GILES AUDIO VD-1
This DI is one of the heaviest, best sounding and least portable on the market.
Text: Calum Orr
For those of you unfamiliar with the name Giles Audio, its owner, Ross Giles, is a boutique audio circuit designer and builder from Melbourne. Ross’s mic pres can be found in several studios around Australia, the sonic signatures of which are revered by their loyal owners who often refer to them as being ‘just the ticket’ for vocals that need a quiet signal path featuring loads of ‘iron’ and headroom. Ross also does repairs, modifications and racking of vintage gear but building his own circuit designs is his passion.
One such design Ross has been refining over the past decade is the unit under scrutiny here: the VD-1 valve DI. Like the Giles Audio mic pre, Ross hand builds the VD-1 to his exacting specifications using quality components that other manufacturers might consider cost prohibitive. Take for instance the optional stepped output control he uses: $70 for a single component!
BANG COSTS BUCKS
The VD-1 is full of components that are included in the design for their sonic values alone rather than their bang-for-buck ratio. Ross carefully tests the tonal signature and reliability of each of these and hand assembles the units himself in his Ashburton workshop using locally manufactured cases, chassis and nickel plating, with the supply of the electronics inevitably being an international affair.
A quick look under the bonnet of the VD-1 immediately reveals Ross’s electronic know-how in all its glory. The unit is beautifully wired and constructed, built to outlast its owner by several decades I’d reckon. Nickel plated surfaces are employed throughout the unit for shielding while the substantial power and output transformers and large 6SN7 output tube conspire to create a unit that’s significantly larger than most standard DI designs. Weighing in at around 7kg (heavy for a single channel DI), the VD-1 isn’t exactly a ‘handy’ gigging tool, though it would certainly help you blow the competition off stage with its solid tone. Instead, the conspicuous red-anodised unit will more likely find its way into control rooms and tracking spaces to capture whatever synths, basses, electric or acoustic guitars you throw at it.
FRONT TO BACK
The front panel of the VD-1 is a basic affair, as you might expect from a DI regardless of its price tag. Sparsely populating the 3RU faceplate are 1/4-inch instrument and amp link jacks, an earth lift switch, a balanced XLR output socket and a largish output attenuator. Yet more space adorns the back panel; where a built-in power cord and fuse housing are all to be seen. The only other physical attribute worth mentioning is the venting on the unit’s top and bottom panels that enable simple convection to keep the VD-1 from overheating.
Cutting to the chase, the sound of the VD-1 is very honest. While it won’t necessarily turn thin or weak sounding instruments into gold, if your sound source is already killer, it will deliver that signal to the output in all its glory with a deeper, more harmonically enriched and fulfilling sound. Putting my basses and guitars through the VD-1 immediately imparted a thicker, more full-bodied tone than other DIs I own. Bass guitar in particular seemed to be the VD-1’s favourite instrument, followed a close second by electrics, which were similarly improved by an injection of tubey tone and clarity. My Native Instruments Guitar Combos plug-in has never sounded so good after my guitar was DI’d through the VD-1! It also helped bolster the weedy tone from an average Telecaster copy of mine and made a Novation bass station synth come alive. In the two months I’ve had the VD-1 it has become an indispensable tool in my studio and I constantly find myself turning to it over other DIs I have at my fingertips.
The VD-1 is surprisingly quiet for a tube design and I found its response to dynamics very good, considering its topology. I’m used to solid state or transformer designs that tightly track a player’s nuances and was concerned the tubes may blur the signal or be slow to react to the detail of a performance, but it wasn’t the case. The VD-1 tracked the input signal with precision, allowing the nuances of the playing to really shine through.
PARTING SUCH SWEET SORROW
Having lived with the VD-1 for a couple of months now, I’ve come to rely on its smooth tone and the gentle way it rolls off above 12k without losing midrange clarity. I’m now in the less-than-enviable position of having to give it back after getting to know all the good things it can do for me… which inevitably brings me to the price. At $1500, the VD-1 is the most expensive Australian DI per channel I know of. With other DIs like the Avalon U5, at just over a grand, and the top of the line Radial or Smart DIs coming in well under that, the VD-1 certainly has formidable competition. However, a great DI is as important as a top mic pre so I can see the reasoning behind owning something hand built that features quality components. If you’re in the market for a hand-wired, harmonically enhancing DI that will probably outlive you, look no further.