DI Boxes: What are they and do you need one?

DI Boxes

Have you ever seen a guitarist or bass player plug into a DI Box, and found yourself wondering what the fuss is about? Today we’re going to take a look at what DI boxes are, why musicians use them, and by the end of this piece you should have all the info you need to know whether or not you should be using one. 

Before you can determine whether or not you should run out and buy a DI Box (spoiler altert – you should), it is imperative that you first understand what a DI Box does. In once sentence, a DI Box converts a high-impedance signal to a low-impedance signal. 

Okay, admittedly, knowing that alone isn’t really enough to go on. Let’s get a little more detailed. 

You now know that the DI converts the impedance, but how does that affect you in the real world? 

Run a Line to a Mixer

One of the most common uses for a DI Box is to allow you to line your instrument directly into a mixer. Instruments like guitars, bass guitars, and keyboards have a high impedance output. This output is great for running into a dedicated amplifier but lousy for running into a PA Mixer.

Mixers don’t play well with high-impedance inputs. By running your line through a DI box first, you can send a low impedance signal to your desk. That will ensure that your live or recorded tone remails accurate.

Without the DI Box, your best option is to use a microphone and run that into the desk. Of course, mics all sound slightly different. Therefore, if you want complete control over your tone, or if you don’t like mic’ing up for live performances, a DI Box is invaluable.

Reduce Noise

Not all electrical sources are equal. Ask anyone who has been playing live for more than a few months, and they’ll tell you stories of venues with noisy electrical supplies.

Factors like the age of the building (well, the cables in the building to be precise), the lighting used, and what else is plugged in nearby will all add to potential electrical hum.

One of the magical properties of using a DI Box is that you can reduce noise bleed and that annoying electrical hum.

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Run Longer Cables

Passive pickups on most guitars and bass guitars offer players unbeatable tonal nuance. One of the problems with passive pickups, however, is that with longer cables ( >7m) there is noticeable signal degradation.

If you’re playing on a big stage trying to run around and be entertaining, there are two options for you. The first is to lose the cable altogether. Of course, wireless systems are not always affordable; especially if you only play on a big stage once or twice a year.

Your other option is to use a DI Box. DI Boxes allow you to run longer cables without frequency loss. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as s free lunch, so there is a small cost. The volume of your instrument will be lower when running a long cable and a DI Box. Of course, the issue is easy to correct by increasing the volume on the desk. Any sound engineer worth their salt will know how to handle a signal from a DI Box.

Balanced/Unbalanced Signal

DI Boxes are a universal tool. That means that all musicians can benefit from one. If you look at the DI Box, you will see that there is usually a 3/4 jack input and an XLR output.

Without getting into the specifics of “how” it does it, a DI Box converts an unbalanced signal to a balanced signal. That means that any instrument or microphone with a 3/4 jack can be plugged into a DI Box.

Should you Own a DI Box?

Yes.

DI Boxes are not expensive pieces of kit, and they are small enough to fit into any gigbag.

Now, you might find yourself wondering “shouldn’t the venue I play at already have a DI Box for me?”. And again, the answer is a resounding yes.

But in reality, things go wrong. If you take your music seriously, you should never assume that a venue will have the kit you need. Like most pieces of gear, a DI Box can break. By having a personal DI Box on hand, you can ensure that you can perform at your best, even if the venue drops the ball.

Even if you seldom use your DI Box, it will be money well spent.

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