What does a patchbay do? | The Basics

THE GIST

A patchbay allows multiple pieces of audio equipment to be easily connected in different combinations. The inputs and outputs of a studio’s microphone inputs, preamps, mixing console, outboard gear, and audio interfaces can all be connected to the back of a patchbay patched in any order with small patch cables on the front panel.

The History of Patchbays

Patchbays originated in telephone switching stations, where operators would manually connect analog telephone lines via patch cables on a large panel of jacks. In fact, the mini-TRS connector used on many patch cables is still called a Tiny Telephone connector. As recording studios started incorporating more and more equipment, patchbays were adopted as a way to facilitate easy connections.

Behringer Ultrapatch Pro PX2000 48-Point TS Patchbay

Types of Patchbays

Patchbays come with varying amounts and types of connections and are suited to different tasks. Rear connections can be anything from common XLR and TRS jacks to bare-wire solder points or multichannel D-sub connectors. Front-panel jacks are usually ¼-inch TRS or Tiny Telephone sizes, but other types exist as well. There is even a digital patchbay which makes all its connections internally, controlled by software.

ART P16 XLR Patchbay

Normalization of Connections

A key feature of patchbays is their ability to permanently connect equipment so that a patch is only required when a different routing is needed (ex: a microphone line normalled to a console channel that can be routed to an external preamp instead). This is done through internal connections, of which there are several types:

Boredbrain Music Patchulator 8000
8 Channel Mini Patchbay
  • Fully Normalled means that an output jack is automatically routed to the corresponding input below. The connection is broken if a cable is inserted into either jack.

  • Half Normalled connections link patch points together just as when normalled, except the connection stays intact when a cable is inserted into the output. This allows a signal to be split and sent to two destinations.

  • Mults (signal multipliers) are groups of connected jacks that allow a signal to be split and sent to multiple locations simultaneously. The analog signal strength is reduced with each split, however, requiring more amplification later.

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