Monday 20-Sep-2004

Today's handy tip: if you do not have an XLR output (i.e., that round multipronged connector used with microphones) on the back of your amp, I strongly recommend that you get a small DI (Direct Input) box to keep in your gig bag.

Why? If you play violin/fiddle or other acoustic instrument, you will be MUCH happier and your audience will be able to hear you better when you play a show at a venue that has a decent PA and sound person. Using DI to the board in addition to your amp allows your levels to be better balanced with the rest of the band.

But, you say, isn't it the sound guy's job to mike my amp or provide a DI box for me? Maybe if you're in a relatively large venue you can assume this, but it's like saying "I don't need to bring an amp - someone else will have one I can use" - you have no idea what kind of sound you'll end up getting. Also, if you're playing with a group that has a number of instruments that could/should go straight to the board (like a keyboard) there may not be enough house DI boxes for everyone (e.g., the Lizard Lounge has only two). There are frequently a limited number of house microphones available as well. Your sound person will be very happy to hear you say "just DI me - I have my own box."

So what kind should you get? There are two basic versions: active (powered by battery or AC) and passive. Unless you need to have a powered XLR jack for microphone use, I prefer to use a passive box, because that's one less item for which I need to do periodic battery checks and/or for which to find an outlet on stage. A passive box is more dependent on the strength of the input signal, but I'm assuming that you are feeding it the signal from either your amp's 1/4" output jack or from a preamp of some sort (like a Fishman Pro EQ).

I use a Rolls Matchbox DB25, which is really small. I've seen many venues and engineers using the Whirlwind IMP 2. Whatever you choose, look for these features:

  • Parallel 1/4" unbalanced input/output jacks: you plug into one from your preamp/amp for throughput, and can still take the same signal out the other 1/4" jack. This is useful if your amp does NOT have an output jack - then you plug your instrument into the DI box and take the signal out another instrument cable to go into your amp. I use the parallel jack to feed my in-ear monitor when the amp output is being used for the DI box.

  • An easy-to-access Ground Lift switch: this allows you to lift the Ground on the circuit to remedy any 60-cycle hum from ground loops (it's an electrical thing - just trust me, you'll probably need this).

  • A tough housing, preferably metal: this is going to be on the floor in the vicinity of where you are standing, so you want it to be able to take a bit of kicking.
This shouldn't cost you more than about $40, which is well worth it to make sure you are heard!


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