A blend of DI and mic’d cabinet is a great recipe for an even-tempered and well-defined bass tone. The cabinet captures the room reflections, what is often referred to as “character” – it is the air in your sound that adds personality to the bass track.
Many bass players are content with recording direct to the board or through a DI, and consider the mic’d cabinet to be optional. Others who own an amp head and cab think of it as an indispensable part of the “studio chain”.
After all, we pour a lot of thought into the specs and tone color of our amp head and matched cabinet so that it eventually becomes an integral part of our sound.
Novices often get intimidated by the cost and space requirements of the mic’d amp approach. However, you can get heaps of tone from just a tiny tube amp and cab running parallel to a DI, allowing you to get the best of both worlds.
The resulting sound is well worth the relatively modest investment in terms of money and space. When it comes to cabs, less is often more: cabs with only one driver size or type can really help you keep things simple while still producing great results.
Advantages of a cabinet for recording
The DI channel can provide the meat of the tone with the low end, while the main purpose of a cabinet is to blend in some “character”, especially in the mid-range.
For instance, you can pair a 200+ watts head with a 12-inch, 15inch, or even 2×12 cabinet – just avoid mixing and matching driver sizes and types. A single 15” or small unit like the Ampeg Micro 2×10 may even be sufficient in case of limited space.
You can broadly categorize bass cabinets as “vintage” and “hi-fi” based on tone. Most bassists who seek versatility opt for the hi-fi cabs, especially the modern builds that have a tweeter with an on/off toggle switch.
The advantage of the hi-fi cabs is that you can always tweak them to approximate the old school tones. This is a lot easier than trying to dial in modern and glassy tones on a vintage cabinet, which sometimes isn’t possible.
Another popular option is to get a mid-rich cabinet like the Bag End S15s. This cab provides the mid range with clank and grit without too much presence in the lows, while the DI channel is used to capture the true lows.
Many bassists favor the sound of a tube amp recorded with a flat setting. These tones have a peculiar “oomph” that sounds incredibly great without crowding the low end. This leaves more room to add it in post-production.
Importance of using a DI
While the cabinet is important, the DI also plays a key role in the sound shaping process. You could directly track the bass amp/cab with some success, but the real advantage of adding a DI channel is in the flexibility to re-amp it later if need be.
This will give you more freedom to experiment, and can be a savior if you mess up the amp sound during tracking.
Top cabinets for bass recording
Let’s go over some proven combo-amps and cabs that work well for recording via a mic’d cabinet.
The B15 is unarguably the most widely used recording amp of all time. At 25/30watts (based on the version), it is simple, straightforward, and effective. It has a signature sound that many consider the gold standard of bass. It only has a tiny footprint but offers tons of tone.
The B-15s, or even the B-18s, are ideal for vintage sounding tones. It can be a stellar choice for old school tones and Motown bass. However, it is tiny and generally won’t respond as well to large or medium-sized rooms.
It also may not be the best option for crafting a convincing modern tone or anything that has a huge top end. This tends to rule it out for slap-happy funk or genres that need aggressive and extended tonality like metal or punk.
If you love the Ampeg “character”, the 210AV is a great cabinet to consider. It is an ultra-portable vertical bass cab with a 10” Eminence speaker, delivering 200W@8ohms. A combination of straight DI with a little of the mic’d cabinet blended in can add a lot of Ampeg color and flavor to your tone.
The HDN 1-12″ is a part of Begantino’s High Definition Neo Series. It is a lightweight beast with a neodymium magnet, HDN series tweeter in a lightweight ported cabinet made from Italian Poplar and Baltic birch. The cab weighs 28lbs and has a 98 dB sensitivity and 350W RMS.
The Bergs are famous for their low-end punch and sweet midrange and are extremely popular among fretless and upright bass players. Check out the Forte HDN-210 or HDN-112.
These cabs may not be ideal for rock and metal players, however, unless you stack them for more power and headroom. However, they offer articulate tones with a tight low end and pristine treble and mids.
The 12/6 is the ideal small cab for anyone who needs a clean and transparent unit. The “fEAR” series is not a cab with “off the shelf” parts. It is a custom cab that is specially designed with specific components (like porting, driver, cross over, tuning, etc.) that work optimally in an integrated system.
The tones in this cab will typically exceed the needs of most bass players.
The Eden EX-112 is another lightweight cab with a tuned and ported design. At 300W@30lbs and 16” in height, this cab handles lows really well and though it may be small in size, it is certainly big in versatility.
It has the proprietary “Eden Whizzer” cone (a cone within a cone) that is capable of reasonable power and headroom for more small-to-medium rooms. You can pair it with the Eden TN-226 (225-watts class D amp, 4.7-lbs).
Hartke HyDrive 112B
The Hartke 112B is a single 12” in a small package with a solid 300 watt@ 33lbs without the HF Horn. This 4 ohms cab has a small footprint and tons of efficiency but a relatively narrow frequency response (70Hz to 5kHz).
It has the proprietary HyDrive tech – hybrid aluminum with paper cone – in a ported plywood cabinet. Here’s a tone test of a Hartke TX600 through a Hydrive 112B:
Gallien-Krueger MB 115 combo bass amp
The GK MB115 is a multifunctional solid-state amp with a 12” speaker that can triple up as an amp for recording, rehearsals, and live shows. This USA-made 200W amp has rock-solid construction and can offer a wide range of tones to suit most styles.
The 115 configuration sounds particularly good with fingerstyle playing, and the horn gives it an added layer of versatility. Watch Norm Stockton demo the amp in this official Gallien-Krueger:
Mesa WalkAbout Scout 112
The now discontinued Mesa WalkAbout Scout 112 is highly popular due to its convertible combo/head design. You can unscrew the amp head and use it as a standalone unit.
You can use the mic’d cabinet and/or a DI out from the head in the studio or go from the DI to FOH in a concert and use the combo as a monitor.
The versatile Radiator Combo cabinet offers a nice mix of old school tube and MOSFET tones with a rounded bottom end. It sounds huge and warm and is ultra-portable.
This model was phased out in 2017 but it is still doing the rounds in the used market.
Small practice amps for bass recording
Mic’ing a tiny practice amp is a popular approach for recording. Many of them turn out to sound surprisingly great when mic’d with a bass playing through them.
Although these low wattage amps can come in handy, you generally won’t be able to move a lot of air with them. If you choose one for recording, look for options in the $250+ range for useable tones that’ll mic up well – cheap amps often sound harsh and brittle.
A good is the oldie-but-goodie SWR Baby Blue (II). It mics up well and can double up as a decent stage monitor too. It is light enough to cart around with one hand and still gives you a 12AX7 tube in the preamp that can create some warm and transparent sounds.
This 160W amp has a pair of 8” Celestion drivers, a 5-inch tweeter, and an aural enhancer, great for slap tones.
The EBS Classic Session 30 is another tiny amp with huge tone. Despite the 8-inch speaker, you can mic it to great effect as long as you ensure that there is enough distance between the mic and the grill. At the right distance, generally fairly far, you will be able to eliminate too much bass and rope in the right blend of mids and overtones. You can always add the low-end later in the mixing stage.
The list would be lacking without the mention of the Fender Rumble. The Rumble 200 (1×15) combo is a great gig-worthy amp that can be mic’d to get fat and full tones including for recording. It sounds big and can be doubly handy for rehearsals and jams.
Similarly, the Fender Princeton, though an unconventional choice, can sound well when recorded at low volumes. In either case, you should go direct through the amp and use headphones to monitor the sound.
Best mic for bass cab mic’ing
The uber-dynamic condensers can often conflagrate the low end (not in a good way). If you are gunning for clarity, you may be better off with a simple Shure SM57 or Audix 5. They are very affordable and do a stellar job with the midrange punch without piling on the subs and lows on to the mix.
if you want more air, a Beyerdynamic M88 TG – positioned off center and a few inches away from the grill, is a big step up from the SM57. You can adjust the angle and distance until you find the sweet spot for desired resonance at the volume you are playing at.
The Sennheiser MD409 or MD421 are also excellent choices. The MD409 was an amazing mic with a revered flat response that was used on everything from cellos to vocals (David Gilmour and Roger Waters). It was discontinued a decade ago but you might find one in the used market.
Mic’ing parameters will vary based on the size of your cab and its speaker cone. For the larger cabs, you will need to experiment with distance and placement to get the right sound. The general recommendation for a full-range cabinet is to use a large diaphragm and place it 3 feet away from a 2-way cab and then adjust to taste.
Among other favorites, rock and blues bass players have had great success with the Electro-Voice EV RE20. For jazz, you can select a responsive large diaphragm condenser. The Neumann U-87 or U-47 sound great for mellow tones. The Sennheiser MD-421 and AKG D12 are also common choices.
Tips for DI + amp bass recording
Nowadays, you’ll see a DI Out in every modern-day bass amp. This allows you to switch between pre/post EQ to cherry-pick how much amp character you want to blend into your recordings. If not, you can just record the clean signal, a nice option to have.
One thing you can do is to DI the bass and mic the amp. Use two separate tracks to record them and then blend them as you see fit. Generally, you can dial in the lows that the amp lacks in the DI track and the character that the DI lacks from the amp track.
For instance, one track is the line from the amp head and the second track is a cab mic’d with a Shure SM57. You can start with the mic blend of 25/75 and tweak to 50/50 max to find your tone.
An unsullied DI track that is clean and transparent is the best place to start if you are going the re-amping route. You can also run it through plug-ins, tube preamps, and DAW plug-ins nowadays.
Cab-free approach to bass recording
While discussing bass cabinets and mics, let us not forget that a lion’s share of pop music bass recorded tracks are solely recorded with a DI. The advent of DAWs has eliminated the need for an amp/cab in recording studios to a great extent. These allow you to use emulators via plugins/effects to get the tone you want.
In many modern scenarios, bass players choose to record directly to interface/DAW because it’s the easiest and most flexible option for tone shaping in professional post-production. Often times, the bass amp DI just won’t cut it as it may sound noisy and not clear enough for a professional studio recording.
Even an amp head like the Ampeg PF500 can get noisy and may suffer from the 60 cycle hum (aka Mains hum) when using the amp’s DI with the post EQ setting. This is why professional session bassists generally carry a basic passive DI with them at all times.
If you own an expensive or high-quality bass, you’ll want the natural sound of your bass to be reproduced as accurately as possible. A quality DI like Rupert Neve (RNDI), REDDI, Radial JDI, or a workhorse like Countryman85 can get the job done.
Featured image: “Josh getting down on that Bass!” (CC BY 2.0) by Pinnacle_College
(2) “Recording Made Easy-03022013_02” (CC BY 2.0) by SpokaneFocus
(3) “IMG_0304.JPG” (CC BY 2.0) by Jason Lander
(4) “FMR Audio RNC 1773” (CC BY 2.0) by 6SN7