Reamp Box vs DI Box

Reamp Box vs DI Box

In the music and audio production industry we might get some puzzling and rather confusing questions. Especially from those that may just be getting the hang of a few things regarding what gear to use, and for what reasons.

One such topic is reamp box vs DI box, and interestingly enough, this can leave even some of the more seasoned audio engineers scratching their heads.

So in this article, we’re going to talk about reamp box vs DI box and in what particular situation it’s preferable to use one or the other.

What is a DI box?

A DI box is an electronic device that converts an unbalanced guitar level signal to a balanced microphone level signal. DI stands for “direct input” or “direct inject,” depending on how different audio engineers interpret this abbreviation. Original DI boxes were developed in the 1960’s to solve the problem of mismatching impedance. Guitars have a high impedance signal, and on the contrary, line inputs have low impedance, which means that if you’d connect guitar straight into the line input of a mixer, the signal wouldn’t be strong enough and would, at least, sound completely unnatural. DI boxes solve this problem completely and there are a few types of them that we might be interested in.

Passive DI box

Passive DIs don’t require any additional power and use a simple transformer to convert a high impedance signal into a low impedance signal. The transformer itself is electrically isolated both in the input and output stages, which means it also eliminates ground loops. Such DIs are relatively inexpensive and are suitable for most line inputs and also can accommodate most of the instruments with an unbalanced output.

Active DI box

Active DIs, as you’ve probably already guessed, do require additional power and the reason for that is that it also includes a built-in preamplifier. These type of DIs were designed to accommodate some instruments that do not have a very powerful single-coil pickups. But more often than not, they are used in situations where long cable runs are involved. With long cable runs, active DIs give you the opportunity to boost the signal to keep it strong. Active DI boxes usually run on batteries or 48V phantom power depending on the model, and are slightly more expensive than the passive ones.

Built-in DI box

Good news for home recording studio enthusiasts out there. Chances are that you’re using a very compact audio interface and if this audio interface isn’t an entry-level model, it definitely has a built-in DI. Look for a small button with an icon of a guitar on the faceplate of your interface. If it’s there, it means that by engaging it, you will turn your mic preamplifier into a DI box for your basses and guitars. In this case, purchasing an external DI box wouldn’t really be necessary.

What is a reamp box?

Now that we’ve established what a DI box is, it will be significantly easier to understand what a reamp box is because it does the same job as a DI box, but with a completely opposite result. A reamp box is an electronic device that converts a balanced low impedance line level signal into an unbalanced high impedance guitar level signal. So basically, it solves the same problem with mismatching impedance but in the opposite direction.

Types of reamp boxes

Since we’ve established that reamp boxes and DI boxes are very similar, it’s safe to assume that the types of such devices would also correlate. There are passive reamp boxes that don’t require any additional power and there are active reamp boxes that have a built-in amplifier that is used for long cable runs. Very rarely, but still, some home recording audio interfaces have unbalanced outputs, which means that they can also be used as reamp boxes. Check the manual of your audio interface in order to find out if you’re a happy owner of one.

When to use a DI box?

If you own a professional recording studio or work as an audio engineer in one, DI boxes are a practically irreplaceable tool and you should own at least a few. If your tone room is rather large, this would mean that every commutation would involve a lot of long cable runs and a couple of active DI boxes will make your life much easier. And if you prefer a more versatile workflow and more flexibility on mixing stages, a couple of passive DI boxes will come in handy since you could split a signal and record both amplified and direct sounds of your instruments. It’s often we, audio engineers, tend to drastically change our vision when the job is nearly done and if, for example, you’re not satisfied with the guitar sound, it would be much easier to reamp a direct guitar signal from your DAW than to invite a guitar player back for another session.

What DI box to use?

What DI box to use is completely up to you since they all offer pretty much the same functionality on top of very similar features. Of course, there are DI boxes that stand out in certain situations more than the others, some are perfect for capturing acoustic guitar pickups, but others very sufficiently convert the sound of any electric guitar. Note that if you tend to prefer single-coil pickups when it comes to your electric guitars and often use long cables, an active DI box will give you much more benefit. In every other situation, an inexpensive passive DI box is more than enough. And if you’re a happy owner of a home recording studio, note that you may not even need a DI box since your audio interface could already be providing you with one.

When to use a reamp box?

A reamp box is irreplaceable every time you want to send a line-level signal straight to a guitar amplifier. As we already know, electric guitar amplifier inputs take unbalanced high impedance signals, and line-level outputs are always balanced. So if you were to connect those two signals together without any conversion, in the best-case scenario, you will get a very noisy and repulsive signal. Consider that every time you send out a signal from your DAW through your audio interface, it will be balanced unless your audio interface has a very specific unbalanced output. If your audio interface doesn’t have such an output, your only reasonable choice would be to send that signal through a reamp box in order to make it susceptible to a guitar amplifier.

What reamp box to use?

While choosing a reamp box specifically for your needs, you may use the same approach that you would use while figuring out what DI box you require, since both devices are very similar. Every time you would need an additional amplification, an active reamp box would come in handy since it would offer you a built-in preamp. For any other situation, a passive preamp box will be plenty enough which is good news since they have significantly more reasonable pricing than the active ones. Luckily, we already have that covered in a list of pretty decent options to choose from, which most definitely would help you to achieve the desired outcome and possibly even save your wallet. And remember that some audio interfaces and digital mixers might have unbalanced outputs, and if you’re an owner of one, it would be completely unnecessary for you to buy an additional reamp box.

Are they interchangeable?

The short answer is no, DI boxes and reamp boxes are not interchangeable. Those are 2 separate devices and although the functionality is very similar, they essentially do two very different things. That being said, there are rumors of audio engineers who managed to use a DI box connected in reverse and achieve effects very similar to a reamp box, but if you want to experiment, do it at your own risk. Moreover, we believe that those two devices are better used in tandem considering that you cannot send a DI signal to the amplifier without a reamp box, but you also need to record a DI signal in the first place, for which a DI box is required.  And it also should be mentioned that some pretty advanced devices offer you different routing options, which means that they could be used either as a DI box or a reamp box and, in very rare cases, even both at the same time.

Conclusion

When comparing reamp box vs DI box, we have established that both devices are very similar but yet are used for different purposes. DI boxes convert an unbalanced signal to a balanced low impedance signal, and reamp boxes, on the contrary, convert a balanced signal to an unbalanced signal with a high impedance. So every time that you need to send, for example, a guitar signal to any line-level input, a DI box is required. And when you need to send a balanced signal to a guitar amplifier, that would be virtually impossible without a reamp box. Those devices aren’t interchangeable and should be used together in order to achieve the most efficient results.

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