How to set up a Home Studio (Part 6)
Patch Bay Layout
PART 6: Possession of a patchbay marks the difference between a conglomeration of miscellaneous equipment and a versatile working studio. David Mellor explains how to design your own patchbay layout.
Every home studio is different, as is every home studio owner. We all have our little quirks and idiosyncracies, some of us more than others, and it reflects in the way we like to organise our gear and make music. And that gives the home studio a big advantage over the otherwise well-specified commercial studio. Anyone hiring a commercial studio has to accept someone else's ideas on how a studio should be organised, and work within whatever restrictions the system imposes. But with your own personal studio setup, it's all up to you. You might not have as much gear, but it can be put together in a way that works well for you.
For any recording setup, there is an optimum way of hooking all the equipment together. In fact, there may be an almost infinite number of usable hookups with even a small amount of gear. But there will be one arrangement which will suit most of your requirements, most of the time.
Last month's instalment gave some reasons for including a patchbay (jackfield) in your system, even though it doesn't make any noise of its own. The principal justification for having a patchbay is the added flexibility it affords. Let's calculate the benefits...
Suppose a rich Auntie gave you £5000 to buy some equipment. You had it delivered, and connected everything together point-to-point, input-to-output with no patchbay, in the way you decided would suit your needs 75% of the time. The chances are that you would not be inclined to do much replugging of connections during sessions, because they are all out of the way round the back of the equipment, and they are such an assortment of different connector types.
The patchbay lets you have the system you want 100% of the time, by making the connections instantly available. So if your equipment cost £5000, that extra 25% represents some £1600's worth of value. It isn't often you get something for nothing in this world, but for a modest outlay on a patchbay, you are getting a much greater return in terms of the added potential of your equipment.
When your patchbay is delivered hot-foot from one of the studio suppliers, it is like a blank sheet of paper - or blank reel of tape if you prefer. It's up to you to decide how your equipment is going to be connected to it. But that's not so hard once you have the idea.
For the purpose of this example I have dreamed up a 16-track recording system, with a few instruments and effects units. What I need to work out is to which sockets on the patchbay all the inputs and outputs of the equipment should be connected to make things neat, and to offer the versatility I require. The first step is to list the equipment, together with all connections (List 1). Figure 1 shows the system connected point-to-point, and then via the patchbay (Figure 2).
It's not a big system, and perhaps a little over-simplified (only two outputs on a drum machine, in 1989?), but it's enough for the purpose of this example. As you can see, every connection on each piece of equipment is made via the patchbay, with just a couple of exceptions. Usually, there is not much to be gained by having the connections to the multitrack, and the corresponding mixing console connections, on the patchbay. It would be a rare situation where you needed to repatch these. On the other hand, if you want to include these you may find a use for the extra flexibility.
The next job is to count them all up. I make it 120 connections. This means that I need at least 120 sockets on my patchbay. Add a few more for expansion, and 140 becomes a reasonable estimate.
Now we have to decide what the normal state of the studio will be - how the connections should be made so that the system is correctly wired for normal day-to-day use (List 2). When the patchbay is wired up, it will be possible to use it without employing any patch cords. But any changes you need to make will be done by simply 'overplugging' the patchbay.
The process of wiring the patchbay so that patch cords are, for most of the time, unnecessary is called normalling (or 'normalising'), and I described this method of connection in detail in last month's article.
Usually, to wire up normal connections in the patchbay you have to make sure that outputs are vertically above the inputs to which they will be normalled. In fact, it is best to have complete alternate rows of outputs and inputs. This makes things easy to organise and to arrange. The next task is to draw a diagram of the patchbay layout. I like to do this on A3 size graph paper. I draw a grid with the appropriate number of boxes across, representing the sockets, and whatever number of rows down to make up the right quantity of connections. In this example, I have chosen to use seven rows of patchbay, each 20 sockets across (see Figure 3).
With a bit of juggling, everything can be made to fit in a logical order, according to the two lists drawn up previously. 'Normals' are indicated by a short vertical line joining upper and lower sockets.
With the layout diagram complete, you can now make a third list (List 3 shows two rows) detailing patchbay row/socket, connection and type of connector. It may seem like a chore to have to do all this paperwork (computerwork?), but proper planning will result in trouble-free wiring - and no annoying mistakes.
When the planning process is complete, then it's time to start the action. You can do all the wiring on the workbench, making sure that the mixer cables will be long enough for your intended studio layout (you could even make them into a loom, as described in Part 3 [March 89] of this series), and that the rack equipment cables are long enough to go anywhere in the rack. After all, you don't know how you may want to rearrange things in the future. You could even wire up the unallocated sockets on the patchbay, ready to plug in the new equipment that you will undoubtedly buy as your home studio venture succeeds.
Don't forget that each cable will need to be numbered at each end, with the push-on cable numbers specifically made for the purpose. And how do you work out the number for each cable? Easy: it's the same as the patchbay row/socket number - and you have done that job already.
Next month I shall be looking at studio layout and acoustics.
Feature by David Mellor
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