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Direct injection of a signal means that a microphone is bypassed, and the electric instrument is plugged directly into the console, microphone preamp, or recording device. It's used to capture the pure sound of the instrument which isn't always desirable, and to eliminate the need for an additional microphone, making the session setup faster. There are a couple of other good reasons why a direct box is used though. The so called DI box matches the impedance of the mic preamp to the instrument. So, that the high frequency response isn't rolled off. It also provides ground isolation to eliminate any straight hum that might occur.
There are two basic types of direct boxes. Active which provides gain and therefore needs electronics requiring a battery, AC or phantom power. And Passive, which has no gain, doesn't require a power. The Active box like the Countryman Type 85 sometimes has enough gain to be able to actually replace the mic preamp and connect directly to a storage device like a tape machine or DAW. Passive direct boxes are generally a lot cheaper than the active units. But the cheaper they are, the more the low frequency response usually suffers, which is not the best thing for bass recording.
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