Few pieces of gear prove themselves indispensable to every session — something you’d pick to put first in your bag when you travel, that you can truly call “must-have”. The Passive Link, “made in an Australian shed” by Broadcast Pro Audio, is essentially a passive re-amp box, allowing you to easily interface the world of balanced line level signals with the unbalanced parallel universe of stompboxes and amplifiers; and it’s designed specifically to help provide guitar amps with the correct input impedance. The Passive Link’s simple feature set is so smartly designed that you’ll find yourself looking for ways to use it for all sorts of applications. It’s wormed its way into my life so much so that I can’t imagine doing a session without it in use somewhere on something.

About the size of a guitar stompbox, the Passive Link has two XLR line inputs, male and female in parallel; two unbalanced female 1/4’’ outs; a ground lift switch; and two solid, easily adjusted, great feeling pots with crow’s head knobs for volume and tone. The build is exceptionally sturdy and I can’t imagine what could ever possibly damage this thing — even the exposed knobs. The two XLR inputs are genius, meaning that you’ll never have to find a turnaround, especially helpful when you’re re-amping into an iso room that only has a patch panel for mic inputs.

Sounds so simple, you’d figure that more devices would have this functionality; in practical use, this translated into less wasted time from “we should re-amp that track” to “what’s next.” The knobs on top make complete sense as well. Re-amping can be primarily about setting the correct level to the amp, and having quick and easy access to the volume knob means less immediate hassle and quicker visual confirmation of settings. I’ve always hated the recessed volume pot on the ubiquitous Reamp box ( Tape Op #20), which never made a lick of sense to me. Having to pick it up to see how it’s set? Re-amping is a fluid process that changes with each application. It’s rarely a set-it-and-forget-it scenario.

The tone knob is a passive (natch) treble boost and cut, and it sounds fantastic — again, a thoughtful addition that proved its worth day in and day out. It’s musical and useful in helping add a bit of shape to re-amp signals, especially with older amps that don’t have much tone control. There’s more than a bit of magic in this box; it sounds great, and it’s extremely robust and musical.

Outside of straight re-amping of line-level signals to guitar amps, the Passive Link was perfect for interfacing the patchbay with my Echoplex, stompboxes, and especially a Space Echo that showed up with a particularly finicky input that just wanted to distort on everything. I also used the Passive Link’s two outputs to send to a pair of phasers for some killer stereo nonsense on keys. Always integrating easily and simply. No muss no fuss. Simply killer.

The application where the Passive Link just shone in my studio was in providing me with a way to track guitars with the player in my control room and the amps in my iso room. Not that far away physically but with a cable run of a 100 ft when using the patchbay, getting unbalanced signal into the iso room had always been an issue. Usually I’d either just go the shorter route and run a long unbalanced cable out the door from the control room to the iso, but in some cases, I’d just try and go into the 100 ft run through the patchbay. Neither was a good solution and both involved using some kind of level booster pedal or unsightly cable running under doors, which made me crazy and messed up the tone.

What I wound up doing was running guitars into the unbalanced input of a Great River ME-1NV mic preamp that I love using as a DI, and sending that output to the Passive Link. With this setup, I could run the ME-1NV gain-staged very neutral and the Passive Link with both knobs at noon, and it was hard to tell the difference between the guitar plugged directly into the amp or down this long cable run. The best part was that I could actually saturate the transformers in the ME-1NV and send a super hot overdriven signal to the Passive Link and use the level and tone controls to shape the signal to the amps. This made it super fun dialing in really lovely harmonic overtones. We used this setup for a record that I was working on for guitarist/songwriter Neal Casal that had layers and layers of ambient guitar washes, and we were able to keep amp noise really low with nary a buzz.

On a basic tracking session for the band Vetiver at Water Music in Hoboken, the Passive Link was used running bass to two amps, grand piano to a Roland JC-120, and long cable runs for pedal steel. Cries from engineer Sean Kelly and me of “where’s that green box?” became common. I was so happy that I had thrown the Passive Link into my carry-on. In a studio with plenty of gear to handle every situation, it got used every single day.

I want two of them — no three, at least. A problem-solver box built like a tank; full-on kick-ass sounding; and now an integral part of my every session. ($239 AUD including GST; for sales outside Australia, contact the manufacturer for a price quote; www.broadcastproaudio.com)

–Thom Monahan <thom.mn@gmail.com>

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

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