Little Labs' Red Eye is agreat-sounding, well-featured, and very versatile recording toolproviding DI, reamp, and splitter functions.
At first glance, the Little Labs Red Eye ($250) looks enticing— much like an ordinary stage DI, but smarter. In addition tofunctioning as an instrument direct-injection (DI) box, the Red Eyealso serves as a reamping tool, allowing you to route already recordedtracks to an instrument amplifier. The unit is a bit larger than youraverage direct box, and its all-metal case looks like it will stand upto the abuses of a rock concert stage.
Eyes Wide Red
The unit has all the features you would expect on an instrument DI.The front panel provides a balanced ¼-inch Instrument input on theleft and a balanced ¼-inch Re-amp output on the right. To the leftof the Re-amp output is a continuously variable Re-amp Level knob foradjusting the guitar level/impedance output (for feeding guitar ampsand/or effects). Between the two jacks are four button switches:Re-amp/DI (selects function), Local/Exp In (selects whether the reampsource is rear-panel female XLR or Expansion In TRS jack), Phase Invert(polarity reverse), and Earth Lift (ground lift). There is also a tinyinternal-push switch (reachable with a thin pointed tool such as ajeweler's screwdriver) labeled Pad. The Pad out setting is for use withlow-level devices (for example, an active DI without gain); the Pad insetting is for use with +4 dB line-level input.
The Red Eye's rear panel provides a second balanced ¼-inchInstrument input (parallel with the front-panel input); a balanced XLRLine Level input (source jack for the reamp when the front-panelLocal/Exp In jack is selected); a balanced, transformer-isolated XLRMic Level output (for the passive DI); and an Expansion output andExpansion input on balanced ¼-inch TRS jacks. The Expansion I/Oallows you to daisy-chain multiple Red Eyes to create a multiple-outreamp, or to use the unit in conjunction with an active DI ormultiple-out guitar splitter (such as the remarkable Little Labs PCPInstrument Distro).
The Red Eye is an entirely passive device utilizing a customtransformer to do its DI and reamp duties. After analysis and testingof the top UTC and Jensen transformers, designer Jonathan Littledecided to wind his own transformers so as to obtain improved tone andhigher input impedance. So where's the red eye, you ask? There is none.According to Little, “Red Eye stands for‘reamp/DI.’ And because you can use the unit in all phasesof production, it will work overtime, hence the red eye!”
To test the Red Eye as a DI, I used a Grace Designs Model 101 asboth a mic-level preamp and a comparison DI. On electric guitar, theRed Eye yielded comparable output levels, thicker low mids, and morebass punch, though with a shade less transparency. A Stewart ADB-1active DI, again running into the Grace 101, delivered higher output,but the Red Eye's DI tone was more balanced and pleasing overall, withimproved midrange clarity.
The Little Labs Red Eye was a winner on fretless bass, providingsignificantly more warmth and authority than the comparison DIs. Infact, I liked the tone so much that I neglected my writing duties for awhile so I could just sit and play. On my bass I use flat-wound stringscoated with nylon tape, which often add a faintly artificial buzz tothe treble response when run direct. I noticed instantly that, incontrast to the brighter Grace 101, the Red Eye smoothed out thishigh-end problem without diminishing the airiness of the highs (as theStewart active DI did).
Unlike other Little Labs products, which ship in a standardfoam-rubber-lined plastic carrying case, the Red Eye comes in a lessroadworthy cardboard box. However, the sturdier plastic case isavailable separately for $45. The manual for the Red Eye was inrevision during the review period, but based on Little Labs' otherproduct manuals, I expect that very helpful documentation willaccompany the product.
The Little Labs Red Eye is a cut above most DI boxes, in terms ofboth sound quality and features; in addition, it doubles as a reamp andsplitter. Of course, given all the extras, it's no surprise that theRed Eye's price is also a notch up from the competition's. But forthose who appreciate quality, durability, and versatility, Little Labs'Red Eye is certainly worth the extra bucks.