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Active Bass vs. SansAmp Preamp

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by corganmurray, Aug 25, 2017.

  1. corganmurray


    Feb 10, 2012
    Hey guys, this might be a very stupid question, but aside from the ability to control your tone with the knobs on your bass, what are the advantages of having onboard active electronics vs. running your passive bass into something like a SansAmp before it hits your actual amp?

    I may just be getting too caught up on the term 'preamp', as I've never owned an active bass, but my SansAmp's ability to overhaul my tone before it gets to my amp is the most important thing in my signal chain and I'm curious!
  2. Sansamp plays more the role of speaker simulator so that it sounds like a mic'd amp when sending signal to FOH.

    Onboard preamps arent designed to be speaker simulators and usually very transparent. They also allow you to use very long cables without any noticeable loss of tone.
    FugaziBomb and bassfran like this.
  3. Runnerman

    Runnerman Registered Bass Player Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 14, 2011
    Sales Development Manager NN Inc. - Polymet, USA manufacturer of fret wire
    The Sansamp is basically a tone shaper....as you know I'm sure.
    I use it for active and passive basses in varying ways, I have the programmable 3 setting one.
    Other big benefit is that you can run signal directly to FOH fully sculpted minus anything you tweak on your main amp/cab (which is minimal for me). Depending on the room size I can just run through the PA if needed and get my sound.

    Biggest challenge with a Sansamp is that you have so many things to adjust.....especially if adding an active bass into the mix. I usually run my amp totally flat eq and maybe just do some shelving tweaks depending on room and bass I'm using. You need to spend a lot of time to find the levels that work for your bass and the settings you want to use along with any other signal chain items.

    I do find it easier to get dialed in with my passive basses. The two actives I use are my Bongo and Millennium....both very hot signals. I run the Bongo totally flat eq/boost and the Millennium I run with a specific mid-sweep setting I like. Then program the Sansamp from there. My channels are programmed with a round full SVT tone, a grindy tube overdrive and a setting about half way in between. I don't change tones a lot during a gig but the programs allow me to get everything I need by pickup blend on the bass. Nothing else changes. I may as well tape the knobs like Myung does.

    Bottom line, I think you need to try to let the Sansamp do it's thing first and foremost but it will take some time to get what you want and need for each bass....especially the actives.
    christle and Templar like this.
  4. DigitalMan

    DigitalMan Wikipedia often mistakes my opinions for fact

    Nov 30, 2011
    An active preamp in the bass as said previously is typically transparent and adds the ability to boost as well as cut frequencies. Generally speaking I think of this as "EQ" not "tone".

    There are a few less common preamps that also add significant coloration on-purpose.

    An external preamp such as a Sansamp might also typically include speaker simulation as mentioned, but also has the ability as the second stage of gain to introduce overdriven or saturated tones. For example, the drive setting on most Sansamps when applied liberally can obviate the requirement for any type of OD or distortion pedal.
    robertj22 and superdick2112 like this.
  5. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    I know this doesn't address your question, but if your amp only sounds good when you're running a preamp in front of it, sounds like you bought the wrong amp.

    My criteria for buying an amp is that it has to sound right with all controls centred, so that any adjustments on the gig will be very small. If the EQ section of an amp needs help then, as I say, it's the wrong amp.
    Sav'nBass, Frank77 and RSBBass like this.
  6. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    He said it was important, not that his amp sounded bad without it.

    The most common use of a sansamp is as a DI, so you can send an amp-emulated and EQ'd signal to the board before it ever reaches the amp. Then you are free to dial in the amp EQ however you need to in order to hear yourself best, without changing the signal going to the PA.
    Ant Illington and bassfran like this.
  7. I have had the Sansamp. I also have an Eden WTDI. Also Boss EQ pedal and such things as a Zoom B1on (which contains many similar pre-ampish tweaks.)

    To me none of them ever sound the same as a bass that comes with a good 3-band plus midsweep EQ preamp already installed on it for some reason.
    Sav'nBass likes this.
  8. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    I'm just reading the words. . . . "but my SansAmp's ability to overhaul my tone before it gets to my amp is the most important thing in my signal chain".
  9. Wfrance3

    Wfrance3 Supporting Member

    May 29, 2014
    Tulsa, OK
    The best luck I've had with these when using alongside (in addition to, whatever...) an onboard preamp is to start with both the DI and the bass Pre flat. Dial in the DI pedal to what sounds best. sometimes just leaving it alone is the deal... then sparingly change your bass preamp as needed. I have a 3-band bass pre with mid sweep and usually leave all at noon and sweep the mids as needed. - they did put all those cool knobs on there for a reason, but no need mess with (fix) what ain't broken...
    jnsnj likes this.
  10. jnsnj


    Sep 5, 2015
    Other benefits(maybe options is a better term) to having a pedal type pre-amp is that you don't have to make any mods to your instrument, can swap them out easily, DI, effects, you don't have to use batteries, speaker simulation, you can have tubes, variability in the signal chain, and bypassing the amps pre-amp.
    Those are options that make off board a better option for me but I also don't change my EQ much on stage. The ability to adjust EQ on the fly is a huge benefit if you need it. You also aren't limited to using just either or. I personally switched from using a tube amp that although had a direct out it didn't have ground lift so I ended up using a DI box anyway. I currently use a two notes pre-amp into a Minimax that I use as a power amp. Simple light and the DI always works.
    Wfrance3 likes this.
  11. kurth83


    Mar 28, 2016
    Yeah, big fan of outboard processing here too, pre with EQ, compressor, etc, no need to change batteries on the bass.

    Pedals can be switched, seems like I have a new pedal all the time (cheaper than buying bases actually), for preamps I have used Fishman, MXR and a lot of Zoom stuff (sorry no sans-amp). Means I never had to muck with the bass, but I did get strings, pickups, and setup dialed in first.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2017
  12. Fabio_MIJ


    Feb 3, 2016
    back home
    For me there's nothing better than a passive instrument with a balanced tone straight into a balanced amp with flat eq.
    To me balanced means that it sounds full and organic without needing to adjust the eq, but for someone else may sound too much "educated".
    I discovered it by trying different passive/active basses: to me the active ones sound better with flat eq most of the time.

    I use a lot the sansamp when I cannot use a real amp, but e.g. my model (the paradriver di) lacks some medium frequency if kept eq flat.
    But it may be subjective, someone confirms my feeling, some other says no, someone else say that it is normal because it emulates a tube amp...

    I think you should try yourself to have an idea.
    RBJ11 likes this.
  13. There's a few differences. For one for sans amps and some similar pedals there's often an EQ and a blend. Parallel eq is different from the eq on your bass. Because the signal is split and only one is affected and then the two are combined back together so it results in kind of a two amp type sound even though there's only one line. Kind of like the difference between 2D and 3D. The eq on the bass affects everything it's not parallel and the blend control on the bass (if there is one) is for blending pickups not wet/dry. I think of my alpha omega as a 4d sound because it has a clean blend and a blend for two different drives so it's more like having three rigs one clean, one alpha, one omega.

    Personally I play active basses and used sans amps for years (more than a decade) and more recently the Darkglass b7k ultra and now the Darkglass alpha omega. I use the eq on the pedal to dial in just my gritty tone. The eq on the bass I typically leave flat except for certain situations where I want to affect my entire signal. An example of that is if you put new strings on a bass you can use your high control to cut some highs if the strings are too bright for your taste but unlike a passive bass you can actually boost mids or cut lows while cutting highs if you want. For me I rarely touch the eq on my bass.
    Wfrance3 likes this.
  14. I explained the usage of onboard preamps, in this post. Some of the advantages to onboard preamps cannot be gained from outboard gear.

    Active / Passive What do they mean?
  15. Honch

    Honch Guest

    Sep 7, 2006
    To OP: You make the false assumption that there's only "active bass" vs "outboard preamp".

    First there's three of them:

    1. Bass with Active Pickups: they HAVE to be run on batteries and can't be "turned off". EMG, Seymour Duncans, and maybe few select others. They're still called active bass.
    2. Active bass with active preamp built in only: A plethora of passive pickups can have any preamp onboard the bass. If you run dry of battery juice, there's just as switch, so you can keep them all passive again, until you find a fresh battery and changed it out. Still called active bass. Too.
    3. Passive bass with passive pickups and outboard gear. As it is with SansAmp and the lot. Any pedals. Still called passive bass.

    The difference between 2 and 3 is that you'll only move up the "pedal" onto, and onboard your bass. As stated already, you can use the outboard pedal to a number of basses, versurs if it's onboard you'd be stuck to that bass. As I don't know anyone as of yet, making the exact replica of a pedal to have onboard a bass (they sure exist in one way or another) I think it's very unlikely that you'll see something onboard EQ/preamp equally available in pedal form.

    The shorter distance from the pickups to the low-impedance active onboard EQ/Preamp makes sense. After that you don't need to worry of how long cable should get, and using audiophile cables. Same with full active pickups equipped basses. Very few of the onboard circuitry mimicks speaker cabs, or special amps, it's mostly of eq bass/mid/treble and gain, and to - some extent - buck RF that may creep into cables afterwards. But make no mistake, if a pickup is passive single coil, it stays that way even after preamp/eq onboard, and can produce just equal amount of buzz and hum, as without the preamp. However, most totally ACTIVE pickups - even if single coils - are totally devoid of hum, buzz, and have ample noise headroom. The shorter distance you have from pickup wires to preamp/EQ, active circuit, the better. By and large! So most onboard EQ/preamps are made with that in mind, that you really should be keeping them inside the bass, instead of a box on the floor.

    I still find it peculiar when people wonders about just "active basses". Which active bass? There are 2 variations of them! Think of moving out your onboard EQ/Preamp from the bass to the floor. Then the bass is just "equally" as active or passive. If your bass has active pickups, it - by definition - is an active bass since it can't be - ever - run without batteries. They are made a lot different. You can still use EMG equipped basses to run into some DI, pedal, that mimicks the traits of a tube amp and cabinet, to varying degrees of both quality and fidelity.
    Rudyboy98 likes this.
  16. Sav'nBass

    Sav'nBass Supporting Member

    Jan 18, 2009
    Virginia Beach
    I have fund that that is what I prefer as well.. I have 5 active basses ... One has a 4 band EQ .. B,T,LoM,HiM ... Another has B,T,Mwitha mid freq switch... And the other 3 have sweepable mids.. I have found that I prefer the simple flexibility is a bass with sweepable mids ... and any other tone shaping I prefer to do with my amp.

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