Patchbays are often the source of confusion for the aspiring sound engineer. Some even wonder what the function the patchbay is in a studio. The different types of patchbays available (analog or digital, ordinary ¼ inch, longframe ¼ inch, bantam 3/8 inch…) and their configuration (normalized, semi normalized or not normalized) adds to the confusion. This is somewhat ironic considering patchbays are really there to make the sound engineers’ work easier. Patchbays allow the audio connections from all the gear in the studio to be conveniently located and easily accessible to the engineer. In addition, all connections are done with the same type of connector so that solves the need for adapters and because the connections are all centralized at the patchbay, cable length is no longer an issue when connecting equipment that is physically distant one from the other. In Part 1 I looked at the tell tale signs that your setup needs a patchbay, I looked at the costs, the advantages and disadvantages of setting up a professional or semi-professional patchbay. Here in Part 2 I’ll go through some tips and advice you might need if you are planning on adding a patchbay to your setup.
Which connections on the patchbay should be normalized and which connections should not be normalized?
As the term normalized implies, all the connections that you ‘normally’ use should be normalized on the patchbay. This means that during ‘normal’ studio operation you do not need to patch a single cord. Your synths and other sound sources for examples should be normalized to their usual console input channel. The mixer “insert sends” should be normalized to your usual compressors (for example) and those compressors normalized back to the mixer “insert returns”. In a recording studio the mixing console “direct outs” should be normalized to the recorder inputs. Alternatively the subgroup or bus outs can be normalized to the recorder inputs. Following the same logic, the recorder outputs should be normalized to the mixer “tape returns”. Your auxiliary sends should be normalized to your preferred reverb effects as well as to the headphone amplifier you use for the musicians in the studio. The mixer’s “control room out” should be normalized to your monitor speakers (via the amplifier of course), the stereo output of the mixer should be normalized to a stereo recorder. Of course all of these patchpoints will probably require more than one patchbay, especially if you have a large mixer and plenty of outboard gear, so you will probably bust the budget included in the first part of this article.
Here are some examples of what to normalize on a patchbay:
- Sound sources -> mixer inputs
- Mixer auxiliary sends -> outboard effects module inputs (ex: reverb/delay)
- Mixer auxiliary sends -> headphone amplifier input
- Outboard effects module outputs (ex: reverb/delay) -> mixer auxiliary returns
- Mixer insert sends -> dynamic processor inputs (ex: compressor/gate)
- Dynamic processor output (ex: compressor/gate) -> mixer insert returns
- Mixer direct outputs -> multitrack recorder inputs (ex: soundcard/interface)
- Multitrack recorder outputs (ex: soundcard/interface) -> mixer tape returns
- Mixer control room outputs -> amplified monitor inputs
Draw it out first
You need to plan out your patchbay layout. Using a spreadsheet software can help get you organized and anticipate the various cable length you need before you actually start patching anything. Look at your workflow, start at the beginning and work your way to the end. For example, in a typical recording studio that would be from the console inputs to the main stereo out via the insert points, aux sends and returns, tape sends and returns. Start at the top left of the patchbay and work your way to the bottom right if you have many patchbays.
Split patchbay arrangement
Depending on the physical layout of the studio, using more than one patchbay may make more sense. For example, in addition to your main patchbay near the mixer, you might have a few keyboards in one corner of the room that could warrant their own patchbay. If this is what you are opting for then you might want to consider having a few links (called tie lines) between the two patchbays so you can easily route your keyboards to the mixer inputs via the main patchbay or send a signal from the mixer to the keyboards (for a vocoder or a headphone mix…). It would be silly to have two patchbays in the studio but still have to run long cables through the studio when you need to link them.
Patchbays are supposed to be self-cleaning, that means that you do not need any particular products to clean it. Once the patchcord is inserted in the bay, a simple twist (clockwise and counterclockwise) of the patchcord connector should be enough to keep the contacts clean. Using cleaning products can actually erode the chrome plating on the A-gauge connectors and wear the contacts inside the patchbay. Keeping your patchbay away from dust is probably a better option that trying to clean it. If the patchbay is vertically positioned in a rack it will gather less dust than if it is horizontally positioned (like on the patchbays on the side of a console) where the patchbay sockets are just waiting for dust to fall into them.
The vertically positioned patchbay will gather less dust than if it is positioned horizontally.
Spending some time configuring your patchbay is an investment as the bay is there to facilitate your work, increasing your workflow, encouraging you to use the gear you have already invested in. Once the patchbay is setup, you can spend more time doing what you really enjoy doing, whether it be recording, composing, mixing or designing sounds. You can use the creative (right) side of your brain and let the inspiration flow more easily if you minimize (or eliminate) the technical tasks that use the left side of the brain. Those technical tasks (like running behind a mixer to plug in a keyboard with a cable that is too short) interrupt the creative process and kill the inspirational moments we all cherish.
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