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Thread: Mixer or DI EQ?

  1. #1

    Default Mixer or DI EQ?

    Hi all

    I have a hand built guitar bodied Irish bouzouki (but which I have tuned as an octave mandolin). It is octave tuned on the G and D courses and in unison for the A and E courses. It has a gorgeous tone with endless ring, chorus and sustain but still with enough of a bark to distinguish it from a 12 string acoustic guitar.

    Mostly I play it unplugged (it is loud enough even to compete with one of those pesky 5 stringed monstrosities with the round body) but I've recently fitted a custom made magnetic soundhole pickup that was made by a local luthier. Reaming out the strap peg hole was nerve wracking....

    The sound it produces through my Roland acoustic amp is OK - ish, but (a) I don't really want to lug the amp around to gigs and (b) I don't think that, for quieter stuff, the pickup really does the instrument justice.

    I've done a load of research on options to improve the sound and portability and I'd appreciate any advice. The first option is to invest in a decent DI box with EQ. This has the advantage of allowing me just to generate an XLR output, with the tone I like, straight to the soundboard, without 15 minutes of debate with a grumpy soundman. The LR Baggs Para DI seems to get universally glowing reviews along the lines of "makes a silk purse of a sow's ear" but I sense that this is more for a piezo pup than a magnetic one.

    The other option would be to add either a mini microphone into the soundhole, or use a stick on transducer on the instrument body, to try to "warm up" the magnetic pup. The Dean Markley and Di Marzio offerings seem to get good reviews; I haven't looked too much into miniature microphones as I am a bit worried about feedback (even though the idea would be for the mike input just to colour the magnetic pup, so would not need to be driven hard). I'm not going to modify the instrument further so I'd have two separate outputs. The idea would then be to invest in a 2 channel mixer, ideally again with an XLR output, some sort of ability to adjust the phase between the two inputs, and perhaps with a rudimentary (eg three pot) EQ. One of the advantages of this route, if it is even sensible, would be that I could use the "backup" pickup - since it would not be permanently fixed into the instrument - to amplify my (acoustic) Kentucky mandolin on the very odd occasion that I feel the need to do that.

    The budget would be in the $300 range, which I think would cover pretty much all of the DI boxes from the big three (Baggs, Fishman and K&K); microphone or transducer pups are a few tens of bucks so that leaves me, say $200-$250 for a 2 channel mixer if I went down that route. It seems that there are loads of mixers aimed at DJs, but I have no idea if these would be suitable even in principle to mix the output of a transducer or microphone and a magnetic pickup.

    I'd really appreciate any thoughts. Whilst I can go to try the Baggs at my LMS, obviously rigging up an extra pickup and finding somewhere to try a 2 channel mixer would be harder.

    Thanks!

    Alex

  2. #2
    Registered User Perry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    In my opinion the biggest thing lost when plugging in is the instruments overtones. I have found that subtle amounts of quality reverb and occasional judicial use of delay can help make up for the often sterile one dimensional plugged in sound. I have not experimented with instrument mic/ pick-up combos as having the mic mounted in the sound hole can be problematic at higher volumes.

    Your listing of the "big three" is vastly limiting yourself.

    I would strongly suggest that you look at the Red Eye pre-amp..... stupid simple and very good sounding. If your pick-up needs huge amounts of EQ help then I would suggest the Radial ToneBone. For the Red-Eye get the twin version so you can use with a mic/p-u combo or at the very least switch channels to mute for tuning/instrument swaps etc.

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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    I really like my LR baggs Venue DI. Use it in a praise band setting, and feel like it lets me dial in tone pretty much where I like it. Not as natural sounding as a mic, but no feedback or movement worries. I'm using a magnetic sound hole LR Baggs pickup as well, mostly on guitar so far, but I may get a similar pickup for my Weber Octave at some point.
    Chuck

  4. #4

    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    Thanks both....Perry I'm struggling to find a retailer for the Red Eye - all of the dealers on the manufacturer website seem to be music teachers (or at any rate don't list the preamps for mail order). Assuming you bought one, where was it from?

    Thanks

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    A preamp - any preamp - will not actually "fix" a pickup to make it sound like a microphone. There are some specific pickup and preamp combinations that sound better than others, however. Magnetic pickups are really the least "acoustic" sounding as they derive all of their input directly from the strings with very little measurable influence from the instruments body. They always sound like what they are - a magnetic pickup. Next up the 'realism' scale are under-saddle transducers. By themselves, these do not typically sound too great. There are some very sophisticated preamps and DSP systems that aim to improve them, however. The Fishman Aura system is the most successful (to my ears). The recent TC Bodyrez (which I've been testing) is kind of, sort of, just about OK. It takes the raw edges off - to an extent. Then there are soundboard transducers, which might be piezo, or dynamic (Shertler DYN) or condenser (AKG C411). These last two do a pretty credible job. They capture the body sound well, but without 'air' of course.... nonetheless, both of them sound (to me) a heck of a lot better than any piezo based system that has yet crossed my path. One test of a system is how much work you have to do EQ'ing it to make it sound 'natural' with 'almost nothing' being the ideal.

    The most natural sound will be found with a microphone. With very CLOSE mic technique, feedback is not likely to be an issue unless you are playing at rock band levels and competing with drums, or similar. You can get PLENTY loud with a DPA4099, for example. These might seem expensive, but when you consider the quality being delivered (which requires very, very little EQ) and just how easy it is to set up, use, and even transfer between different instruments with no damage I don't really think it is poor value. For mandolin the AT PRO 35 and ATM350 are also very good indeed, but there are mounting problems on OM's and bouzouki's with this design.

    I would look at these before pouring money into preamps designed to make a bad sounding pickup sound better.
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  7. #6
    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    While it is true that a magnetic pickup "sees" a limited window for tone, given by its location along the string (exactly where is a crucial detail), it is capable of a very musical and rich tone, and while the undersaddle systems are picking up complete harmonics, they are also colorless and never give me any satisfaction. Body-contact systems are even less reliable in terms of accurate tone, and of course have plenty of issues about feedback and EQ. The modern Headway and Baggs designs do OK undersaddle, but are still uninteresting and unmusical to me.

    I am getting excellent sound with a magnetic soundhole pickup, either in a guitar amp, or direct into PA, or direct into my M-Box ProTools interface. There is an important factor, though---I use a passive volume and tone control as would be found on an electric guitar. Going into the ProTools interface I skip it, but for PA or guitar amp use, the high end needs taming, and the capacitive high cut is much deeper and sweeter than that possible with preamps and mixer EQ. I tried a K&K preamp, and did not get nearly enough control over the highs, ditto a Boss EQ.

    I played at an English Country Dance, using their PA, and pickup only. Everyone loved the sound, and so did I. I recorded our Americana band and went direct from my guitar-amp output, and loved that, too. I played at an outdoor stage, sending a feed from the amp to the main PA, and that sounded great on video. I am always running the tone down some, or a lot, and the volume down a bit, too, for headroom to adjust.

    It is important to remember that a pickup is not a microphone, so some tone shaping is natural and necessary, but also remember how many wonderful sounds are possible from electric guitars. A good single-coil pickup has gobs of high end, usually too much. Players that just send their raw output to the PA will get a raw tone. Another thing to address with vigor is the string balance---some soundhole pickups don't go nearly far enough in suppressing the strong plain strings and helping the weaker bronze-wound (steel-core) strings. My pickup has dramatic pole-height compensation, so I can use bronze strings for great tone.

    Unfortunately, although the parts will only cost you about $20, you'll have to acquire your own little box, the pots (250K or 500K audio taper), the capacitor (.047 mfd), the knobs and jacks, a belt clip, and then drill and solder it all yourself. But then you will have a great electric instrument with nearly zero feedback problems, and that is compatible with multiple amplification options.
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    Registered User Polecat's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    Quote Originally Posted by almeriastrings View Post
    ...I would look at these before pouring money into preamps designed to make a bad sounding pickup sound better...
    .

    I agree entirely. A magnetic pickup does not, and is generally not even designed to sound "natural", and generally sounds best amplified with a system designed to bend the signal into a groovy-sounding shape. Try plugging your pickup into your HiFi , or running an MP3 Player through a guitar amp, and you'll get the picture. Doubtless close miking is the best option to capture your tone (and your pick-click, an aspect which is seldom mentioned). I find clip-on mikes unpractical as I tend to knock them off with bravura flourishes, but that is my problem. I use the AKG c411, directly into the desk, and if mine should ever break, I would replace it with the same model. Having tried a Schertler (I don't remember which model) and directly compared it with the AKG, I didn't think there was much to choose between them, except, of course the price. The C411 will set you back less than a "good" preamp and will, imo, deliver a better result.
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    Registered User Perry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Frost View Post
    Thanks both....Perry I'm struggling to find a retailer for the Red Eye - all of the dealers on the manufacturer website seem to be music teachers (or at any rate don't list the preamps for mail order). Assuming you bought one, where was it from?

    Thanks
    Alex

    I got mine here...I've had a lot of good luck with it both in bars and decent sized festival stages.

    Maury's

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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    I want to defend the magnetic pickup, since I think most people don't use them correctly and miss out on a good option. I extracted the microphone channel and the pickup channel from my "Here Comes The Sun", where I used both but kept them isolated in left and right channel. The full song is at my Soundcloud page, but these are at my web site, so download by right-clicking if they won't play.

    I EQ'd the pickup channel to match the mic by cutting the mids and boosting the highs---I find them hard to tell apart, but better low end from the pickup is the giveaway. Mic is a Shure SM58.

    Here's the pickup, heard in the intro to the song:
    http://www.twtunes.com/pages/pickup.mp3

    Here's the mic to compare:
    http://www.twtunes.com/pages/microphone.mp3

    I am lucky to have a round soundhole which makes mounting easy, and to have only 17 frets which allows the pickup to sit well away from the bridge for a richer tone. I did have to build my own rig, but it was just a bit of tinkering, not major craft work. It seemed to me that the OP has a good pickup available and should use it to best effect. I wish there were more magnetic-pickup options but the only thing out there right now is the Lace, which sits pretty much at the bridge for a very different tone. As I wrote, in performance I feel the passive volume/tone control is essential and way better than an active preamp for sweetening the highs.
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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    I would suggest the 'ultimate test' is how closely does the amplified sound through the PA sound to the un-amplified sound of the instrument? Basic physics dictates that a magnetic pickup cannot possibly achieve anything too close, because it completely cuts all instrument body-air effects (which are a huge part of how any instrument sounds) completely out of the picture. The instrument may as well be a solid plank. Now there's an idea...

    Of course you may like the resulting sound, and it may suit some genres perfectly, but that is very different from the sound being a close approximation of an acoustic instrument. An ES335 or Tele does not sound like a D28 through a microphone, and even the best efforts of people like Variax using boat-loads of EQ and DSP have failed to make it so.

    Listening to your tracks through Beyer DT770's I could hear quite significant differences.
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  13. #11
    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    Indeed there are differences, and as you say, the question might be whether one likes the result. For me, a musical sound that delivers in all circumstances is worth some different character, and I like that it has character. I have the identical pickup mounted in two solid bodied mandolins, 5- and 10-string, and the difference is very large---neither sounds at all acoustic compared to this installation in the Buchanan. The compliance of the top alters the attack, and the bronze strings also sound different than nickel-wound. I find it very satisfying to perform with.

    The comparison is not a Tele against a miked Martin, it should be a miked Martin against a Martin with a Tele pickup and wiring, through a sweet amp like AER. (Ideally the Martin's pickup would be in the same location along the string.) Of course the miked one will sound good, if mike placement is good or you use a clip-on, and the house speakers are good, and if the sound guy is good, and if you can get usefully above feedback. I have no "ifs" to contend with.

    The OP has a soundhole pickup, and wondered if he could get better results with it than he is currently achieving. I think he can.
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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    Somehow, I can't see James Taylor using a diMarzio ana marshall schtakk. oops wrong forum.

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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    Interesting box Y'ha AG it is said on the packet is a microphone emulator based on an under bridge pickup
    seems to be a lot of reverb things going on more than simple delays.
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  16. #14

    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Frost View Post
    Hi all

    I have a hand built guitar bodied Irish bouzouki (but which I have tuned as an octave mandolin). It is octave tuned on the G and D courses and in unison for the A and E courses. It has a gorgeous tone with endless ring, chorus and sustain but still with enough of a bark to distinguish it from a 12 string acoustic guitar.

    Mostly I play it unplugged (it is loud enough even to compete with one of those pesky 5 stringed monstrosities with the round body) but I've recently fitted a custom made magnetic soundhole pickup that was made by a local luthier. Reaming out the strap peg hole was nerve wracking....

    The sound it produces through my Roland acoustic amp is OK - ish, but (a) I don't really want to lug the amp around to gigs and (b) I don't think that, for quieter stuff, the pickup really does the instrument justice.

    I've done a load of research on options to improve the sound and portability and I'd appreciate any advice. The first option is to invest in a decent DI box with EQ. This has the advantage of allowing me just to generate an XLR output, with the tone I like, straight to the soundboard, without 15 minutes of debate with a grumpy soundman. The LR Baggs Para DI seems to get universally glowing reviews along the lines of "makes a silk purse of a sow's ear" but I sense that this is more for a piezo pup than a magnetic one.

    The other option would be to add either a mini microphone into the soundhole, or use a stick on transducer on the instrument body, to try to "warm up" the magnetic pup. The Dean Markley and Di Marzio offerings seem to get good reviews; I haven't looked too much into miniature microphones as I am a bit worried about feedback (even though the idea would be for the mike input just to colour the magnetic pup, so would not need to be driven hard). I'm not going to modify the instrument further so I'd have two separate outputs. The idea would then be to invest in a 2 channel mixer, ideally again with an XLR output, some sort of ability to adjust the phase between the two inputs, and perhaps with a rudimentary (eg three pot) EQ. One of the advantages of this route, if it is even sensible, would be that I could use the "backup" pickup - since it would not be permanently fixed into the instrument - to amplify my (acoustic) Kentucky mandolin on the very odd occasion that I feel the need to do that.

    The budget would be in the $300 range, which I think would cover pretty much all of the DI boxes from the big three (Baggs, Fishman and K&K); microphone or transducer pups are a few tens of bucks so that leaves me, say $200-$250 for a 2 channel mixer if I went down that route. It seems that there are loads of mixers aimed at DJs, but I have no idea if these would be suitable even in principle to mix the output of a transducer or microphone and a magnetic pickup.

    I'd really appreciate any thoughts. Whilst I can go to try the Baggs at my LMS, obviously rigging up an extra pickup and finding somewhere to try a 2 channel mixer would be harder.

    Thanks!

    Alex
    Alex: FWIW I am happy with the Baggs Lyric I installed in my Rozawood GBOM.
    I generally run it straight in to a QSC Touchmix mixer, although it sounds a little richer if I use a pre amp, all things equal. I run sound for the band, and primarily play fiddle so I have not spent as much time as I would like to dial in the sound.

    I had a Big Twin pickup installed in my Old Wave octave and was not happy with that sound. (Maybe it was the tape vs glue issue I am now reading about on the forum?) I did like the sound of my ATM 350 on the Old Wave but feedback, placement and stability were problematic.

    I have no experience with amps and so cannot compare or critique. Good luck with the decision and please share your results.

  17. #15
    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    Quote Originally Posted by fiddleround View Post
    Alex: FWIW I am happy with the Baggs Lyric I installed in my Rozawood GBOM.
    I generally run it straight in to a QSC Touchmix mixer, although it sounds a little richer if I use a pre amp, all things equal.
    The Touchmix does have nice preamps built in, though I think (on auditioning them) they are just a bit 'clinical' sounding - though nothing to complain about. Your Lyric already has its own (carefully matched) active preamp anyway, so you are really only going into an unbalanced line input on the Touchmix.

    You will get a slightly different sound (on a Touchmix 8) by engaging the hi-z option for Ch. 1 & 2. The TM16 does not have this as they expect you to use an active DI in such cases. That should provide the slightly 'warmer' tones you are getting with an external preamp (which strictly speaking) is not necessary (as all the actual gain required is already provided).
    Gibson F5 'Harvey' Fern, Gibson F5 'Derrington' Fern
    Distressed Silverangel F 'Esmerelda' aka 'Maxx'
    Northfield Big Mon #127
    Ellis F5 Special #288
    '39 & '45 D-18's, 1950 D-28.

  18. #16

    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    Quote Originally Posted by almeriastrings View Post
    The Touchmix does have nice preamps built in, though I think (on auditioning them) they are just a bit 'clinical' sounding - though nothing to complain about. Your Lyric already has its own (carefully matched) active preamp anyway, so you are really only going into an unbalanced line input on the Touchmix.

    You will get a slightly different sound (on a Touchmix 8) by engaging the hi-z option for Ch. 1 & 2. The TM16 does not have this as they expect you to use an active DI in such cases. That should provide the slightly 'warmer' tones you are getting with an external preamp (which strictly speaking) is not necessary (as all the actual gain required is already provided).
    Agreed. I bought the Touchmix 16 before the 8 was available. I might prefer the 8 for the hi-z option since the 16 has only four quarter/xlr inputs anyway. In addition, I prefer to work with 8 channels so I can mix from one screen when I am mixing from the stage.

  19. #17

    Default Re: Mixer or DI EQ?

    I recommend anything by Radial Engineering. The ToneBone is fantastic: EQ, a boost switch for solos. The sound quality of Radial products is unsurpassed. They are also built like tanks. Don't be put off by the fact that Guitar Center does not stock them. GC is all about selling good enough at the best margin. Radial is in another class, and is not that much more expensive. Leaves Baggs, Fishman, etc in the dust.

    Now, onto your sound: A custom wound mag pickup may or may not be what you are after. If you cannot find a fairly uncolored amp (acoustic amp/keyboard amp, etc) that gives you the sound you want, then a pre is probably not going to help you. If I was starting from scratch, I would go with a good quality Piezo (I like K & K) and the Radial Tonebone PZ (a tonebone with a piezo optimized front end). If you really want to get fancy, add a mic as well, and send both signals to the PA. Plenty of advice here on mics. Basically, you get what you pay for. I like the ATM350 myself.

    Adding: you can make this change without any more mods, you already have the endpin jack hole, add something like a K & K pure mini.
    Last edited by vince f; Nov-12-2015 at 10:21am.

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