For clean tones, DI with or without preamp?

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by arepa_funk, Jul 30, 2021.

  1. arepa_funk

    arepa_funk Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2020
    So I haven't been gigging for all the obvious reasons and have focused on recording at home as much as possible. I want to upgrade my home setup and had a few questions about DIs. I play passive basses mostly with flats, and play fingerstyle funk, Rn'B, and improvised music.

    Right now, I'm using an Xotic RC Booster as a front of chain preamp (first pedal after tuner), an SSBS Mini for almost always-on overdrive, and the Keeley Bassist compressor. This is my what I think of as my "dry" tone, and then I add other effects if appropriate for the tunes I'm working on.

    I want to add a DI at the end of my signal chain and I'm not sure whether to go with something with a built in preamp or a non-preamp DI box. If going with a preamp version, I'd need to reconfigure how the upstream pedals interact with it, maybe making others unnecessary? A non-preamp DI would take my upstream signal as it is.

    If I'm getting a preamped and slightly overdriven tone from other pedals, is a preamp/DI redundant?

    These are the ones I'm considering, other recommendations are always welcomed.

    With preamp:
    Tech21 Q/Strip
    Mesa Boogie Subway

    Radial Pro48
    Countryman 85

    Thanks for your help!
  2. I don't think there is one right or wrong answer because any combination will sound good to great. There are so many wonderful preamp DI choices today you really have a challenge choosing the right one for the sound and features you really want and need to have. Were I to go that route I would shop for the preDI that sounded most like the amplifier I most preferred or desired to sound like.

    I personally like to keep my preamp and DI separate so I can mix and match as needed and because I have several of each to choose from. My current set up is a Sushi Box Particle Accelerator mini, Southampton Ictineo, LBA 2020 direct to my M-Audio interface. I will use my Countryman Type 85, RNDI or one of my passive DI boxes if that colorationis needed or insert an effect as needed.
    arepa_funk likes this.
  3. Hundred proof

    Hundred proof

    Apr 22, 2018
    In my case any way, the pedals are the preamp.

    First in line is used as a clean boost to match gain from bass to bass.
    Second is a soft overdrive
    Third acts as a compressor, in the fashion of a tube amp just on the verge of breakup
    I chose the JDI for its transformers ability to be “graceful” when pushed
    arepa_funk likes this.
  4. arepa_funk

    arepa_funk Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2020
    That makes sense and is how I'm leaning now. I really like how the RC Booster and SSBS Mini interact and the tones they produce.

    So you mentioned the RNDI and Countryman as providing coloration. How would you describe their tones? I assume it can't be tweaked? (The color is built into the how the DI functions?) Every demo I've heard if the RNDI has been amazing but it's so pricey compared to other active DIs I've seen.
  5. arepa_funk

    arepa_funk Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2020
  6. Once you start to listen critically and have a reference system you can begin to hear the subtle differences in color and character. I work with producers and engineers that are very critical listeners that hear everything so they can get very very particular. Every change I make gets noticed so I have been working very hard on my recorded sound since all this COVID stuff started to keep my clients happy. Where I used to drive to their studios and plug into their gear I'm now doing my best to deliver .wav files that they can process as needed.

    The Countryman Type 85 is such an ubiquitous sound that folks don't notice it anymore unless it is missing, much the same with a Jensen DI. Both are great sounds that a bassist might want to have in their collection. I also think that evaluating each other piece is important, for example the Ampeg B15 or SVT sounds are very popular choices so you might want to explore those. OTOH those are not my preference for recording or gigging.

    The Rupert Neve RNDI just has a different character akin to plugging into an older Neve desk or other mixing console with the old style input transformers and EQ staging. I especially like running the Southampton Ictineo into the RNDI for a classic late 70's-80's bass DI solid state sound then adding a touch of limiting and studio or room reverb. By this time most bass tracks were recorded DI and monitored in the control room or in headphones very rarely were there bass amps in the studio.

    The RNDI, JDI or TYPE 85 are very different from plugging into a preamp DI IMHO and that is one reason I prefer to keep things separate and flexible.
    Bass4Brkfast and arepa_funk like this.
  7. Real Soon

    Real Soon

    Aug 15, 2013
    Atlanta, GA
    I'm another adopter of separate preamp and DI solutions. Also I'm an RNDI owner and it's so good, any instrument I need to record, I'd rather plug into that vs direct to studio interface. It's clean, but unmistakably analog and just full.

    If I want ultra clean, I'll typically use a Linden EQ (and a couple things prior, like HPF and very lightly blended-in compressor) into the RNDI, and for extra character I'll add one of two Sushi Box tube preamps (Particle Accelerator or Slampegg). But if I had a client who wanted a 100% unprocessed, dry signal, I'd feel perfectly fine plugging my bass into the RNDI and tracking that way.

    It's for reason of having all of those options, and not feeling like I'm wasting any bells & whistles, that I like having a dedicated pre and dedicated DI.
    IvanBassist and arepa_funk like this.
  8. Real Soon

    Real Soon

    Aug 15, 2013
    Atlanta, GA
    It ain't cheap! But it's built like a tank and has incredible headroom. And if you have an amp head you like, you can even insert the RNDI between head and cabinet and capture its character... in essence using a head as a preamplifier in its own right. Lot of options.
    arepa_funk likes this.
  9. arepa_funk

    arepa_funk Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2020
    I'm sure that sounds fantastic. Right, having the Neve console sound in a DI clearly adds its own flavor, esp having a dedicated preamp feeding it.
    Definitely, these are great points all around. I'll have to look into the RNDI more and start saving up.
    Might be time to update my preamp too, since it's mainly a boost but also has a warm and full Baxandall EQ stack.

    Thanks for the tips and insight!
    bassbrad and Real Soon like this.
  10. Jazzkuma


    Sep 12, 2008
    Like others said, there is no right or wrong. Some people resample through broken speakers to get a low quality sound intentionally.

    me personally I like as little stuff between me and the interface. So bass (passive), DI, Audio interface, PC. All else like compression, eq, boost, dirt…etc is added in the software after takes.
    arepa_funk and Real Soon like this.
  11. IvanBassist


    Jun 8, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    Dingwall & Aguilar Artist
    You can hear the Subway vs RNDI here:

    Both are great DIs, but rndi wins if you’re comparing DI outs, in my opinion. You get A LOT of headroom and clarity with it.

    Here’s a vid using the Subway DI:

    If you really want to add EQ before hitting your DAW, then you can get the Subway
    wellshuxley, arepa_funk and Vishyyy like this.
  12. matante


    Nov 3, 2003
    There's nothing more direct than plugging straight into your interface. Not sure why you think you need a DI for home recording. The purpose of a DI box is to be able to run *long* cables without signal loss or added noise. At home, if you can plug straight into your interface with a 15' cable, no DI box is necessary. Less is more.
    arepa_funk and Klangfarbe like this.
  13. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    May 24, 2006
    I’ve got both the Countryman and the RNDI.

    For bass, I’ve had a slight preference for the Countryman most times. It imparts a subtle but noticeable warmth to the overall sound. I wouldn’t characterize it so much as “colorization” however. It hits me more as adding a little texture. So I guess you could say it’s not so much affecting tone as it is enhancing timbre. And I almost always will put something in front of it. Preamps that I own which work well with it are:
    • DiCosimo 360+
    • One Control Crimson Red
    • Barber Electronics Linden
    • SushiBox Slampegg Bee
    • Broughton Alex-1 BAX (custom box essentially identical to his Fliptop pedal)
    Note: you might notice a certain liking for a B-15 type sound in the above list. ;)

    The RNDI has a different quality compared to the Countryman. To my ears it’s more solid-state sounding. Exceptional clarity and headroom that pairs well with anything you’d care to put in front of it. @bassbrad ’s characterization of it in an earlier post describes it better than I can. If I had to describe the difference, I’d say the RNDI (to me) sounds more ‘console’ whereas the Countryman sounds more ‘amp.’

    FWIW I’m also now using a Black Lion Audio Auteur MKII 2x2 as my interface. It’s a very affordable (~$400 last I looked) high quality interface that sports an Edcor transformer in its output stage. It finally bumped my trusty Focusrite Scarlet to extra channel and backup duty. And it’ll probably end up relegating my Countryman to live sound duty because the musical warmth that Edcor imparts eliminates the need for an outboard transformer to provide it. The only regret I have about buying it is not biting the bullet and going a model up for the Quad 4-channel version instead. Highly recommended. :thumbsup:

    For what the OP is doing I think the RNDI might slightly edge out the Countryman Type 85. But either way, both the Countryman and the RNDI are excellent choices. You can’t really go wrong with either one.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2021
    arepa_funk and bassbrad like this.
  14. Klangfarbe


    Jan 12, 2020
    From what I see the answer is: Yes a DI would probably be redundant, since your Pedals already act as a preamp.

    DI's are made to connect a high-output impedance, unbalanced output signal to a low-impedance, balanced input. They are not "Soundshaping" tools by design.

    I think your Setup is fine as it is. I use a similar setup for recording for years now. Never had any complaints from someone who had to deal with the recorded material afterwards (Audio-Engineers,Producer, other Bandmenbers).

    That beeing said I did add a passiv DI just recently. Reason is that I wanted to split my signal and be able to have one "Full-Wet Channel" and one "Full-Dry Channel" recorded. So it is really just a signalsplitter to me.
    arepa_funk likes this.
  15. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    I use a DI as a DI when I need it - my sound comes from my pedals, my bass and my fingers and is done when it hits the next stage.
    In my home studio my cable from my preamp into the mixer is about four feet long, so I don't see the need of a symmetrical signal. There's no interference to speak of and by ear I can't make out a difference between running the cable straight vs. running DI.
  16. JeezyMcNuggles

    JeezyMcNuggles Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2018
    Santa Maria, CA
    I suck, but nobody really notices
    Q strip. It's neutral. It doesn't effect your tone at all when off. What comes in is what goes out. Volume and all.
    arepa_funk and Zooberwerx like this.
  17. Hundred proof

    Hundred proof

    Apr 22, 2018
    IF home or any kind of recording was what I was doing maybe I would use a different setup … but my rig was geared for live, but I feel it would work well for recording too.
    arepa_funk likes this.
  18. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    May 24, 2006
    ^ Important point made in the above. :thumbsup:

    If you don’t hear an audible difference after adding something to your signal chain - leave it out.
    Rayek and arepa_funk like this.
  19. arepa_funk

    arepa_funk Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2020
    Thanks all for your notes and points! @IvanBassist, been watching your videos and have seen those comparisons. Great stuff and very helpful! Y de un suramericano a otro, siempre un orgullo ver a los compatriotas logrando sus éxitos.

    @40Hz , thanks for the walkthrough of your setup and especially for this note:
    That really helps in understanding the tone structure of each.

    Great points all around @el murdoque @Klangfarbe @matante about a DI maybe not being necessary at this stage. The cable length from bass to interface is short, that's definitely true. Still considering having one for when live gigging comes back, tho it sounds very possible that it my current setup it isn't necessary. Will likely run some tests and see where I land.
    el murdoque and IvanBassist like this.
  20. dbsfgyd1


    Jun 11, 2012
    Mascoutah, IL
    Just asking, as long as you have a decent interface I’m not sure why would you need a DI for recording?

    I use Cubasis with a Steinberg UR12, from there you can import whatever effects you need online. Or you can just connect at the end of your signal chain into the UR12. Just a thought.
    JeezyMcNuggles and arepa_funk like this.