The Hunt For The Phantom DI

I currently play for a large church in the Northern Virginia/Washington DC area. I have gone from predominantly playing road gigs and dragging around my vintage Trace Elliot amps and cabinets, to predominantly playing amp-less and using in-ear monitors. Depending upon situation, my “soon to be exiting” DI trio of SansAmp bass driver, MXR Bass DI, and Fishman Platinum Bass EQ DI are not cutting it in this situation. The various music situations I encounter from week to week or on the same day are: Rock and Pop oriented worship styles, Celtic influenced with fiddle, cello and Irish Whistle, or Jazz/Big Band with horns. This may also include playing alongside a full orchestra and choir. I use my 18volt Devon DJ5 Jazz basses 90% of the time, my Fender Deluxe V Jazz basses 7% of the time, and for the remaining 3%, I may switch to an acoustic electric bass. There is no time to squat and twiddle since everything is timed for television and internet. Also, squatting to tweak gear would not be a preferred visual option.

ISSUES WITH THE EXITING TRIO:

The SansAmp, either its off or it sounds like a Sansamp tube simulator. They list a Slap Bass setting in their manual; however, without a midrange feature, it has a “V” graphic EQ setting tonality. That would be great, if I wanted to play Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots” or “Mary Jane” by Rick James, but the coloration is a little too grindy, so I rarely engage it. The MXR is too crunchy and somewhat synthetic for the main room at the church, but it is a very good for the Rock oriented service in the smaller room. I do like that the distortion feature can be calmed down to a simple, dirty boost without the crunch. The Fishman, my favorite of the three, works nicely with the optical compression and graphic EQ. My problem with the Fishman is the inability to switch off the compressor or EQ on the fly. Occasionally, I just want to bypass its buttery, smooth, goodness for some gritty snarl. It is the better manager for going from Acoustic Electric to Electric 5 string bass.

In my Hunt For The Phantom DI, I had a short list of switchable DI boxes (listed below). In my mind, I wanted a versatile replacement unit which could do the work of the three for less than $300.00. Seriously!?! The unit needed to fill at least 3 of my needs. Its ability to run off Phantom power was high on the list. The sound engineers at the church where I play/perform prefer to use the phantom option. If its their way, then it is my way. I also wanted to avoid a situation where Phantom was used accidentally with an item that is not Phantom capable. Whistling noises, along with the smell of fried electrical components, are NOT cool! The unit needed to be studio quiet, since the 3000 seat church broadcasts on television and the internet.
MY WANTS AND NEEDS LIST:

  • Quiet for live TV and studio capable
  • Switchable from one sound to the next
  • Phantom power capable
  • Preferably have a battery only option/No power cord/adapter
  • Small or Flat enough to fit in the pocket of my UnderCover or MONO gig bag.
  • Compression capable

DI’s ON THE LIST:

  1. Radial ToneBone/BassBone
  2. Aguilar Tone Hammer
  3. Eden WTDI
  4. SansAmp Bass Driver Deluxe
  5. EBS Micro Bass II
  6. Sadowsky Bass DI
  7. Bass Witch IQ DI – Never plugged into this one due to its $599 price tag.

THINNING THE HERD:

7) Bass Witch IQ DI:  – @ $599.00, Too Expensive!
6) SansAmp Bass Driver Deluxe: Pros – Digital programming/Analog patching, up to three programmable settings and easy to re-contour via big knobs and footswitches, Phantom capable. Cons -Digital programming/Analog patching, when I stepped on the buttons to change channels, I could hear the Analog gaps or tonal curves (meaning no “On The Fly” switching due to the swooping sounds between patches), No mute switch.
5) Eden WTDI: Pros – Nice features, Plenty of tonal colors, On board compressor. Cons – Not Phantom capable, Needs to be plugged in with a reverse pin, unconventional power adapter, No mute switch.
4) Sadowsky Bass DI: Pros – Mute switch, A nice tonality that is cool for some slap stuff. Cons – Sadowsky type sound all the time, seemed a bit too mid centered for some passages and too broad tonally with 2 of my midrange dominant basses, No midrange control (sounds redundant but this tone would work for my other basses that are not midrange dominant), Not Phantom capable.
3) Aguilar Tone Hammer: Pros – Awesome tonal versatility, Studio pure signal, Built like a tank, Battery capable, Phantom capable. Cons – AGS drive circuit cannot be used as a straight boost, AGS circuit shares gain with normal channel. The AGS was unusable with my preferred normal settings, therefore creating an unused feature, No mute switch. For over $200, I want to be able to use or adjust all the features.
2) Radial ToneBone/BassBone: Pros – Awesome! Smooth tonality, very feature laden, plenty of sound paths to amp, sound board etc.., Functions as an A/B switching box meaning it can serve as a two channel switch for one bass, It has a boost switch which can be redirected to make the boost switch a mute switch, Dedicated tuner output, Isolated effects loop.  Cons – Unit has to be plugged in with their 15 volt power supply, needs a dummy plug to reroute boost switch to create mute function, Not Phantom capable!! WHAT??!! According to one person at Radial, “Using Phantom will damage the unit.” According to another person at Radial, “The unit can be used with Phantom.” The truth?? I was not willing to risk it at this price point. My friend and fellow bassist, Marc Miller, lost an older unit to Phantom power.

MY WINNER:
1) EBS Micro Bass II: All I can really say is WOW! It is the only item, out of the six units I tried, that I felt could cover the full sound spectrum for my situation.

Pros – 2 channels, single bass or A/B switchable, Phantom capable, battery capable, capable of connecting a CD player/iPod and mini headphone jack for personal practice, features a speaker simulation function and a Class A tube simulation function, A dedicated effects loop feature. The only feature on my list not available from my “Wants and Needs” list was compression. The Micro Bass II delivers on all the features I read about on the EBS website, in user reviews, Bass Player Magazine reviews, and Talk Bass threads. I also enjoy practicing with the MB2: computer to unit, bass to unit, headphones out – BAM! It takes up far less room and set up time than my practice amp and the amps need for RCA jacks. My practice amp offers neither the ability to use the tone controls nor volume controls of the external unit. The MB2 does! For live situations, it can get CrAzy Loud! You can send a disturbing amount of signal to the control board! A mind-blowing +12 to +35 db, depending upon the chosen boosted EQ or Drive section. You can see the units other features by visiting the EBS website @ http://www.bass.se

Cons – Not as smooth sounding as the Radial BassBone or Aguilar Tone Hammer. No dedicated tuner output (I can live without this). It also cost about $100 more than the others on my list.

CONCLUSION:
The thought of no longer having much use for my Trace amps and cabinets seems a bit sad, but I am glad EBS offers a suitable option. The MB2 gives me amp sound options scaled down to fit at my feet. Oh, did I mention with Phantom power?!? I also appreciate the tube saturated overdrive without the full on distortion and fuzz tones most other Bass DI’s offer. As I mentioned prior, the MB2 is about $100 more than the other units I tried, but it easily does $200 more than the other units. It is everything EBS and others said it was and “still” more than I expected it to be!

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