Updated on 28/02/2019
Crucial for both live and studio, what is a DI Box?
The DI Box (DI stands for Direct Injection) is pretty innocuous looking, but one of the most useful bits of kit to have in your arsenal, in both live and studio situations.
If you’ve just been recommended that you use one, however, you might wonder exactly what it does.
Here’s a mini guide to the DI Box, what it does, why you might need it and the main types available.
It’s all about balance…
Put in the simplest terms, a DI Box converts unbalanced signals to balanced signals. What does this mean?
Unbalanced connections transmit a signal via a single connection, with a ground. These are susceptible to background noise and interference, particularly when run over long distances.
Unbalanced connections include mono jacks and RCA connections.
Balanced audio connections have a ground, live and return. This results in the cable rejecting interference as the signal is carried. Typical balanced connections are via 3-pin XLR cables (such as microphone connections) or balanced stereo jacks.
Many musical instruments and bits of music gear have only unbalanced outputs (keyboards, guitars, basses etc). To connect these to a mixer with the lowest noise levels, using a DI box is the perfect fix. It takes unbalanced inputs, and coverts them to a balanced output.
In addition to this, many DI boxes offer the ability to take an instrument level input (such as a guitar or bass) and match the impedance to an XLR mic input, so that it can be easily plugged into a mixing desk.
Types of DI Box
The simplest and most common type of DI Box is the passive DI. This is generally used to match line level or instrument level sources such like guitars and keyboards and matches them to the mic inputs.
Often, these also have a ground lift switch (this can sometimes reduce unwanted hums and noise).
The drawback of passive DI Boxes is that they reduce the signal level a little (typically from 3-6dB), and can lose a little tone with low-level signals, and sound thin and distorted when overloaded.
Active DI Boxes have active circuitry, which means that they require power. This is usually supplied via phantom power or an internal battery.
Whereas Passive DIs use transformers to change signal impedance, the active DI uses powered amps.
This negates the problems that occur with passive DIs at the limits of their dynamic range. However, when the signal is too hot, active DI boxes can distort in an unpleasant way. They don’t have the problem of disappearing low-end like passives do, though.
This is all dependent on power levels- as a battery drains, performance will get worse. Plus, phantom power is not always 48V, which again can cause problems with performance.
When would I use a DI Box?
Here are some common uses…
1. With PA gear
Though many pro stage pianos feature balanced outputs, many don’t, and neither do synths and keyboards typically. DI boxes will ensure a noise free connection to the PA.
You may also be connecting an acoustic guitar to a PA- A DI Box is perfect for this. If an amp fails at a gig, this can also be a quick (though not ideal) fix.
Plus, many stage boxes only feature balanced XLR connections. DIs will enable you to easily connect your gear with the highest quality.
2. Matching impedance when recording
Plugging something with instrument level output, like a guitar, straight into a line level input can result in a very ‘dead’ lifeless sound. Matching the impedance with a DI Box will ensure that the signal is recorded at its best.
Many producers like to record bass through a DI. Nile Rogers famously likes to record his guitar dry through one, and processing later.
Many passive DI box models can also be used to re-amp signals. This means that the can work in reverse, taking a line-level signal and converting it to an instrument level signal.
Producers commonly employ this to take a dry, recorded guitar part, and run it through an amp later, before re-recording. By doing this, it means that the guitar tone can be completely changed after recording. Alternatively, different tones can be created with different amps and compared or mixed. The DI Box is immensely versatile in all manner of musical situations and the possibilities are endless.
If you liked that, then you’ll like this
Our recent article we went through the process of “Re-amping using Laney amp heads“.
We also went through the importance of DI boxes in our “Gigging Without an Amp“” article.
Get in touch
If you have a burning question that needs to be answered, then our Customer Service team can be reached via telephone on 01925 582420. Our in-store specialists will guide you through the what gear to utilise in you live or recording setup, just pop into your nearest Dawsons store.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.