From the March/April 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Doug Young
The role of a direct box, or DI, is often underappreciated, even though it can have a significant impact on amplified sound. A DI provides an interface between your guitar’s pickup, which usually has a high-impedance unbalanced output, and a PA system that expects a balanced low-impedance signal. While a budget DI may be all many guitarists need, others appreciate the very finest.
D.W. Fearn has been making boutique pro-audio equipment, primarily for the recording market, since 1993, and is known for his ultra-high-quality, hand-built products. Several decades ago, Fearn introduced the VT-1/F, a massive 15-pound tube-and-transformer-based DI, which quickly became legendary for its sound quality and was adopted by many well-known touring acts.
Fearn’s designs are now made by Hazelrigg Industries. The company’s latest offering is the VDI, a smaller, single-channel DI that shares most of the circuitry of its predecessor. Built like a tank from 1/4-inch-thick steel, the VDI weighs in at six pounds. As with the VT-1/F, it cuts no corners in pursuit of the best possible sound. The active AC-powered DI pairs a custom Jensen transformer with a pair of hand-selected 6072/12AY7 tubes and achieves a frequency response of +/- 0.2dB from 10Hz to 20kHz, while staying within 3dB all the way from 0.5Hz to 90kHz. Features are minimal, consisting of a power switch, ground lift, 1/4-inch input, and both 1/4-inch and XLR outputs. The input impedance is 1MΩ, ideal for most acoustic pickups, while the output impedance is the usual 150 ohms.
The feeling I got while playing through the VDI was of unlimited headroom, like driving a high-powered car that responds to your actions effortlessly. The sound was clean and clear, with that undefinable appeal of an all-analog tube circuit, making playing with a pickup a more enjoyable experience. The VDI is not for the faint of heart. Its hefty size and weight—not to mention its $1,350 price tag—make it clear that this is a fully professional, industrial-strength affair. At a time when cheap electronics are pervasive, it’s a pleasure to experience a product designed with quality as its singular goal.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.