Choosing a DI (Direct Input) box can easily become overwhelming with all the different options available. I recently evaluated three models that could possibly be utilized in a worship setting. The first box I looked at was the Avalon Design U5, a high-end DI with an Internet/street price around $585. That may seem steep for a DI box, but it is definitely a premium product offering amazing sound, good looks and durability. It may seem a bit unrealistic to use such a high-end product for leading a handful of songs on Sunday mornings, but if your worship team is looking to record and you want CD quality sound, that is exactly what you will get from this DI box. The U5 is powered by an internal toroidal AC supply for low noise, meaning you must plug it into an electrical source. It is available in a 2U rack mounted version. If CD quality sound is what you are looking for, it would be a solid investment, but in my opinion this DI box is too bulky and valuable to travel and “gig” with as a worship leader in a non-professional or studio setting.
The next DI box I looked at was the Radial Tonebone PZ-PRE™ with an Internet/street price of around $300. This is a pedal unit and does just about everything you’d ever need it to do. It is like a tone factory or a custom tone shop where you have the ability to manipulate and create almost any sound for your acoustic instrument (it is not an effect pedal, though, it is more like a tone enhancer). Offering a tuner output jack that is true bypass and two inputs for easy switching between instruments, the PZ-PRE is great for any acoustic instrument including guitars, banjos, mandolins, resonator guitars, and acoustic basses. The pedal is powered by a 15VDC power supply, allowing more headroom, clarity and dynamics than typical 9V power supplies. I demoed this product using a Martin DC16RGTE guitar and I thought the sound quality was great. I liked the attack and the warmth this pedal delivered using both the Aura system presets and the pickup built into the guitar. This is not a “set it and forget it” kind of pedal; it is meant to be tweaked and messed with. It is packed full of features. If I were playing in a live setting, I would definitely prefer the PZ-PRE over the Avalon U5.
The third and final DI box I checked out was the Aphex Xciter Aural Exciter® & Optical Big Bottom® Pedal. This too is a pedal unit and is also designed for any acoustic instrument with passive or active pickups. The Internet/street price on this DI is roughly $200. While it did not have as many bells and whistles as the PZ-PRE, it did produce a good quality sound. It is powered by either a 9V battery, a 5-12VAC power supply that “as long as it fits it will work” capability, and it can also be powered by phantom power. Being phantom-powered in a worship setting is very convenient because you don’t need an external power supply stretched across the stage to a wall outlet. When I demoed this pedal I was able to start by turning all levels on the pedal down, and as I played I began to tweak them until I found the tone I was looking for. It sounded great! This to me would be a “set it and forget it” type of pedal. If I played acoustic guitar every week during a worship service and did not want to have to worry about how my guitar sounds from week to week, I would buy this pedal over both the Avalon U5 and the Radial PZ-PRE.
Here is a breakdown of my comparisons:
In summary, I feel the looks, quality, and sound of the Avalon U5 are virtually unmatched; as a worship leader, if I did a lot of recordings and played in a professional or even semi-professional setting, I would absolutely invest in the U5. If I used multiple instruments while leading worship and liked to experiment with my tone, I would buy the Radial PZ-PRE. As an everyday worship leader simply looking to boost or “Xcite” the tone out of my guitar or bass, I would probably invest in the Aphex Xciter.
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