Used for rerouting input and output signals, as well as splitting them, patch bays are an indispensable recording tool once properly installed and properly used. Being truly one of the greatest, simplest, and most effective solutions for studios, installing patch bays will save you incredible amounts of time, ward off potential migraines, lower tech costs, and give your studio a sleeker, more professional look.
Patch bays come in many different sizes and makes — with most large format consoles having tiny telephone (tt) bays built into them. Other studios opt for rocking the trusty quarter-inch bays, but this is mainly an issue of preference (though keep pipe cleaners handy if you go this route). Some of the larger studios with multiple forms of recording mediums have ELCO patch bays for switching entire tape decks or DAW rigs. In addition, there are also digital and MIDI bays available for formats other than analog audio so, regardless of what your needs may be, there is surely a patch bay out there that can meet them.
Patch bays usually hold 48 jacks each, in two rows, offering 96 points in a single 19" rackmount space. If you’re handy with a soldering iron you can save a ton of money and solder the wiring onto them yourself. If not, you can purchase bays that allow you to plug your cables directly into the back of each bay. The end result is largely the same, with the former being more cost efficient, but the latter being more convenient.
Bays come in all sorts of configurations. The most common are normalled and non-normalled. When a patch bay is normalled, the top row will automatically send its signal to the bottom row. Once a patch cable is inserted into the jack, it will break the connection. This is ideal for many instances. Take for example this hypothetical situation: You need to run your wall jacks in your studio to the inputs of your pre amps, or the output of your tape or DAE to the tape return of your mixing console. Under regular circumstances, you would just want the signal to pass through and, because your patch bay is normalled, it would. However, if you wanted to use an external piece of outboard gear to compress or EQ your signal to tape, you would use a patch cable and insert it into the top row of your patch bay (mic from studio) to the input of your compressor. Afterward, you would run another cable from the output of your compressor to the bottom row (preamp input).
You want to spend a solid amount of time when you initially set up your patch bays, thinking strategically and mapping out exactly what interaction you desire from the various pieces. The object, ultimately, is to have the most amount of things normalled so that you don’t have to use that many patch cords — as well as preserving your sanity and not wasting precious time in sessions — though the space behind your console may get a bit more dusty after you install a patch bay. The rule of thumb is that effects inputs and sends should be grouped together, with outputs and returns occupying another space, and mix outputs and recorders following suit . . . for convenience, if nothing else. It’s also a good idea to make sure that your connectors are color coded (many are) as this will help ease confusion in the heat of the tracking moment; and make sure your snake box has the proper amount of inputs to coincide with your console (it’s a good idea to have both 1/4" and XLR ins available on your box also).
Quarter-inch bays with 48 points are available for around $30–$50 a piece, and the cables range from $2–$10 a piece. The expense comes in from doubling up on your snakes and cabling, though it is clearly worth it, especially if you can save yourself some money by wielding Ye Olde Trusty Soldering Iron — so consider going the DIY route if you feel confident in your abilities to do so.