Passive is going to rely heavily on what preamp you plug it into, I use the Radial JDI exclusively for this task (Jensen transformer) and can plug into a character or clean preamp after it to taste. If you have a collection of preamps to choose from, you may want to lean this way.
Active DI's I've always been a fan of the Safe Sound Audio P1 on the clean side. Bass guitar in particular is so big and clear, and that dynamics section just rocks for bass tracking and mixing.
The DI in the Chameleon Labs 7602 is excellent stuff, smooth with a nice midrange detail and even low end response. Having that EQ on board makes it another popular choice for me as I can carve things up on the way end and make mixing easier.
REDDI is of course a choice in the tube / transformer offering. I find it typically does require additional makeup gain from another preamp after it in many cases.
When Phoenix Audio UK gets their act together the Nice DI is a great choice. Another advantage to that one is it is stereo and has the same output section as their preamps and summing mixers, and simply running other line level things through it = sweetening effect.
I love the active Radial. I can never get the names straight on those Radials. But I'll tell you, the active Radial will take anything and give you a clean signal. I used to have issues with active 5 string basses. Not my thing anyway, but couple that with that crappy choking sound that happens with those and... it's bass hell.
The active Radial? Perfect. Not colored, but it gives you a sound completely devoid of any crap. Funk it up later to your liking. But that's just me.
If you can swing it, the Manley Voxbox is the best sounding, most versatile DI I've ever used. The Avalon 737SP is pretty nice too. I have a a couple of Avalon U5s which sound good and are clean, but I like the options the Voxbox and the 737SP offer in terms of EQ and compression.
Right, the J48. Wonderful, bulletproof utility box. Oh, and by the way, just 'cause the J48 doesn't add that magic "color" everybody loves going on about does not prevent you from running intom the mic pre of your choice.
For me, I want my DI to be just that, a direct injection. You've got plenty of options post DI. I mean, they do put out at mic level, right? And you've got all those character machines (mic pres of all flavors) laying around...
A little rant. Passive Guitars and Basses love the Hi Impedance of a good DI. The Countryman is 11 Million Ohms. Nearly all DI's have a simple parallel in and out. So.... if you connect a tuner in line or to the output socket it shunts the load down to say 50K. A disaster sound -wise.
The old Boss DB1 offers an unbalanced buffered output. This is an excellent addition. However inserting the 20 or 40 dB pad again shunts the input impedance, again ruining the sound.
My perfect DI should have:-
Hi-Z input 10M or so.
A pad that does not change the input Z.
An optional or extra buffered output to drive tuners, pedals etc.
A top grade transformer output.
Strangely I have not found any such product.
In answer to the original question, here are my favourites.
EMO passive. Excellent transformer, sweet sound.
Countryman FET 85. Active, bulletproof, impeccable sound, a little punchy.
Boss DB1. Maybe obsolete. Neutral, no sound, unbalanced output option.
BSS AR133, the newer green ones are superb. The old grey ones were awful.
I am reliably informed that the LittleLabs IBP is a great active DI.
The Behringer active DI crops up everywhere. It is the single worst sounding piece of equipment I have ever come across.
I didn't know which one to choose so I just purchased a JDI and a J48 (and an x-amp)... Is there really a need for both of these, I basically just want to record the cleanest basses and guitars (both with active or passive pick-ups). I really do not care about synths, so these are out of the equation.
I always argue, kill two birds with one stone. Buy nice pre-amps that have very good DI inputs, and have both a good DI and a good pre-amp in one. The ones I've owned so far (LA-610, Great River, A-Designs P-1) all are really nice for DI'ing in guitar and bass, and they are great mic pre-amps also. When funds are limited, it's not a bad idea to get twice, twice the bang for the buck.
Millennia TD-1. It's an awesome piece, swiss army knife, HV-3 mic pre, twin topology (Tube/solid state on the DI), reamp, phenomenal EQ, multiple outputs of many varieties, and the best DI I've ever used.
try these - there cheap and they fit in your pocket. Use that Iron in your fav pre
Avenson Audio Small DI Details This phantom powered active DI is the perfect instrument interface. It transparently passes the sound of your instrument to the preamp without adding its own sound. The Small DI has a very high impedance input FET buffer inside designed for wide bandwidth and clean reproduction. The buffer circuit runs on +48V phantom power and is unity gain.
One of the best features of the Small DI is that it comes before the preamp, so that your input signal uses all the electronics of the preamp. The Small DI is also the perfect accessory for microphone preamps that don't have a DI. Its also great for preamps that put the DI input in an inconvenient place like the back!
It's not much bigger than an XLR connecter and at only 3.25" long it fits anywhere unobtrusively. The red LED tells you when phantom is turned on making last minute troubleshooting easier.
This bypasses the input transformer so it doesn't sound as good
Not always. The Great River routes the DI input through the transformer. It has a great transformer saturation effect that also acts as a kind of natural compression in a way.
The Hi-Z or Direct Injection (DI) jack presents approximately 1.2 megohm impedance and utilizes
a unique FET/Bipolar buffer amplifier to drive the input transformer. This presents the proper
input load to an instrument, yet allows tonal shaping by changing the load on the input buffer
Lee, the active Radial is either the J48 (phantom powered) or their top of the line JV3 (has its own power supply).
The top-of-the-line active Radial DI is actually called the JDV Mk3.. and it is indeed worthy of high praise. I have one... and every time I plug something into it, I am in awe of it's pure, clean, un-coloured sound and breathtaking detail.
It's not cheap though... I was lucky to find a used one on eBay for a good price. Worth every penny and then some.