There are several questions here and on the Internet about what are DI boxes and what is the difference between active and passive.
But I often end up reading things like "passive for active pickups and active for passive pickups" (in context of recording guitar).

My question is : I have both type of electric guitars (active/passive) and not enough money to buy two DI boxes, I want to record them into a Scarlett 6i6 interface (it has phantom power) in a home-studio context.
Which would be the best type of DI box to record both pickup types ?
Is there one that would work best with both kind of sources ?

  • You say that the Scarlett 6i6's inputs are prone to clipping even at low gain settings. However, the product images also show a "Pad" indicator LED that can likely be activated through the software mixer. Switching on the pad should allow you to reduce the input levels without acquiring an external DI. And of course, turning down the volume control on the guitar itself should always be an option, too, but one resulting in more sensitivity to noise than using the pad on the interface. – user22838 Aug 29 '17 at 11:22
  • Acoustic or electric guitars? – Todd Wilcox Aug 29 '17 at 13:15
  • electric guitar – Julien N Aug 29 '17 at 14:56

The most versatile DI box is a passive one since you can use it in reverse (which is only relevant if the DI doesn't do 1:1 voltage conversion but something like 10:1, a "natural" 20dB "attenuation"). However, this versatility is not needed for your applications here.

The difference between an active and a passive pickup and an active and a passive DI is that the active component can produce a reasonably high gain on a low impendance sink. A passive pickup produces high gain on high impendance, a passive DI converts to low gain on low impendance.

So with an active DI, you can use lower gains on your soundcard input (switching to the line input is not an option if you want to use phantom power for the DI, though). In general, amplifying at an earlier stage in the signal chain makes your signals more resilient to noise. However, if the DI amps are of lower quality than the soundcard preamps, this might negate the theoretical benefits, so a cheap active DI might not actually help.

A passive DI will tend to attenuate low frequencies. For a guitar, this will not make much of a difference. It might be a bit more noticeable for a bass guitar.

All that being said: the Scarlett 6i6 has instrument inputs (high impendance unbalanced). I don't see physical switches on the product images, so I suspect the mixer application to be able to switch the line inputs to "instrument mode" by software. Unless you have inordinarily long cables in play, I don't really see a point in using a DI at all here.

  • This was mostly for curiosity. I'm considering DI boxes because the Scarlett 6i6 inputs are easily clipped by my guitar pickups (even passive ones), while the gain knob is at 0, so I need to tame the signal. And I'd like an easy way to record DI while monitoring on my amp. – Julien N Aug 29 '17 at 10:08
  • The 6i6 is clipping? I find that INCREDIBLY suprising. Are you going from guitar to interface, or guitar to amp to interface? Because you can just plug in the trs cable to the 6i6, and it absolutely should not clip. If it does, you might have a defective one, or something else weird is going on. – user22688 Oct 19 '17 at 20:06

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