- Learn what a DI box is, and what it’s used for
- Understand the re-amping process and why we use Reamp boxes
- We cover the differences in utility between a DI box and a Reamp box
- Check out our guide to the best DI Boxes
DI boxes and reamp boxes are often confused with one another, and visually, they are hard to tell apart.
In this article, we will take an in-depth look at both the DI Box and the reamp box, find out exactly how they are different, and figure out which one is the right choice for you.
What is a DI Box?
DI box, short for direct box, is a device that converts unbalanced, high impedance signal to balanced, low impedance mic-level signal.
DI boxes usually take the unbalanced signal from instruments like an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, or keyboard, and convert the signal into a balanced signal for recording or live performances.
Think of it as a converting device or a connecting device between instruments and mixers, and DI boxes are crucial pieces of equipment for recording and performing live.
These DI boxes were first developed in the 1960s, and they were developed to help solve the problem of mismatching impedance between mixing consoles and instruments.
Engineers like Ed Wolfrum first developed their own DI boxes in their studios, and what we know as passive direct boxes came about in world-famous recording studios like Motown, United Sound Systems, and Golden World Records.
These passive direct boxes weren’t suitable for instruments with weaker output signals like Rhodes pianos or vintage Fender Basses, so 48-volt phantom-powered active direct boxes came about in 1975 to address this issue.
As we mentioned above, direct boxes come in two types – a passive DI box and an active DI box. Although both boxes have many similarities, let’s find out what exactly each DI box does.
Passive DI Box
Passive DI boxes run without any additional power, and it contains an internal audio transformer that converts unbalanced signal to balanced signal for the mixing console.
Modern passive DI boxes that you encounter will use some form of balun transformer, and this kind of transformer has separate windings for both input and output stages.
This allows the DI to isolate ground-level voltages, and you can get a signal without any ground hum.
Passive DI boxes are fairly simple devices, and it doesn’t come with any preamp or any other additional boost.
Since it doesn’t have any additional boost, passive DI boxes are ideal for instruments with strong outputs such as active bass guitars, keyboards, electric guitars with active pickups, or even a dynamic microphone.
Active DI Box
As mentioned above, active boxes were born out of necessity to be able to work with instruments with weaker output signals.
The main difference is that active DIs come with a built-in preamplifier, and they need additional power like batteries or 48V phantom power to function.
If you need to record instruments with weaker signals like single-coil electric guitars, vintage electric basses, acoustic guitars, Fender Rhodes, or condenser microphones, you will need an active DI box.
What is Reamping?
Reamping is a recording technique used by guitarists. It is a process in which you first record a clean DI, and then that clean DI track gets sent through the amps, effects, and mics, and out to your DAW.
This allows you to first record your guitars, and then worry about the exact amp and tone you want to use later on. This is especially helpful as committing to a guitar tone only to find out it’s not working in the mix can be disastrous.
So you’ll find that most studios will always record a DI just as a nice failsafe.
Essentially, you get both the clean DI signal as well as the amplifier signal at the same time, providing way more options for post-production.
What is a Reamp Box?
A reamp box is often confused with a DI box, but a reamp box is slightly a different device that takes a pre-recorded audio signal and sends it back through a guitar amp or a pedal chain.
While a DI box converts an unbalanced instrument-level signal to a balanced mic-level signal for the mixing console or an audio interface, a reamp box will convert a balanced line-level signal to an unbalanced instrument-level signal.
Essentially it’s an audio converter that works in the opposite direction of a DI box.
Since both reamp boxes and DI boxes are required for the ideal reamping process, many reamp boxes will come with both DI and reamp boxes in a single unit.
There are some excellent reamp boxes such as the Radial ProRMP, an industry-standard reamp box that many engineers and studios use.
Reamp Box vs Direct Box
Direct boxes are way more common and are used for a wide range of instruments from guitars, keyboards, synthesizers, and basses, to vocals.
Although reamp boxes can also theoretically work for keyboards and basses, reamp boxes are predominantly used for electric guitars.
DI boxes are crucial to have whether you are recording straight through or reamping, whereas reamp boxes are only needed specifically for the reamping technique.
Can you use a DI to Reamp?
Although we recommend that you use both a reamp box and a DI box for the reamping process, reamping with just a DI box is possible.
By reversing the inputs and outputs of a passive DI box, you can use a DI for reamping. But keep in mind, that only passive DI boxes can be connected in reverse.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that by using a passive DI box instead of a reamp box, you will get quite a bit of signal boost.
Therefore, if you’re going to use a passive DI box for reamping, make sure you take a lot of time to experiment and don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t work at first!
Take time to know and learn your DI box and how it interacts with your guitar, amp, and your preferred DAW.
Which is Better for Reamping?
We’ve come to the final question for this article: reamp vs DI box, which is better for reamping?
The best way for reamping is using both a reamp box and a DI box using a 2-step process:
Step 1: First capture the clean signal from the guitar by using a DI box. You will need to plug the guitar straight into the DI, send the Thru to an amp, and take the Out to your audio interface. By doing this, you can record both the dry signal and the amplified signal simultaneously.
Step 2: Send the clean guitar signal from your DAW through an output of your interface/mixing console to a reamp box. Then connect your reamp box to a guitar amp, mic the amp, and then record the mic’d signal back to the DAW.
Another option is to buy a reamp box that also has a DI function, this will satisfy both needs at the same time. If you’re somebody that needs to reamp frequently, this might be a better option.
In this article, we took a deep dive into how both a DI box and a reamp box work, and their common uses in the studio.
We also looked closely at what reamping is and the various options for reamping your guitar sound.
This whole topic of re-amping and DI’s can be a bit tricky to wrap your head around at first, so feel free to use this article as a future reference if things get confusing!