Tech Tip – Unsung Studio Accessories

Tech Tip – Unsung Studio Accessories
By Dennis Kambury

Everybody knows the basic components of the project studio: mics, recorders, mixers, monitors, compression, and effects. This week, we’ll take a look a couple of unsung heroes of the studio that belong on every engineer’s must-have list – DI boxes and cables.

Direct Boxes
Without the flashing LEDs or plethora of knobs common to most studio processors, the humble and unassuming DI (Direct Injection) box just sits on the floor doing its job. And that job is to match impedances and change unbalanced inputs to mixer-friendly balanced outputs.

One of the most common uses of the DI box is to record bass guitars without mics or amps, though it can also be useful for synths, guitars, and other unbalanced, hi-impedance sources. They range from simple, unpowered lo-Z in/hi-Z out to powered DIs with effectsand multichannel. I keep a couple of super-inexpensive Whirlwind IMPs around for general purposes and an Aguilar D900 tube DI for the good stuff.

Unless you’re into recording the sound of nothingness, there is nothing more critical to studio operations than the ubiquitous cable. Yet it’s often the last piece of gear added to the list and usually given short shrift in the budget. You may have noticed the wide range of prices and wondered what makes a $50 cable better than a $5 cable, and if there’s an improvement in the sound that’s worth the difference in price?

I could write an entire article on cables alone, but the differences generally come down to a matter of materials, construction, and connectors. And yes, expensive cables do sound better than cheap ones – perhaps because they are better shielded, use premium conductors, or use all-metal connectors instead of metalized plastic. However, there’s no need to go overboard. If you’re buying a $99 four-track recorder, you don’t need to use a $500 cable. On the other hand, hooking up $5,000 studio monitors with 22-gauge lamp cord… well, there oughta be a law against it!

My own rule of thumb is to buy the best cable I can afford. That usually hovers around 25% of my overall gear budget. I often use Hosa for line-level gear because it offers a lot of bang for the buck. For balanced-output gear I’ll go with Pro Co cables and snakes, and use Monster Cables for my high-end stuff.