Isotrack Signex CP44 Patchbay
The Signex CP44 is a new 19" rack-mounting patch panel designed to offer many of the advantages of a professional system at a price which the makers believe is the lowest on the market for a ¼" jack system.
The supplied unit features 44 mono jack sockets mounted on the black anodised front panel which occupies a mere 1¾" (1u) of rack space. Rear connectors on the review model were jacks, but phono sockets (for use with Tascam/Fostex gear) or even turret posts are available, for those who prefer to save on the cost of plugs and hard-wire their leads. This is only advisable if you don't wish to alter your equipment set-up though.
The unit has been designed to fill the gap between professional patchbays (eg. Switchcraft) and the budget units from Fostex and Teac. The expense of the pro units is prohibitive to the small studio installation and the budget units are mostly phono socket types, which are not really suited to the continuous plugging/unplugging of a patch-bay. The nearest competitor is Bandive's Modpatch which also has ¼" jack sockets, but only offers 32 sockets in its 2u high format.
First impressions are often false, and my suspicions about the inability to unplug/plug a patch cord when all 44 front panel sockets were in use, were not justified, as no problems were encountered. Even the white screen-printed panels above each socket remained clearly visible with a full set of patch cords in place. China-graph pencil is ideal for labelling the sockets especially if it's likely to be changed frequently, but for a more permanent and smarter looking identification, the designer Jonathan Finney suggests the use of 'Letraset' rub-on transfers.
As the name 'Isopatch' suggests, the device comes supplied with all sockets isolated unlike GPO 'B' type patchbays which are a pain in the neck to service if one socket fails (a pretty rare occurrence).
With any recording set-up you will have certain connections between pieces of equipment that will rarely ever change. For example, your power amp is always going to be connected to your mixer, and the outputs of that mixer will be brought to a pair of sockets on the rear panel of the patchbay, whilst outputs will be taken from the back, also, to the power amp inputs. You would then simply need to connect a patch cord from the appropriate front panel sockets for the mixer, to those of the power amp in order to route your signals to the amp and onto your monitors.
However, this ties up a couple of patch cords which cost money, and which are unlikely to be unplugged. A better approach is to normalise the relevant pairs of sockets electrically and thus avoid the need for patch cords altogether. On the Signex, this normalising is very simple to implement by merely flowing solder across a pair of pads on the top PCB, instantly connecting vertical pairs of sockets together.
The beauty of such a process is that the normalised operation can still be interrupted when you wish to patch your mixer outputs to something other than your power amp, by inserting a patch cord into the front panel sockets and plugging the other end into the required devices' socket.
If you have no desire to construct your own patch cords, Isotrack offer plastic ¼" jack to jack leads with Rockflex conductive plastic screened cable capable of spanning 5, 12 or 22 front panel sockets as required for £1.95 each - slightly overpriced I feel.
Various custom options are also available on request for the CP44, such as gold-plated contacts (instead of the standard nickel silver type), custom panel finishes and pre-normalised pairs of sockets.
Finally, a tip for those unaccustomed to using patchbays: the convention is to designate your top row of sockets for all inputs, and the bottom for outputs, so that confusion is avoided wherever possible. Stick to this convention at all times.
Construction of the Isopatch is good indeed. The unit is compact and versatile and beautifully screened against hum etc. The 1u high format is economical in terms of rack space, which is a good move for the home recordist with only one small 19" rack to his name. At £62.50 it is a good investment for any home studio installation and will undoubtedly relieve the user of the odd one or two headaches caused by the usual spaghetti junction of cable that adorns many a studio.
The CP44 is available from (Contact Details), price £62.50 plus £2.50 p&p.