Originally published on April. 20, 2016. and updated on September 14, 2017.
- DI Box Overview
- The Best DI Boxes
- Things to Consider When Buying a DI Box
DI Box Overview
The main job of a DI Box is to convert your (1/4" TS) instrument lead signal 'directly' into the (balanced 3-pin XLR) microphone inputs that a mixing console typically has. Unlike a simple headphone adaptor (1/4" to 1/8") it doesn't just need to change the size or shape of the connectors, it has to convert the differences in impedance and voltage between the two sides of the connection. The details of how it does this are beyond the scope of this guide but if you want to delve further into the topic then look at this DI article on Wikipedia. The main thing to consider is that due to the nature of electrical designs this conversion process can have an effect on the tone of your instrument (in a good or a bad way) and that's why getting the right DI Box is important.
Apart from just "getting the signal to the desk" a DI Box (also called Direct Box, Direct Input or Direct Injection Box) can also have a number of other advantages. Firstly the balanced XLR connection is much better for running cables over long distances without losing signal quality. Guitar leads for example can start to lose some sound quality at around 20 feet (6m) so if you want to cover more distance then an XLR cable from the Direct box is better. Secondly many DI boxes (especially passive ones) isolate the input and the output circuit which can help preventing ground loop hums and other electrical noise from creeping into the sound system.
So don't waste your precious investments on expensive instruments, recording equipment and PA systems by skimping on this vital link in the audio chain. You ought to invest on a good Direct Box if you want to get the best sound out of your gear and preserve them.
We have updated this guide for 2017 to ensure that it reflects current market sentiments. Many of the DI Boxes ended up increasing their Gearank scores, while others either retained their original scores, or dipped a bit lower. The changes were not too drastic so we ended up with a very similar list, the main difference being the addition of the Radial StageBug SB-1, and the movement of the Behringer Ultra-DI DI100 to the Budget Option section.
The Best DI Boxes
Best Active DI Boxes
Active DI Boxes first came to the scene to better capture the sound of electric basses, especially since old bass guitars had weak passive single coil pickups. These days, Active DIs are widely available, and they are generally considered as better sounding because of their higher headroom and extra features. The list below features five top rated active DIs, along with a low cost alternative.
Countryman Type 85
While the Countryman brand may not be familiar to the average musician, professionals have long trusted their reliable and transparent DI Boxes. As a testament to this, the Countryman Type 85 DI Box continue to rake in high recommendations, ratings and reviews - so much so that it has grabbed the top spot in this list. Even in forums, you'll find that the brand is usually recommended when musicians are talking about good straight-to-PA sounds.
- Active DI Box Design
- Phantom Powered
- Class A circuit
- Input 1/4", Outputs 1 XLR and 1 TRS amp output
- Weight: 1.2 lbs
In terms of features, there's really not much to see with the Type 85, or sometimes called DT85. But that is how it is intended to be, to work smoothly, reliably, and efficiently. Everything from acoustic guitars, to Telecasters, to bass guitars, and even old electric pianos have been plugged into this DI with satisfactory results. Most agree that they can hear the nuances of their playing style and instrument better when using this humble DI Box.
There wasn't really any particular standout complaint when we scoured through the many reviews. However I'd point out that for its simple operation, the price could be a bit lower. But with its extra thick aluminum body that makes it virtually indestructible (with some actually driving their trucks over it without it breaking), the price tag is easily justified.
Get the Countryman if you are a guitarist or bassist who are looking for a straight-forward, plug-and-play, tried-and-tested, professional quality DI box.
Rupert Neve RNDI
Started back in the '70s, the brand Neve and their preamps and consoles continue to hold prominent status when it comes to music equipment. So it is not surprising that their DI Box would rank high in this list, thanks to its impressively high Gearank score and multiple expert recommendations. Interestingly, what makes this unit special is not necessarily its straightforward DI Box functionality, but rather its amplifier section which features the same Class A discrete FET amplifier as found on popular Neve consoles.
- 48V phantom powered active circuitry
- Ground Lift switches for both speaker and instruments
- 1/4" Input and Thru-put jacks, gold-plated XLR output
- Steel chassis
- Weight: 1.5lbs
Reviewers are consistent in saying that Neve RNDI "improved" their sound so much that it has become a critical tone element, rather than just being a mere bridge to the PA System. Reviewers report of how this unit works well with bass, acoustic guitars, keyboards, amplifiers and many more. And many of them testify that it makes all these instruments sound warm and big, without much tweaking.
As expected, the simplicity of this DI Box is not appreciated by some who are looking for more control. It may also not be ideal if you're looking for something that's really transparent, because the amplifier section warms up the sound. Interestingly, even those who wanted something "transparent" ended up loving the warmer and bigger sound that they got after plugging into the RNDI. Finally, you'll have to invest a considerable amount of money for this straightforward DI Box, but based on the positive response it has been getting, it is well worth the price.
The Rupert Neve RNDI is highly recommended for bass, but it can also work well with any type of instruments. If you are looking to add more juice to your FOH sound then you should check this one out.
Radial Engineering is one of the biggest names in studio and stage audio gear. They are well known for the quality of their Direct Boxes, many of which continue to rake in sales and positive reviews. One of which, the Radial J48 makes this list because of its high ratings and expert recommendations. And if the high Gearank score is not enough to convince you, then you should consider that acoustic guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel actually uses one and recommends it.
- 48-Volt phantom powered direct box
- High rail voltage design to avoid clipping
- 80Hz highpass roll-off filter for reducing mud and increases headroom
- With Merge function
- Input 1/4", Outputs XLR, 1/4" thru
- Weight: 1.55 lbs
The J48's main advantage is its simplicity and clarity, which in turn translates into versatility, allowing it to be used to great effect with many type of instruments. While it is more popularly used for acoustic guitars, positive reviews for this product come from musicians that play various instruments types, from banjos, to bandolins and even bassists, proving its flexibility which easily ups the value and use you can get out of this DI box. Some even use it to capture clean guitar lines, so artists can focus on getting the notes right and then tweak the tone later via reamping.
It would have been nice if the price point was a bit lower, but in this case, the saying you get what you pay for, rings true. Other than that there isn't that much else that people complained about. If you are looking for more features, you'll probably see one with the features you need among the many DI models that Radial produces.
If you're a musician who plays acoustic instruments and you're looking for the most straightforward and easy to use DI Box, then this is easily one of the bests one to get.
The Pro48 is essentially a stripped-down, budget-friendly version of the J48, providing the same sound and build quality without the extra features. It is also smaller and lighter, which can be handy, while still retaining Radial's brand of reliability. Those who want a more affordable alternative to the J48 has been satisfied by the Pro48, and since it only costs around half, they were able to buy more units for other instruments - resulting in a more pronounced improvement in the overall sound of their band or venue.
- Active DI Box Design
- Phantom Powered
- -15dB Pad
- Input 1/4", Output XLR and 1/4" Thru
- Weight: 1.55lbs
While many are quite happy with cheap DIs, those that decided to move up to Radial quality have nothing but good things to say about their decision. The general consensus is that they perceived a tremendous jump in quality compared to cheaper alternatives. And since it is versatile, it has provided musicians and churches with a reasonably affordable way of having all their instruments DI'ed before plugging straight into the PA.
While it is 50% cheaper than the J48, we all still want it to be cheaper. But there was not one complaint about its price among the reviews, which shows how justified the price is considering its quality. There were some who complained about minor build issues but most of the issues were easily fixed by simple actions like tightening screws.
If you are in the market looking for a versatile and high-quality active DI box to outfit multiple instruments and your budget is somewhat limited, then you might want to consider this one.
Radial StageBug SB-1
The Radial StageBug SB-1 DI Box is meant for stage instruments that use long cables, including acoustic guitar, bass and even keyboard. It has a compact and lightweight profile that is easy to carry around, and since it runs on 48V phantom power, you don't need to worry about batteries or wall warts. At the core of his DI Box is an active circuit that converts your signal from high to low impedance, it also balances and buffers the signal to drive long cables straight to PA. Other features include a 15dB pad for working with hot signals and a polarity switch that helps stop and prevent feedback.
- Active DI Box Design
- Phantom Powered
- -15dB Pad
- Polarity Switch
- 800k-ohm Input Impedance
- Input 1/4", Output XLR and 1/4" Tuner
- Weight: 0.55lbs
The Radial StageBug SB-1 has a good reputation among musicians, specifically among bassists, guitarists and keyboardists. Bassists commend it's good low frequency reproduction, while keyboardists and guitarists are impressed with its clarity. Having been made by Radial, it is also applauded for its solid build and reliability.
There were a few who found the XLR port to be too stiff when brand new, but it did work well after a while. The side mounted controls can also be annoying to reach, but since it is mostly a one-time-setup gear, you won't have to deal with it regularly.
Overall, the Radial StageBug SB-1's simplicity and reliability is a good tool to have. Even more so when you consider its quality and accessible price tag.
Best Budget Active DI Box
For those with limited budgets, we've included the Behringer Ultra-DI DI100 as a good low cost option.
Behringer Ultra-DI DI100
Behringer's ability to manufacture feature-packed gear at ridiculously cheap prices has been giving premium brands a run for their money. And what makes them even more threatening is how the quality of their products continue to improve while still retaining their low price advantage. The Ultra-DI DI-100 is a good example of this, an active DI box that delivers the goods that even some expensive units don't have, while keeping quality reasonably high. While some say that it's not as good sounding, reviews and ratings are consistent in saying that it gets the job done well, and that is what matters.
- Active DI Box design
- Runs on 9V battery or phantom power
- Switchable Input attenuation that accepts up to +50dB input
- Groundlift switch
- Input 1/4", Outputs XLR and 1/4" (Link Out)
- Gold plated XLR Connectors
- Weight: 1.43 lbs
Since the Ultra-DI DI-100 is affordable, it has found its way into many practice sessions and on stage. Compared to the price of popular premium DI Boxes, this one will let you outfit an entire band and have some spare change for food. Its great balance of affordability and quality make it a viable backup unit that you can tow around in case your more expensive DI Box has problems. It is also very easy to use, thanks to its 9V battery or phantom power operation and its switchable attenuation.
While a majority of the reviewers are happy with the resulting sound, experienced users who have tried more expensive DIs complain about the sound quality. But this is to be expected given its lower price, and since nuances are usually drowned by the loud drummer, it is still a viable and practical option.
With the Behringer Ultra-DI DI-100, there's just no excuse for anyone to go direct to console without having a DI Box. If budget is limited and you need a clearer sound on stage, or you're looking for a way to remove hum and noise, then this is what you should get.
Best Passive DI Boxes
Passive DI Boxes provide the most convenient, easy to use, and practical straight-to-console solution for musicians and engineers alike. Note that when used with guitars and basses that have passive pickups, there may be a noticeable level drop. This can be addressed by increasing the volume on the console a bit, or better yet go for an active DI box instead.
After having worked with the Gearank algorithm for quite some time, I have learned to not expect very high scores, that is until I processed the information about the Radial JDI and it got such a high Gearank score! What's more impressive is how it retained it's high score even after we updated its rating for 2017. As such, out of the many items of music equipment we've rated, this DI Box continues to be one of the elite few that achieved the Gearank Algorithm's current highest score. In addition to many positive reviews, keyboard virtuoso Chick Corea and artists like Adrian Belew use and recommend the unit, adding to its already superb credibility.
- Passive DI Box design with Jensen Transformers.
- -15dB input pad.
- Merge Function
- Single 1/4" input, single XLR and one TS Thru output
- Welded I-beam construction.
- Weight: 2.2 lbs
There aren't really any extra features to speak of, but the Radial JDI does what it does excellently - removes ground hum and noise and allows your instrument or amplifier signal to get to the PA with the cleanest and clearest possible sound. And since it is passive, it works really well with active pickup equipped guitars and bases, amplifiers, as well as other electronic instruments which include keyboards, laptops and the like.
There simply aren't many complaints about the unit, what with its almost perfect score! Still it would have been nicer if the price was lower, but with its versatility and sound, you're simply getting more than what you're paying for.
More than just a great DI Box, the Radial JDI is arguably the best all-around DI Box in the market today. If you're not sure what to get, if you are multi-instrumentalist or if you are a sound engineer who deals with various sound sources, get this one.
At just half the price of the JDI model, the Radial ProDI brings the company's famed sound quality and reliability to a more accessible price point. Because of its reasonable price tag, venues that house multiple instruments like churches have been getting these in buckets. And looking at its impressive Gearank score, you can be sure that the quality does not stray too far from more expensive units, some even comment that differences are practically unnoticeable in most musical applications.
- Passive direct box design with isolation transformer
- Isolated and balanced XLR output connector to prevent chassis to ground noise
- Radial 14-gauge steel welded I-beam housing
- -15dB pad
- 1/4" input and 1/4" thru-put
- Groundift switch
- Weight: 1.2 lbs
While it is reassuring that professionals like Terry Lawless (plays keyboards for U2!) endorse this unit, it still pays to heed the advice of regular users, and they have mostly good things to say about the Radial ProDI. Almost everyone is satisfied with its clear audio and solid construction, it also helps that it is compact and portable. From keyboards to laptops, and even instruments, the ProDI will get you sounding good without much hassle.
There was one who warned that the rubber footing will eventually fall off, so that maybe something to look into and prevent. Other than that, there's not that many complaints, even those that ranked this DI Box a bit lower reported that they are very happy with it.
If you are looking for an all-round DI box for your keyboards and other electronic instruments that's easier on the pocket, then check this one out.
Behringer Ultra-DI DI600P
Behringer makes their entry into our best passive DI box list with the Ultra-DI DI600P, a versatile unit that's been a favorite budget friendly option for guitarists. Reviewers rave about its clear sound which works great for both live performance and home recording use. And you don't just use any DI box for recording, because you'll easily notice faults like clicks, pops and hiss - so being widely used in home recording is quite a testimony to the DI600P's sound quality. For the price, you are getting quite a lot of features including a switchable filter for guitars and a -30dB pad.
- Passive DI Box Design
- Input: 1/4", Outputs: XLR and 1/4"
- Gold-plated XLR output
- With switchable filter for guitars
- -30dB pad>/li>
- GroundLift Switch
- Weight: 0.66 lbs
While this DI Box will work with any type of sound source, the guitar friendly filter and ability to handle amplifiers make this one the budget friendly choice for guitarists. The price tag is obviously a plus, and there's not much complained about its reliability either. Some even commented that ground and hum noise were instantly removed without even using the groundlift switch.
Understandably, those who have more expensive DI Boxes will find the sound of the DI600P lacking, but for the average band performance and home recording enthusiast, it gets the job done efficiently.
If you're a guitarist who is looking for a way to plug either your guitar, pedal or amplifier straight to console without having to dig deep into your wallet, then this is a great option.
The Art ZDirect is also incredibly affordable. Those who have used the unit were pleasantly surprised to find that their expectations were not only met, but exceeded. Reviews are consistent in saying that this unit sounds good and works as intended, it even comes with nifty features like input attenuation and phase inversion. Also, in a price range where plastic reigns supreme, the ZDirect feels solid with plenty of metal, so you're not too scared of carrying it around.
- Passive DI Box Design
- Input Attenuator Switch
- Phase Inverter switch
- Input 1/4", Outputs: 1 XLR and 1 TRS Thru
- Weight: 0.75 lbs
The most obvious advantage of getting this unit is its super affordable price tag, you can buy many ZDirect boxes for the price of a single JDI! And in situations where budget is limited and you need big sound improvements, this is heaven sent. It is much better to have more instruments properly connected to your PA than have only one instrument sounding good, while the rest have problems.
You always get what you pay for, and in the case of the Art ZDirect, reliability can be an issue. Some reviewers are worried that they might accidentally break the unit's protruding plastic switches, so they caution that proper handling care is needed.
This is easily a good choice if budget is limited.
Whirlwind IMP 2
With its affordability, reliability and versatility, the Whirlwind IMP 2 is easily one of the most widely used budget DI Boxes today. While it does not boast of the same features as more expensive units, it does get the basic DI Box duties done well without drilling into your savings. And since it works transparently and with no parameters to tweak, it can easily be implemented on any type of instrument, or amplifier that you want to plug into your PA. A cursory scan at the reviews will reveal how users and experts feel about the Whirlwind IMP 2, it works as intended and very good at that for the price.
- Basic 1/4" parallel wired input/output jacks
- XLR output
- Metal enclosure
- TRHL transformer is riveted to the chassis
Musicians and sound engineers have been using the Whirlwind IMP 2 to solve ground loop hum and noise problems on stages the world over. Like a roll of duct tape that makes sure everything is in place, this portable and affordable DI Box ensures that whatever your input source may be, it can be plugged in straight to your console with the right volume/voltage levels. And since it is affordable, many can afford to always have an extra when the need arises.
Considering its price, which is less than 1/4 of other more popular DIs, there's really nothing much to expect and nothing to be disappointed about. There are some experienced users who are familiar with the difference that more expensive Direct Boxes bring to the table, and they recommend that you save up for something better.
Still, if you are satisfied with your sound and you just want a budget friendly way to go straight to PA, then the Whirlwind IMP 2 offers an easy and quick fix.
Here is a tube driven preamp / DI Box that we highly recommend for those who can invest in premium equipment.
A Designs REDDI Tube Active DI Box
While most DI Boxes are meant to be transparent, the A Designs REDDI Tube DI is a different beast because it colors the sound. It is designed to reproduce the sound of the classic Ampeg B15 bass amplifier, and it does so with the help of a a genuine tube 6NI-P tube at its core. Being a DI Box, it does all this without the bulk of an actual tube bass amplifier, and with the convenience of going straight to PA systems or recording consoles.
While it works well with bass guitars, REDDI is also equally viable for use with synths, keyboards, electric guitars and other instruments - it's especially good for adding analog touch to home studios / venues that have mostly digital equipment.
- Combo 1/4" XLR Input, XLR Output, 1/4" Thru
- 16dB gain
- Metal enclosure
- Genuine 6NI-P Tube
- Custom wound Output Transformer
The REDDI Tube DI Box continues to get high ratings from users and experts, be it for live performances in churches and bars, or for recordings at home or in the studio. Many commend it for its warm tube tone, which improves the sound of instruments that is paired with the box. It also helps that the unit looks nice and feels solidly built, from its Neutrik connectors to the heavy duty switches and knobs, to its metal exterior.
Most users like the way it colors the resulting sound, but there are a few who did not like its tone character. And because of its ability to change the overall sonic character of your instrument, it is not recommended if you prefer transparency. There are also some who wish for a lower priced version of the Reddi, but most are more than happy with its cost.
If you're looking to add old school warmth to your instrument, be it for recording or for live performance, then do check out the A Designs REDDI Tube Active DI Box.
Things to Consider when Buying a DI Box
Passive vs Active
There are two types of DI boxes - Passive and Active. Passive DI boxes work without the need for external power source, while active direct boxes require either phantom power, battery or their own separate power supply. Active DI boxes offer more functionality and improved sound quality, while Passive Direct boxes offer straightforward functionality without having to worry about power supply. The general rule is to use an Active DI Box for instruments with passive pickups, and use a Passive DI Box for instruments with active pickups and electronics. If you're wondering whether your instrument is passive or active it's quite simple - if you have to supply power or put a battery in then it's active, otherwise it's passive.
The most basic form of DI Boxes usually have one input and one output that goes straight to the mixer. As the price goes up, they offer more options that include a separate output for amp or monitoring, while some even have multiple input/output options for complex rigs and multiple instruments. You'll want to have a DI Box with the right amount and type of inputs for your needs. If you're using a single instrument like electric bass, or acoustic guitar then a compact straightforward DI Box would be more than enough.
The more music equipment you manage, the more voltage differences there maybe between them, and these differences are perceived by the mixer as hum and noise. Since Passive DI boxes are basically transformers, they provide automatic ground lift for instant noise and hum reduction, making them important in keeping stages and studios quiet and clean sounding. Active DI Boxes also provide this feature, with some of them having a ground lift switch that isolates the signal ground from the unit's own chassis ground.
As mentioned above, more features and connectivity options require space, which increases the size of the box. As such, it is important to find one that has just the right connectivity and features packed inside a unit with a size that's comfortable for you to use or carry around.
Best DI Box Selection Methodology
For this 2017 update, we took the time to look at the current ratings and reviews for 20 promising DI Boxes. We also considered recommendations of artists and experts. All that data were then fed into the Gearank algorithm and we ended up with a final list 10 that scored the highest. We decided to add a budget friendly DI Box with reasonable ratings to make sure that you are aware of cheaper alternatives. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.