Bass Meets the Studio

Recording bass is easy, right ?
You just plug right into the mixer and go direct for a clean tone, and you can also stick a mike in front of your amp to make your bass sound more live. What could be more simple ?

Not so fast!

Recording bass is indeed simple – but getting a tone with God-like low end, crispy and well-defined presence, and a consistent level, is a whole other story. To begin with, there’s the issue of physically recording the bass :
Do you go direct, mike a amp, or both? And if you do use a amp, what kind of speaker sounds best, and where should you place the mike? What happens if the frequency response isn’t even, with a wimpy low end and a muddy midrange?
There’s also the problem of uneven level, where some notes jump out while others sit timidly back in the track. And if you didn’t have enough to think about already, you should know even your cables can effect your sound!

So lets see what there is to consider about recording the bass for a track, What should you know, what should you do, and above all...

How does it sound?

 

Recording Direct

With direct recording, you plug the bass into a direct box ( also called DI, for Direct Input ), whose output typically feeds a mixer’s mike-preamp input.
Recording bass direct is very popular because loudspeakers and microphones don’t handle low frequencies very well, often removing some of the fullness in the sound.
Unlike guitar amps, where speaker limitations can enhance the sound, bass amps are constantly fighting the laws of physics.
Still, since a amp can be a big part of a bassist’s sound, some people like to mike their amp or combine a miked amp with a direct box.

Direct Boxes

A direct box (a.k.a. DI box) transforms the high-impedance output of a typical bass (approximately 4–10kohm’s), into a low impedance (usually 150–600 ohm’s). This lower-impedance signal is better suited
for mixing consoles, which usually have a fairly low input impedance.

Note! Read more about impedances and why they are so important, in the P.C.I page.

A DI has some or all of the following :

- 6,3mm (1/4") input jack. The bass is plugged into this.

- XLR (3-pin) output jack. This uses a standard mike cable to take the signal to the mixing console.

- 6,3mm (1/4") output jack. This can be routed to an unbalanced mixer input but can also feed a standard bass amp, drive an effects pedal that gets mixed in with the main signal, etc.
   Note! Some DI designs use this jack as a “multi” (single split) from the input jack. If so, plug this only into a bass amp, not a mixing console.

- Ground-lift switch. This helps eliminate the so called ground loops. If you encounter hum, buzz, radio-frequency interference, or other forms of noise, use whichever switch position sounds better.

- Goodies. Direct boxes may also include EQ, distortion options, and other extras.

Direct boxes are also useful for live performance, as you can pull a direct output for the PA and/or recording setup and also feed a bass amp onstage.

There are three basic types of DI designs :

- Passive. Uses an audio transformer with a high-impedance input and a low-impedance output. Unfortunately, quality transformers are expensive, and a passive DI input can still impedance load the pickups somewhat, resulting in a dark, mushy sound and reduced level. However, if you’re trying to recreate classic bass sounds of the 60’s and 70’s, transformer-based DI’s will get you there.

- Active solid state. Essentially a preamp that adds clarity and punch compared to a passive DI. Downsides include more noise and the need for power supply (battery, AC adapter, or console phantom power).

- Active tube. Similar to the solid state type but with a vacuum tube. Tubes have high input impedances, making them well suited for pickups, and they can also “warm up” the sounds. Tube direct boxes require their own power supply.

Incidentally, before plugging into any DI, or patching one into a mixer, set the console’s faders all the way down to avoid nasty noise and possible speaker damage.

 

Instead of using a DI box, you can use a preamp. Preamps add gain to the signal, which improves the signal-to-noise ratio and delivers more signal to the mixing console.

There are four main types of preamps :

- Onboard. Some basses have built-in active electronics that deliver a hefty signal capable of directly driving an unbalanced mixer input. This also minimizes the impedance-loading effects of cables and amplifiers or mixer channel inputs.

- Outboard. Typically a rackmount unit containing controls for gain, EQ, etc. Some also have XLR outputs for direct recording. These preamps have 6mm output jacks and can directly drive a console with unbalanced inputs, therefore theres no need for a DI.

- Bass amp direct out. Many amps have a direct output for recording or PA connection. Some have a 6mm jack, but recording-savvy manufacturers may include an XLR.

- Effects loop SEND jack. If an amp has an effects loop, you can use the send jack as a preamp output. Some loops use a 6mm TRS (Tip-Ring-Sleeve) stereo jack where the tip corresponds to send, and the ring corresponds to return; to use such a jack sa a preamp out for a mono 6mm plug, insert the plug halfway, until it hits the first "click", or "slot".
   Note! Plugging the plug all the way in, will interrupt the effects loop, thus allowing no output from the amp.

 

The Patch Bay

You can also plug an unbalanced output into a recording-console patch bay, that has 6mm jacks. Depending on the patch bay, this may require plugging in only partially, or you may need to use an unbalanced-to- balanced adapter.

Direct Recorder Feed

For the cleanest possible signal, bypass the mixer entirely and patch the DI out, preamp out, or effects send, directly into the recorder.
There's no sound quite like a good tube direct box feeding a high quality sound card.

Cables & Connections

In a typical studio setup, you'd patch your bass into a direct box's input and patch the output into the mixer (or patch bay, in larger studios).
It's usually best to use the DI's XLR jack, as this is tailored for the console's mike input. If there's an additional 6mm output, you can run it into your bass amp , either for monitoring or miking. Careful, though, with some DI's the XLR and 6mm jacks aren't isolated from each other, so using more than one of these outputs can cause loading problems that degrade the sound.

 

Next: Amp Miking