By STEPHEN FORTNER
WITH SO MANY COMPACT MIXERS OFFERING DEDICATED
channels for keyboards, why use a direct box? If it’s the Radial Pro D8, one
answer is that its presence tells any sound engineer, “Hah! You can’t tell me
you don’t have enough DIs to run my keys in stereo!” There are better and
more practical reasons, though.
First, the ground lift—which direct boxes have
and compact mixers usually don’t—will confine
buzz to your band’s Facebook page where it
belongs. Second, if a snake (old school or digital)
is in use, it’ll likely have all XLR inputs at the
stage end and be feeding mic inputs on the main
P.A. end. Direct boxes put out the balanced mic-level signal that the front-of-house
Third, and an area where the Radial Pro family excels, is sound
quality. With today’s keyboards, there’s just something about a nice hunk
of iron in the signal path. I mean Radial’s Eclipse
transformers, of course, which impart a slight
but pleasing compression as you drive them
harder. It invites you to dig in more confidently
and is especially nice on strident sounds like
bright rock pianos and resonance-cranked synth
leads. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not like using an
actual compressor, and you’re not losing dynamic
range or frequencies. I put many synths, clonewheels, and my old passive Rhodes through the
D8, with audiophile-grade live and recorded results in
Each channel has dual 1/4" inputs that merge
to its output, and while the obvious use is folding stereo keyboards to mono to
conserve P.A. channels, you can actually squeeze in eight stereo
signals: Run the left outs of two different synths
into channel 1 on the Pro D8. Now, run their
right outs into channel 2. Repeat with more
keyboards on more channels. Each XLR out will
contain one stereo side or the other of a pair of
keyboards, which makes things a bit Dada on
the main mixer, so hopefully you can live with a
maximum of four stereo keyboards.
The requisite 1/4" thrus for feeding your onstage amp are present, but an unexpected touch
is a TRS insert on each channel for effects loops.
Another cool item: phase reverse switches per
channel, which can be useful if some stereo sample you’re using is thinning out
because of room
acoustics or mono summing.
Rotating rack ears let you make either side of
the D8 the front. In the studio, I faced the XLR side
rearward, where each out fed an input of an eight-channel mic preamp, which in turn fed my audio
interface via lightpipe. The 1/4" side faced front, letting me patch in the revolving door of review instruments I deal with while
leaving my more permanent
gear connected to my interface. Though I’m now
rethinking this, as the Radial has a way of making
me want its iron-sweet sound on everything.
If the D8 is beyond your budget, or if you
have a keyboard mixer setup (like mains to the house
and pre-fader aux to your monitor) you’d rather not
rethink, consider the Pro D2 as the final link between your mixer and the
house. It’s stereo, has the
same transformers, and streets for about $150. Carrying your own premium direct
box is like sleeping
on memory foam: Once you do, you don’t go back—and Radial is undeniably the Tempur-Pedic.
PROS Gorgeous, transparent
sound. Saturation at
high signal levels sounds
awesome on keyboards, but
never intrusive. Requires no power. Built like a rich
paranoid’s survival bunker.
CONS None signiﬁcant.
The most channels
combined with the best sound quality of any direct box money can buy.
$850 list | $800 street