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The Great Bass Preamp/DI Comparison

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by chadhargis, Jun 28, 2018.

  1. chadhargis

    chadhargis Jack of all grooves, master of none Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    Let the Games Begin!

    I love to tinker, and I'm always looking for that elusive "perfect" tone. Of course, we all know that tone needs to change to support the song and type of music you play, and one man's "perfect" is another man's "completely f'ed up beyond all recognition".

    That said, I've been experimenting with DI boxes and pedals for several years. Here's what I've used so far:

    • Countryman 85 - my first ever DI back in the day. It was a simpler time back then.
    • Radial JDI - Similar to above...just a great DI. Nothing fancy.
    • Zoom B3 - Ah...so many good things in this inexpensive unit. Probably should have kept it.
    • SansAmp BDDI - I just never liked this pedal from day one. Not my bag.
    • VT Bass - See above. Didn't light my fire. No offense to Tech21 fans...just not for me.

    The Current Champ - Tone Hammer
    Here's what's on my board now:

    • Aguilar Tone Hammer - DI...and some added AGS for a little character. Sweet!
    • Eventide H9 - Anything you can freakin' imagine. A million pedals in one box and very, very high quality audio.
    • MXR Bass Compressor - basic, simple, effective....and the little meter shows you it's working
    • Turbo Tuner - If you are using any othter tuner, throw it in the garbage...get one of these. You'll thank me later.
    • Cioks DC5 - Isolated power that fits UNDER a Pedaltrain Mini

    So, the experiment begins in a few days as the players are currently in transit. On deck to win the coveted spot currently occupied by my Tone Hammer are:

    • Two Notes Le Bass
    • Darkglass Vintage Ultra V2

    I love the Tone Hammer, so why look elsewhere?
    The Tone Hammer has one flaw....one damn flaw. The AGS circuit has no provision for any sort of unity gain. You get your Tone Hammer EQ set JUST right. Input and output levels are perfect. Sound man loves you. Band loves you. Now...it's time for that song in your set where you need to kick in that drive.....AND YOU'RE NOW THIS FREAKIN LOUD AND EVERYONE HATES YOU AS YOU SCRAMBLE TO TURN YOUR BASS VOLUME DOWN....WHAT??? I CAN'T HEAR YOU?? DID YOU SAY SOMETHING?

    So yeah...I'm over reacting. The Tone Hammer is a great DI and a great preamp. But you really can't use it as an overdrive effect. The way I'm using it now is with the AGS circuit engaged, gain set low to give me a little "tubey" sound. And it's really wonderful. Really really wonderful. The other positives of the Tone Hammer are the fact that I'm almost 100% sure you could toss it off the Empire State Building, pick it up, plug it in, and it would work. It's a big pedal, but made of heavy metal (pardon the pun) and will run off phantom power if you wish. It's fairly basic, doesn't require a computer or mobile device to configure, and it just works. When you're on a gig, that's what you want...something that just works. In 20 years, it will still work. No software required. No USB to hook up. No Bluetooth. There is a lot to be said for that sort of dependability and predictability. I don't like surprises on a gig.

    But being a tinker, and having played with the Darkglass and LeBass at Sweetwater GearFest (which was amazing...better than Summer NAMM which I'll be at this weekend), I'm intrigued with both those pedals. I also messed with the API Tranzformer. I was expecting to be really blown away by it...but I wasn't. It was nice..solid...easy to use...but didn't make me say "DAMN!".

    The Contenders
    The two pedals being considered have many great reviews. They are highly regarded by many, but since it's my money I'm playing with, I'm dismissing their reviews for now and I'm going to form my own opinion.

    Two Notes Le Bass
    The Le Bass has one thing the rest of the contenders don't have...an actual tube. And with that tube comes tube problems. The pedal is power hungry. The Cioks DC5 powering my board would have to sacrifice two high current ports to power the Le Bass. My H9 is already consuming one of those high current ports, so that will leave the H9 to run on a different power supply...two power cords. Yuck! And then there is the fact that tubes wear out and eventually need to be replaced. Not a big job...just extra work at some point. Really moot if you ask me.

    The thing that intrigues me most about the Le Bass is the ability to blend the clean and dirty channels in either parallel or series mode. That, combined with a MIDI interface could make quick setting changes a breeze, and the H9 is also MIDI, so they could play very nicely together with a small MIDI controller. The possibilities are staggering. The Le Bass also has a single cab sim which can be engaged even if the clean or dirty channel aren't. From tinkering with my B3, I really love cab sims. I almost always go direct when I play, and a good cab sim will roll off some top end and give the bass a nice round sound like a good cab would.

    Darkglass Vintage Ultra V2
    Every single review I've seen of this pedal, or any Darkglass pedal, has been positive. In fact, one reviewer basically said "throw away all your other bass pedals you don't need them". That's an awfully bold statement. The special bit about the Vintage Ultra is the "V2" part. The V2 adds in cab simulation. But it one ups the Le Bass by letting you load in different sims. Sadly, unlike Two Notes own Torpedo C.A.B., you can't load multiple cab sims and switch on the fly via MIDI or knobs on the pedal. But the C.A.B. is a different piece of kit and not in the scope of this comparison.

    Darkglass manages all this, and it runs on a standard old 9v 100ma power. Not 18v like the Tone Hammer. Not 12v like the Le Bass. So how will that effect the mystical "headroom" people always talk about when comparing 9v to higher voltages? The audio doesn't lie, so we'll soon see.

    What's Next
    Big shout out to my Sweetwater Rep, Joe Shafer, for hooking me up with the demo Darkglass pedal and for telling me about GearFest. Ya'll really should go. I procured the Le Bass from Reverb. Once the comparison is complete, two pedals will be for sale. Which ones to be determined.

    Once I receive the pedals, I'll take time to tinker with them and get the tone out of them I like the most. Will this be the tone you like? Maybe...maybe not. I'll be recording all the sound samples using the following:

    • 2016 Fender American Standard Jazz Bass V, passive, both pickups, with Nordstrand humcanceling pickups.
    • Allen & Heath ZED-10 fed from the balanced DI out on the pedals
    • GarageBand with no effects or EQ other than the pedal itself.
    • Exported to MP3 and loaded to SoundCloud
    See ya'll in a few days.
  2. mmbongo

    mmbongo Five Time World Champion Supporting Member

    Aug 5, 2009
    Well to be fair, you said the same exact thing about your tuner pedal :) But I actually sold my Turbo Tuner when I got my TC Polytune 3 so you might want to try one of those...brighter, faster, and can be used in the daylight.

    ANYWAY..back to DI's. Mesa Boogie Subway DI. You won't find a better DI. It's not a distortion pedal mind you (it's not really a pedal at all), nor should it be. I don't want my DI box to provide distortion.
  3. Kriegs

    Kriegs Peace

    Feb 14, 2018
    MA/ RI area
    I wholeheartedly endorse (not formally or officially!) and recommend the LeBass :thumbsup: I tried the Darkglass and wasn't anywhere near as happy as I was with the LeBass. I have tried Aguilar DI. Full disclosure: I regularly play through Aguilar and Mesa amps and cabs at my local store, so I'm familiar with (and like) their sounds... so it's not that I'm adverse to or biased against their sound at all :) Personally, I prefer Ampeg for my amp/ cab needs, no biggie.
    In any event, the LeBass defines, shapes my pre-amp sound and does so very admirably... the only thing I do is add in the Mix Blender whose FX loop allows me to add in my distortion type effects before I add in my time based effects in the LeBass's FX loop.

    Last edited: Jul 2, 2018
    Kenneth92, Nunovsky, matt11 and 7 others like this.
  4. Kitsapbass

    Kitsapbass What key is this?

    May 26, 2005
    Bremerton, WA
    Subscribing because I'd love nothing better than to not have to use an amp when I'm playing with my cover band. We carry a full PA, and our soundman is a bass fan, so it's not like I need to worry.
  5. chadhargis

    chadhargis Jack of all grooves, master of none Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    Delivery is confirmed for both pedals for tomorrow (6/29). I'm at NAMM Saturday and playing for a few hours on Sunday, but hope to get first impressions up sometime soon.

    Stay tuned!!
    gregmon79 and BrentSimons like this.
  6. saabfender

    saabfender Banned

    Jan 10, 2018
    Classic TL;DR OP.

    I use a T21 BDDI. It’s fine. Not like I have dollar bills falling out of my pockets to buy a bunch of gear that no one else can hear the difference in.
    tindrum, Wfrance3 and BrentSimons like this.
  7. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Fusion Cats Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    If you get the chance (NAMM or elsewhere) try the Sonic Farm 2di4. Kills!
    Ricardo Rodriguez likes this.
  8. chadhargis

    chadhargis Jack of all grooves, master of none Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    More pedals may be in the mix at a later date. I'm an IT guy by trade, so tech stuff really spins my beanie. I realize that the audience can't tell a hill of beans difference, but part of my enjoyment of playing is the gear and tinkering. I never stick with gear for too long.
    nateynate likes this.
  9. scubaduba

    scubaduba Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    Been through countless preamp/di pedals including various Tech21, various Darkglass, Pike Vulcan, Le Bass, PLEX, MXR, DHA, Mesa Subway... Oh and plenty more.

    I choose the Shift-Line MKIII. Game over.

    Real tube. Amazing gain control. Superb form factor. Real nice EQ. Two cab sim options that slay the Le Bass. Aux in. Earphones out. Top mounted jacks. Completely clean to real nice tubey breakup. XLR out volume control.
  10. rockinrayduke

    rockinrayduke Supporting Member

    Dec 30, 2007
    Henderson, NV
    Glad to see the Hammer getting its props. But that AGS thing, ugh.
    saabfender likes this.
  11. I think it's great that there are so many amazing choices but I am not one to keep chasing a dream of the grass being better on the other side but more of standing pat and loving the ones I've got. Luckily it's a nice little collection to draw from after almost 45 years collecting.
  12. 57pbass

    57pbass Supporting Member

    This is exactly the reason I purchased powered cabinets. I’ve been experimenting with DI - Pre Amps Pedals for a few months with my powered 15” cabs..

    Here’s my favorites list...

    Noble DI... Volume/Bass /Treble controls with a bass boost switch and two tubes. Pricey but so worth the money. Built like a tank and the closest thing IMHO to a B-15. It has the best sounding Treble control I’ve ever heard.

    Mesa D800.. Tremendous value for this great DI. Wish it had a mute and headphone jack.

    Sadowsky DI. Great sounding DI .. straight forward design with a Mute switch..

    There are so many great affordable DI options available.. but for me..it’s going to hard to top the Noble.

    Never quite understood adding a pre amp to the signal chain with a bass amp already in that signal chain ?
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2018
  13. tonymcbony


    Mar 21, 2006
    Will be interesting to see how this turns out.

    Had a bit of a shootout with these players myself (Tonehammer, Le Bass, and VTDI)

    VTDI was not my thing at all - I've never gotten on well with Tech21 gear so that wasn't hugely surprising.

    Tonehammer and Le Bass was much closer. I was using both with the Torpedo CAB as well. Ultimately I felt I farted around with options on the Le Bass but never got the sound I wanted and never used the drive section (which I felt was its point of difference). Once I realised the Tonehammer shifts everything to be speaker-sim like with the AGS on I was totally sold on it.

    Tonehammer is on my board and I've been a happy camper ever since! I think if I made more use of the drive/distortion of the Le Bass that would have stayed.
    wmmj likes this.
  14. Basstigator


    Sep 23, 2017
    ... Never tried a preamp pedal I liked. Sent them all back and gave up on the idea once and for all. Seemed to always harm the tone more than anything else. Plus, way expensive. Stick with my ampeg rack preamp.
    IronLung1986 likes this.
  15. DI / Preamp pedal straight into a powered cab? Sounds like a great idea. What cab do you use?
  16. Janforth

    Janforth Father of Chritobin Madden Challenge 19 Champion Supporting Member

    Oct 23, 2009
    ISP Beta bass preamp pedal deserves a shot.
  17. 57pbass

    57pbass Supporting Member

    I’m using Bag End powered 15”s. I still have a traditional bass amp but the powered cabs get used often. With the powered cabs you no longer need deal with ohms.. you just direct out of cab A to Cab B..
  18. I have the b7k and ampeg svt 7.. I can not and I repeat can not turn my bass volume up past maybe 2 on my bass this ish is so so loud! and sounds great, I run fender 810 pro in to my ampeg svt to the darkglass b7k in to my dbx 231 eq..
    PawleeP likes this.
  19. TonyP-

    TonyP- Excuse me but you have your I-IV-V in my II-V-I Gold Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2003
    Boston Mass
    A-Designs Mike Lull GK Tsunami Cables GHS Strings RMI Basswitch Nordstrand Pickups Darkglass
    This is what I run into a variety of GKs and my Basswitch to the FOH Pedal Board.JPG
  20. JDLowEnd

    JDLowEnd Supporting Member

    Dec 19, 2010
    Norwich, CT
    I went back and forth between my tone hammer and the le bass for a few months. I ended up sticking with the TH as the Le Bass had this constant hiss that would hang around. No matter which channel I used the hiss was still present. Granted the hiss was more apparent with my p bass, it was slightly muted with an active bass with a humbucker (rebop 4mm) it still existed. I was looking for something that I could practice with, play live with, and record with, and with that extra noise I couldn't hold onto it. I even contacted sweetwater and received an updated power supply, but it still not make a difference. Plus I liked having a little more control over the mids, which I felt was a downsize of the Le Bass.
    PawleeP and JulienP. like this.

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