Bass DI vs Amp – Which is Better for Recording Bass

Bass DI vs amp – the eternal question when it comes to recording bass. Let’s cover the difference between the two and anoint a clear winner for getting the best bass in your mix.

Bass DI vs Amp

bass di vs amp

Recording Bass DI

Let’s begin with the popular bass DI method of recording your bass tone and getting it into your mix.

What is Recording Bass DI

Bass DI, or direct input, means that you’re going straight from your bass into your recording hardware interface like a Focusrite Scarlett.

When recording bass directly in, you don’t need an expensive head, cab, or amplifier combo, nor do you need a microphone (not to mention the stand or cable).

All you need to record bass DI is the bass guitar itself, a single cable, and whatever recording hardware interface you use.

Why Record Bass DI

Recording bass directly in has a lot more advantages over going the bass amp route.

recording di

Cost

As I mentioned, you don’t need an amp, microphone(s), or a stand/cables to record bass DI.

That’s a savings of anywhere between a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars.

Ease

Another advantage of recording bass DI is that you don’t have to worry about nailing the perfect tone on the in. The only thing you need to consider is the tone knob on your bass.

Otherwise you just plugin and start recording, knowing you can dial in the perfect tone later which I’ll mention in a moment.

There’s no worrying about the (awful) sound of the room, the distance of the microphone from the amp, the placement of the microphone relative to the speaker, etc. Every tiny physical adjustment you make regarding the equipment can vastly change the sound, and it can be a headache especially if you’re new to this world trying to find a sound which can rival what you’d get if you just went DI and affected the sound later in the mix.

Practicality

This is an umbrella term which covers a lot of advantages for recording DI. For instance:

Environment

Most of us don’t live in an environment where we can make a lot of noise. Recording anything DI is virtually silent.

Many of us also live in areas where there’s a lot of outside noise. Whether it’s from neighbors or just noise from the traffic and everything else on the street outside, we don’t have to worry about picking up any of that when we’re not using a microphone. All the audio interface is picking up is the bass tone via the cable.

Live Recording

If you’re recording live with other musicians, DI gives you the advantage of not having to worry about bleed from the drum kit, guitarist’s amp, the vocalist howling, etc.

It’s the same sound every single time.

Post Processing

I alluded to this earlier, but arguably best of all, bass DI allows you to dial in the perfect tone after the fact. Amp modelers have come a long way, so you can get a realistic and oftentimes superior tone than you’d get from amping.

On top of EVERYTHING else, you can even re-amp after the fact. This just means sending the DI track which you recorded in the past through an actual amplifier and capturing it via a microphone in the future.

In other words, having the DI track keeps the option of using a bass amp later on the table.

This is why when professional studios record bass via an amp, they simultaneously record a DI track so that they can re-amp later if they so choose.

I’ve sung the many praises of DI, so let’s look at the other side of the coin in bass DI vs amp – using the bass amp and mic setup.

Recording Bass With an Amp

Now let’s talk the costlier but potentially more rewarding option of recording a bass with an amp.

What is Recording Bass With an Amp

Recording bass via an amp is exactly what it sounds like – instead of recording straight into the audio interface, you plug your bass into some sort of amplifier and capture that sound via a microphone and XLR cable which goes into the audio interface instead.

This requires a lot more effort, not to mention trial and error, to get a sound you’re happy with.

Still, the effort can be worth it.

Why Record Bass With an Amp

recording amp

There’s something to be said about recording that live bass tone. You get the combined sound of the head and cab, not to mention the sound of the room.

It can take some time, split testing different recordings with different amplifier settings as well as different mic placements.

For instance, aiming the microphone’s head closer to the speaker will result in a sharper tone. Offsetting it more left, right, above, or below the speaker will achieve a warmer, rounder tone.

You also generally want to place the microphone farther away from the speaker than you would if you were micing a guitar amp. Generally I like to start by setting the microphone about a foot away from the amp. Keep moving it back to hear more room sound as the bass tone sacrifices a touch of clarity to pick up some natural depth.

While it takes a lot more effort to successfully record a bass amp, you can find settings you like which you wouldn’t be able to replicate with an amp modeler.

Plus, when you get the sound you want before you record, that saves time on the back end as you arguably and ideally won’t need to adjust the sound as much.

Blend With a DI/Modeled Track

Even if you’re recording bass with an amp, it’s still preferable that you simultaneously record a DI version of that signal, as well. In professional studios this is commonplace.

When you have both tones, you can use the amped/main signal as your main tone, then supplement it with the DI instance of the recording after it’s been processed with an amp modeler.

This can give you a fuller bass tone by allowing you to supplement any areas which are missing from the amp recorded signal. For instance, if you want to give your bass a bit more “bite” you can dial in some gain via an amp modeler on the DI track.

Combining multiple and differently processed instances of the same recording is oftentimes the route for achieving the greatest and most overall balanced bass track to sit well in your mix.

Bass DI vs Amp – Which is Better

You probably guessed it, but recording bass DI is almost always better than recording via a bass amp. This is because:

  • Recording bass DI is substantially more cost effective, faster, yields a cleaner sound, is quieter, and is simply and generally far more practical.
  • DI gives you the option of dialing in the perfect tone later using an amp modeler.
  • Recording DI can get you good results regardless of where you record (noisy and small environments).
  • Recording bass DI leaves the option of re-amping the signal later to STILL record via an amp and microphone if you so choose in the future.

Obviously recording bass with an amp can yield excellent results and this is a standard practice in the top studios of the world.

The major problem is that, unless you know what you’re doing regarding setting up the equipment just right in a good sounding room, not to mention you have a substantial budget for quality gear (which is a big factor in achieving those excellent results), recording bass with an amp will often yield worse results than if you just recorded a clean tone via DI and left all the options on the table.

Just remember that even in the best studios in the world, they’re always simultaneously recording a DI instance of the track along with the miced version so that they both have the option for re-amping or using some bass amp modeling software to sculpt the DI track.

This covers you in case the amped recording has any issues or if you just want to supplement it with a second version of the track like I mentioned earlier for a more satisfying blend of the two.

Whichever method you choose to record your bass, once you have your track(s), make sure you use my guides on bass guitar EQ as well as bass compression to end up with the perfect bass tone in your mix.

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