EPISODE 3 – How to Make Home Recorded DI Tracks Sound Their Best
Welcome back to another edition of The Living Shred! It’s been a little bit, but I’ve been busy at work making a new Silver Talon record. So, this month I’m going over the dos and don’ts that I’ve learned while recording guitar DIs at home. It’s been a bit of a trial by fire for me, so I’m really hoping that you’re able to learn from my mistakes. Let’s jump in!
1. Use a DI Box
Probably one of the easiest tips on the list is to use a DI box. A DI (or direct injection) box basically takes your unbalanced instrument level signal (since it’s coming from your guitar, an instrument) and converts it into a balanced or line level signal. Why do we want this (especially when most modern interfaces have hi-z or instrument level inputs)? Because instrument level signal is susceptible to external noise and degradation via long cable runs (you’ll notice that most everything here has to do with eliminating as much extraneous noise as possible). DIs also have the added benefit of an onboard pad feature, as well as a ground lift.
2. Use a Preamp
Sending your signal from a DI to a preamp is going to help beef up the level of the signal before it hits your recording interface. Since there are so many more steps in between your guitar and amp when recording DIs and reamping (guitar > interface > computer > interface > amp), there’s a lot more opportunity for your instrument signal to become degraded, noisy, and thus sound like crap. An advantage of using a preamp before your signal gets to your interface is that you’ll be recording a much stronger signal – meaning it will thereby leave the computer through your interface and into your re-amp box stronger and less susceptible to any noise introduced externally.
3. Avoid Peaking
And while we want a strong signal, we certainly don’t want a signal that’s so loud it’s peaking. Peaking your DIs is a surefire way to make the re-amped product sound bad. I accidentally made this mistake with the Silver Talon Becoming A Demon EP. Luckily producer and engineer Zack Ohren was able to salvage it, but he did note that “the guitars sound muddy and thin at the same time” and that if he had his way, he’d have me re-record the whole thing. So watch the input volume – there’s definitely a goldilocks zone, but it’s much easier to work with something that’s quiet than that’s peaking.
4. Use Clean Power
Computer power, RF noise, external monitors, going through bypassed pedals, all of this stuff can create hum and buzz that will be recorded with your DIs. A ground lift is another benefit to using a DI box (one position will sound more or less noisy – use the less noisy one). My recommendation is to start with your guitar going into your DI box and record enabled so you can hear the dry signal (no amp sims or effects). Turn it up so you can hear which setting on your DI box is quiet, then start plugging things into your computer – power adaptors, monitor, even WiFi or cell noise. See what’s adding noise and what’s OK to be plugged in while you record.
5. Don’t Be Too Quiet
And finally, when I mentioned that goldilocks zone earlier, I said it’s easier to work with something that’s too quiet than is too loud; while I stick to that sentiment, it’s not ideal to have a super quiet signal and to re-amp with it. The reason being that you’ll have to greatly boost the signal before it hits the front of your amp. We generally do that with drive and boost pedals, or turning up the channel fader when sending it to the amp. This will work, but it adds noise and isn’t ideal. Play around with your level and see what sounds the best for each instrument you’re recording.
And there you have it, my 5 tips for better sounding DIs. Of course, your mileage may vary, and if you’re doing or not doing something I mentioned here and are happy with the results, then by all means keep on keeping on! Remember: if it sounds good, it is good. There’s no right or wrong in music. But, if you’re like me, hopefully some of this helps you deliver a better product than you otherwise would have.
Until next time!