Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tech 21 SansAmp Para Driver Di Instrument Preamp Pedal Review

I have plenty of DI pedals, and mostly I prefer ones that provide a clean signal, but lately I have been messing around with DI boxes that can also shape my sound, and the Tech 21 Para Driver Pedal gets pretty close to a tube tone.

Tech 21 has been around since 1989, when a guitarist/electronics guru developed the first SansAmp tube amplifier emulator. In the years since they have introduced a wide array of products, including effect pedals, midi controllers and even a line of amplifiers. Their products are well-regarded by musicians, they manufacture stuff in the US, and they have very good customer service.

The Para Driver DI is housed in a smart-looking matte finished black case. It measures about 4.5 by 3.5 by 1.5 inches, and it weighs around ¾ of a pound. On top are the footswitch and five knobs: Level, Drive, 3 EQ knobs, and a mid shift knob. You will also find a blend switch, line/instrument switches the XLR and 1/4 outs, and a phantom power switch. On the right side is the ¼-inch input, and on left side are the ¼-inch and XLR outs.

This SansAmp runs on a 9-volt battery, or you can buy an adaptor to plug it into a wall. If it is plugged into a mixing console, you can ditch your AC adaptor and run it off the board’s phantom power (that is what the phantom power switch is for). Neat!

Like the originals, the SansAmp Para Driver DI plays the role of a preamp that sounds like a mic’d speaker cabinet that is being driven by a tube amplifier, using no real tubes and 100% analog circuitry. After plugging it into my Genz Shuttle, I pulled out the user manual and messed around with their recommended sample settings. The active tone controls allow +/- 12 dB of boost or cut. With my trust P Bass it took no time at all to get a solid SVT, Jaco or upright bass tone. This thing gets very close and many of the sounds I got out of it were very useful.

This Tech 21 unit was not designed just for bass though, so I also took the opportunity to put my Martin and Stratocaster through it. I used the blend control to take some of the weirdness out of the piezo on my acoustic, and I got some unholy gnarly rock sounds when driven hard with my Fender. This is really a versatile pedal, and I did not find any of my instruments that it would not work well with.

As a direct box, the Para Driver DI delivers the goods too. With the blend switched off and the EQ set flat it delivers a pure tone from my guitars and basses to the mixing console. The equalizer is still functional, so the tone can still be fine-tuned by the user and the switchable mid selections can really help a bassman find his or her sweet spot.

The Tech 21 SansAmp Para Driver Preamp Pedal is a great unit, and if you like the tone it will sell itself. It has a list price of $275, and street price around $200; if you buy a new one it comes with a one year limited warranty. Check one out for yourself, and see if it is what you are looking for.