Posted by Doug Young
From its popular and extensive line of pickups and preamps to its highly regarded Acoustic Reference Amplifier, L.R. Baggs has been helping acoustic guitarists amplify their instruments for more than 25 years. Baggs’s Para Acoustic D.I. has become one of the most-popular options for performing guitarists who need a compact, versatile, high-quality preamp/DI with built-in EQ. The company recently introduced the Venue, an expanded version of the Para D.I. that combines a direct box (DI) with even more powerful EQ, a chromatic tuner, a footswitch-operated volume-boost function, and an audio transformer–coupled output that eliminates ground loops by providing complete isolation.
Sleek, Powerful, and Feature-Laden
Outfitted in a cloth-covered and zippered carrying case, the Venue’s curved surfaces, in bronze and dark chocolate brown, match the retro style of Baggs’s Acoustic Reference Amplifier. Baggs says the Venue uses “bomber construction” and indeed, the device seems extremely sturdy, with a satisfyingly hefty feel supporting its sleek curves. The Venue is relatively large for a floor pedal, measuring approximately 8 inches square, but Baggs needs that space for the impressive number of features it has packed into the unit. The middle of the Venue is shared by a large, unusual-looking tuner and two rows of knobs that control output volume, input gain, a notch filter for controlling feedback, and an impressive five-band EQ. The EQ section, which appears to be borrowed from the Acoustic Reference Amplifier, has bass, treble (centered at 10 kHz), presence (centered at 3 kHz), and two midrange controls, sweepable from 100 Hz to 500 Hz and 500 Hz to 2.8 kHz respectively.
Two footswitches control key functions. The switch on the right mutes the Venue’s output and activates the chromatic tuner. On the left is a boost switch, which can add up to 9 dB of gain to your signal. The amount of boost is adjusted with a small trim control on the back of the Venue, which is also home to a transformer-coupled XLR output that delivers an output level independent of the volume control, an effect send/return, a ground-lift switch; and a battery adapter jack. The ¼-inch input and unbalanced output are on each side, at the rear. The output volume control affects the ¼-inch output, but not the XLR output, allowing you to send a constant signal to a house PA system, while maintaining control over the stage volume. It would be easy to become overwhelmed with this many controls, but the Venue’s layout is clear and logical and its concise, well-written manual offers helpful suggestions for its use
Baggs opted not to include a DC adaptor for the Venue, noting that the Venue can be powered by most power adapters designed for stompbox effects. The company estimates the life of a nine-volt battery (located in a compartment on the bottom of the unit) to be 40 hours.
Clean Performance, Impressive Control
Baggs ignored no detail with the Venue’s feature set, and the same seems to be true of its sonic performance. The Venue is clean, clear, and quiet, with more than enough gain to drive any sound system and accommodate long cables. Adjusting the input gain correctly—easily accomplished with the aid of the “clip” meter on the main panel—is the key to a clean sound. The tone controls are very impressive, providing dramatic boosts and cuts, and the dual, sweepable midrange controls are very useful for fine-tuning your sound. The notch filter is especially effective, quickly killing feedback with little discernable effect on the tone.
I tried the Venue with a number of guitars: a Taylor 914 equipped with a Baggs passive M1 magnetic pickup, a Ryan Mission Grand Concert with a Seymour Duncan Mag Mic (an active magnetic pickup), an Olson SJ with a Baggs LB6 undersaddle pickup, a Martin OM with K&K Mini soundboard transducers, and an Expression System–outfitted Taylor 12 string.The wide variety of guitars and pickups all sounded consistently excellent when played through both a Mackie-powered-speaker PA system and an AER AcoustiCube II. In each case, the Venue seemed to add clarity and presence, and I especially appreciated the ability to match gain and EQ for each guitar and different playing styles. The Venue provides more than enough gain for even the lowest-output passive pickups. The sweepable EQ made it easy to dial out the electric-sounding midrange on the magnetic pickups and add some warmth to the undersaddle pickup, while the notch filter quickly eliminated feedback with the soundboard transducers. Bumping up the presence and treble controls provided a satisfying crispness to strummed rhythms, while dialing them back gave me a warmer sound for fingerstyle.
The boost feature should be a hit with guitarists who need to quickly switch between two separate volumes—with up to 9 dB boost, there’s more than enough extra gain to go from rhythm guitar to lead when playing in a band.
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The Venue’s large circular tuner is extremely bright, making it easy to read, whether on a dark stage or under bright lights, and the mute feature allows you to tune discreetly. The tuner’s presentation style takes a bit of getting used to. When in tune, all lights in the circle are fully lighted, and tuning creates a bit of a “negative space” effect, since it’s the lack of a light that indicates you’re not in tune. However, the tuner seemed accurate and effective, even tracking a baritone guitar tuned down to A without any problem.
Clean and Powerful Preamp/DI
If you need a clean-sounding preamp with plenty of gain, powerful EQ, DI functionality, and a built-in easy-to-read tuner, the Venue appears to have everything you could ask for, all in a single, sleek, well-designed package. Guitarists in bands will especially appreciate the adjustable volume-boost switch. Between the features and the clean sound, the Venue might well be the only thing you need between your guitar and the sound system.