Patchulator 8000: Anatomy of a Patchbay

The patchbay has been a mainstay in studios for decades, due to the flexibility they provide for signal routing, yet they have changed very little over the years. Originally used by the telephone service providers, patchbays served to connect callers to one another, which was performed manually by a telephone operator. This is where the term “phone plug” originated, and although the 1/4 inch phone plugs today are of a slightly different shape and material, the design is practically unchanged.

A typical 1/4" rack-mount patchbay, centralizing connections for synths, effects, and DAW interface inputs/outputs.

In the modern studio, engineers, producers and musicians of all types will find patchbays incredibly useful, as one collects more and more gear that may, at some point, need to interconnect. Just about all patchbays in today’s audio market are of the same form-factor: 19 inch rackmount, and typically 1U or 2U. Once mounted in the equipment rack, audio cables from gear in and around the studio are connected or soldered to the back of the patchbay. Patch cables can then be used to route audio signals from one point on the patchbay to another, or to another patchbay, all within a localized area. The power and convenience of such an installation cannot be overstated, as audio sources can be diverted in innumerable combinations to various effects and processors before being patched to their final destinations.

Enter the Patchulator 8000, an eight channel mini patchbay with quite a non-traditional design in more ways than a few...

Sizing it Up

While the traditional patchbay is literally tied to your equipment rack, the Patchulator 8000 is a nimble fellow. Its compact octagonal shape, measuring just over five inches across and two inches high, lets it to sneak into areas where other patchbays can’t. It’s quite unusual to find a patchbay that is most at home in the middle of your tabletop musical workspace, or on your guitar effects pedalboard you carry to practice and to gigs.

Size and portability has several advantages. The Patchulator 8000’s proximity to your gear means much shorter cabling to and from the patchbay, which besides saving some cost, reduces lengthy runs and cable tangles. For unbalanced patchbays and cabling, extra length can attract unwanted noise into the signal, so electric guitarists need to exercise caution when using rack-mounted patchbays.

Sitting amongst electronic instruments and effects, the Patchulator 8000 allows for on-the-fly signal rerouting.

But diminutive size does have its drawbacks, specifically in overall channel count. Whereas your traditional patchbay typically has 48 patch points, the Patchulator 8000 has only 16, amounting to 8 send and return channels. However, this limitation may be remedied by incorporating more than one of these compact patchbays into your rig.

Why be normal?

Normalling is a method of patchbay configuration that lets signal pass from one patch point to the next without the need for a patch cable. This is especially useful when routing instrument channels to a mixer or DAW interface. Signals are “normalled” to their destinations without a clutter of patch cables, yet they can be interrupted and diverted to effects and signal processors connected to other points on the patchbay.

With this in mind, it may be a surprise to learn that the Patchulator 8000 is not configured with normalled connections. And if you’ve ever plugged an effects unit into itself, you may realize there’s a very good reason for it. Internal feedback within your effects processor could possibly damage it, and because you couldn’t hear it, you may not even realize it. But if your channel accommodates an instrument signal, rather than an effect, it can be normalled to its destination simply by using a single patch cable. Besides being a safe-keeper of your effects, this “open” channel design also means effects are true-bypassed by default.

time to connect

Generally, the patchbays used by audio enthusiasts today utilize 1/4 inch phone jacks on both sides for connecting gear (back) and patch connections (front). This is especially useful considering the widespread adoption of 1/4 inch plugs and jacks by gear manufacturers. Many professional studios use slightly smaller Bantam or TT (Tiny Telephone) style patchbays which allow for more channels, a good thing, but because almost no music and audio gear conform to using such connections, the convenience of plugging a device directly into the front of a patch point is gone.

With the increased popularity of eurorack modular synthesizers and the continuing trend of audio gear becoming smaller and more portable every day, the use of mini phone plugs (1/8 inch or 3.5mm) has become much more than a format for headphones. The Patchulator 8000 incorporates this plug and jack format on its topside, which coupled with its shape is key to its compact size. Although the Patchulator 8000 is less flexible on its topside with regards to direct audio connections to gear, the mini patch cables are much more manageable in a such a compact space than 1/4 inch patch cables.

The mini jacks also create a very unique and useful workflow when paired with eurorack modular and semi-modular synthesizers. Using your modular’s mini patch cables, you can route both audio and modulation signals directly from your modules into the Patchulator 8000, which in turn, directs those signals to outboard gear through 1/4 inch connections. In this scenario, the patchbay essentially becomes a 16-point desktop interfacing module for audio and control voltages.

Get Patching

From their size and shape, to their configuration and connections, the similarities and differences between the Patchulator 8000 and more traditional audio patchbays should by now have revealed themselves. If you require normalled or balanced connections and 1/4 inch patching, and of course don’t mind running all your cables to your rack, most patchbays out there today would probably serve you quite well for managing and making patches. But if you’re an electric guitarist looking to route your signal outside of its usual serial path from pedal to pedal, or an electronic music producer with lots of portable, tabletop instruments and effects, or if your eurorack modular is just itching to play with gear outside of the mini cable realm, the Patchulator 8000 may be just the patchbay for you.