6 Best Direct Boxes for Singer-Songwriters

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This is a subject that’s haunted me for many years. Like a lot of singer-songwriters, I’ve struggled to get good, consistent sound from my guitar in a live context. DI’s are also extremely useful in the studio. So, here are my favorites after years of exhaustive research and many dollars spent. I’m taking it as a given that you already have your favorite pickup system and I’m not addressing multi-effect or combination DI boxes. We’re just looking at the best way to transfer your signal to the front of the house with the correct impedance and the best sound possible.

1. Useful Arts BF-1

The BF-1 is a vacuum tube DI box that employs high-voltage, state-of-the-art technology with its own power supply to distribute your signal to the soundboard. It isn’t overly colored or “dark” and absolutely sounds perfectly pure with just the right amount of tube “warmth.” Furthermore, it employs a very clever EQ shelving system that seems subtle at first but in practice is very effective. For instance, cutting a bit of high frequency and using the low pass to gently contour the low frequencies can really make your guitar come alive. For this alone it outshines other DI boxes. It has a ¼” output, a ¼” thru (no tube, tuner/amp output) as well as an XLR output. At around $749 street it’s pricey but definitely worth it and will last for years both on the road and in the studio on any instrument.

best Direct Boxes for Singer-Songwriters

2. The Radial Pro DI

The Pro DI is passive and thus doesn’t require any power. It uses excellent transformers to correct the impedance and distribute your signal from unbalanced to balanced and sounds great with almost any instrument. It has a ground lift for RF interference and a 15db pad for loud sources. It’s nothing fancy but is extremely reliable and can take a beating since there are no moving parts or power. It always sounds great and at $115 street it’s hard to argue with. I’ve used them for years.

best Direct Boxes for Singer-Songwriters

3. Radial PZ-DI

It’s arguable whether or not active DI’s are better than passive ones; it’s a matter of personal preference and varies from guitar to guitar and pickup system to pickup system. However, the PZ-DI is super fantastic, especially for acoustic players. It needs 48v phantom power to operate, which shouldn’t be an issue for most venues and it offers variable load control to further tweak the impedance from your instrument via a 3-way switch with 1 meg ohm, 10 meg ohm, and 220 options. You can really hear the difference with a variety of pickups. For those who get option paralysis, the 1 meg ohm option is probably fine. It has a thru, a high cut and low cut control, phase invert, and ground lift and like the Pro DI is built to last. At around $279 street price, it has a lot to offer.

best Direct Boxes for Singer-Songwriters

4. Red Eye Instrument Preamplifier

A very successful singer-songwriter friend of mine has been using the Red Eye for years and swears by them. It has an instrument input, a balanced output, a boost option (nice if you play a soloing instrument), a treble control, and an effects loop. The sound is very pristine and uncolored and you can be sure you’re getting exactly what you’re putting in. It’s built tough, can take a beating, has the smallest footprint on this list, and should last you years. It’s a great deal at $225 street price.

best Direct Boxes for Singer-Songwriters

5. Avalon U5 Class A Active Instrument DI and Preamp

I know the U5 is pretty expensive and may be out of the question for many working artists like myself but it’s here because I have another friend who’s a huge star in Norway and his acoustic signal always sounds amazing with only a standard piezo pickup in his Martin D-28. When I asked him what he was doing he said, “The Avalon U5 to the board.  That’s it.” It has a high cut, speaker signal to input, active to thru button, and tone on button with swix tonal curve options to choose from. It has earth lift, line level, and mic level XLR outputs, a speaker output, and a headphone output. It’s a bit larger than most of the DIs compiled here but it can sit on an amp top or floor with its heavy rubber feet. An amazing piece of kit.

best Direct Boxes for Singer-Songwriters

6. Rupert Neve RNDI 1 Channel Active Instrument Direct Box

From the legend in audio design, the RNDI is clean, clear, and has a completely flat response from 20hrz to 20khrz. It has a speaker or instrument option, ground lift, ¼” thru, a single XLR output and runs off 48v phantom power. It’s a solid, inexpensive choice at $299 retail that will perform well in the studio and the road and is built like a tank.

best Direct Boxes for Singer-Songwriters

Direct boxes may not seem sexy and sometimes get overlooked in the grand scheme of what performers need to worry about. Some of the fancier models that include multiple inputs, EQ sections, and the like provide a dizzying array of options not available to the artist as recently as a decade ago.  I’ve chosen six here that will be simple, reliable, set-and-forget devices that you can rely on for many years but I encourage you to discover myriad options out there at your leisure so you can begin to discover how much of a difference a great DI can make in your signal path.

**All products are independently chosen by American Songwriter editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.

**All products are independently chosen by American Songwriter editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.

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