Active DI Box vs Pad on Interface

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by Mike_R, May 11, 2018.

  1. Mike_R

    Mike_R SS.org Regular

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    I've just started trying to track DIs for use with VSTs and reamping. I am a total novice at recording and I have been trying to soak up as much as I can, but I have run into a bit of an issue. I've searched on this topic and found some recommendations, but I am looking for help prioritizing gear acquisition.

    I have an MBox 3 interface, and I have been able to track most of my guitars/pickups without clipping by adjusting the gain on the interface. When trying to track my guitar with a Nazgul in the bridge I found that it clips on chords even with the gain adjusted to minimum. I found out the interface has a -20 db "pad", so I tried activating that. At minimum gain there is no clipping, but as I start to bring the gain back up with the pad I run into clipping again with the gain around noon.

    With the pad off, gain at min the guitar sounds pretty good through VSTs despite the clipping. With the pad engaged and gain even up to the point where it clips, it just sounds kind of dead and lifeless. I have read a good active DI box can help prevent clipping and improve DI quality and am considering picking up a Countryman 85 to get a balanced output for the interface, but is it likely I will still be unhappy with the sound through VSTs?

    I am trying to prioritize between the instrument DI and a Two Notes Captor to get a DI out of my amp. I appreciate any input or advice someone might have for me!
     
  2. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    I used to doubt the value of a good DI until I got one. I use it to record bass, and I much prefer the results to using just the instrument inputs on my interface. Honestly, a good DI is just a useful tool to have all around. The last show I played I got a bunch of compliments on "my tone", but it was literally just that same DI to front of house (it's one of those Radial passive ones).
     
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  3. Flappydoodle

    Flappydoodle SS.org Regular

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    IMO, a bit of clipping on a DI isn't the end of the world, especially if you're running into VST amp sims.

    Obviously you don't want constant clipping, but occasional blips into the red on palm mutes.. meh

    Personally, I upgraded interface from a very budget iRig (£50) to a rather nice Apogee (£800) and the difference in processed guitar signal is very minimal. You get a much larger tone difference from a fresh pair of strings, damping strings behind the nut, and 20 minutes to adjust the action on your guitar.

    I turn the input gain down to 0 on my interface. To my understanding, that's normal. If all your patches are based on the hot signal, of course they'll sound dull and lifeless when you activate the 20dB pad. You'd need to adjust the input gain for the plugin, and maybe also the simulated gain too.

    Never tried a dedicated DI box though. If anybody is claiming that it makes a bit difference, I would love to get some .wav DI files from the interface direct and the DI box, so I can compare for myself.
     
  4. Mike_R

    Mike_R SS.org Regular

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    TedEH thank you for the feedback on DI boxes. I was thinking about getting it for one specific use case but it sounds like it can be useful for more than that. I'll probably pick one up soon.

    Flappydoodle I appreciate your input as well. I've tried to activate the pad, and then bring the gain on the interface back up to just short of clipping, played with the input gain on plug ins, etc. It seems like when I get the level back up to where it was previously, I am left with a sound that is more compressed than when I just let it clip with the pad deactivated and gain at zero. I am not sure if what I am describing makes sense, but that is how it sounds to my ears.

    I've been watching a couple of the Countryman 85s on Ebay, and for what a used one costs it's not a very big investment. I'll try to get one and see if it improves the DI audibly and through VSTs. I don't have a reamp box yet, but I am hoping to get clean, unclipped DIs to send to amps.
     
  5. buriedoutback

    buriedoutback SS.org Regular

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    I have read/heard this many times, but couldn't justify the $ on a good DI.
    As recently as last night I was pissed off because I couldn't get a good guitar DI > vst sound through my interface. After reading your post, I said 'Fuck-it' ordered a Radial DI and ReAmp box from Axe Music. Thanks TedEH!
     
  6. Flappydoodle

    Flappydoodle SS.org Regular

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    Just FYI, it's *highly* unlikely that your interface is the problem. People are getting great results from budget Focusrite or Zoom interfaces, which have bare bones instrument inputs. And as I mentioned above, upgrading from an iRig to Apogee, I can barely hear any difference. In fact, maybe I'll post some WAV files and see whether anybody can tell the difference.
     
  7. buriedoutback

    buriedoutback SS.org Regular

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    ya that's the thing, i have a 2 channel presonus and an 8 channel behringer and i've never been satisfied. different guitars and pickups and it never sounded good. i needed a quality di anyways, but tedeh's post convinced me.
     
  8. Flappydoodle

    Flappydoodle SS.org Regular

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    Taking a guess, it's most likely the input gain setting in your amp sim. I had this problem too - why don't my sounds match those on Youtube, even when I use the same preset?

    It was the input gain, which I was just leaving at default. Fixed that, and everything sounded WAY better.
     
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  9. buriedoutback

    buriedoutback SS.org Regular

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    very interesting. I will take a look at that. thanks!
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2018
  10. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    For the record, I don't claim to be an expert, or intend to really inform people's purchasing decisions. I meant only to indicate my experience with the stuff I've used, so your mileage may vary. There is a noticeable difference going from a built-in instrument interface to using a DI, though, or at least there was in my case. It's very possible that it's dependent on the DI and on the interface. Like if you were using something like an AxeFX as your interface, I would have doubts that a DI would improve very much, but on most of the budget (or older) interfaces I've tried, the instrument inputs were just "ok". They were of a quality that indicates they needed to be there to tick the "we have that feature" box, but not blow any minds in terms of quality.

    Use case is going to make a lot of a difference as well. If you're going to be covering up your signal with ALL THE GAIN and impulses and what have you, you're not going to see as much of an impact as something like trying to get a clear and clean bass slap bass signal. A DI box was able to capture the character of my jazz bass properly, but the instrument inputs on any interface I tried left me with something kinda dull sounding.
     
  11. Flappydoodle

    Flappydoodle SS.org Regular

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    Absolutely - great points

    I think it will also massively depend on what pickups you are using, whether they're active etc

    And you mentioned bass - a DI box is DEFINITELY a good idea in that case. Most interfaces struggle with that much low end - especially from an active bass. I ran into that problem too.
     

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