What is a patch panel?
What is a patch panel - Also known as a patch bay or patch field, a patch panel is a routing device featuring a number of connection jacks of a similar or certain type, facilitating the interconnectedness and routing of various hardware. With a patch panel, testing circuits and signal flow can be done with flexibility and ease, and are a dream come true for working with multiple hardware devices. Most commonly used in commercial and home recording studios, television and radio production, and computer networking, patch panels increase workflow and productivity, and can also stimulate creativity.
Through years of being a home recording enthusiast, I’ve acquired a few nice pieces of hardware. While it is far from being a full arsenal, there are definitely a few great choice options for tracking purposes and master buss duties at the mix and mastering phase of a project. The only main distraction was my thinking that I did not have enough gear to justify getting a patch panel. Having to go behind my desk every time I wanted to use a different preamp or hardware insert was getting old - fast. Also, I was noticing how some of my connection points were starting to be a little more difficult to seat properly.
Upon learning that a band wanted to bring in a few hardware pieces of their own for an upcoming session, the time had come to bring in a patch panel. They were able to quickly patch into my system with ease, and a number of routing options were immediately in play. Also, gone were a few ground humming issues that seemed to be tied to a certain outlet in my studio. Looking back on how much time was spent without the use of a patch panel made me realize my own inefficiencies, and also made me look forward to the freedom the new patch panel presented for myself and future clients.
With the patch panel, easy customization of signal flow became available. The wear and tear of constantly plugging and unplugging made me feel like the life of my gear was extended and protected. The constant push and pull on the inputs and outputs of hardware were eliminated, ending fears of losing the use of a certain piece due to technical problems from a heavy hand during connection - this is speaking from experience, believe me. The organization of the patch panel provides easy circuit identification, as well as different grounding options ensuring clean, consistent signal flow.
Patch panels are fast becoming popular in home cinema installations, home recording studios, computer networking, and radio and television broadcasting. My patch panel has changed the landscape of my personal home studio, providing increased stability, efficiency, and new routing options that were never realized or explored previously. Patch panels offer a much more organized and refined approach to networking and studio workflow. The time saved by implementing a patch panel into my home studio has meant more time creating, and less time troubleshooting. I just wish I had made the move sooner!
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What is a patch bay - A patch bay is a hardware device used to route the inputs and outputs of audio signals. Found in professional recording studios, home recording studios, commercial and home theater systems, and radio and television broadcast studios, patch bays simplify audio configuration. Midi patch bays are also used for (wait for it) - connecting midi signals. The benefits of using an audio patch bay are numerous, including multiple configurations of routing without the hassle of having to manually unplug / replug cables, as well as the ability to utilize external effect devices, mixers, recorders and signal processors.
An audio patch bay is a hardware device containing rows of input and output jacks on the front and rear panels, respectively. Multiple devices can be plugged into these external inputs and outputs, opening up many different routing combinations. Let's say you have a kick drum signal coming from your microphone - depending on your desired end result, the options for processing your sound are as vast as the different devices you have plugged into your patch bay. Have a favorite mic pre? Route the kick drum mic to it. Want to grab a reverb sound from an external effects processor? No problem. The options you have at your disposal by utilizing a patch bay allow you to most effectively incorporate all of your audio hardware options in one central hub.
A patch bay can help identify weaknesses in signal flow, and can aid in eliminating ground hum from the use of multiple devices. Wear and tear on the inputs and outputs of external hardware can be virtually eliminated, because you no longer have to spend your time connecting and disconnecting units manually, which can thrash your jacks. Workflow is greatly improved because of time saved, resulting in more focused and productive studio sessions.
Patch bay jacks are typically 1/4” balanced (TRS or unbalanced) connections, set up in vertical pairs. XLR, RCA and TT (tiny telephone) jacks are commonly implemented in a typical patch bay as well. The upper row on the rear of a patch bay receives a signal from the output of an external hardware unit and is then routed to the input of a different hardware device by utilizing the send from the jack directly below it. While a patch bay does not produce sound on its own, the combinations of routing options made available by having multiple inputs and outputs in one central place is reason enough to consider the use of a patch bay, leading to more creative options.
With home studios becoming more of the norm in the world of audio production, a patch bay can effectively manage multiple hardware devices, simplify signal flow, and protect your gear. I learned first hand how plugging and unplugging connections can wreak havoc on devices, resulting in stripped and bent plugs. There’s nothing like being at the finishing stages of a project only to have to put everything on hold to replace a broken input jack on one of your master buss compressor pairs. A patch bay can be the cheapest audio engineering assistant one may ever need, as well as the best preventative measure in maximizing the life of your gear.Have questions or concerns about how you can implement a patch bay into your existing audio setup? Contact one of our highly qualified audio experts to help maximize your home studios’ potential today.