It's a nice story. A few years ago Planet Waves was a modestly successful company that made good-looking guitar straps. Then the J. D'Addario string company acquired it. Instead of being chewed up and spit out by the bigger company, Planet Waves was nurtured and encouraged to branch out into the world of cables, connectors, adapters, and instrument accessories. Now, just a few short years later, Planet Waves has come out with a line of some of the most innovative and useful studio-related items around.

Probably the biggest of these many innovations is Planet Waves' patented spring- compression system on 1/4", RCA, and bantam TT plugs. Basically, these plugs have small gold-plated strips protruding slightly from the sleeve's barrel. When plugged in, the strips put pressure on the inside of the jack, ensuring a good strong audio connection, and decreasing the chance of accidentally unplugging. Brilliant idea, and it really works. Hard to believe no one's ever thought of it before.

Another great idea is the Circuit Breaker Instrument Cable. This is a high-end, super- shielded cable with the aforementioned compression springs on each 1/4" plug. One of the plugs has a little semi-recessed button that shorts out the signal. The idea is that the plug with the button goes into your guitar and allows you to "turn off" the cable before unplugging, therefore circumventing that unpleasantly familiar loud thump or howl. It bears mentioning that all of Planet Waves' plugs have a contoured, ergonomic shape to them that inspires confidence when plugging in or removing.

Yet another cool plug concept is the patent-pending Swivel XLR plug. Imagine an XLR plug that you could bend to a 45-degree angle in both directions. This arrangement gives you the ability to fit an XLR plug into tight spaces, and also provides an extra element of strain relief. Very handy and cool.

Planet Waves' RCA Cable Kit contains 12 ft of oxygen-free, double-shielded cable, plus twelve gold-plated RCA plugs (yep, equipped with those nifty compression springs). These plugs are solderless; you can easily make an RCA cable of any desired length by simply cutting the cable, slipping on the RCA plug, and tightening a small screw until it stops. This may sound a little chintzy, but it's not. The plugs and cable are engineered to exact specifications so the screw-connection works extremely well. I made a few of these cables up and handled them roughly-plugging, unplugging, pulling on the plug, bending the spot where the cable meets the plug, etc.-and I could not make them fail. I personally hate dealing with RCA plugs in a studio environment; all the pre-made ones are really cheapo and sound bad, so you're kind of forced to make your own. But the conventional plugs are hard to solder and are prone to intermittence, etc. Still, RCA connections are a necessary evil, and this RCA Cable Kit is incredibly easy to use and a real time-saver.

The above are just a few of the many products that Planet Waves has recently come out with. They've also got adaptors of all sorts, a nifty combo cable cutter/tester, digital and MIDI cables, and yes, guitar straps. Lots of helpful stuff, very often presented with a welcome new twist.

I've only got a couple of minor quibbles with Planet Waves' product line. One is that items lean toward the expensive side; fifty bucks for a quality mic cable is not unheard of, but you might think twice if you needed to pick up ten of them. The other quibble ties into the pricing, and that is the overly-deluxe packaging. Each item comes in a colorful glossy cardboard encasement that seems unnecessarily complex (the cables took me a while to wrangle out) and wasteful. Some items have a fancy plastic 3-D badge glued to the packaging. It's all very eye-catching, but kind of an ecological bummer. And it makes you wonder how much of the retail price is tied up in the fancy packaging. [Planet Waves explains that this new packaging is mostly cardboard, which they feel is much more ecologically sound than the poly bags or blister packs that other companies use. Apparently, D'Addario was the first company to introduce environmentally-friendly paper packaging for strings, and they're making efforts to bring that philosophy over to the PW's line. -AH]

Still, none of these issues takes away from the pro quality of Planet Waves products. These babies perform flawlessly, sound great, and really are built to last. And they come with a lifetime guarantee. If a cable ever fails, you can just bring it back to the store (or mail it to Planet Waves) for a quick replacement. Not too shabby for a little operation that's less than a decade old.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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