Patchbay Afternoon

I’ve been putting this day off for far too long: the day that wire up my patchbay. Without any patchbay hooked up, the studio has been a messy tangle of temporary cords strung across equipment and laying like little booby traps around my chair. I used to use a Furman PB-40 patchbay, which had convenient 1/4″ phono jacks in the front and back. I retired the Furman when I discovered that it was the cause behind some mysterious noise problems in my signal chain.

Vowing to only buy quality components, I scored a Switchcraft patchbay off eBay for cheap last year. I think it was cheap because the rear hookup was not very convenient. Instead of 1/4″ jacks or something, it had a snake on the back to ended in a totally separate 2U rack plate with a ton of little pins. My original plan was to cut the snake and just splice my own 1/4″ jacks onto the wires.

Switchcraft patchbayThe picture is a little confusing. The old Furman patchbay is sandwiched in between the two Switchcraft pieces. The red/black/white thing on the bottom has all the pins.

Anyway, my plan for chopping up the snake changed when the patchbay arrived in the mail and my dad saw it. My dad works in the switch room at the local phone company, and he immediately recognized the connections. He told me that I just needed to get a punch tool and I’d be able to easily connect bare wires to the red/black/white pins.

Bare wires

Hooking up all those wires seemed daunting. I started to wire up an old Hosa snake that I had laying around. I stopped myself after half an hour and thought, “What am I doing? I’m connecting crappy cables to this nice patchbay and I’ll just drag the sound quality down to the Hosa level.” So I delayed and picked up some better bulk cable. A wise idea…but with that step the patchbay became yet more work, since I’d have to wire up phono plugs onto the new wire. And so for months I just totally bypassed the patchbay and hooked equipment directly into each other. I would probably be doing that still today, but a new purchase forced me into action.

Apogee 800

 

I bought an Apogee Rosetta 800 as my audio converter. Actually, as you might expect, it’s a little more complicated than that. I first bought a two-channel Apogee 200 from a Guitar Center in Virginia. It came with the critical firewire option card that I needed. Two channels of input was fine, but I needed at least four channels of output (two for monitoring and two for outboard effects). My thrifty side thought that I could assemble some sort of Rube Goldberg concoction that involved a cheaper audio converter (maybe an old Mark of the Unicorn box) and then tether it to the Rosetta digitally.

After I got everything hooked up, I realized that this complex arrangement wasn’t possible with the Rosetta 200. Only two channels of audio could come in and out of the firewire connection, period. And so I decided to sell the Rosetta 200 (keeping the firewire card) and pick up an eight-channel Rosetta 800. The 800 showed up last week, and that’s when  I realized that somebody didn’t do his homework.

The Rosetta 200 uses XLR jacks for all its audio connections. This worked fine and I had plenty of these cables. The Rosetta 800 uses DB25 plugs for all its audio input and output. “DB25” is the technical name of the parallel port connection that old computers used. Apparently it lives on in the world of high-end audio converters. It seems that the more expensive the audio converter, the more inconvenient it becomes to hook it up to any other equipment.

So I started shopping for DB25 snakes. Once again, I found some Hosa snakes but decided that my Hosa days are behind me. I thought about just buying the raw materials and soldering up my own snakes, but that sounded like it might be a lot of work. Indeed, folks told harrowing tales on internet forums of trying to soldering all 24 wires inside that connector. I decided to stop being thrifty and just buy it pre-made. I found a guy out in Brooklyn that sold nice-looking snakes that terminated in bare wires. The showed up yesterday, and I knew that if I wanted to start using the Rosetta 800, I’d need to break down and finally start wiring up the Switchcraft patchbay.

So that’s what I’ve been doing today. I’ve got all the outputs working great, and I wired up a couple custom cables that are running to my monitors. I took a half hour break to write this thoroughly tedious post, which has surprisingly boosted my enthusiasm for going back and wiring up the rest of the patchbay, as I now know that there are actually more boring things in life than wiring up patchbays. Namely, writing posts about wiring up patchbays.