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Difference between Line-Out and Direct-Out

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by rythmicillusion, Sep 26, 2012.

  1. Kind of a n00b question. Did a few searches here on Talkbass and didn't find anything, but I'd be happy if one of you proved me wrong!. Something on Google explained what has been obvious to me; line out is typically 1/4", direct out is XLR.

    I'm looking for more elemental and pragmatic answers. Of special interest; Are they essentially interchangeable, or is each best suited for a certain task(s)?

    My curiosity was peaked because a new amp I'm in the process of buying has both. I'm sure I'll experiment on my own, but didn't know the technical aspects.

    Thanks gang!
  2. john m

    john m Supporting Member

    Jan 15, 2006
    The XLR is a "balanced output"--- use this when ever possible.

    It can go longer distances (snake) with less noise.
    Many have ground lifts which can be helpful if there is a 60 hz

    The 1/4 inch is not balanced (unless it is 3 conductor, tip,ring, sleeve). This is ok if your sending to something close like another amp or mixer on stage.
  3. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    Yup. In 30+ years of playing I have never used a 1/4 inch Line Out jack. XLR only.

    Not sure why amp mfrs even put a 1/4 inch output on their products at all anymore to be honest. Every one I know who's used one has either had terrible sound or blown something up.
  4. Direct Out is a voltage level for microphone inputs on a mixing console.
    Line Out is a voltage level sufficient to drive a power amplifier.

    Line Out is a much higher voltage than mic-level Direct Out.
  5. You can think of it in terms of voltage. Direct Out is close to microphone level 0.002 to 0.070 volts. Line out is around 0.750 to 1.4 volts. BTW, passive instrument level is around 0.350 volts and active instrument level is just about the same as line level.
  6. Balanced DI is needed to allow signal to be carried over a long cable without picking up interference. The + and - signals are summed in the mixer by flipping the polarity of one electronically, so they add together. The noise, being identical near enough on both, then sums to zero. Neat eh!
  7. So, on an old tube amp-Fender Bassman etc- could I use it like thus..... Bass > amp - line out > (outboard/separate) D.I. > xlr cable > mixing desk.
    That ok?
  8. That's what I do with my d-180 as the DI out is noisy.
  9. You can use the line out over short distances if you can pad the mixer for the hot signal.
  10. oerk


    Oct 16, 2009
    That should work, provided your DI box isn't for instrument level only.

    Exactly. In addition to that, the DI out usually isn't affected by the master volume, meaning the soundman doesn't have to adjust the gain on his console if you change the volume on your amp.

    The intention of a line out is usually to drive a second amp, so it makes sense to control both amps with the master volume on the first one.
  11. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass

    May 10, 2006
    That is correct. The cable from line out should be an instrument cable. It can plug into your DI. Or you can run it into the effects loop of a more powerful amp. Good way to take a low wattage tube amp (i.e. 20-50 watts) and boost amplification for more horse power without having to lug a 100 pound amp.
  12. wcriley


    Apr 5, 2010
    Western PA
    This has never been my experience.
    In fact, of the bass guitars I own, the one with the hotest output is passive; the one with the lowest output is active. All the others fall between those extremes. None come close to approaching line level.
  13. What a helpful bunch. Thanks for the clarity!
  14. Dave W

    Dave W Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2007
    White Plains
    My experience as well.
  15. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    I tend to use both the line out as well as the direct out to run power amps and for recording.
    So far so good.
  16. packhowitzer

    packhowitzer 155mm of pure destruction

    Apr 20, 2011
    Are perceived output and voltage the same thing? My passive p sounds louder and hotter than my active stingray by a slight margin, but is it due to some factor other than voltage?

    It would seem to me that with a 9v battery, the active bass would have to have the higher output voltage, but clearly that doesn't mean it will be the loudest sounding- IME anyway.

    just curious.
  17. wcriley


    Apr 5, 2010
    Western PA
    Yep. My loudest bass is also a P-style. I'm sure "perceived loudness" enters into things. I don't have the equipment to meausre actual output voltage.
    In my personal opinion a well designed onboard preamp should be unity gain except at any frequencies that are cut/boosted via EQ knobs.
  18. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    The voltage of the battery has nothing directly to do with the voltage of the output signal. The preamp needs a certain amount of voltage just to operate; but its amount of gain is a totally separate issue that depends on how the preamp circuit was designed.

    It's not really a question of "perceived" volume, either, because the sort of factors that affect perception of loudness (in typical onboard systems) can be present equally in active or passive systems. There's nothing inherent to active vs passive that determines perceived loudness.
  19. packhowitzer

    packhowitzer 155mm of pure destruction

    Apr 20, 2011
    I don't disagree with a word of this, but then why is the "active" input on most amps usually synonymous with a 10db cut? It would certainly seem to imply that your active bass will overwhelm your amp with signal where your passive bass will not.

    Not that there is any merit to it, but for us novices, it seems like the rule of thumb that gets presented over and over- active basses are hotter and thus must be tempered with a padded input.
  20. wcriley


    Apr 5, 2010
    Western PA
    The -10dB pad on the "active" input of bass amps never made sense to me.
    Maybe back in the early days of onboard preamps they weren't designed for ~unity gain?
    LiquidMidnight likes this.