We test the DI that''s a lot more than a DI—giving bass players tone-shaping capabilities built-in.
As bassists, we are often thrown under the bus when it comes to our signal chain, regardless of how much care or expense we have taken with our preamps and our sound. It seems that we are always the last on stage to be trifled with, and instead of fancy mic’ing techniques, we are most often relegated to a less-than-exciting DI box. While this is enough in most cases, there are situations that call for more dynamic control and tonal shaping. To answer that call, bassist Spencer Doren and his company 3Leaf Audio have introduced the Enabler—a DI, EQ, preamp, and headphone amp rolled into one.
The Enabler is housed in a solid enclosure with a footprint not much bigger than a standard DI box. It is smartly laid out, with the XLR output and ground lift well out of the way of the four 1/4" connectors for input, output, headphones, and aux input. The top row’s quartet of big knobs control the EQ and gain, while the smaller pair of knobs right below handle the auxiliary input volume and master volume. Nestled between those knobs are three switches—one for boosting the bass, another for choosing the center frequency of the mids, and the third that allows pre- or post-signal routing to the XLR out.
Allowing for minute adjustments, the knobs are smooth and tight, and the soft-touch footswitch is a custom design that should be included on just about every pedal. Unlike traditional stompboxes, the bass signal doesn’t actually pass through the switch, but rather through a relay. This way, activation is silent, and if the switch wears out over time, there is no loss of signal. The innards of the Enabler looked clean and were also well constructed. My only real beef with the design is that there is no option to power it with a 9V battery, but more on that later.
The Swiss Called …
Like the do-it-all knives constructed in the land of Ricola, the Enabler is not just a DI. It’s also not just an EQ. And this pedal has enough gain control to drive a power amp, effectively making it a preamp as well. If that isn’t enough, it’s also billed as a studio-grade headphone amp. With a fairly reasonable street price, I was more than ready to check out this box.
I went both new- and old-school by using a Music Man double-humbucker StingRay and a vintage Framus Star hollowbody for test instruments in the studio. Both basses have very distinct tonal properties and need a little EQ help to make them cut through a mix or add subtlety. The amp used for this review was an Eden WTX 500 paired with a 1x15 cab, and I used a pair of Ultrasone HFI-580s for headphones.
Leaf Through this Tone
I started things out with the StingRay through the amp and found that the Enabler’s EQ boasts a pretty wide spectrum of usable bass frequencies. (The builder is a bassist after all.) The Enabler’s EQ is almost more like a sweetener, rather than a standard EQ, and it was very easy to dial up a great tone while still maintaining a faithful reproduction of the instrument. The bass boost brought a nice round lift to the tone, yet didn’t let things get muddy. And the mids and treble added clarity without any added harshness.
One of the Enabler’s nicest features is how it can bring out an instrument’s tonal subtleties without getting overbearing. It was difficult to dial myself into a hole unless I was really trying. But just in case you do want a little something more, it’s available.
Next up was the vintage Framus. To me, this bass has always been like a favorite shirt with a hole in it—I like to wear it, but there are better options. Its tone is thin and can’t come close to the depth and clarity of modern instruments most of us have become accustomed to. But when paired with the Enabler, the Framus bass took on a more refined identity simply by easing the bass control to about 2 o’clock and engaging the deep switch. It all of a sudden sounded more like a “grown-up” instrument. And after cranking the gain, I unexpectedly found a nicely saturated overdriven tone, so in a pinch, one could use the Enabler for some roughed-up sound.
Listening to and fine-tuning your tone with headphones is always a good idea because it lets you get a true representation of your sound. And when using the Enabler as a stand-alone headphone amp, I was amazed with the quality of sound it produced. The gain structure of the pedal is ridiculously hot, so a little goes a long way. Going too far past a quarter turn resulted in the signal starting to break up, so I did have to use care when recording with the pedal. Having the 1/4" stereo aux input to plug in a music source for practicing is another great feature of this little powerhouse, but I’d hesitate to call the Enabler a complete practice-amp solution since the pedal doesn’t have a battery power option. Since I don’t always have the luxury of a wall outlet close by (nor do I want one), this could be a drawback for me. Conversely, 3Leaf states that the headphone amp produces such good sound because it uses a unique, internal-power supply that draws a significant amount of current. Powering the headphone amp with a 9V battery would only provide about an hour of battery life before the headroom dropped below a usable level.
I also put the Enabler through its paces as a dedicated DI in a live setting for a stripped-down acoustic show in a 1000-seat theater. Playing a Gretsch Electromatic hollowbody, I ran straight to front-of-house and really appreciated the added bonus of having the EQ control at my feet for easy adjustments. Quickly dialing in a great tone to my in-ears was easy, and the report from our engineer confirmed the same for the sound out front.
The Enabler has a number of great features in the plus column, and the fact that it can be used for multiple applications is certainly appealing to this bassist. Even if you currently have a good DI and a headphone amp, the excellent EQ-shaping ability of the Enabler alone would make it a nice addition to any signal path. The Enabler already deserves kudos for being well constructed and tonally impressive, so if 3Leaf is able to build in a 9V battery option, this useful piece of gear may just pop up in remote locations around the globe.