By M. Erik Matlock
During my years on the road, working with hundreds of performers, Radial products appeared regularly. I honestly never saw a single one fail, and every Radial product I ever used provided clean, solid signal.
When the Firefly tube direct box arrived for my evaluation, I was greeted with a larger package than expected. It was also surprising to see it painted about the same color as a Caterpillar bulldozer, immediately giving the impression of something powerful. The box feels indestructible, and the controls are logical and well labeled.
In, Out & Around
The Firefly is a high-output DI that combines the company's zero-negative feedback class-A front end with a 12AX7 tube drive circuit and signature transformer coupled output. A and B inputs with easy access controls enable switching between two different instruments while delivering a consistent signal to the PA and onstage amp. Switching can be done via the front panel or with the optional JR2 remote control that connects to the Firefly using a balanced cable. It also adds a mute function for quiet on-stage adjustments.
The rear panel offers the two instrument inputs (1/4-inch) as well as a THRU output for the onstage amp. THRU provides a choice of pre or post tube configuration, with a TRS insert jack enabling external effects to be shared between both inputs. A buffered "always on" tuner output can be used to split the instrument signal or it can be dedicated to an electronic tuner. The tuner output can be used for silent tuning when the JR2 remote is connected.
Housed in a 14-gauge steel enclosure, Firefly measures 1.7 x 5.7 x 8.2 inches (h x w x d), with height increasing to 2.7 inches with the handle. Weight is just under 4 pounds. It can also be rack-mounted alone or in pairs with an optional kit.
The front panel offers two inputs with individual trim controls for adjusting the input level. There's also a "drag" control for passive pickups, adjusting the load settings. And the low-cut knob is a nice touch for cleaning up subharmonics and tightening everything up.
The front panel includes a level knob to control the output, while the rear panel features recessed buttons for phase inversion, ground lift and pre/post for sending the aux out processed or direct.
Through The Paces
My expectations for the Firefly were high. Being a moderately lousy bassist, I already knew what I was going to do with it. Retired from the studio and no longer working live shows for a living, I don’t have million dollar rigs and world-class gear at my disposal, and thus used pretty much the same gear as the average bar band to test the performance of the Firefly.
The first thing I did was drop the manual back in the box. Had to. I love to go as far as possible before cracking the manual open, to see how user friendly and intuitive a piece of gear is. I'm happy to say this one is pretty straightforward.
My bass, an older Fender Squire MB5, has been used on several recording sessions and live shows over the years. Not the best out there, but it has nice action and tone. I inserted the Firefly between the bass and an older VOX amp used for practice. It's no powerhouse but fills up a decent-sized room.
With expectations peaking, I fired up this little rig, and it worked fine but nothing dramatic. I saturated the 12AX7 tube and tried again. Better but not over the top.
I moved along using the Firefly with my small PA, a powered mixer with 15-inch loudspeakers. And wow, things got down to business. I immediately felt the change. The bass was now fat and rich, with the tone thickening up substantially. It felt like I 'd just switched over to a Fender Precision studio bass. The sound was well defined and overall better than ever.
Time for the final test, using the Firefly with my favorite recording studio remnants, a pair of vintage Pioneer HPM-100 four-way reference loudspeakers that I nicknamed the "lie detectors." They were my secret weapon for impressing clients, using them as far-field monitors, mounted on the front wall of my control room. They sound spectacular and can get wicked loud. I find that they regularly expose details and weirdness in tracks that I've been listening to for years.
Well, the old Pioneers approved. The tone and definition were truly impressive. The bass came alive with warmth and detail that I've never able to capture when recording through it. Sold. Radial has raised the bar and impressed me all over again.
Firefly offers plenty of useful features for both live and studio applications. The flexibility in setup, the rich tone and warmth – along with the roadworthy construction – make it a winner. For anyone trying to find that signature sound, this may be just the ticket.
U.S. MSRP: $599.99