JDV Mark 3 Direct Box

[$425/pair, radialeng.com]
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The JDV Mark 3 Direct Box is packed with studio-friendly features that can usually only be found in more expensive mic preamps. I found this professional and well-built unit easy and fun to use.

Radial refers to their JDV as a “central distribution hub,” an apt term for the amount of flexibility that this unit offers. This unit features two selectable inputs, a variable impedance selector (referred to as DRAG and well explained in the excellent manual), auxiliary sends for stereo EFX or for driving two different amplifiers, Lo-cut and Hi-cut Filters, ground switch, phase reverse switch (helps to solve phase problems when recording a DI and amp track simultaneously), re-amping capabilities, a –30dB pad for taking a signal off of a speaker cabinet, and even a dedicated tuner output.

Out of the box it’s an easy plug-in and play, thanks to the graphics on the top of the chassis. There’s a nice rubber pad on the bottom to keep it from sliding around, and the power cable can be secured to the DI with a clamp that’s provided.

In the studio I gave this unit a good workout with some current projects. First of all, I wanted to see how their impedance options worked for DI’d electric and acoustic guitars. I’ve always found that a DI’d electric guitar sounds dull and boring, mainly from the impedance mismatch that happens with inexpensive direct boxes. Plugging in my Les Paul, running the signal through a Focusrite Red Preamp/EQ, and rolling the DRAG control to about 3 o’clock gave me a surprisingly rich and ringing guitar sound, perfect for re-amping later.

When I’ve DI’d acoustic guitars in the past they’ve always sounded way too bright and edgy to me, but once again with the JDV’s impedance choices I was able to easily get a warmer and more natural tone that worked well in conjunction with a Neumann KM140 condenser mic and the Focusrite Red.

Electric bass can be tricky with DI’s. Some players really like to attack their instrument, and with active pickups the transients can be a real problem. This DI, however, seems to be very hard to overload (the manual claims it’s virtually impossible). The JDV gave me a well balanced and clean bass sound with three completely different bass players; however, when one of the songs needed a Motown thump I found that using a tube DI fit the track better. The JDV has a lot of output gain and there’s actually a –15db pad on the output if you need it. With the Drawmer 1960 preamp I used, I actually preferred the sound of the DRAG control switched out for all the bass recording I did.

One fun thing to try out is taking a signal off of the parallel input jack on the back of a speaker cabinet. By engaging the –30dB pad on the JDV, you can get a completely different amp-y sound. I tried that option out with an SVT, and got a great crunchy and grainy bass sound that was reminiscent of engineer Jack Endino’s early Sub Pop recordings.

The JDV’s re-amping capabilities are another bonus. You’ll need another direct box of any type, and a female-to-female XLR to connect them, but it’s worth exploring, as the signal is quiet and mates perfectly with an amp.

With a street price of around $375, this DI box is unbeatable, and with its massive headroom it’s going to definitely be a problem solver, especially with those bass players who like to really smack their strings. I’m not looking forward to giving it back.