I'm a big fan of Radial Engineering's products, and Tape Op has published reviews of a number of Radial's products: JDV Mk3 Class-A DI in Tape Op #36; JD7 Injector multi-output guitar re-amping and distribution system in #38; X-Amp active re-amping device in #45; and JPC stereo PC/AV DI also in #45. A few months ago, I purchased a bunch more gear from Radial, including the JDI passive direct box and Reamping Pack that I'm reviewing here, because I'm finding myself recording more instruments direct and re-amping them later. And just about every recording session has involved some use of my growing collection of Radial products-whether it's something standard like recording bass through a DI or something less ordinary like taking a vocal track and creating a submix of re-amped vocals through multiple guitar amps to add healthy amounts of sugary grit to the vocal performance. Radial Engineering's Reamping Pack is a great way to kickstart your addiction to re-amping. It's a kit that includes a J48 Mk2 phantom-powered direct box and an X-Amp re-amper in a foam-lined, plastic case that holds both boxes along with the 15 Volt wall-wart for the X-Amp. Because the X-Amp was already reviewed, I'll focus on the J48 here.
First of all, it's worth mentioning that inside the J48 is a digital power supply that converts standard, low-current 48 V phantom power into 10 V rail-voltage for the internal amplification circuitry and oversized capacitors that store energy to allow for high-current transients. Thus, the J48 has much higher headroom and far less distortion than typical phantom-powered devices, while still consuming very little power. Other innovative features include a resistive mixer circuit that you can switch in to sum two sources (useful for connecting a stereo device to a mono input); an 80 Hz low-cut filter that will give you more headroom if your instrument has unneeded low end (like an acoustic guitar might); and a phantom power LED that you can light up momentarily (but will go out automatically so you don't waste any precious power). There are also switches for 15 dB pad, ground lift, and polarity reverse.
The JDI is the passive sibling to the J48. Inside the JDI is a Jensen JT-DBE transformer that exhibits extremely-low phase distortion (4 deg at 20 Hz) and flat frequency response (within 0.1 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz). Like the J48, it has switches for 15 dB pad, ground lift, polarity reverse, and resistive mixing. It also has a speaker setting that engages a 30 dB pad and a low-pass filter to mimic the sound of a mic'ed 12'' speaker. With this setting enabled, the JDI can be connected to the outputs of an instrument amp, in parallel with a speaker load, so that you can record the sound of the amp's electronics direct.
Both DI's, like all of Radial's boxes, are built tougher than any other audio products I've seen. Switches and connectors are recessed behind the "book ends" of the heavy-gauge steel box to prevent accidents (switching or breaking), the bottom is completely covered with a single piece of high-quality rubber, and aircraft-rated bolts tie together removable components. Also, each box is so well- labeled that you may never need to read its manual... but you should, because Radial's manuals are extremely comprehensive and informative. For example, if you do read the JDI manual, you'll learn that you can use the JDI "backwards" (with an XLR-F gender-changer) as a passive re-amping box!
My first test of the two DI's was on a Fender P-Bass track. In the past, I'd been using a low-cost Whirlwind IMP 2 to take a direct feed from the bass in parallel with a mic'ed track. I'd always convinced myself that this setup sounded "good enough," because I wanted to reserve my more expensive DI-equipped preamps for other instruments, and I usually ended up using more mic'ed sound than direct. Well, trying the J48 and JDI on bass was an ear-opener. The jump in sound quality was immediately noticeable on the first note. Both Radial DI's sounded great, but in the end, I preferred the transformer-based JDI over the active J48. The JDI really brought out a beautiful, full tone, especially evident on the E string. This first test encouraged me to try other DI's on the bass. And nowadays, I go back and forth between the JDI and an Avedis 1122-equipped BAE 312A preamp channel (reviewed in Tape Op #45) that I purchased recently to supplement the eight API 312's and two BAE 312A's that I use for recording drums. I choose the BAE 312A when I need a more aggressive bass sound, while the JDI is my go-to DI when I want a fuller sound that adds cohesiveness to the bottom end of the mix. The JDI does load the pickup some, so with some instrument/amp combinations, you can hear an unwanted effect. Because of this loading, I almost always prefer the J48 over the JDI on electric guitar. The J48 seems to bring the guitar more "forward" in sound with its higher input impedance than the JDI. And especially with single-coil pickups, the high end softens noticeably with the lower-impedance JDI. On the other hand, this trait can be an advantage. For example, I've found that the JDI works wonders for taking the icy bite out of a Strat's bridge pickup when recording to digital. (Note that the higher-priced JDV and JD7 have a "drag" control to vary input impedance and therefore pickup load.) On active instruments, it's a much tougher call. Both DI's sound great, but certain sounds feel stronger out of one DI than the other. In general, it's usually a choice of smoother lows from the JDI or stronger highs from the J48. For example, some harmonically-rich patches on my Moog Voyager benefit from the J48's more forward high end, while sounds with simpler timbres are warmer through the JDI. Choosing which DI to use is akin to choosing which mic preamp to use, so it's great to have a choice!
If you've never tried re-amping, I urge you to give it a try. You'll be amazed at how much fun you'll have (and how much control you'll gain) by recording your instruments direct and re-amping them (especially after you've edited them) through different effects and amps. Radial Engineering's Reamping Pack is really a great way to start as it includes the two devices you'll need, and its street price of $300 is less than the combined street prices of the J48 and X-Amp ($180 each). Plus, it comes with a carrying case. The J48 Mk2 is an outstanding active DI box, and it complements the Class-A X-Amp re-amping device well. Also, the JDI by itself is a fantastic passive DI, and as I mentioned above, if you "turn it around," you can use it as a passive re-amping box. (Reamping Pack $450 MSRP, J48 and X-Amp separately $200 each, JDI $200; www.radialeng.com)