A few years back, a certain white-bearded, guitar-/banjo-/fiddle-playing, songwriting, country singer (yes, the one seen in a recent commercial schooling a restaurant-table-hopping minstrel on the fiddle) was in the studio to record, and his right-hand man used to come back to my shop and ask advice on this or that in their own studio or on their bus. Eventually, that led to a minor relationship with the artist, which led to a friend and I laying out mods to hot-rod the artist’s personal studio console.
That, in turn, led to his coming to me one day and saying, “Take a look at my banjo, please. Every time we plug it into the console live, it distorts badly.”
“OK, I’m not a banjo tech, but I’ll give it a look,” I say. “Hmmm, quarter-inch out, let’s see what this looks like if we run it through an adapter straight to an oscilloscope.”
The waveform looked fine. But wait… “Holy cow [or some suitable for the shop expression of shock], you strum this thing and you’re getting 50 VAC peak-to-peak output — that’ll whip up on any console mic pre!” That was the day that I learned how hot of an output a piezo pickup could produce (highvoltage, but low-current).
So why does this story come to mind today? Because it seems like I’ve spent the last couple of days eating and breathing direct boxes. That still doesn’t tie it together for you? This will. The answer to our banjo-plucking artist’s dilemma was simple: Reach up on the shelf, grab a Countryman Type 85 DI, shove it in between the banjo and the console mic input (or into any other pre) and a little attenuation, a little buffering, a little impedance matching later you have a signal as clean and undistorted as a banjo can produce (which reminds me of another time that a client wanted to know why the channel he was using for steel guitar was distorting, and after a few bars of playback of that particular performance, I had to ask how he could tell, but I digress). “Ya’ll got DIs in your tour kit? Mark one of ’em ‘Banjo.’”
Direct interface devices are the unsung heroes of studio and stage. They aren’t sexy and don’t evoke gear lust the way some other products do. They are commodity-priced, and, as such, aren’t status symbols like some of our other toys. Viewed in much the same fashion as a mic cable, as just a way to get from here to there, DIs actually get less thought and consideration than a lowly cable, in part because they are durable and reliable — we don’t sweat over the predictable.
A cover story on DIs may seem a curious choice, yet, as ingrained into the fabric of music production as these devices are, there’s logic in the decision to include DIs in PAR’s Session Trial lineup. From the subjective to the objective, it was time to give these indispensible audio bricks some much-deserved attention.