DI boxes. We all rely on them to record electric instruments directly and to perform impedence matching chores. They've never been known as the most glamorous piece of studio gear, but they're surely necessary, and every studio worth its salt has at least one decent DI in its utility drawer. Well, this is the best direct box I've ever used. Not only does it sound amazing, it's got tons of features that make it handy and unique. These features include two switchable instrument/line inputs, four outputs for connecting to various amps, tuners and effects, one balanced output (duh), phase reversal, ground lift, two pads (one each for input and output), high- and low-pass filters, and a proprietary "drag" control (more on this later). Clearly, this is not your run-of- the mill unbalanced input/balanced output/ground lift box.

About twice the size of the average DI box, the JDV Mk3 is housed in a heavy duty metal enclosure three sides of which overhang and protect the numerous controls and jacks. Since there are so many controls and jacks, the layout of these was carefully thought out and is organized such that all the 1/4" jacks occupy one side of the box, the switches and knobs that control the input signal occupy another side, and the output controls (along with the XLR balanced output jack) occupy a third side. Very nice indeed; if you're going to have tons of cables all connected to one box, you may as well have a method to your madness.

Unlike many DI boxes that are phantom powered or rely on a 9V battery, the JDV Mk3 uses an external power supply that results in an unusually high internal rail voltage of 30 volts running its Class A circuitry. According to Radial, this is what gives the JDV Mk3 its extremely wide dynamic range. This box is able to handle everything from the wimpiest low- output guitar signal to the hottest amp speaker output. (It's important to note that when connecting a speaker output to the JDV Mk3, the input pad needs to be activated and a speaker needs to receive the signal coming from the box, as this DI is not designed to be a "load box.")

Probably the coolest feature is the afore mentioned "drag" control knob. This knob gives the user control over resistance and impedance. The idea is that the impedance of most guitar pickups changes when run through a direct box. Therefore when the throughput signal is fed into a guitar amp, the tone can be different than if the guitar was plugged directly in. Many guitarists who use multiple effect pedals are aware of this unwelcome phenomenon. By adjusting the drag control "to taste," the original pickup-to- amp relationship can be re-established. I tried this with an old Rickenbacker bass and it is subtle, but really nice. It's a bit hard to describe the musical effect the drag control had, but I was able to dial in a setting that just made playing the bass "feel" right and sound extremely balanced.

And speaking of sound, the JDV Mk3 sounds fantastic. Recording bass and guitar through it, I compared it to the venerable Countryman DI, a Whirlwind passive DI, the DI input of an API 3124 preamp channel, and the DI input of a Drawmer 1960 preamp/compressor. I didn't do any scientific measurements, but just stuck with playing, recording, and listening to the instruments. I found the JDV Mk3 had much more headroom than the others. The sound was extremely open and uncolored. I heard absolutely no hint of distortion. Between the fidelity and the cornocopia of useful features, this box is a godsend. Hats off to Radial.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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