Samson MDA1 Review: Worth It? (& Alternatives)

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Samson MDA1 Review: Worth It? (& Alternatives)
Housed in a steel body strong enough to withstand excessive touring over an extended period of repeated time, the Samson MDA1 is a highly affordable direct box with key features for studio and live performance use.
Value For Money
Extremely affordable for such a reliable piece of equipment
Able to work with a variety of instruments
Only has one channel
It may not be the best DI box for matching impedance with high output 7-string guitar pickups
  • The Samson MDA1 is budget-friendly, but is it reliable?
  • Find out in our in-depth Samson MDA1 review
  • We also compare the MDA1 to more expensive DI boxes below

A direct box (also known as a DI box) is one of the most crucial components for live performances and studio recording when mitigating noise interference.

The Samson MDA1 is an active, single-channel direct box with ground lift and an unbalanced thru output that offers excellent performance almost equivalent to the industry-standard direct boxes like Radial DI boxes, but at a third of the price. 

Besides a few other Behringer DI boxes, the Samson MDA1 is one of the market’s most affordable active DI boxes, coming in at just under $50.00.

Surprisingly, the feature set and the construction are just as good as many of the more premium active DI boxes you will find on the market.

Samson MDA1: Review

Samson MDA1 Mono Active Direct Box
Why We Love It:
  • Steel chassis construction
  • Custom STL transformer
  • 15dB attenuator
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The Samson MDA1 is a highly affordable direct box with key studio and live performance features.

Housed in a steel body strong enough to withstand excessive touring over an extended period of repeated time, the Samson MDA-1 combines a simple single-input design with a custom transformer capable of handling frequencies from 18Hz – 35kHz.

Design & Construction

The Samson MDA1 is built with solid 14-gauge steel housing, weighing around 1.34 lbs.

The 14-gauge steel housing is built like a tank with a simple rectangular shape, making the MDA1 a great tour companion.

Key Features

The main function of the Samson MDA1 is its ability to convert an unbalanced, ¼-inch instrumental signal to a balanced, XLR line-level signal.

Because it is an active direct box, it requires a 9V bolt battery or phantom power to function. The Samson MDA1 works well with bass guitars, synthesizers, and acoustic guitars alike.

The Samson MDA1 features a ground lift switch, which can be useful in studio recording scenarios and live performances.

Different power sources and multiple instruments will cause hum and feedback, making a ground lift switch a crucial part of live recording.

It also has a 15dB input attenuator to smooth out a hot audio signal like what might come from the pickups of an active bass or active guitar.

The additional “thru” output helps connect and integrate amplifiers, and re-amping is also an option with the Samson MDA1. 

Samson MDA1’s Custom STL transformer can cover a huge spectrum of audio signals (18Hz-35kHz), allowing it to capture the full richness of instruments like acoustic guitars and synthesizers.

The STL transformer just as easily handles the bass guitar’s full range, including the subsonic range down to 18Hz.

Alternatives to the Samson MDA1

Behringer Ultra-DI DI100

Behringer ULTRA-DI DI100
Why We Love It:
  • Incredibly affordable price
  • Noise-free conversion
  • Ultra-flat frequency response
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Behringer Ultra-DI DI100 is one of the most popular models in the world of cheap active DI boxes.

Although cheaper than the Samson MDA1, the Behringer Ultra-DI also has all the essential features like an input attenuation switch, ground lift swift, and ultra-flat frequency.

The DI100 offers users the option of using 0 db, 20 db, or 40 db of attenuation to ensure a more precise soothing of hot signals.

Where the two products differ most prominently is in dimensions (with the Behringer being slightly larger), and materials (with the Behringer being constructed out of somewhat less durable aluminum).

The location of the battery compartment (which is on the side in the case of the Behringer, with a screw-on door that rubs against the wired clip and can cause it to fail) also differs,

Radial StageBug SB-1

Radial StageBug SB-1
Why We Love It:
  • Radial-quality, affordable price
  • Feature-packed
  • Ultra-compact
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09/30/2022 11:57 am GMT

Similarly to the Samson MDA1, the StageBug by Radial is a 1-channel active instrument direct box.

Radial is arguably the most trusted name in the DI world, and this model is the most affordable version of Radial.

Although more than twice the price of a Samson MDA1, the StageBug is compact and has all the features you might need, including a 10dB pad and a 180-degree polarity switch (ground lift).

What is a DI Box?

Simply put, a direct box (also known as a DI box) converts unbalanced, high impedance signals to balanced, low impedance line-level signals.

DI boxes are crucial for live performances and studio recording to mitigate noise interference from high impedance signals running over long distances.

Instruments like guitar, bass guitar, and keyboard frequently require some sort of converter device to yield balanced lines and protect signal quality.  

There are two varieties of DIs.

Passive DIs do not require additional power to function and can handle high output instruments, such as active pickup electric guitars and basses, without distortion.

On the other hand, active DIs require additional power, such as 48-volt phantom power or a 9V battery.

These active DIs can be used with instruments with weaker output signals, like a Rhodes piano or a vintage Fender bass.

With the addition of power comes the inevitable concern that the link in the signal chain might break due to a battery or power supply failure.

For that reason, live musicians in particular have to be careful to choose reliable equipment.

Wrapping Up

If you’re looking for an affordable active DI box, the Samson MDA1 is a smart bet.

From the ground lift, unbalanced thru output, 15dB attenuation switch, and high-quality STL transformer built in a sturdy steel box, you would be hard-pressed to find anything better for the price.

The Samson MDA1 is highly recommended for anyone looking for a cheap but well-made active DI box.