Best DI Boxes - Active
Best Active DI Box - Mono
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, even for electric guitars. They are generally considered as better sounding because of their higher headroom and extra features.
Rupert Neve Designs RNDI
- Might be too colored for those seeking transparency
- Adds harmonic depth to D.I. Tracks
- Top-Tier build quality
- High quality components
Starting back in the '70s, the brand Neve and their preamps and consoles continue to hold prominent status when it comes to recording equipment.
So it is unsurprising that their Direct Box would rank high in this list, thanks to its impressively high Gearank Rating, which includes many experts recommending it.
The first thing you notice is how high quality the unit is. The enclosure, jacks, and switches all feel solidly built and made to last.
Interestingly, what makes this unit special is not necessarily its straightforward Direct Box functionality. Rather it is its amplifier section which features the same Class-A discrete FET amplifier as found on popular Neve consoles.
Because of the design, the RNDI subtly adds harmonics to the signal. It doesn't come in the form of a perceptible shift in EQ. Rather, it feels like even raw tracks have more "depth" thanks to the harmonic content. This makes a great choice as a critical tonal element with regards to depth and richness. I might go so far as to say it imparts "preamp-like" characteristics to your sound. Recording multiple tracks with it helps blend together instruments in the mix thanks to the similar harmonic content.
This means that the RNDI isn't exactly the most transparent. While having a bit more depth from the get-go actually helps the mix down the line, this might not be what you're looking for. However, having a warmer and bigger sound is harder to do in the mix. Even then, it's not as good as having it upfront.
I highly recommend the Rupert Neve RNDI for bass and guitar, but it can also work well with any instrument. If you are looking to add more juice to your recordings or even your FOH sound, then the RNDI is highly recommended.
- 48V phantom powered active circuitry
- Ground Lift switch for both speaker and instruments
- 1/4" Input and Thru-put jacks, gold-plated XLR output
- Steel chassis
- Weight: 1.5lbs
|Sound On Sound||Bob Thomas||98/100|
Best Budget Active DI Box
- Jacks feel less than stellar and may need regular cleaning
- Amazingly solid enclosure
- Great low-frequency extension
- Can be powered by Phantom Power
The Samson MDA1 is a simple active direct box powered by a phantom 48V or a 9V battery.
The MDA1 can reproduce frequencies as low as 18Hz, making it ideal for recording bass DI tracks
The solid metal enclosure ensures long-term durability.
The MDA 1 is built like a tank and will definitely last several years. True to the specs, the MDA1 can preserve deep subfrequencies with good detail without being too overwhelming. The relaxed low-frequency roll-off is essential for bass tracks.
Despite the solid enclosure, the jacks are the first thing to watch out for. More often than not, these are usually the first to fail (although on the MDA1, I assume it will be years before that happens). Luckily, these are easily serviceable/replaceable by a technician.
If you're looking for an active direct box that is able to reproduce sub-low frequencies with ease and is built to last, the Samson MDA1 is a great budget pick. Another good cheap DI box to consider is the Behringer Ultra DI di400p.
- In: 1 x 1/4" (instrument), Out: 1 x 1/4" (thru), 1 x XLR (balanced out)
- Powered by 48V Phantom Power / 9V battery
- Metal enclosure
- -15dB pad and ground lift
Best Active DI Box - Stereo
Active Stereo DI Boxes add life to backing tracks and playback from sources like mobile phones, laptops, or tablets. The signal from these sources may suffer a loss in quality over long cable runs from the stage to the mixer and back out the FOH or monitors.
Rupert Neve Designs RNDI-S
- On the expensive side, but understandably so
- Tight component tolerances ensure phase coherence
- Solidly built
- Preamp-like harmonics
Expanding on the RNDI (also covered in this guide), The Rupert Neve Designs RNDI-S is the stereo version of the RNDI.
For stereo DI, stereo coherence is important, especially during recording from stereo sources like effects, keyboards, loops, and samples. Having stereo matched signal reduces phase cancellation and comb filtering. The better the phase coherence between channels, the better stereo tracks fit into the mix.
I can't think of any cons aside from the price, which puts it out of reach of budget-minded project studios.
Despite being at the more expensive end of our list, many users praise the RNDI-S for its sonic enhancements, phase coherence, and build quality. If you want to upgrade your already stacked studio, get it; it might just be the small improvement your workflow/signal chain needs.
- 48-Volt phantom powered direct box
- High rail voltage design to avoid clipping
- 80Hz highpass roll-off filter for reducing mud and increases headroom
- Input 1/4", Outputs XLR, 1/4" thru
- Weight: 1.55 lbs
Best DI Boxes - Passive
Best Passive DI Box - Mono
A Passive Direct Box provides 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 gain on the console a bit.
- Aside from the slightly higher price compared to no-name units? None
- One of, if not the most reliable direct boxes in the market
- High quality enclosure and components
- Excellent long-term durability
It is impressive how the Radial JDI has kept its high Gearank Rating through multiple editions of this guide since 2016! Keyboard virtuoso Chick Corea and artists like Adrian Belew use and recommend the unit, adding to its already superb credibility.
There aren't 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 sound. And since it is passive, it works well with active pickup-equipped guitars and bases, amplifiers, and other electronic instruments, which include keyboards and laptops.
It doesn't have any major issues, which adds to its perennial position on our guides. The only downside I could think of is the price, which puts it out of reach for the most frugal among us.
More than just a great Direct Box, the Radial JDI is arguably the best all-around Direct Box in the market today. If you're not sure what to get, if you are a multi-instrumentalist, or if you are a sound engineer who deals with various sound sources, get this one.
- Passive mono Direct 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
|Sound on Sound Forums||Arthur Stone||98/100|
Best Budget Passive DI Box
Hosa DIB-443 Sidekick
- Only has the essentials; no additional features
- Very rugged and well-built for the price
- Instrument/Line switch adds a bit of versatility
Sometimes you just need a Direct Box that's within budget and won't give you any durability anxieties. Choosing a more budget-oriented DI Box is actually harder because of all the mediocre products in this price bracket. Luckily, the Hosa DIB-443 Sidekick has earned a reputation for reliability and quality.
It features an instrument/line level switch to adjust to the sound source you're running through it. It's very basic, but it does the job, and it's built to do so for a long time.
There isn't much to complain about for the price, but if you need other features like a pad, it's best to move up a price point.
If your budget restricts you, you won't need to compromise ruggedness for price. The Hosa DIB-443 Sidekick is a durable DI Box that does the job
- Passive D.I. Box with instrument/line level switch
- Solid Steel enclosure
- Input: 1 x 1/4"
- Weight: 0.80 lbs
|Youtube||The Angry Sound Tech||96/100|
Best Passive DI Box - Stereo
Passive Stereo Direct Boxes don't have the lively tonality of Active DI boxes. Still, a soft high-frequency roll-off and hard transient suppression can be expected because no other electrical source melds with the signal. However, most designs have achieved relative transparency without needing external power.
- None as long as properly maintained / cleaned
- Good stereo matching
- Transient smoothing helps manage sudden jumps in signal like slap bass
- Very tonally transparent
There's no question that Radial Engineering dominates the best DI boxes market with its range of offerings for almost any situation.
The ProD2 is their transparent, 2-channel D.I. box solution for keyboards, program material, and other high-output sound sources.
The Box was designed to smooth out extreme transients while keeping most of the input intact. This prevents overloading your mixer or audio interface's preamp.
Worth noting is its transparent sound while smoothing out harsher transients and background noise. Where other Direct boxes color the sound in obvious ways, the ProD2 remains true to the input while rounding any excess digital "harshness".
Well maintained, the Radial ProD2 can last you a long time. As with all electronics, it's best to clean the contact points occasionally to prevent scratchiness and signal loss.
Radial Engineering puts a winner in the lineup again with the ProD2. It ticks all the boxes of what a good stereo D.I. box should be while bringing out the best of your instruments.
- Full range passive direct box with Eclipse ET-DB2 transformers
- Very low harmonic and phase distortion
- 14-gauge steel welded I-beam construction
- -15dB pad
- Input 2 x 1/4", Outputs 2 x XLR, 2 x 1/4" thru
- Weight: 1.95 lbs
|Youtube||A Minor Error||90/100|
Best Reamp Box
Reamping is commonly done in modern recording studios where clean DI guitar recording gets fed through a Reamp box to convert it into a signal ideal for feeding into a guitar amplifier as if it were played from an instrument. This preserves the amplifier's response and enables the re-recording of guitar parts with different equipment, microphones, and mic placement, even without the original session musician.
Radial Reamp JCR Studio Reamper
- Might interact strangely with fuzz pedals
- Adds subtle harmonics to raw D.I. for added depth
- Reamped tone similar to going through a high quality buffer
- Simple to use
The Radial JCR is a passive reamp box. Engineered by the inventor of the Reamping process John Cuniberti, the Radial JCR is THE reamp Box if you're looking for absolute simplicity.
The Radial JCR is a studio staple because it's the best at what it does: reamping studio-recorded guitars. It's an essential studio tool for modern music production, and there are no substitutes. Compared to other reamp boxes, the high-quality components in the JCR add musical harmonics over the original guitar tone, much like using a boutique buffer or clean boost in the signal chain.
Although it adds a much depth to the signal, it might not be the best for absolute transparency. Also, some fuzz pedals might not respond properly to reamping. That's just something to watch out for when reamping through a pedalboard.
The JCR reigns as the definitive single-channel reamp box. If you want to reamp to a stereo signal chain like reverbs and delays, the Radial X-amp might be more for you.
- Passive design re-amping box with custom transformer
- 14-Gauge steel welded I-beam construction
- Ground lift switch, Phase inverter, Mute switch, Tone Control
- Input 1 x XLR, 1 x TRS, Outputs 1 x 1/4" TS
- Weight: 2.2 lbs.
Things to Consider when Buying a DI Box
The main job of a D.I. Box is to convert your instrument lead (1/4" TS) signal 'directly' into the microphone inputs (balanced 3-pin XLR) that a mixing console typically has. Unlike a simple headphone adapter (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 to achieve a balanced signal. 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 electrical designs this conversion process can influence 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 several other advantages. Firstly the balanced XLR connection is much better for running cables over long distances without picking up noise and interference. Guitar leads, for example, can lose some sound quality at around 20 feet (6m) so if you want to cover more distance than a balanced 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 prevent ground loop hums and other electrical noise from creeping into the sound system.
- There are two types of DI boxes - Passive and Active. Passive DI boxes work with no external power source, while active direct boxes require phantom power, a battery, or a separate power supply. An Active D.I. box offers more functionality and improved sound quality, while Passive Direct Boxes offer straightforward functionality without worrying about the power supply. The general rule is to use an Active D.I. Box for instruments with passive pickups and a Passive Direct Box for instruments with active pickups and electronics. If you're wondering whether your instrument is passive or active, it's simple - if you have to supply power or put a battery in, it's active; otherwise, it's passive.
- The most basic form of a D.I. Box usually has one input and one output that goes straight to the mixer. As the price increases, they offer more options, including a separate output for amp or monitoring. At the same time, some even have multiple input/output options for complex rigs and multiple instruments. You'll want a D.I. Box with the right amount and type of input for your needs. If you're using a single instrument like electric bass or acoustic guitar, a compact, straightforward D.I. Box would be more than enough.
- The more music equipment you manage, the more voltage differences there may be between them, and these differences are perceived by the mixer as hum and noise. Since Passive DI boxes are transformers, they provide automatic ground lift for instant noise and hum reduction, making them important in keeping stages and studios quiet and clean sounding. An Active Direct Box also provides this feature, with some of them having a ground lift switch that isolates the signal ground from the unit's chassis ground.
- As mentioned above, more features and connectivity options require space, increasing the Box's size. It is important to find one with just the right connectivity and features packed inside a unit with a size that's comfortable for you to use or carry around.
- Because of the different purposes of both devices, it is best to choose a box specific to your needs. Direct boxes are for feeding signals into a recording interface or mixer. At the same time, Reamping DI Boxes convert pre-recorded signals for going into amplifiers or effects processors - these require a different impedance level to mixing consoles.
So what is a D.I. Box for anyway?
Passive vs Active DI Boxes
Ground Lift Switch
Are Regular DI Boxes and Reamp DI Boxes Interchangeable?
Best DI Box Selection Methodology
The first edition was published in 2016. The current edition was published on May 15, 2023.
For this edition, we took the time to look at the most current ratings and reviews for 43 promising DI Boxes, along with recommendations of artists and experts. We ended up with over 17,500 comment, rating, and review sources, all of which were fed into the Gearank Algorithm. This resulted in rating scores out of 100 that numerically represent market sentiment, which we used to come up with a list of the best DI boxes, divided into five categories: Active Mono, Active Stereo, and Passive Mono, Passive Stereo, and Reamping. Finally, we added budget-friendly DI Box sections for both passive and active models, that have reasonable ratings, to make sure you know of cheaper alternatives. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.
About the Author and Contributors
Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.
Lead Author & Researcher
I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings. I also play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.
Some of the recording gear I use in my studio includes the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, Focusrite Scarlett Solo, Samson QH4 Headphone Amp and Cloudlifter CL-1. My mics include Aston Origin, Aston Element, Shure SM57, Rode NT1, Rode PodMic and MXL V67G.
The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.