When buying DI and re-amp boxes, you should keep several things in mind. Versatility is considered to be the key ingredient to success when we are talking about recording studios. Therefore, a studio has to be very efficient and flexible so that it can meet every demand. You must have heard about a direct box or a DI box if you have spent some time recording or looking at the studio recording breakdowns. It is quite a familiar place that may be accompanied with a little or no explanation at all.
On the other hand, there, you will find various professional audio engineers who use reamping so that they can further push the flexibility of their studios. This makes it a powerful and versatile studio tool that is totally worth your money. So, in this article, we will be talking about the things that you need to consider when buying a DI or a re-amp box.
What Is a DI or a Direct Box?
Basically, a DI box or simply a DI is known for its use in bass applications and guitar in a studio. However, the DI box's primary function is to correct any of the mismatched impedance signals among the equipment and the instruments.
A guitar can have a high impedance, and its unbalanced output can pick up any noise and degrade the signal, especially on long distances. This signal gets converted by the DI box to low impedance, and therefore, you get a balanced signal that is compatible with any outboard equipment and reduces the noise.
On the other hand, a DI box can also be used to increase the level of microphone signals. This is especially useful when you are recording vocals. When you use a DI box for this task, it acts as an impedance matcher that matches your mic's output levels with the input or line level of your amp or mixer or recorder.
DI boxes are available in different types and qualities ranging from passive to active DI boxes. Each type has its own set of features and strengths which make them unique in their own way.
There are many advantages of using a DI box in the studio. Some of these benefits include:
- Balanced and unbalanced inputs: This gives you the ability to connect various outboard equipment at once with your studio gear without any hassle.
- Transformer isolation: A DI box can easily serve as an effective transformer isolation unit when you need to use several components at once. It also minimizes noise problems.
- Impedance matching: It is often required in some cases when devices such as mixers or power amplifiers have mismatched input impedance levels. In this case, a direct box acts like a perfect solution for lower impedance levels and balanced signals that provide better signal strength and quality. It is worth mentioning here that non-inverting direct boxes are great for matching signals.
- Unbalanced outputs: A DI box is designed to provide you with unbalanced lines that can send your signal to another device or outboard gear. These boxes are also used as direct boxes that convert the balanced line into an unbalanced line, which can then be connected to a recorder or mixer input jacks.
Despite the benefits, DI boxes also come with a few limitations. These disadvantages include:
- No ground lift switch: A lot of DIs do not have the ability to eliminate ground loops and noise problems which is one of their most important limitations. So, you will need to use various tools that can help you solve this problem by lifting your ground connection up. There are simple solutions that can be used in order to minimize or completely avoid these kinds of ground loop problems that may occur while recording. You just have to keep them in mind during operation, and it should work fine.
- Not enough power handling capabilities: This is another limitation because studio DIs are only capable of handling mics signals, not instrument-level signals or line-level signals, which require far more power. So, if you need to record instrument signals or line-level signals into your recorder, then this is the time that you will need an outboard preamp.
- No phantom power: Some DIs do not come with a built-in supply of power for condenser mics; therefore, they only work well with dynamic mics. However, it is important to keep in mind that DI boxes are never designed for phantom power like other microphones because their goal is to provide impedance matching rather than powering your mic.
What Is a Reamp Box?
The function of a re-amp box is entirely the opposite of a Direct box, as it sends a line-level signal back towards the amplifier for the input with the correct impedance. A reamp box can be handy for a complex live guitar rig that might be using line-level processing.
The instrument signal can be sent through the DI box to the pre-amp, the processing gear as well as the rack of effects. Then the output will be passed by the re-amp box towards the amp that will be already on stage.
- No need for a live amp: This can be a great option when you need to avoid going through the hassles of transporting an entire rig to give a full band sound at your venue. At the same time, it gives you the freedom of using only what works best for your band or solo act.
- No pre-amplification: Reamping won't allow you to add a preamplifier after the fact unless you use a second DI or reamp box. So it can be a bit limiting for this reason in comparison with using a direct input box that allows you to add your favorite preamps between the output of your chosen processor and the input of your amp.
DI Boxes vs Reamp Boxes
A DI box is used mainly for matching impedance levels or balancing signals. On the other hand, a reamp box is used for matching line-level signals by sending them back towards the amplifier.
DI Boxes are perfect for use on stage, while Reamp boxes are good to use when you need to record only your guitar or bass with effects or rack processors in order to avoid complex rigs on stage. While DI Boxes can be great in live settings, they cannot provide any preamplification which means that no matter how hard you try, you will end up recording with an overall flat signal in comparison with what you hear in real life. So this is why it's important that if you want to add some tone color after the fact when reamping, then having a separate preamp is the best option.
On the other hand, Reampboxes are great for live guitarists who want to have an overall flat guitar sound during their performance on stage. However, reamping is not as easy as it sounds because you will need a good amount of technical knowledge in order to operate these devices properly.
Things To Keep In Mind When Using DI Boxes & Re-Amps
Use Ground lift switches: This can be achieved by using simple tools that can help solve any ground loop problems without having too much trouble with it. You just have to keep them in mind during operation, and it should work out fine.
Be aware of your power handling capabilities: Make sure that your DIs are only capable of handling mics signals, not instrument-level signals. Instrument level signals are much higher than line-level signals, so you will need a DI box that is capable of handling them without distorting or breaking down due to power overflow.
Don't mix both active & passive systems together: When combining the outputs of an active system with the inputs of a passive system without first converting it to an instrument-level signal, then this could result in some unwanted tonal changes and loss of highs.
Use dedicated cables for outboard gear: You should know that whenever you are re-amping your guitar through the output of your pre-amp to the input of your amp using an outboard effects rack, etc., it's best practice to use only dedicated guitar cables as they are designed primarily for this task.
Using Audio Interfaces & Guitar Sound-on-Sound Software
Some of the most common audio interfaces are audio input boxes that can be used to connect your guitar to your computer, so you can record using the software. There are numerous benefits to using these tools as they allow you to connect any XLR microphone or TRS instrument cable coming from your guitar into a sound card with one single easy connection. You can then use the software on your laptop or desktop computer in order to achieve the required tone color changes before sending it out through your amp towards the mixer for further processing including reverb, delay, chorus, flange filters, etc. until you get the desired sound.
These devices come with free amp simulators that simulate vintage and boutique amps. Of course, they are not going to be able to beat a real amplifier when it comes down to room feel and tone shaping, but these amp simulators can get you pretty close for a small amount of money. But there is a problem with recording with this method: the latency issues...
The main drawback that all audio drivers have is latency; the time it takes for an audio signal from input to output. There are some audio interfaces that offer low latency monitoring options such as Korg's nanoKONTROL Studio that allows users to monitor in real time without interference or changes in metering, which means you will be able to track guitar parts accurately while playing live on top of a previously recorded mix.
However, if the latency issues are not handled properly then it can cause problems with your mix since you will be hearing a delayed version of what's coming out from your speakers. This issue occurs when you use any audio interface that is USB-based, so make sure to research online for an alternative option if you plan on using this type of system for recording guitar tracks during live performances.
As technology continues to progress and advancements in miniaturization make these devices more affordable than ever before, I'm sure we'll see many more people take advantage of these types of products while tracking their music in the years to come.
What to Consider When Buying a DI and Reamp Box?
There is an input as well as an output going straight to the mixer in the most basic DI box. You can get more options as the price goes up, which includes a separate output for monitoring or amp, whereas for multiple instruments and complex rigs, you can have multiple input/output options.
Passive vs. active
There are two types of a direct box, passive and active. As far as the passive DI box is concerned, it works without any external power source, and in contrast, the active direct box needs either a battery, phantom power, or a completely separate power supply.
More space is needed for more features and connectivity options, which can increase your DI or re-amp box. Therefore, it is quite vital that you go for the one that has the right features and connectivity packed in a unit that may be comfortable for you to carry around and use.
You will see quite a bit of voltage differences when you are managing more music equipment. The mixer perceives these differences as noise and hum. A passive DI box is a transformer that offers you an automatic ground lift for hum reduction and instant noise, and this makes them quite important to keep the studios and stages quiet for clean sounding.
Are DI Boxes & Reamp Boxes Necessary?
Both DI boxes and reamp boxes are great tools that can help any musician or recording engineer in their studio or during live sound performances. They both come with several benefits and limitations which means they cannot solve all kinds of problems. However, these tools can still greatly improve your overall signal flow and help you improve the quality of your sound.
So, the answer to this question is: No, they are not necessary because there are other tools that can perform their jobs well too such as direct boxes and preamps. However, these tools will still get the job done if you choose them over others.
Finally, it's important to keep in mind that DI boxes and reamp boxes might be a bit pricey; however, if you buy one from a reputed company like Radial Engineering, then there is no reason for concern because you will be purchasing something that will work great and last long.
Both the DI or the direct box and the re-amp box have different purposes, which many people don't understand. Therefore, you need to choose the one that is specific to your requirements. A DI box can feed signals into the recording interface, whereas a reamp box is capable of converting any of the pre-recorded signals that go into the amplifiers.