While the latest version of Hughes & Kettner's Red Box guitar amp DI adds some new tone-shaping options, the basic equation behind the Red Box remains unchanged: DI box plus speaker simulation equals a hassle-free direct out for your amp on stage, and easy-peasy direct recording in the studio. The fifth-generation Red Box features a balanced XLR output at one end and quarter-inch jack sockets marked 'in' and 'thru' at the other. You can feed the 'in' jack with anything you like — your amp's direct out or effects send, or even a preamp pedal or digital guitar amp modeller — and the Red Box will happily apply its speaker and cabinet-simulating EQ curves.
The reason most people will buy this box, though, is to add a direct out facility to a traditional valve amp, which offers none of the above frills. In this case, you connect the amp's speaker out to the Red Box's 'in' socket and connect the speaker or speaker cabinet (or a dummy load for silent recording) to the 'thru' socket, thereby providing the amp with the impedance load that's necessary to prevent damage.
The Red Box 5 accepts phantom power via the XLR out, but in its absence you can power the unit with a 12V DC or AC mains adaptor. Alternatively, you can use a 9V battery, the compartment for which is accessed by unscrewing four thumb screws that hold the light yet sturdy die-cast metal box together. With all the appropriate connections made, you can start exploring the five switches on top of the Red Box 5. In addition to a ground-lift switch and -26dB pad, there are three tone-shaping switches labelled 'tight/loose', 'modern /vintage' and 'large/small' respectively. While (to this reviewer, at least) there's a fair amount of conceptual overlap between 'tight/modern/small' and 'loose/vintage/large', in practice these switches do all provide distinct, useful adjustments to the outer edges of a core cabinet simulation that sounds full, solid and realistic.
Guitar amp aficionados will always want to hear what their chosen speaker cabinet brings to the party, and in an ideal world their wish would always be granted, on stage and in the studio. But this is not an ideal world, and close-miking is always a compromise, even without problems like bleed or space on stage. In contrast, the Red Box 5 provides an utterly dependable feed that's true to the character of the amp. With a little reverb to cover up the dry, DI'd quality to the signal, you're left with a great sound that's eminently usable on stage or on record. Given the low price of this handy device, there's an argument for adding one to any guitarist or engineer's toolbox.
£89.99 including VAT.