Sans Amp Bass Driver DI Review
by Mark Rowe
I received my Sans Amp Bass Driver DI in early August of 2001. From the moment I first turned it on not only has it been an integral part of my bass rig, but I really canít believe that I played for so many years without it. The manufacturer, Tech 21, refers to this as Tube Amplifier Emulation circuitry. In short, it is designed to give you the warm sound and responsiveness of a miked-up pro stage rig without having to lug around tons of equipment.
While ĎBass Driverí is an accurate description of this little box, perhaps ĎBass Clarifierí would be just as accurate. In addition to producing a wide range of overdriven tube amp sounds, it can also produce extremely crisp and clean sounds. My first experience with this was in the muddiest-sounding room my band plays. With just two minutes of tweaking my 12ver sounded crystal clear, largely due to adding more upper harmonics using the presence control.
There is an enormous range of flexibility here in regards to the sounds this little box can produce. The owners manual gives diagrams of a dozen different sample settings that emulate a fat tube sound, the SVT style, a full-range clean sound, the Kingís X sound, and a variety of others. Iíve tried them all, and they are all fairly good representations of these sounds. The settings I prefer are quite a bit different than any combination the manual shows. Of course the sample combinations were certainly designed with a 4-string bass in mind rather than a 12.
The controls are all extremely sensitive, and a small turn of a knob can lead to big changes in the sound. The sound you get also depends upon how much signal the driver is receiving. After a couple high-energy rockers youíll notice a slight change in tone on the quieter ballads. This takes a little getting used to. I bump up the output level on my 12 on a couple of the quieter songs to compensate for this. Every stomp box has its idiosyncrasies, and this is the only one Iíve found that requires me to compensate, even if only slightly.
The manual states that usually the blend control will be set at maximum, so that the entire signal is processed. I have to disagree with Tech 21 on this. I run my rig using the parallel output so the signal on the left side is completely unprocessed, while the right side is about a 50/50 mix of the processed and dry signal. For me there is just too much disparity between the dry sound and the completely processed sound to run the blend control at maximum. A more conservative setting actually makes my rig sound bigger. Sometimes less is more!
What Iím trying to create is the fullest clean sound possible with the minimum amount of distortion or effects. For many years the only way to achieve a bigger bass sound was to add distortion. Thatís ok for rock music in many situations, but isnít necessarily a good thing all of the time. Given the already-big sound of the 12, I prefer to bypass the distortion in favor of beefing up the clean notes as much as possible. Itís still good to know that the distortion is there when I need it, in any amount I want. I do use quite a bit of distortion when Iím playing my 4-string, 5-string, and 8-string basses, by the way. The Sans Amp has actually made these guitars sound good enough to dust them off and play them again. (They had been relegated to the closet since my 12 arrived a few years ago.)
The unit is extremely quiet, in fact the only noise Iíve been able to get out of it is when the drive control is at a high setting. But when youíve got the drive cranked up youíre probably going to be playing hard anyway, so it is not really noticeable.
Many clubs now donít allow amplifiers on stage, which I think is extremely anti-musician. (Do they want surgeons to operate without their tools?) Nothing sounds worse than a bass simply plugged into the PA system, and the fact that the Sans Amp has an XLR output is perfect for these situations. You can plug straight into the board and custom tailor your sound to any room or PA system. It can be run off phantom power or a 9-volt battery, but I use the optional DC power supply.
One final politically incorrect opinion: Itís really good to see a product that is still truly ĎMade In The U.S.A.í and has a manual that is written in a single language. So much of what we buy these days is imported and with a poorly translated and hard-to-comprehend users guide. The Sans Amp Bass Driver DI is an excellent example of American ingenuity and quality. You can tell when you pick it up for the first time that it is built to last. And Iím really not exaggerating when I say that I donít know how I got along for so many years without it. I have not played one single note on stage without it since I first got it. Well done Tech 21!
Be sure to visit the Tech 21 NYC website