If you have ever plugged you acoustic guitar on stage, you might just have run the signal straight into the PA or into an amp, but your sound was probably not all it could have been. You might think direct boxes (D.I. boxes) as a necessity only if you need to send an balanced signal to the sound board, but the L.R. Baggs Para Acoustic D.I. acoustic guitar D.I. and preamp will do this and a lot more. Besides the usual direct box functions it also acts as a preamplifier and equalizer.
L.R. Baggs was started by Lloyd Baggs, who started business in 1973 by renovating old guitars, and later graduated to building his own guitars. Things really took off for him when he started selling pickups and eventually the company started selling preamps, which include the Venue D.I. and Para D.I. I have used their Anthem and M80 pickups before, and really likes the tone I got out of them so trying out their preamps was not much of a stretch.
The Para D.I. is a nice-sized piece of work, measuring around 5.5 x 3.5 x 2 inches, and coming in at a bit under 1 pound, so it will fit in your guitar case pocket. This is a solid unit with stout metal case, and it has a quality feel that to it that gives the impression that it is not a disposable. There are no terrible wall warts with this one, as it can run on either a 9-volt battery or 48-volt phantom power (it will automatically switch over when phantom power is connected or disconnected). It is supposed to go for around 200 hours on the battery, and the battery is conveniently located in a tray that requires no tools to access. There is an LED that will start to flash when the battery is getting low.
On the front edge you will find the 1/4-inch input, a gain control, the effects loop, the ¼-inch output and an invert switch to change the polarity of the signal. On the top are the balance XLR D.I. out, a volume pot, and a 5-band EQ with tunable notch and sweepable midrange.
The two outputs are set so you can run the ¼-inch out to your stage amp and the XLR to the mixing board or a recording console. The gain control is adjustable from +2dB to +24dB so it can be matched up with most any type of active or passive pickup. One oddity of the Para D.I. is that the effects loop only has a single ¼-inch jack so a stereo Y cable is needed for this function (lame). The effects loop has its own preamp section that comes before the EQ and volume settings.
The phase inversion switch bears a little further explanation. This switch inverts the polarity of the input signal, so that the sound coming from the speakers is opposite the vibration of the guitar top, which minimizes the possibility of feedback. At least that is what the L.R. Baggs guys say. I like the theory, and it did seem to work when I intentionally induced feedback during my testing.
I can say the same for the notch control cuts selected frequencies that are most likely to cause feedback. The marked selections are G (98Hz), A (110Hz), D (150Hz) and B (247Hz). So, the idea is to turn this knob until feedback is at its worst, and then to turn the corresponding EQ knob down until feedback goes away.
In reality, this all works out well. The controls are easy to use (once you read the instructions and the knobs have a quality feel. The Para D.I. does the basic DI stuff handily, which consists of making a low-impedance balanced signal out of your guitar’s high-impedance unbalanced signal. It has a Class A FET front end so it is amazingly quiet but still has a naturally warm sound. While it is touted as being live sound equipment, if you are on a budget it would work well in the studio too.
But it does a lot more than this and it ends up being a kick-butt preamplifer too. I tested it on my two workhorse acoustics: my Martin D-18GE with a K7K Pure Mini and a Takamine EF341SC equipped with the factory electronics package. This box is a godsend for the Martin (which no on-board EQ), and improved the tone of the Takamine, which I have always been satisfied by doing most of the adjustments with the onboard EQ/preamp.
The output level of these two guitars is very different, and the gain control evened them out nicely. I already talked about feedback control, which is very good, but the sweepable mid is where most of the magic happened for me. I was able to back out harshness that I had trouble taming before, and ended up with a huge and very sweet tone. I was also able to get rid of some unwanted boominess by cutting the lows. And it does all of this with no hiss, hum or distortion!
A lot of thought went into setting this unit up and every feature is designed to bring the most out of your acoustic guitar. I would be comfortable leaving the acoustic amplifier at home and going solely plugged into the board (as long as I trust the sound guy).
Though the Para D.I. is made (and voiced) for acoustic guitar, just for grins I tried it out on other piezo-equipped instruments, including a uke, a mandolin and my friend’s electric violin and it worked very well with these too. If you are in a jam this unit would certainly be good enough to get one of these plugged into your PA.
One last thing: this unit is made in the U.S., just in case you were wondering, which makes the price even more attractive.
The L.R. Baggs Para Acoustic D.I. is a great value, and if you are doing any live work with your acoustic on stage, in coffee shops or at church, it might just be your bag. It is worth the $169 street price (list price $249), and it comes with a one-year warranty. Check one out if you get the chance!