Sonic Farm 2DI4 Pentode Direct Box

Sonic Farm 2DI4 Pentode Direct Box
B Y PA U L V N U K J R .
Sonic Farm was founded in 2009 in
Vancouver, BC, Canada. The company is
owned and run by lifelong friends Zoran
Todorovic and Boris Drazic, who met in
1966 when they formed their first band in
their home country, then known as
Sonic Farm’s modus operandi is, “To
come up with pro audio equipment that the
market is not saturated with”—in other
words, no clones of famous gear of yesteryear. Their philosophy is, “To do whatever
gets the right tone.” As such they don’t
care if they use tubes, transistors, IC chips,
or op amps, as long as it sounds good!
Currently the company’s line consists of
five units: The Creamer and Creamer Plus
2-channel tube preamps; the Creamliner 2-
Sonic Farm 2DI4 Pentode Direct Box
Think DI boxes are boring? Think again...
channel tube/transformer line-level signal
conditioner; the brand-new Silkworm 500
Series preamp; and the item we are looking at today, the 2DI4 Pentode Direct Box.
To die four
The 2DI4 is a single-channel Direct Box
that uses a class-A circuit built around an
EF86 pentode tube; this is followed by a
solid-state buffer and an output which is
either transformer- or op amp-balanced
(more below). While a simple and direct
circuit design, the 2DI4 has a healthy number of tone-shaping tricks up its sleeve that
keep it from being just a one-trick pony.
As a DI unit (“Direct Input” or “Direct
Injection”), the 2DI4 is built for portability, complete with a metal carrying handle
on top. The box itself measures roughly
11.5 x 6 x 3.5". It is of all-metal construction and is dressed, like all Sonic
Farm boxes, in a red enamel finish with
black and white accents.
On its rear panel it has a pair of male
XLR outputs; one is a transformer-balanced
DI output and the other is an op amp-balanced standard line output. This allows
you to use the unit as a traditional DI with
a mixing console, a preamp-equipped
desktop interface, or any mic preamp of
your choice, or you can use it on its own
as a line-level front end for recording instruments direct. [Sonic Farm elaborates: “The
DI output’s special Cinemag transformer
brings line-level signals down to mic level
and alters the unit’s output impedance to
that of vintage tube mics... the transformer
also protects the DI circuitry from 48V
phantom power if accidentally turned on
from the mic preamp.”—MM]
Also on the back of the box is a ground
switch, a power switch and a 3-prong
IEC connector for the unit’s internal power
supply (no line lumps or wall-warts here).
Additional I/O is located on the front,
with a 1/4" unbalanced input, and a 1/4"
unbalanced buffered amplifier output for
looping back into your amplifier.
Input, drive and tone
Next to the 1/4" I/O in front are controls
for input, tone and output. Overall, input is
largely handled from the output of your
source, be it guitar, bass, or keyboard, and
it is monitored by a 2-stage signal LED that
lights green when signal is present and red
when the input becomes clipped. On a tube
box, clipping is not always a bad thing!
Additionally, the 2DI4 offers a few ways
to tweak the input signal. There is a 3-position toggle switch that offers a 12 dB cut if
your input is too hot, as well as a Mute setting which is useful when changing instruments or when your instrument is plugged
in but sitting idle between takes. This
switch comes after the tube stage and
before the output buffer.
If you need more gain, there is a gain
button that offers either 5 dB or 9 dB
The 2DI4 can be pushed into a nice
overdriven tone, thanks to its gain boost
and T/P modes. It’s not as drastic as a
tube-based effects pedal, but it can still put
some “hair” on the source.
Excerpted from the July edition of RECORDING Magazine 2013
©2013 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO 80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119
For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326 or
depending on how the next button
labeled T/P is set. “T/P”? Read on...
Triode or Pentode?
T/P stands for Triode or Pentode mode,
and is a setting most often found on tube guitar amps with pentode tubes like the EF86.
Such tubes can be run in Pentode mode,
making full use of the tube, or in Triode mode
(the 12AX7 is a triode tube). In Triode mode,
half of the tube’s power is dispersed and the
tube runs at roughly half power, which gives
the output less volume, but one that is easier
to overdrive. On the 2DI4, Pentode mode
offers 33 dB of gain, while Triode mode is
24 dB. The folks at Sonic Farm note that
pressing the button and changing the tube’s
characteristics will cause a loud thump, so hit
that Mute switch first!
Between the Gain and T/P buttons is a
Tube Heater LED indicator, and this should
be on when the unit is powered up.
Tweak the tone
Next up are a pair of 3-position toggle
switches, labeled LO and HI Boost. These
are gentle shelving eqs set at 300 Hz and
500 Hz for low and 2 kHz and 4 kHz on
the high side. Like all the settings on the
unit, they react differently in Triode and
Pentode modes, and at maximum offer a
4.5 dB boost in Triode and 9 dB in
Pentode, both with 6 dB/octave slope.
If their overall effect is not to your taste,
a pair of recessed trim knobs (only accessible with a miniature screwdriver) can
help to back that down. Also note that
these tonal boosts are only available when
the Gain switch is out; that’s because the
eq boosts are part of the tube stage and
not a separate circuit, so you can either
have broadband boost (Gain) or selective
boost (LO and HI).
Studio and stage
I first became aware of Sonic Farm when
I met Zoran at last year’s San Francisco AES
show, and I have to thank him for giving me
some very extended time with the 2DI4.
Over the last four months I have used the
unit both live and in the studio, on acoustic
steel-string guitars ranging from an entrylevel Dean to a mid-level Takamine up to a
couple of high-end Martins and trio of various Taylors. I have also used it on a bunch
of different Fender basses, a Gretsch hollow-body acoustic bass, and electric guitars
ranging from a Fender Telecaster to a
Japanese Ibanez S Series. Additionally, I
have used it on an electric violin, a Fender
Rhodes electric piano, and a Moog
Voyager analog synthesizer. I list all of these
sources only to show that the 2DI4 plays no
favorites and has a large range of uses.
I will also say that I have found a use
for this box in every studio session I have
done in that time, as well as every live
show I have run sound for. This is no
exaggeration, it’s a simple fact.
Range of sounds
Want another fact? The 2DI4 sounds
incredible! On every source it is a presence booster that adds a nice touch of
“woolliness” to the mids as well as a nice
edge to the top end.
A few months back, in our February
2013 issue, I took a look at another fantastic-sounding tube DI by another
Engineering Firefly. In that review I mentioned that, while it is a tube box, the
Firefly lives on the cleaner side of the tube
spectrum, and it was pretty much impossible to push it into tube overdrive. The 2DI4
is a very different beast; it can be pushed
into a nice overdriven tone, thanks to its
gain boost and T/P modes. It’s not as
drastic as a tube-based effects pedal, but
it can still put some “hair” on the source.
Having said that, the 2DI4 is not an
over-the-top slushy tube warmer either.
When compared to the line input on
another device of mine, the Universal
Audio SOLO/610 (which is darker with
a rounder top end), the 2DI4 is still a nice
clear modern sound. Also, in this comparison it is readily apparent what people mean when they talk about a preamp
being “fast” or “slow”, as the 610’s transient response is pretty sluggish compared to the 2DI4.
On bass I preferred the 2DI4’s Triode
mode, which had the most grit and was
fuller in the low end. On direct acoustic guitar, Pentode is the better choice as it adds
a tad less personality. On electric guitar it
was a tossup and depended on whether I
was trying to capture a dry guitar signal for
later re-amping or whether I was after an inyour-face direct-injected guitar track.
The tone switches add just a hint of top
end and a slight firmness to the bottom,
and their effect gets stronger if you crank
up the trimpots. I also found their effect to
be dependent on how hard the tube
stage was being driven, and very subject
to the input source. Both settings enhance
a sound that is already there rather than
creating what is not there.
With the 2DI4 the folks at Sonic Farm
have done a great job of creating a tone
box that adds a tube personality in very
versatile ways. The 2DI4 avoids the
stereotypical dark muddiness that is often
considered “vintage”, offering both character and clarity in a lovely balance.
The best praise I can give the 2DI4 is to
reiterate that I have used it in every studio
session and live sound gig since it
entered my life. In other words, the 2DI4
really is “to die for”.
Price: $850 Canadian
More from: Sonic Farm,
Excerpted from the July edition of
RECORDING Magazine 2013
©2013 Music Maker Publications, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.
5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119
For Subscription Information,
call: 1-800-582-8326 or
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