Tech 21’s SansAmp has been around for many years and has gained quite a reputation. Let’s take a closer look at this classic EQ, tube emulator and DI box.
As the name implies ‘Sans Amp’ – or without amp – the Bass Driver DI was designed for bass players who ditch the rigs and go directly from their pedal board to FOH (Front of House).
3 Main Uses
1) The SansAmp Bass Driver is a preamp/EQ pedal with basic BASS and TREBLE controls that can boost or cut the respective frequency bands.
2) It is also does tube circuit and speaker emulation with dedicated DRIVE and PRESENCE controls as well as a BLEND knob that allows you to balance the amount of emulation you want to add to your dry signal. You can go from anywhere to a very gentle touch of tube to 100% all in, totally eliminating your dry signal.
3) Finally, it’s also a powerful DI device with phantom and ground connect functionality that allows you to send a line signal from the XLR output to the FOH engineer. You can even choose for both the jack output and the XLR out whether they should send line or instrument level signals. And finally, you also get a Parallel out on a jack connector if you want to run a clean signal to your amp, but a signal with speaker and tube simulation to the FOH.
Before listening to the pedal, let’s go over the knobs as the layout/design can be a little confusing.
The first thing that is essential to understand is that the TREBLE, BASS and LEVEL controls are fully functional at all times, while the DRIVE and PRESENCE knobs only affect the sound as the BLEND knob is being turned up.
Since the order of the knobs doesn’t really reflect this, it can be a little confusing at first, but once you get your head around this, it’s not a big deal at all.
So… Let’s listen to the SansAmp Bass Driver DI. Overall, I think that the tube emulation is somewhat overwhelming. Should be mentioned that I have never been a fanatic tube amp fan, which may have something to do with how I perceive the tone post-tube-emulation. At least this was the case when I tried out some of the suggested sample settings Tech 21 provide in the manual.
That said, I think you can really create some great tones with this effect pedal. To me, the best results came when only gently blending in the Drive and Presence controls of the tube-emulating circuit.
For this review, I simply chose to create 5 different tones and record each of them with a DRY example first, so you can get an idea of the raw sound of the instrument without effect. Then, the same bass line played with the SansAmp Bass Driver kicked in.
NOTE! Please use headphones or ‘real’ speakers. You simply can’t judge low-end material on laptop, tablet or phone speakers…!
NOTE! If you are on a mobile device, please turn it to landscape mode to see the knob settings of the pedal for each audio clip.
The SansAmp Bass Driver DI is very versatile, no doubt about that. The possible applications are almost endless and it can be used in a very wide variety of genres and playing styles. I think that in all of the above sound examples, the Bass Driver adds something nice to the tone. However, I also like the dry tones most of the time, so the keyword here is probably ‘different’. It adds something ‘different’ to the core tone, and sometimes ‘different’ is good – maybe exactly what you need!
I must admit that I am not so much a rock player and I almost never play with a pick, but on that particular clip, I really like what the Bass Driver does to the tone and I would prefer that over the dry tone.
I also have to admit that the setting I have been using the most is the last one where the pedal is set as neutral as possible. Yet – as you can hear in the example – it definitely adds some sparkle to the tone, and I have been using it like that for slap parts as an alternative to for example a BBE Sonic Stomp or an Aphex Bass Xciter.
The build quality is extremely good. I have never had an issue with it and it has lived on my board on and off for almost a decade by now.
The footswitch is one of those ‘clickless’ types, which I have no strong opinion – good or bad – about. It works fine, and that is what counts at the end of the day.
The knobs feel nice and firm, and the clear yellow markers are easy to see even on a semi-dark stage.
As mentioned the knob layout/design is somewhat illogical and it would have been nice to gather the Level/Bass/Treble and Blend/Presence/Drive knobs in separate sections which might have made it more clear what is being applied when. That said, once you decode it (and it’s not that complex, it’s really not that much of an issue).
Today (March 2015), you can pick up a new Bass Driver DI for a little less than $200. Not dirt cheap, but not unreasonable either. If you need the DI functionality and have it handle multiple purposes simultaneously, the value is very good. If all you need is some basic tone-shaping, you really have to love the character of this particular pedal – but the tube emulation may very well be exactly that.
Even though I have been using the Bass Driver DI as a very subtle supplement to my tone, I value the pedal highly. Knowing that nice, gritty tube sound is just a knob turn away is great, and if the DI out on my amp should fail, I know a high-quality DI is sitting right on the pedal board.
Doubles as a DI
Knob layout/design a bit confusing
‘Preset’ settings in manual too extreme (to my taste)