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Do I need a DI?

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by echoSE7EN, Nov 30, 2012.

  1. echoSE7EN

    echoSE7EN Gold Supporting Member

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    I've been (hobby) recording quite a few songs I've written during the past couple of months. The set-up I had been using was:

    Instrument (Elect., acoustic guitar, keys, bass) -> MOTU Microbook -> CueFX (for levels) -> Garageband.

    I have been able to get "ok" sounding stuff with this set-up, but the bass is always quiet compared to the other instruments. I've watched a couple of YouTube videos regarding the importance of signal/noise ratio, and I can see that the sound spectrum generally doesn't fill half of the track (does this make sense? I'm saying that the waveform, or visible "level" within the track isn't very thick).

    I recently purchased Amplitube 3 and the Ampeg SVX to see if the settings within those could bump my overall level. Well, I now get distortion whenever I try to increase the output levels of the virtual amps and there is NO increase in the "thickness" of that visible representation within the track.

    I've tried to tweak the input levels within CueFX. I've tried to come up with a good ratio between the virtual amps and the inputs levels. Any ideas?

    I have a GB 12.2. The DI on the 12.2 -> MOTU -> CueFX -> GB gives me somewhat better results with the bass, but it really doesn't work well with my acoustic and electric guitars. The keys always sound terrific (using USB/MIDI). The drums sound good (EZDrummer and associated MIDI).

    Would a dedicated DI (Avalon, JDI, etc) help with all of my instruments, or is this a case where my hobby knowledge has finally hit a wall and I need to spend hours delving into each instruments signal strength to get non-"noisy" and clear(er) recordings?

    Thanks
  2. goldenglory18

    goldenglory18 Supporting Member

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    I DI will help with your problem, but without seeing all of your settings in your DAW and how you have your signal chain set-up, I can't say for certain.

    I will say, I think EVERY bassist needs to own and have a DI at the ready. It's an indispensable product. I'm currently using a Sansamp Bass Driver DI and LOVE it...
  3. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member

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    A DI is not inherently a signal booster. Passive DI's, like the JDI, actually cut your levels significantly. What you need is a preamp, something that can actually improve your signal-noise ratio by cleanly boosting the signal and giving a low-impedance output.

    Some products like the Sansamp BDDI are marketed as DI's, but are really preamps that happen to also work as DI's.
  4. echoSE7EN

    echoSE7EN Gold Supporting Member

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    The Avalon U5 is marketed as a pre/DI (variable gain +30db). This example would follow your suggestion and aid in the increased signal level?

    Again, the DI on my 12.2 helps with my bass, but tone-wise, doesn't work with other instruments (nor would I expect it to...I had only hoped it would since the GB is "hi-fi" in its coloring).
  5. mowburger

    mowburger

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    +1 The U5 will help almost anything you plug into it, even an ART TUBE MP would do that, on the other side of the $ spectrum.
  6. echoSE7EN

    echoSE7EN Gold Supporting Member

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    My signal chain has been

    Acoustic/Electric guitar(s) directly into the MOTU I/O with trim levels set between 20 and 30 (depending upon the instrument). The MOTU is USB'd into my MBP. In Garageband, I leave track volume at the default 0.0db when recording.

    Now that I'm using Amplitube, the above is all the same, and the controls on the virtual amps are left at noon. No difference in waveform. If I begin turning up the gain or volume on the virtual amps, the sound coming back to me begins to distort, but the waveform thickness (recorded level) doesn't change.

    When recording my bass using the DI on the GB 12.2, I get "better" results, but the waveform is still not were I've seen it (for good results) via different tutorials.

    Once my tracks are recorded, I'm finding myself pulling the track volume on the acoustic and electric guitars down by as much as 7db; which is odd because they waveform isn't thick at all (meaning a lot of noise on the track)/ I have to boost the bass by a couple db to get it pronounced. The drums usually get a bump of 1db.

    EQing and panning are good. Things are sitting well within the mix, but overall the tracks sound noisy.

    I've read that the U5 works well with acoustic guitars as well as bass - hence a more universal solution (including possible live situations). My bass is active/passive via switch. I tend to record in passive mode as active can be a bit boomy.

    Everything I've read or heard seems to point me back to signal input levels not being optimum. Again, I may need to carve out a chuck of time each day and write down settings for each instrument once I can dial in usable levels.
  7. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

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    I bought a di in the early days of my playing. I've played we'll over 1000 shows, probably close to 2000. I never used it.

    While a di might help with your signal, your problem lies within something else. It'd suggest you keep checking and fiddling with your settings as sometimes there's one little thing we're doin wrong... But can take forever to figure out. Also, any amp w a rec out jack will serve your purpose probably better than a di.
  8. SteveC

    SteveC Supporting Member

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    Yeah, you could plug a turd into that thing and it would sound amazing. I don' record much, yet, but I am trying to decide what DI to use for my IEM "rig" at church and for home practice. I was leaning to a Radial JDI for cost and size, but I have a real lust/GAS for an Avalon U5.
  9. echoSE7EN

    echoSE7EN Gold Supporting Member

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    GC sent me a 20% coupon, and it actually works if I toss the U5 in my chart; taking it down to $460 and change. Still expense, but if it's "all that and a bag a chips" like folks say...and I can keep it in a seal-able rack, off the floor, and plug-n-play ready (I have 2-yr old), it's a win. Worse case, I can return it after turning knobs for a week.
  10. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member

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    Yes. Also, it's possible that if your amp head has a "line out" or "preamp out" jack, that it will get you similar results. Worth checking on.
  11. echoSE7EN

    echoSE7EN Gold Supporting Member

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    I do. The ShuttleMAX12.2 has a full DI (XLR out) that I've been using for bass. However, the acoustic and electric guitar(s) sound terrible using this method.
  12. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member

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    Well, one question is whether the DI output of the amp is at line level, and the levels are really what I was talking about.

    If the levels are strong, then you'll want to ask yourself what is the difference between the U5 and the Shuttle preamp, really. I'm not at all suggesting they're identical, but the difference might not be what you think.

    I recently started playing a baritone guitar, and found that I really needed a light overdrive to get the most pleasing tone, and a bit of reverb to nail it. I know that's not the same as an acoustic, but then the acoustic may have its own particular needs beyond just straight clean recording, for your tastes.
  13. echoSE7EN

    echoSE7EN Gold Supporting Member

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    ...this is the question I probably should have asked (or was trying to ask, but lacked the vocabulary). The levels are not strong. I was trying to figure out if a dedicated, external, and universal DI/pre would get higher input levels than I am able to get (with usable tone) from the Shuttle's DI.

    I've found that in order for the acoustic (which is an acoustic electric - Gibson w/ L.R. Baggs system) to even come close to a decent signal, the gain and volume on my FET channel need to be maxed out at 10. The pickup on the acoustic is maxed out, and I've swapped batteries more than once.

    My bass doesn't need more than 9 or 10 o'clock on those knobs to give me a decent signal when active, or 11 o'clock to noon if passive. My electric guitar (a Jazzmaster) wants settings in the 1 to 3 o'clock position, but sounds overly chimey and unpleasant (again, I know the GB is not going to be voiced for electric and acoustic guitars). The guitar begins to break-up/distort/clip if I'm playing in a high register.

    I was hoping that a (non-bass-centric/universal) DI or pre would allow me to easily balance those levels with some sort of commonality, and then worry about any form of re-amping or plugin specific output (e.g. Amplitube) once a nice, strong signal is "in" the DAW. Trying to boost the signal using Amplitube or the myriad other plugins and freeware I've found is degrading the sound quality more than helping with a clean recording. Basically, I am boosting noise while trying to boost the signal.
  14. lowfreq33

    lowfreq33

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    You can set the DI on the Shuttlemax to "pre" and it will take the signal from right after the first gain stage, bypassing the eq. That might help.
  15. echoSE7EN

    echoSE7EN Gold Supporting Member

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    I will give that a try. Thanks.
  16. SteveC

    SteveC Supporting Member

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    Is there a line/level on the GB DI? I can't remember.
  17. echoSE7EN

    echoSE7EN Gold Supporting Member

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    There's a switch that can go between Line or Mic Level. The manual doesn't delve into when to use one or the other.
  18. StrangerDanger

    StrangerDanger Supporting Member

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    If you have an active bass, do you really need a DI?
  19. echoSE7EN

    echoSE7EN Gold Supporting Member

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    The short answer would be: it depends. The output of my bass passive vs. active is nearly identical. If I want a "louder" output I have to crank the knobs, and that's not the tone I'm looking for.

    There are more things in this soup than simply flicking a switch. Impedance. Recording levels. Etc, etc, etc.

    Finally, as noted in the above postings, the DI would be used for much more than just my bass; I'm recording acoustics, electrics, and keys.
  20. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member

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    Which setting have you been using?

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