One of the wisest decisions any bassist can make is to invest in a good DI box. They’re ideal as inexpensive and reliable interfaces for laying down tracks in studios large and small. They help make sure you’re heard in less-than-ideal venues with less-than-attentive sound guys. And they’re great for juicing up dead and muddy tones with an infusion of brilliance, body, and punch. Plus, if you’re a bassist with proclivities for filthier tones, using a solid DI box in addition to your rig is almost essential for ensuring your sound feels intense, and not a weak rumble, after the rest of your band kicks in.
Most of the road warriors, sound engineers, and techs reading this will know what I’m getting at. But if you’re anything like I was many years ago when I first heard about bass DIs, you might be thinking what I was then: This sounds about as exciting as buying a tuner pedal. Lucky for all of us, bass DIs entered the modern-tech era a while ago, and their continued evolution has resulted in bigger, badder, and more ambitious tools that go far beyond what DI boxes were capable of in the past. Technology’s obsession with all things micro has allowed for intricate multi-channel bass preamps to coexist with full compliments of EQ’ing, compression, cab emulation, high quality A/D conversion, and a wealth of analog and digital connections for routing and updating software.
The aforementioned highlights would be appealing to any bassist. But for those who really enjoy using grittier tones yet hate dealing with excessive noise and finicky EQ’ing, the compact and controlled environment within a modern bass DI is a godsend. And we specifically chose the four overdrive/DI/preamp pedals in this gathering with that type of player in mind.
The SansAmp Bass Driver DI Version 2 is an updated version of Tech 21’s popular pedal that doesn’t mess with the original’s excellent formula, but offers more features. Providence’s Brick Drive BDI-1 delivers gobs of juicy overdrive in a simple and straightforward package. If your ears perk at the sound of bells and whistles, Gallien-Krueger’s Plex brings a full complement of onboard features, from tuning to a USB recording interface. And the Le Bass from Two Notes Engineering sports a highly tweakable, dual-channel tube preamp that generates an array of absolutely brutal distorted tones.
To test each pedal’s mettle, I used a 2013 Fender American Precision bass outfitted with a Lollar P-style pickup, along with either a Gallien-Krueger 400RB or 800RB into an Ampeg 8x10. Despite each pedal being roughly intent on accomplishing the same goals, it was interesting to hear how unique they sounded compared to one another.
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