Acoustic guitars are notoriously difficult to amplify. The “gold standard” would be a pair of good condenser mics placed by an experienced engineer, but that’s woefully impractical for on-stage use.
L.R. Baggs Venue DI Preamp
Incredibly powerful tone shaping tool
Effective anti-feedback features.
Boost, tuner and effects loop are very welcome additions
L.R. Baggs Para DI Preamp
Super sturdy and clean-sounding DI. Powerful EQ
Great, intuitive anti-feedback tools
L.R. Baggs Venue DI Preamp
Can’t be run on phantom power. Power supply not included
L.R. Baggs Para DI Preamp
Lack of metering can make setting the gain a little fiddly
L.R. Baggs Venue DI Preamp - MSRP £369 (UK) $399 (US)
DI Box, 5-Band EQ and tuner
Size: 7.625” x 7.5” x1.5”
Weight: 2.2 lbs
L.R. Baggs Para DI Preamp - MSRP £219 (UK) $269 (US)
XLR and 1/4" outputs
Works with 9V battery or 48V phantom power
In an ideal world, acoustic guitarists would simply rock up to any venue in the land, plug into the house PA and sound fantastic. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Nick Jennison takes a look at two products from L.R. Baggs that may be just the solution acoustic players have been waiting for.
Acoustic guitars are notoriously difficult to amplify. The “gold standard” would be a pair of good condenser mics placed by an experienced engineer, but that’s woefully impractical for on-stage use. Aside from feedback issues and spill from other band members, it’d require the performer to stay perfectly still. Not a recipe for an engaging live performance.
In the real world, the overwhelming majority of amplified acoustic guitars make use of some kind of pickup system - be it an under saddle piezo, a soundhole magnetic pickup or even an internal mic. L.R. Baggs make a variety of these solutions (including the Lyric, M80 and Element systems featured on the test guitar they kindly provided for this review!).
Unfortunately, even the best pickup is only as good as the device you connect it to. A less-than-great mixing desk or PA can make your beautiful guitar sound like a squawky mess. As if that wasn’t enough of a minefield, you can even be made to sound terrible through a great PA is the person operating it doesn’t know what they’re doing.
The solution? It might just be one of these lovely DI boxes from L.R. Baggs.
The most feature-rich DI in the range, the Venue DI is more like a high-end channel strip than a typical DI box. The five-band semi-parametric EQ is an incredibly powerful tone shaping tool, with two midrange controls with tuneable centre frequencies alongside fixed frequency bass, presence and treble controls (set to 90hz, 3khz and 10khz respectively). Slightly confusingly, the treble knob affects a frequency band that’s significantly higher than the presence knob. While you could argue that this is a more accurate description of each knob’s actual sonic effect, it’s the opposite way around to most amplifiers (where the “presence” knob is higher than the “treble” knob).
For defeating feedback, there’s a notch control to cut out troublesome low resonances (or to cor-rect a note that rings out too loudly) and a phase invert switch to reduce unwanted interaction between your guitar’s top and stage monitors. There’s also a footswitchable boost control, which you can use either as a volume lift for solos or to compensate for differences in your playing style. If you go from aggressive strumming to a quieter fingerstyle or tapping passage, you can simply engage the boost and viola! Perfect volume balance.
Setting the gain up for the best tonal and signal-to-noise performance is relatively simple thanks to the level meter, with a series effects loop to prevent your other pedals from throwing this balance out of whack. It’s worth being aware that your EQ and boost settings will affect how you set the gain though. Once you’ve got things set just right, there’s a master volume that governs the XLR and 1/4” outputs. Be aware that even at pretty conservative volume settings, the Venue DI puts out a lot of signal!
The onboard tuner is fast, accurate and super bright. The rotary display takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do it’s a really great addition, whether your guitar has an on-board tuner or not. Do be aware that engaging the tuner significantly increases this pedal’s current draw (from 12mA to 66mA), which will greatly reduce battery life if you leave it on during a set break. This higher than usual current draw also means that this unit can’t be run on 48v phantom power, and while you can run it on a standard 9v power supply, this isn’t included.
If the Venue DI is a little fiddly for your tastes, you may find the Para Acoustic DI a friendlier proposition, although it’s certainly no less powerful. The “Para” moniker refers to the semi-parametric EQ, similar to it’s bigger brother. Here we find bass, presence and treble controls (although this time they’re preset to 85hz, 5khz and 10khz), a single tuneable midrange control and a notch control with a selectable frequency and boost/cut knob. The notch control’s frequency centre is actually labelled using note names, which is very handy if (like most musicians) you can more easily recognise a troublesome noise by it’s note value rather than its frequency.
Much like the Venue, the Para DI requires you to set the gain control for the best sonic performance, but the absence of a visual readout means that you’ll have to do this by ear. This is more fiddly than I’d like it to be, and time-consuming if you’re switching between instruments. Once you do have it set, the master volume control lets you determine how much signal you’re feeding your PA, although, like the Venue DI, it’s pretty hot! The phase reversal switch should handle any feedback issues that can’t be overcome by the notch control, and there’s an effects loop for inserting pedals into the chain - this time with a single TRS connector for use with an insert “Y” cable.
While there’s no tuner, metering, boost or any footswitchable functions, the Para DI has the distinct advantage of being able to operate on 48v phantom power, which speeds up setup time when you’re making rapid changeovers at open mic nights, festival slots, or any situation where time isn’t on your side.