Audio Patch Bays

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Like many home studios, Oppenheimer's revolves around a MackieCR-1604 compact mixer (rack-mounted with a Rotopod adapter so thejackfield is situated just below the patch bays) and an Alesis ADAT.This is a powerful and proven duo, but as 1604 owners know, the matchis not exactly made in recording heaven. For example, althoughversatile for its size, the 1604 doesn't have true subgroups or directouts. You can obtain direct outs from a 1604 by plugging halfway in tothe channel inserts, but a better solution is to "break out" the insertpoints onto a patch bay. Breaking out the inserts is accomplished byrunning Y-cables to the back of the patch bay from TRS plugs insertedall the way into the channel inserts. The result is access to both thesends and returns for each channel.Oppenheimer has broken out the inserts for channels 3 through 8. Thesends are then multed to the corresponding ADAT inputs. Note the "Ys"inside the patch points--that's where the mult cables are permanentlyinserted into the front of the patch bay. Mult, of course, is short formultiple. Because these jacks are half-normaled, the sends coming intothe top rear of the patch bay go to multiple destinations: the ADATtracks and the mixer's insert returns. This allows a signal toflow uninterrupted through a mixer channel from send to return--so itcan be monitored--and still be routed to tape. For example, the signalfrom Synth 1 can be routed into mixer channels 3 and 4, and from thereto tape via the mults.Simultaneously, a submix from Alt 3 and 4 can be sent directly toADAT tracks one and two. Alt 3 and 4 outputs are also multed to theinputs of Oppenheimer's sampler. This allows him to readily sample alayered patch constructed from any number of synths, effectsprocessors, or tape returns. Finally, note that mixer channels 1 and 2are not patched into the bay, as Oppenheimer prefers to leavethose inputs dedicated for vocals and other miked instruments.The middle section of the patch bay provides access to the tapereturns. This configuration not only gives Oppenheimer access to tracks1 through 8 during mixdown (for patching in, say, a compressor), italso provides a handy place to plug into if he just wants to practiceon one of his keyboards or try out some new gear.Except for the four empty jacks on the left (which are free toaccommodate new or visiting gear), the patch bay is half-normaled. Mostof the other patch bay, however, is denormaled.Denormaled means the normal connection from top to bottom has beenbroken; in other words, no signal gets through unless the two jacks arepatched together. Denormaled patch points are typically employed toaccess effects processors and other outboard gear. Equally cool, theyalso allow you to connect a series of effects. For example, withOppenheimer's set up you could bring a signal out of tape return 1 intoFX 2, out of FX 2 into the parametric EQ, out of the EQ into FX 3, andout of FX 3 into Mackie channel 9. Obviously, such elaborate signalrouting would be a hassle without a patch bay.LIVIN' LARGEThe next patch bay we'll look at brings together the inputs andoutputs of a sizable, 24-track home studio. The studio is owned by JeffCampitelli, studio drummer and rhythm guitarist for axemanextraordinaire Joe Satriani. As is common in larger studios,Campitelli's setup employs a custom TT patch bay. (TT is theabbreviation for Tiny Telephone, the professional-standard 1/8" jacksthat allow large patch bay systems to fit into compact spaces.)Campitelli's studio houses a Mackie 24•8, three Alesis ADATs,and numerous outboard mic preamps, signal processors, synths, and soundmodules. To accommodate routing all these signals, the bays arehalf-normaled and cover every tape input and output and thecorresponding channel sends and returns. One bay is also half-normaledand covers insert sends and returns, while the bay shown in another is denormaled and is split between effects sends and returnsand mults. Campitelli has configured six mults, each made up of oneinput and three outputs. Therefore, a signal going into mult patchpoint 1 is output through points 2, 3, and 4. This providesconsiderable processing flexibility, allowing Campitelli to send, say,a snare track to three different effects units.Note that Campitelli's patch bay, though larger than Oppenheimer's,is actually more straightforward. In part that's because Oppenheimeruses his patch bay to get around the limitations of the CR-1604. Butdespite the differences, some connections are the same. Campitelli'sbay, for example, is denormaled to accommodate effects inputs andoutputs--as is the case with Oppenheimer's effects setup. Campitelli'soutboard mic preamps and compressors are configured the same way too,with ins and outs denormaled top to bottom.We can also see Campitelli's simple yet versatile main-mixinput/output section. Balanced outputs are normaled into the DAT deckand unbalanced outputs into a cassette deck. DAT and cassette deckoutputs are normaled back into the board through the 2-track andExternal inputs. A final mix is automatically routed to DAT andcassette simultaneously.The right side of the bay connects seven synths and/or sound modulesinto the board's line inputs. Because the signal flow is half-normaled,it's no problem accommodating a guest musician's synth--you simply pluginto the bottom jacks. This breaks the half-normal and directs the newline-level signal to the board. Finally, the left side provides accessto inserts for the mains and each of the eight buses (submasters). Bypatching all inputs and outputs into a central hub (not shown is asection covering the Mackie's 24 direct outs), Campitelli hasconfigured a flexible patch bay that allows for easy rerouting of anysignal.DOWN THE PATCHFor a different take on patch bay configuration, let's look at asection of the custom TT patch bay at Studio 684 in San Francisco, acommercial studio owned by EM contributor Buddy Saleman. Studio684 is a 16-track facility centered around a Trident Model 65 16 x 8 x2 console, a TASCAM MS16 1-inch analog deck, and two ADATs. Sixteenrouting switches let the engineer choose between 16 analog or 16digital tracks, or a combination of the two formats.The first thing you'll notice about Studio 684's patch bay is adifferent layout: functions are grouped side by side as well as top tobottom. But a more important difference is that all the patch pointsare denormaled. The advantage of denormaling is that guest engineersare not constrained by what you consider normal. In other words,they can set up connections to their needs, desires, and quirks. And ifthey like to tote along a favorite mic preamp or pair of monitors,these can be easily incorporated into the system. That's why denormaledpatch bays are more often found in large, commercialfacilities--because on any given day of the week a different engineermay be at the helm.The downside, of course, is that to mix or record in a studio withall denormaled patch points, it is first necessary to patch togetherall the gear you'll be using. For example, to print a final mix to DATon Studio 684's patch bay, you first have to patch the L/R stereooutputs to the L/R DAT sends. To record a DAT mix onto a cassette tape,you have to connect the DAT returns to the cassette sends. It takes abit more time and thought to use a denormaled patch bay; however, theslight inconvenience is offset by increased flexibility.To get a feel for using Studio 684's patch bay, let's go through thesteps of processing a vocal during mixdown. First, patch tape return 16to line in 16 so that the vocal is returned on mixer input channel 16.(You could also choose to patch the vocal on tape track 16 toany of the input channels on the mixer, and effectivelyreconfigure all the tape tracks to a desired mix sequence on theconsole channel strips.) Next, turn up the gain on channel 16's auxsend 1 and patch a cable from aux send 1 to FX 1, input 1. (Note thatFX 1 is quad unit with four discrete processing channels.) Now patchcables from FX 1 outputs 1 and 2 to the returns for subgroups 7 and 8.This puts the effect on subgroup fader controls 7 and 8--an excellentrouting option in this case because the Trident Model 65 has 3-band EQon its subgroups. (In other words, you can EQ the effect!)If you want to compress the vocal a bit, simply patch from insertsend 16 to compressor input 1 and from compressor output 1 to insertreturn 16. You could also create multiple effects by chaining thesignal through two or more processors, or, for more control, by routingeach effect to an individual subgroup. The possibilities are virtuallyendless, which is one of the reasons to use a patch bay in the firstplace.PATCH 22As we've seen, some commercial studios favor denormaled patch baysso visiting engineers can readily customize connections. But forconfiguring a home-studio patch bay, a more sensible approach is todetermine the studio's "normal" setup. Finding this optimal arrangementmay require a fair amount of trial and error, but once you'veestablished what's normal, a patch bay that's mostly normaled (orhalf-normaled) let's you "permanentize" that setup. Thereafter, you caneasily deviate from the norm by inserting patch cables.Like studios in general, most patch bays are works in progress.Therefore, keep in mind that the patch bays shown here are almostcertainly not finalized, nor are they intended as recommended setups ormodels of patch bay perfection. But, by examining them closely, you cansee how other engineers have configured working patch bays for theirstudios and therefore develop some tangible plans for yourrouting needs. Hopefully, each drawing will be worth a thousandwords.While writing this piece, Assistant Editor Brian Knave dreamed hewas trying to patch input and output cables to hisex-fiancée.WHAT IS NORMAL?Confused about normaled and half-normaled patch connections? Don'tsweat it; here's a mini tutorial. A normaled patch connectionpasses any signal appearing at one front jack directly to another one.For example, if your DAT recorder was normaled to your console's stereobus, the stereo mix would automatically be routed to the mixdown deck.No patch connections need to be made. However, if you do patch into anormaled jack, you break the normal connection and the signal will nowbe sent wherever you decide to route it.A half-normaled connection allows you to break the normal andstill have the signal go to the normaled connection and whateverdestination you choose to route the signal to. In other words, you cansplit one signal and send it to two different places. (This applicationis commonly called multing.) A denormaled patchconfiguration means that no connection is made until you connect twopatch points by plugging a cord into the appropriate jacks.

Want to find out more about specific audio patch bays? Download audio patch baycomparison charts in Adobe Acrobat format.

The articles on the Personal StudioBuyer's Guide Web site have been carefully selected by the editorialstaff of Electronic Musician magazine. We have provided stories thatrelate directly to each product category: an article on mixertopography for the Analog Consoles category, an article on selectingmonitor speakers for the Reference Monitors category, and so on. Manymore such articles are available in the EM Archives and Reviews and Features sections of ElectronicMusician’s site.

Patch Bay Profiles

You can warn a child not to touch a hot stove, but until the kidchars a finger or two, the concept of getting burned usually remainsjust that, a concept. For some of us, the same principle applies toaudio concepts. Until we've seen--or better yet, made--theconnections ourselves, textbook how-to's often go in one ear and outthe other. That's why, when I set out to expand and reconfigure mypatch bay recently, I first investigated the ins and outs of a fewup-and-running patch bays to get some ideas. What I learned proveduseful enough to share in this month's column. So whether you'resetting up a patch bay for the first time or are feeling the need toreconfigure your old one, perhaps the following profiles of patch bayswill give you an idea or two, as well.


The purpose of a patch bay is to ergonomically simplify the studioso that all (or most) audio connections can be accessed and reroutedfrom a single, easy-to-reach location. Ideally, once the patch bay isconfigured, you no longer have to crawl behind racks of gear to hook upa desired signal processor or preamp. The ability to make quick, easyconnections reduces frustrating "find the hidden patch cord" assaultson your creative flow and can even inspire experimentation. (Want tosee what it sounds like when you brutally compress the flanged reverbyou've assigned to an effects return?) Furthermore, by providing extrapoints of entry into the signal path, a patch bay extends thefunctionality of your mixer and other gear.

Because every studio is different, there is no "correct" way toconfigure a patch bay. Instead, you set up the bay to accommodate thegear you have and the way you like to work. Certain connections arepretty standard, such as the mixer's main stereo outputs being normaledto a 2-track recorder's inputs, but variations on the basic theme areendless. (For a detailed explanation of normaling and an overview ofpatch bays in general, refer to Scott Wilkinson's "Square One: Patch MeThrough" in the September 1995 issue of EM.)

There are a number of things to consider when setting up a patchbay: the type of instruments you record, the way your studio is laidout, your goals and techniques as a recordist, and how many audioinputs and outputs need to be addressed. Let's explore some signalrouting possibilities by looking at patch bays from three studios.


Steve Oppenheimer (better known as Steve O), editor ofEM, isa keyboardist whose 8-track home studio is about as jam-packed as theycome. Steve uses three 48-point patch bays to manage his gear, two ofwhich we'll examine up close. The third is fixed in the back of aportable rig and was primarily developed for gigs and sessions atoutside studios. (For a close-up on road-ready racks and patch bays,see "Racking Your Brain" in the November 1994 issue ofEM.)

Oppenheimer's studio, a one-room operation with just enough spacefor the engineer and a guest artist, is typically used for sequencingand vocal recording. Synths, samplers, and drum machines dominate theproductions. As an added requirement, Oppenheimer also needs to patchin new gear on the fly to accommodate his never-ending flow ofEMequipment reviews.