Samson S Patch Plus Patch Bay

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For anyone operating a small 'separates' recording studio, a patchbay is indispensable. For anyone else, it is yawningly dull and they shouldn't read any further.

(The item described is switchable between three modes - see below- and comes with a small manual that explains most of this stuff...)

The Samson S Patch Plus model I purchased is simple to wire up, easy enough to understand and switchable between three modes for the most comprehensive operation. Although it can operate using mono (T/S) 1/4" jack  plugs and standard guitar cable, ideally you should use stereo (T/R/S) 1/4" plugs and balanced ('stereo' - twin core) cable, as some devices you might connect to it expect to 'see' a balanced cable, even though the device appears to just have ordinary jackplug outputs. (A 100m roll of balanced cable, for connecting your 'outboard', can be had for around £40. Balanced patch cables can easily be obtained for around a tenner per half-dozen).

What it's for

The primary object of a patchbay (PB) is to unify all the types of plugs (particularly jacks and phonos) that you might have on your outboard recording set-up  and allow easy connection between them, without having to grope around the back of equipment. The second, and often more important function, is to take the strain of continual plugging and unplugging - in the old days, most connections were solidly supported by the casing of the device that they belonged to and then only connected to the circuit board inside by wiring, so PBs were really only for ease of connectivity. However, nowadays most plugs, especially phonos, are unsupported by the equipment casing and wire directly to the circuit board: break one and you rip it off the circuit-board tracks - and they may be wired in groups, like old 1/2" 16tk Fostex recorders: break one, you've broken all four! Repairs can be expensive...

PBs of this type are twin rows of sockets, both front and back: your equipment plugs into the back using jackplugs (in days gone by, this was a soldering issue, but no more) and the front is where you connect or 'patch' between the various devices. Microphones don't  go through a patchbay, but almost everything else does. The output from your equipment generally goes to the top sockets and the inputs are wired to the bottom ones.

How it works

PBs can be configured 3 ways: Normalled, Half Normalled and Through. For convenience, PBs are pre-wired to allow the top row to pass directly to the bottom pair, when equipment is normally used that way - hence Normalled. If you don't need to route it somewhere else, it operates as if it was hard-wired in position. Aux Sends from a mixing desk are usually wired this way, especially if wired to a 'favourite' reverb, for instance. However, when a patchlead is inserted into the top socket it breaks the connection to the bottom one and you 'carry' the output on the patchlead to whichever device you want to send it to.

Half Normalled is commonly used for Insert send-and-returns from a mixing desk: when used for an insert and you plug a patchlead into the top socket, it does not break the connection to the lower one, merely 'borrows' the signal which you then might plug into a compressor, for example; you check the compressor is functioning and only when the signal is returned to the bottom row, below where you started, does it interrupt the connection and the signal now flows via the compressor chosen.

The Through ('Thru') mode allows standalone items to be included on the PB (CD or DAT 'secondary' players, sound modules etc) without any need to connect them between top and bottom sockets, thus allowing you to patch them where you will and also use up spare PB sockets, once you put everything else on the PB you might need.

End Notes

Despite the huge number of sockets that a single 48-way PB can appear to give you, you will almost certainly use them all up before you might have expected to. Luckily, because no soldering is required at the back of the PB, you can re-configure this very quickly - so plan what you really need and if, after you've done it all, you still haven't wired everything you need to it, buy another one!

Also, despite my years of studio work and quiet yearning for the recording simplicities that PB can bring me, the first items that I have wired to it are actually my hi-fi connections, rather than my multi-track ones. Partly, this is because my funds don't yet stretch to a complete re-cabling of everything, although I have planned exactly how I will wire it when the time comes - besides, all my connections within the multitrack-mixing realm are already 'made', not ideal, but already functioning. It is also because my hi-fi monitor amp, old, all-valve and very lovely has several inputs: tape 1, tape 2, deck, aux etc which, not only does not allow me to have all my hi-fi outboard items wired to it at once, it does not allow me to play my guitar along to whichever of these outboard devices I want to (the guitar is already miked-up, routed through a compresor and the multitrack mixer, record-ready at all times) - you have to switch between tape 1 (CD or DAT coming in), say, or tape 2 (which might be the input for the multitrack mixer, with my guitar). Now, I use it as a single-input amp, in effect and I can just patch the CD, DAT, mini-disc etc straight into a spare input buss on the multitrack mixer and motor away...

One sad note: you can't patch your record deck directly via a PB, unless it has been converted to a 'line' level first...

Patchbays - they're what separates us from the animals...

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