How to Set Up a Patchbay

How to Set Up a Patchbay

In in article we hope to help you understand how to set up a patchbay once you’ve obtained one.

Patchbays are devices that manage your signals and help you to create signal chains easily. So to start, if you prefer the versatility of using different outboard gear with different mics, set your patchbay into ‘Normal’ mode and connect the mic outputs to the back panel using a lower back row as outputs and a front panel to interrupt the signal.

If each recording session of yours requires a completely different setup, put your patchbay in the thru mode and create custom signal chains on the go.

Now let’s see how into more details in how this all comes together.

How to set up a patchbay: explained

Setting up patchbay properly could be a rather gruesome process, to say the least, but the good news is that you only have to do it once. After that, it’s just a matter of simply connecting and reconnecting patch cords, which is as easy as it gets as long as you follow a few simple rules, which we’ll get later in this article.

But first, we have to find out how any given patchbay actually works.

Ins and Outs

The exact number of inputs and outputs will depend on the model of patchbay, but how they’re located are common for most of the models. Usually, patchbays have 2 rows of connectors located both on the faceplate and in the back. The top row in the back contains main inputs and this is where you should put the sends of each device that you want to be plugged in a patchbay permanently.

The lower row contains the main outputs and from here, you should send the signal to all of the devices that usually receive it. Connectors on the front panel contain inputs and outputs that interrupt the signal chain in the back.

Example

To put it in more practical connotations, you have to place the outputs of all your microphones on the top back row and connect outputs from the lower row to the inputs of your audio interface.

Then, in order to send any given mic signal through a compressor or a preamp, all you have to do is interrupt the signal in the front row by connecting a said device and sending its output to the lower front row.

Normal

There are three main operational modes of any given patchbay and the default one is called normal. In this mode, inputs and outputs in the front row interrupt corresponding connections in the back when used, which means that if you put anything in front, the patchbay will stop sending signals to the lower output in the back.

This mode is the most used one because it lets you create custom sound chains on the go.

Half-normal

This mode is engaged when the button of the front panel is engaged. It doesn’t interrupt the signal, but instead, it splits it in two, maintaining the original signal chain. This mode is perfect for parallel processing and recording direct input tracks of instruments alongside the amplified signal.

On most patchbays, this mode could be engaged separately on any given pair of inputs and outputs.

Thru

Thru isn’t a very rare mode, but still, it’s optional and not all of the patchbay models have it. It’s the simplest mode to understand since it makes the signal flow straight to the bay, which means that the top row of inputs in the front will be sent to the top outputs in the back and the bottom outputs in the back will receive a signal from the bottom row of inputs in the front.

Things to keep in mind while setting a patchbay

Now when we have a very basic understanding of how patchbays work and how we can set them up, it’s time to see how we can use it with regard to our own workflow.

If eventually, you’ve decided that a patchbay is something that could be useful when implemented in your workflow, there’re a few tips and tricks that could push its flexibility even further.

Patchbays explained

Unfortunately enough, patchbays aren’t the hottest and widely-discussed topic amongst the beginner audio engineering community. Chances are you haven’t even heard of them and even if you did, the benefits of owning one weren’t stressed enough. In order to understand how to set up patchbay, we have no other choice than to discuss very thoroughly what it actually is and how it works.

So you could decide for yourself whether this is something that could be of use to you or a device that you can easily get by without.

What is a patchbay?

A patchbay is an electronic device designed to manage and reroute your signal flow. It consists of a various number of inputs and outputs and makes it possible for you to send a signal from one device to any other device without the need for time-consuming rerouting and constant cable management.

Patchbays also have the ability to split the incoming signal in two with a very convenient and effortless push of the button.

Benefits of using a patchbay

There are two main reasons why a patchbay could be a very useful investment into your home studio. Firstly, patchbays protect all of your equipment from wear and tear since it stay connected permanently and you simply operate a few patch cords, which are much cheaper to replace than output sockets on your equipment.

Secondly, patchbays give you an option of very complex routing and the ability to create signal chains without the need to move or reconnect your equipment, which gives your studio significantly more flexibility.

Do you actually need one?

Let’s imagine for a second that you record your favorite mic straight to your audio interface, but once in a while, you have the need to put a preamp or a hardware compressor in front of the mic.

Normally, you’d have to disconnect your mic from an audio interface, connect it to the preamp, and connect the output of the preamp to the audio interface. A patchbay allows you to do exactly the same thing but instead, the only thing you have to do is simply connect a patch cord to the right jacks.

Types of patchbays

There are three types of patchbays that are distinguished by the type of inputs and outputs they offer you. The most common type of patchbay is the one that has ¼” jacks inputs and outputs. The second type of patchbays uses TT connections that are also known as bantam cables, which handle balanced signals very well. And the last type of patchbays offers you a number of XLR connections, but sometimes it also can have TRS jacks.

Choosing a proper one

To choose a patchbay that will suit you the most, you should pay attention to the number of connectors. If you have a very vast collection of outboard gear, a small patchbay wouldn’t give you any benefit at all.

But purchasing a patchbay with a large number of connectors without having that much gear would make sense only if you plan to expand your collection. Regardless of your intentions, there are very decent options to choose from. 

Decide your setup

After you established what patchbay will suit your needs the most, you have to decide what would be the most efficient setup in your particular case. If most of your time you record a dry mic signal straight to your DAW and on occasion, use outboard gear, the Normal mode will be exactly what you need.

But if each recording session requires a very different signal chain, you may consider leaving your patchbay in a thru mode.

Label everything

We can’t stress enough the importance of this step, but you have to label everything thoroughly. When you run a recording studio as a business, it’s extremely hard to keep track of things and remember what goes where. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and effort when each and every input and output is properly labeled and you don’t have to see where each cable goes every time you want to make a new signal chain.

Use color-coded patch cables

This may seem like a bit of an overkill, especially if you followed our previous advice and labeled everything, but acquiring colored patch cables will most definitely make your life a lot easier. If you spend some time connecting every signal chain with cables of the same color, it will be much easier to follow in the chaos of the recording session. You may even consider a chart on the wall with an explanation of what each color means.

Conclusion

We’ve all been there. When you’ve just built your own home studio, there’s one little secret that nobody will tell you about. In time, your home studio will start to grow exponentially and in a blink of an eye, you’ll find yourself surrounded by an enormous amount of gear.

No matter how thoughtfully considered and disciplined you are, it’s inevitable because it’s just how things go.

With assisting in the management of your gear, and the cables they will likely need, there’s one more additional gear you’ll find yourself sourcing: the Patchbay. So in this article, you now understand how to set up that new member to your studio family, so you could manage and use your gear more efficiently.

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