Audio / Tips and Solutions

The Patchbay: The Unsung Hero of the Studio

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There are so many items deemed a necessity in setting up and operating a studio. From high-quality audio interfaces to dynamic and time-based signal processing, your studio is an ever-evolving eco-system. The patchbay is a ubiquitous piece of hardware that many project studio owners don’t think they need, but then discover how incredibly helpful it can be. The carefully designed implementation of a patchbay can save you time and frustration when adding gear or changing the signal flow of your equipment. If you’ve ever had to crawl around the rear of your rack case or mixer setup to change the wiring or add new gear to your setup, then you are a candidate for a patchbay. Once set up, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

Patchbays come in a variety of sizes and formats. There are audio patchbays, video patchbays, and audio/video patchbays. You’ll find balanced and unbalanced units with a variety of connectors including ¼" (TRS & TS), RCA, XLR, and TT. Most commercial recording studios typically use Tiny-Telephone (TT) or Bantam patchbays, which offer 96 points (two rows of 48 channels) and will have every conceivable input and output wired to and from, creating the nerve center of the studio. TT patchbays are expensive and may be beyond the budget of most project or home-based studios. Most TT patch bays require soldering or may offer DB25 connectors but, again, are very pricey. Thankfully, there are several ¼" patchbays available at a much more reasonable cost that serve the same purpose as the TT, but top out at 48 points (two rows of 24 channels). There are ¼" patchbays that also offer solder posts, but implementing them is still quite the endeavor.

Switchcraft MMVP Series Micro 96 Ports Video Patchbay

Setting Up Your Patchbay

There are four modes found on patchbays, which include Normal, Half-Normal, Parallel, and Series. How you intend to route the signal will determine which mode is best for your application. For Normal, Half-Normal, and Parallel, you would typically connect the output of a device to the top row on the rear of the patchbay, while the inputs to a device or destination are connected to the rear bottom row. This provides an internal connection that passes the signal without the need for a patch cable.

Half-Normal

Signal is flowing from the rear top row to the rear bottom row. From the front of the panel, if you were to insert a patch cable into the top input, the signal would still be sent to the bottom row. This effectively creates a two-way multiplier (Mult), where one signal is sent to two destinations simultaneously. This is handy for A/B’ing different effects processors from the same aux send, or for creating a parallel processing scheme where you want to keep the unprocessed and processed signals separated. Only by patching a cable into the front bottom input would the connection be broken. If your patchbay is not easily configurable, then Half-Normal is the most flexible mode to use.

Normal (a.k.a. Full Normal)

Just like Half-Normal, the signal is routed from the rear top to the rear bottom. However, if you were to patch a cable into the front top, the signal to the bottom is cut. This mode is typically used for connecting microphones to preamplifiers, many of which are using phantom power. You wouldn’t want to change the impedance or power output by splitting the signal to two different destinations.

Parallel

Like Normal and Half-Normal, Parallel takes its input from the rear top input and connects to the rear bottom output. However, the front panel connections offer additional outputs without signal interruption. This allows a single output to be routed to three destinations simultaneously. You could also create a “Mult” by connecting the rear bottom row to another rear top input. This method allows for a single signal to be routed to multiple destinations simultaneously.

Open

This mode is also known as “Non-Normaled” or “Series” and is typically used for signal processors that are not wired to any other input or output. For Series, you’d typically have your inputs connected to the top row and the outputs connected to the bottom row. This mode essentially is a direct connection to the inputs and outputs of the device from the front of the panel. To use, you’d simply route signal from your source to the front top and patch the bottom front output to a destination.

B&H offers a variety of patchbays to suit your needs. If you are looking for the greatest number of patch points in a small footprint, then TT-Patchbays is the way to go. Here you’ll find the commercial studio industry-standard 96-point patchbays. Most are soldered versions, but there are Punch Block and DB25, which are a little more expensive, but can easily be implemented with readily available cable harnesses. There are a variety of ¼" Patchbays readily available, including the affordable Neutrik Modular 48-Point, which ships in a half-normal configuration, but can easily be switched by flipping the internal cards allocated for each channel. Hosa makes the MHB-350 miniature patchbay with four channels or 8 patch points. Each micro-module can be combined with three additional modules and mounted in a rackmount frame to make a full-featured patchbay that can grow with your studio.

Hosa Technology MHB-350 Patch Module

You’ll want to purchase some patch cables to make your connections. For simple, inexpensive patching, check out Hosa Stereo Patchbay Cables, which are molded 18" cables that come with a lifetime warranty. If you’d prefer higher-quality patch cables, check out these ¼" Patch Cables from Canare, Mogami, Neutrik, and Pro Co Sound. For inexpensive TT patch cables, Hosa TT Bantam cables come in a set of eight, offer a lifetime warranty, and are color coded to help keep you organized. For higher-quality TT-Patch Cables, check out some of these offering from Neutrik, Pro Co Sound, and Switchcraft.

Pro Co Sound ShowSavers Neutrik Tiny Tip Male to Neutrik Tiny Tip Male Cable

These are the basic virtues of working with a patchbay. Hopefully, the information will help demystify the different modes and will help you make sense of the setup and operation of any patchbay. Again, if you ever find yourself reaching around the back of your equipment rack to re-patch or add additional gear to your setup, do yourself a favor and invest in this simple, yet flexible utility.

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