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The Student Guide to Patch-

Bays
Walk into any professional studio and you will find a patch-
bay (or jack-field, to use the original British term) in a rack.
A patch-bay quickly becomes an essential facility rather
than an expensive luxury when lots of outboard is being
used.

There are three main types of patchbay format. In


the UK most professional systems employ the
PO316 connector (also known as B-gauge) which
is an extremely rugged format originally designed
for telephone switchboards (before they used
switches!). It uses a three-pole plug (see
photograph), making it ideal for balanced audio
circuits, and is constructed from brass.
Although it has roughly the same dimensions as the
more familiar A-gauge TRS jack plug there is a
significant difference between the two: the tip of the
PO316 is rounded and slightly smaller than the
angular, enlarged tip of the A-gauge.

This might not sound particularly important, but it means that the contact springs in the
PO316 socket don't bend very far when the plug is inserted, reducing the stress on the
contacts and lowering the effort needing to insert the plug. The contacts are also arranged
to wipe along the plug as it is inserted, helping to keep them clean and ensuring good
contact.

B-gauge jackfields are expensive -- a Mosses & Mitchell 1U panel with two rows of 24
holes would cost in the region of 230, and a two-foot patch cord about 12. The rear of
the jackfield usually contains solder points for hard-wiring -- no plug-and-play flexibility
here! This is how Control Rooms 2,3,4 & 5 are configured.
The Bantam plug is really just a miniaturised version of the PO316, designed to allow a
much higher density of connectors in a given rack space. Unfortunately, scaling the
dimensions also reduces the contact area and the durability of the system, particularly the
sockets. A 1U, two-row, 48-hole (ie. twice the PO316 density) Mosses & Mitchell patch
panel costs roughly 345, and a two-foot patch cord around 15. Both are more expensive
than the PO316, but the connector density is doubled. This is how Control Room 1 is
configured.

The third and most common format in semi-professional installations is the TRS (tip-ring-
sleeve) or A-gauge jack. This is the standard1/4 chrome-plated connector we all know
and love, with the angular tip. Designed for unbalanced (tip and sleeve) or stereo (tip, ring
and sleeve) applications, the latter is often used for balanced audio circuits in jack-field
applications.

Completing the financial comparison, Deltron or Rean A-gauge jackfields (1U panel with
two rows of 24 holes, complete with rear-panel A-gauge sockets for easy installation)
would cost around 60, while a two-foot patch cord would stretch the budget by 4.50.

In a professional installation,
the jack-field is wired directly
to a central frame, along with
cables from all the other
equipment in the studio. Link
wires in the frame semi-
permanently allocate
sources and destinations to
the relevant sockets, which
is very reliable and provides
flexibility if the jack-field has
to be modified later, but it is
also quite time-consuming
and expensive.

In a semi-pro installation,
most A-gauge jack-fields
employ sockets on both the front and rear panels. This makes installation and subsequent

reallocation of sockets as easy as re-plugging the rear connections. However, the


disadvantage is that there are twice as many connectors in the system, inherently reducing
reliability, but if the amount of re-patching is low, A-gauge jack-fields are perfectly
acceptable and very cost-effective.
The B-gauge patch-bay is the first choice for professionals because of its proven reliability,
with Bantam jack-fields employed where space is at a premium.

The A-gauge jack-field is by far the cheapest and most practical solution, though, and most
jack-fields of this type have provision for simple configuration options.

HOW MUCH!!!!
Assuming a fairly typical 6 x 48 jackfield is required, with 40 two-foot patch cords, a typical
PO316 system would cost about 2500. They are horribly expensive compared to the
modest A-gauge(1/4) system, which would cost close to 345, all in! It may be a little less
reliable and wear out more quickly than a B-gauge system, but you could afford to replace
the A-gauge jackfield three times for the same cost!
What is normalling?
The term normalling simply means the route that the audio signal will take whilst in the
patchbay/jackfield.

There are 4 ways most patchbays can be configured to work;


open
normalled
half-normalled
parallel

The option you choose for your patchbay will depend on the equipment you have and how
you like to work, but there are certain rules you will need to follow (to be discussed in a
while!)

Also, different patchbays are configured in different ways some will have switches to flip
between the different modes, however, some require you to take out each module and
reverse it but most (professional!) need to have jumpers soldered in place.

Open

This is the default setting and


basically means no signal will flow
through the patchbay without
inserting a patch cord. This is
essential if you have outputs of a
unit placed above the inputs of the
same unit e.g. effects units

Normalled

This is where patchbays start getting


clever! A normalled section
automatically routes whatever is
plugged into the top output of the
patchbay to the input directly
beneath. This is ideal for connecting
equipment that you use together
regularly (e.g. a Mic Line output to a
Mixing Console Mic input.) as you
dont need to insert a patch cable
every time you want to use it. You
can still break the connection by
inserting a patch cord enabling you
to re-route the signal.
Half-normalled

This is essentially the same as


normalled but means you can insert a
patch cord into the output without
breaking the signal flow to the input.
This is sometimes called sniff as it
allows you to try out other routing
without changing the original signal.

Parallel

A patchbay set up in parallel allows you to split the signal. Whatever goes into the back
input will be routed out of the front top and bottom and rear bottom.
Some examples of patchbay layouts - ALWAYS working from Top to Bottom, and Left
to Right.

Example 1

Example 2