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Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

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Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby ViaLosFeliz » Tue Aug 07, 2018 6:49 pm

Hey there. I am in the market for a new DI box and want to be sure I am making the right choice so I thought I would ask some sound folks. I have read a lot about passive vs active DI's and have come across some contradictory info on the web about which to use with an active pickup. I came across the general rule-- that active pickups should use passive DIs but the confusion comes in with acoustic guitars using active piezo pickups.

So you know my baseline, my acoustic guitars all have the LR Baggs Element (active, piezo) pickups installed in them.
I have a couple pedals too. Below is my chain.

Boss tuner > LR Baggs Session pedal > LR Baggs EQ pedal> Some new DI > Front of House.

The LR Baggs pedals are newer and from their Align series: https://www.lrbaggs.com/align-series-acoustic-pedal-suite/
The Session pedal is a compression pedal designed for acoustic, it's very subtle...just in case anybody was unfamiliar with them. OK moving on...

The DI is for my live touring rig. I would say most of the time there is phantom power available but sometimes not, like at a rehearsal studio for example.

The big question---Should I be getting an active or a passive DI? Reminder- my acoustics have active piezo pickups in them (The Element).

Please advise! Thanks so much for your help.
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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby James Perrett » Tue Aug 07, 2018 7:17 pm

Since you have active electronics between the piezo element and the output of the guitar you would be fine with a passive DI. I've used a Whirlwind passive box (IMP2) for many years which has always worked fine for me. The Orchid active DI boxes have a good reputation around here but I'm not sure whether they are distributed outside the UK.
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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Aug 07, 2018 7:30 pm

As James says, you inherently already have active (impedance converting) electronics between the guitar pickups and the outside world, so you'll be fine with a passive DI box. An active box is useful if the guitar has passive pickups (like a standard electric guitar), but that's never the case with piezos anyway.

There are plenty of passive DIs to choose from. I don't have any experience of the Whirlwind unit James recommends, but the Radial DI boxes I've used are very good. The J-models with Jensen transformers are the cream of the crop, but the D-models are still very good. A good friend uses Palmer passive DI boxes and seems very happy with them.

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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby ViaLosFeliz » Tue Aug 07, 2018 8:25 pm

Maybe the only thing I could think about an active pickup would be lots of them have a phase switch. I assume the passive ones don't have those??
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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby molecular » Tue Aug 07, 2018 8:28 pm

The radial JDI passive one has a phase switch.
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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Aug 07, 2018 8:53 pm

ViaLosFeliz wrote:Maybe the only thing I could think about an active pickup would be lots of them have a phase switch. I assume the passive ones don't have those??

Some do, some don't. It's often unnecessary as most sound consoles have a polarity reversal facility on the input channels anyway.

Some DIs, both passive and active, also have input attenuators to prevent overloading the transformer and/or electronics,many some also have a ground-lift facility to remove a ground-loop.

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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby Sam Spoons » Tue Aug 07, 2018 9:51 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote: An active box is useful if the guitar has passive pickups (like a standard electric guitar), but that's never the case with piezos anyway.
H

Maybe I'm misunderstanding but I've have a few acoustic guitars with passive piezo pickups. My Rob Aylward has a BigTone with no preamp.
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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby James Perrett » Tue Aug 07, 2018 10:00 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:I don't have any experience of the Whirlwind unit James recommends,

It probably isn't up to the quality of the Radial JDI but I've had it since the early 80's (and it wasn't new when I bought it from Bonza in Guildford) and it has worked fine on everything I've tried it on. I was surprised to see that they're still available - although in a different colour scheme to mine.

I see that Radial do something very similar - the SB2.
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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby ViaLosFeliz » Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:29 pm

I am following what everybody is saying. It makes sense to use a passive since all of my "stuff" before it is active.
Am I understanding this correctly, that it will prevent my signal that is going to the FOH from overloading and distorting?

Also, the tone of a passive DI might not sound as harsh, right? I read that comparing the tones of a passive DI to an active one is much like comparing a tube amp to a solid state amp. I mean...that's an easy choice.

This is what confuses me though.

1) the LR Baggs pedals in the Align series are designed to all be used at once. They are all active. The last one in the chain is an active DI.

2)Also, Radial makes a DI called the PZ-DI that is specifically for acoustic guitars with piezo pickups. It has a has a variable load selector switch that allows you to set the input impedance of the direct box. ONe of the settings is 10 meg ohm impedance that is specifically designed for piezo transducers. I have no idea what that means! I copied and pasted it. Anyway, does this 10 meg ohm thing make it worth it? It's supposed to get rid of the quack.
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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:43 pm

Sam Spoons wrote:Maybe I'm misunderstanding but I've have a few acoustic guitars with passive piezo pickups. My Rob Aylward has a BigTone with no preamp.

Yes, I've come across a few myself that are designed to plug straight into a standard guitar amp. Those would typically need an active DI box to provide a sufficiently high load impedance.

Zenguitar can probably give much more detail on this, but most piezo pickups I've come across work best with load impedances of 10Meg Ohms or so, and are usually designed to work into a specialist preamp stage which is often built into the guitar itself, or is connected between the guitar and amp.

Most active DI boxes (and interface or mixer hi-Z inputs) present a load of about 1Meg Ohms, and many amps and passive DIs are significantly lower than that.

So the general rule is active DIs for passive pickups (magnetic or piezo), and passive DIs for electronic sources such as active guitar preamps, keyboards, Etc.

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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby awjoe » Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:47 pm

ViaLosFeliz wrote:Maybe the only thing I could think about an active pickup would be lots of them have a phase switch. I assume the passive ones don't have those??

I have an Art Direct Inject. It's passive, inexpensive, effective, and it has a phase switch.
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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby zenguitar » Wed Aug 08, 2018 12:44 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:Zenguitar can probably give much more detail on this, but most piezo pickups I've come across work best with load impedances of 10Meg Ohms or so, and are usually designed to work into a specialist preamp stage which is often built into the guitar itself, or is connected between the guitar and amp.

There are few topics where I can 'out-detail' Hugh and this isn't one of them, he can do the math as our American cousins might say :)

But what I can do is offer a real world perspective and a little context.

First, a few companies started offering electro acoustic guitars with piezo pick-ups and integrated pre-amps that worked as a good amplified solution. Then a whole bunch of folks jumped on the piezo bandwagon because it was easy to make a cheap piezo pick-up and sell it at a massive mark-up because it was 'the thing to have'.

And it wasn't long before piezo pick-ups got a bad rep because they sounded brittle, brash, and bright. Folks struggled on with them because big stars were using Takamine and Ovation guitars live and endorsing them. But they never got the same results as the Ovations and Takamines because they only had the piezo and not the matched pre-amp.

Over time, everyone who leapt on the bandwagon leapt off again and the new bandwagon was piezos 'quack' and that means they are no good.

For a whole bunch of reasons (mostly pragmatic that we needn't go into here) I find that a magnetic soundhole pick-up is the best solution for a live electro-acoustic. However, I have to admit that my six string acoustic (which I built over 25 years ago) is equiped with an EMG saddle piezo film pick-up and matching pre-amp and does the job it was built to do perfectly. But, for the sake of balance, my near 40 year old 12 string acoustic is being lined up for a Seymour Duncan Woody magnetic pick-up once I get to playing seriously again.

Anyway, to get back on topic, Hugh was right. what matter's isn't whether or not you have a piezo pick-up. What matters is whether that piezo is connected to a built in pre-amp. If it is, you don't have to worry; if it isn't, you need to connect it to an outboard pre-amp with a 10Meg+ input designed to work with a piezo.

(And how did Hugh guess I would see this thread when I came back from the pub and be in the mood for little diversion?)

Andy :beamup:
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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby CS70 » Wed Aug 08, 2018 6:23 am

zenguitar wrote:For a whole bunch of reasons (mostly pragmatic that we needn't go into here) I find that a magnetic soundhole pick-up is the best solution for a live electro-acoustic.

Cool you say that, in 30+ years I've never seriously considered them - out of habit and prejudice, I guess. I'll definitely give 'em a try!

Interesting to know the reasons you mention!
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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby zenguitar » Wed Aug 08, 2018 11:25 am

The main reason is that they reliably deliver a sound that just works on stage.

And a bonus reason is that they don't come with a built in pre-amp equipped with 3 band EQ with +/- 12/15 dB of cut and boost. Go to any open mic night and you will hear guitarist after guitarist playing something that sounds nothing like a guitar because they have dialled in massive cuts and boosts using the built in pre-amps.

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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby AlecSp » Wed Aug 08, 2018 12:29 pm

zenguitar wrote:And a bonus reason is that they don't come with a built in pre-amp equipped with 3 band EQ with +/- 12/15 dB of cut and boost. Go to any open mic night and you will hear guitarist after guitarist playing something that sounds nothing like a guitar because they have dialled in massive cuts and boosts using the built in pre-amps.
This - 100%

As an engineer, it's amazing how horrible many guitars sound - and how many improve immeasurably with a simple flattening of their onboard EQ.

One of the most uncomfortable experiences I had was soundchecking a local guitarist of high repute, who came with about £1k worth of Fishman modelling pre-amps & pedals. He produced one of the nastiest sounds I've ever come across. To humour me, and just "to give it a try", after a while of trying to polish this turd, I got him to plug straight into my DI and into the desk - lush!

My takeaway from all my experience is not to over-egg the whole acoustic signal chain, unless you really know what you are doing. Guitar straight into a DI (Orchid active DI works for me every time) generally gives spiffing results.

It's such a shame to see guitarists spending so much on kit that destroys their sound...
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Re: Should I get an Active DI or Passive DI?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Aug 10, 2018 5:52 pm

I too generally prefer soundhole magnetics (with a particular liking for Fishman Rare Earth pickups) but my current goto guitars (Rob Aylward 'petit bouche' Selmer style and Emerald X7) can't have them fitted so both have piezo's of one kind or another. Like Zen and Alec, I usually prefer the onboard tone controls flat (though I usually roll off some treble from the X7).

The Bigtone works really well with my Tone Dexter preamp and sounds excellent, not sure if it was earlier in this thread on in another that I linked a recording but it does sound very credible. I will sort impulse responses for my X7 and other acoustics when I get back home in September.
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