as a more than acceptable DI. It’s actually better than a good deal of passive DI boxes out on the market. Aguilar does it right.

  10. Countryman, or radial— the cleanest and punchiest— one thing to help those who don’t know about di: when you convert your high impedance output to low impedance to match to board, your signal will be weaker, but that is remedied by gain staging– the tonal range in the low impedance realm expands vastly, giving you a much clearer tone that is easier to color from the board— the better the transformer in the di( Jensen is great) the better the transition– clearer and more pure the tone–

  11. There is also a major distinction between ACTIVE (Countryman, Radial) and PASSIVE (Whirlwind, etc.) DIs, FET input stages can have higher impedance than tubes for more sparkle and “air”. Been using FET85 since 1978 for this, also works wonders on guitars, Rhodes and piezo pickups. Passive DIs require no power so the battery never goes dead, and they also can be used in reverse for re-amping. I have even used a FET85 driving a reversed passive DI to get more defined treble out of my SVT III

  12. I’ve been using the MXR M-80 DI/preamp pedal and love it. The “COLOR” switch really fattens up the tone, makes a huge difference!

  13. Have used a variety of DI devices. For a passive or active, non tone control DI, I strongly recommend one with a Jensen transformer. For those that alter your tone, or emulate a certain amp, be sure you know what you want by trying them out in a real stage or studio application. You may find, as I did, that what you want is very flexible tone control, especially a parametric mid, and maybe just a touch of an adjustable gain saturation, or “tube emulation”,

  14. Hello guys, I have a question about a “popular” product, I know the existence of two sansamp pedals, “bass driver DI” and “para driver DI”, in my enviroment exist the myth that the “para driver” is like the “bass driver” but more versatil, I mean, you can use it for guitar, drums, bass, etc getting a good results in any case, thats its true or must to call the myth buster? Thx a lot!
    So sorry about my poor english.

  15. I have a Line 6 amp. It’s got a DI that emulates amps, but will it be ok for the mix? I like the “rock” setting. Do you think i still need a DI?

  16. Man what a great site & thread !
    I’m almost done with my hm studio & I’m in the market for a DI/bass drive.
    I write all original Latin Rock.
    I don’t have an amp (nor do I need one)
    I just bought a Spector ReBop for a more modern sound but I’m worried that recording in an all digital format with an active bass … do I warm the signal up with a Radial Tonebone a Sansamp Tech 21 or do I go with the Eden.
    I guess Im looking for some advice as I want balance in clarity & a warm distinctive tone.

    Anybody,care to dive in ??
    Thanks
    GG

  17. Im in the market for a quality DI/driver & in need of some goid advice.
    Im finishing up a hm rec studio for for all original Latin Rock.
    I play a Spector Rebop cause I wanted to get away from the vintage Fender & M. Man insound. I play an active bass & Im recording digital so I think I need a DI/ driver that can warm up the sound. I want a distinctive sound but I don’t wanto loose qualty warmth & tonality.
    Do I go with a Radial Tonebone a Sansamp Tech 21 or an Eden ???

    I could use some advice.
    Thanks
    GG

  18. @GG you need to look for a tube pre-amp, all you really need befor going to anything else from your signal. a nice one will give you a simple trible, mid, bass EQ and volume of course. Look for a 12Ax7 tube one, very dynamic sound.
    Why tube pre-amp, because it will get all signal from your instrument directly, all signals it can produce, no steps, no cut off etc. Well actually at about 6 Hz and 56kHz there will be a cut of but who cares your instrument won’t get out of this frequency area ever. After that use a DI without colouration. That should be in your hands only. No gear should produce colour by itself, meaning it needs to be neutral as long as you decide to make a setting to change it.

    Just my 3 cent, Good luck!

  19. 58 years ago I started to play bass within a year I was semi pro.(1959) For decades I was a pro from 1959 until 1989. We didn’t have all this shit man! Now everyone wants boxes and pedals so they can sound like us? It’s a bloody joke. I can make any rational bass sound anyway you want to hear it. One bass and 4 sets of different strings, and a clean power supply. Felt, Rubber and Plastic Picks and some hard skin. I can use the same bass for Smooth jazz, Latine and Soul. Afro Cudan, Ska and Reggae, Country and Blues etc. I sold my expensive instruments before some scum bag stole um. I use a single coil and a 66 P Bass. A 67 Hohner Jazz and a Maverick S4 Nemisis. A Noise filter pedal and a Wah Thats about it. We can impress people with 4 strings so never saw the need to have more. I and my instruments are one instrument. Have confidence in your own talent and don’t be lead by the nose to buy boxes of boxes and another roadie!
    Good Sounds!

    • That’s right, you put them young-uns in their place, by cracky! And that P-Bass weighed a ton of bricks! And I carried that ton of bricks to my sessions…..uphill….both ways …in knee deep snow…and I liked it! ;P

  20. When using an active bass do you need to use a preamp pedal with bass mid treble etc etc? Or is it better to just use a pure DI box and adjust off off your basses preamp?

  21. Hi guys, this question is killing me. I’m buying my gear to play live gigs and record on studio.

    My plan is to buy a Tone Hammer (I loved the sound of that thing) and then buy a Head and a Cabinet.

    Is that ok? I know that it’s a stupid question but my sound will be all from the TH, or it will be mixed with the sound of the Head that I’ll buy

    Thanks, increible post

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