Updated: Mar 5
DI or not DI, that is the question...
I've debated that for a while (mostly with myself), but the reality is that if you want to do home recording of Guitars directly into the audio interface of your DAW, you should get one. You need a box designed to deal with the high impedance output of your guitar.
By recording directly I mean not using pedals, pedalboard, multi FX or amp + microphone. You want to plug your guitar into your audio interface and explore the wonderful world of plugins...
- Plugins have evolved a lot. There are a lot of plugins for the most popular DAWs (Pro Tools, Cubasis, Logic Pro X) and they range from modelling vintage amps to all kinds of cool effects. Some sound very authentic.
- By recording directly you will capture the pure sound of your guitar. You can change plugins later, re-amp, or even take the recording to a professional studio to run it through their gear
- The plugins cost way less than having all that gear, you can take them anywhere with your tablet or laptop, and most allow you to try before you buy
- Amp + microphone requires a room designed for recording. Most of us don't have that at home.
- No matter how much technology evolve, some will argue that it will never sound the same as playing through a vintage tube amp or similar - but wait, you can record direct, clean, and later re-amp through your friend's impressive vintage amp...
- They don't impress your friends as much as a massive pedalboard or a mean Marshall stack
- It's software, right :-) so that means bugs, crashes, patches, versions and all sorts of things you have to deal with. And your DAW needs to have the right spec, so check all that before getting the latest el cheapo laptop
- If you invested in a multi effects pedalboard and want the plugins by the same brand, you will have to pay again, or record clean and re-amp via the multi effects
But I have an audio interface already, thanks ...
Yes and so do I. The RME Babyface Pro. FocusRite, RME, UA, Apogee etc they all claim to have high impedance (or Hi Z) instrument inputs where you could plug your guitar directly. And you can ! I've recorded directly using RME Babyface pro, Apogee Jam and Duet and it sounded decent.
The key word is: decent, but not amazing. It's expected that the focus of an audio interface is the quality of the A/D conversion and low latency, not necessarily catering specifically for direct instrument input, so they can remain flexible and affordable.
Enter the Rupert Neve DI
So my requirements for a DI were quite simple:
- Active, since my guitars have passive pick ups
- 1 instrument input, high impedance, > 1 MOhm
- 1 output (typically microphone level unless the DI is also a pre-amp)
- 'Neutral' sound, as some DIs intentionally 'colour' the sound. This is to allow proper processing of the signal later via plug ins or other
The options I looked at were Radial, Countryman, Rupert Neve and REDDI. I ended up settling with the RN as:
- the Radial, while very well reviewed online, had lower input impedance than the instrument input of my Babyface pro (220 kOhm x 470 kOhm).
- Countrymen had impressive specs and reviews, but was harder to find in Australia
- REDDI seemed a bit to much for my budget (it was over $700)
- Rupert Neve has a name for amazing audio gear
When I plugged it in.... and played a few chords with my Ibanez JS2450... the warmth, the body, the low noise conquered me straight away. Simple logic pro X plugins sounded better than my multi-fx pedalboard. Recordings are clear, balanced, free of undesirable noise.
I then asked myself 'was it worth it?' So decided to A/B test this, by recording and comparing with a direct injection into the RME instrument input. Don't get me wrong, it still sounds decent directly on the RME, but the DI takes it to another level.
The signal chain then is:
Guitar -> RNDI -> RME Babyface pro Microphone input (XLR, balanced, 48V on as the RNDI requires phantom power) -> DAW
With the plugins in Logic Pro X, and also Line 6 Helix Native, I found that gain of 10 to 15 dB is enough to get the results I'm after.
Totally worth the investment. I'm quite sure the other top brands of DIs would have a similar effect. In the end, if you've already invested in a good guitar, DAW, interface, etc, you're just a few hundred bucks away (or a DI away) from near perfection. And all of this in the comfort of your own home.