As you're probably well aware, there's more to a studio than just the mics, mixers and multitracks. Probably the single most neglected items in most home project studios are the connectors. Are you guilty of using your old guitar cable to run audio in your studio? If you are, relax, you're not alone. Thousands of serious musicians grab the first available cable when hooking things up in their studio.

Here at Sweetwater, when we outfit a home studio for our customers, we typically advise the person to order top quality cables and connectors. We know how important these can be. Inferior cables or patchbays and direct boxes lead to noise, the most destructive element in the ultra-clean, high quality world of digital audio. Of course, we stock only the finest cables and connectors on the market, including the superb products from ProCo. This company has really pushed the envelope in creating, manufacturing and distributing the best connections in the industry. We're proud to be carrying their products, and pleased that Charlie Wicks of ProCo Sound sent us the following information on patchbays for this issue of Sweet Notes. We think you'll find it interesting:

The single most important function of a patchbay in an audio system is to provide a means of quickly building and configuring a system from a collection of components. The patchbay replaces a linear plan of connection with a centralized plan. The inputs and outputs necessary to build the system are brought from their various physical locations to a single place and presented to the system operator on a single type of connector. This eliminates the "terrible twins" of interconnection:

  1. "It won't reach — the cable isn't long enough."

  2. "It won't plug in — the connector is different."

A patchbay becomes necessary when the behavior of these twins becomes sufficiently annoying and/or dangerous. A composer/musician/engineer working in a home studio on his or her own projects may not find it objectionable to take a few minutes (sometimes more) to connect a noise gate to an insert point or unplug a sampler and connect a drum machine in its place. This is a matter of how much the person values that time. If there's a lot more time than money, a patchbay is probably not on the "get it right now!" list.

As the size of the audience (friends, clients, patrons, etc.) watching the engineer sort through a tangled mass of cables and search for adapters increases, the likelihood of a patchbay purchase increases as well.

In large audio systems — which I'll define as those involving hundreds of inputs and outputs, multiple signal paths and equipment in locations that are physically distant from one another — the patchbay becomes a virtual necessity because it is just about impossible to diagnose a faulty piece of equipment without simultaneous access to the successive stages the signal is processed through.

In many ways, the designer of the patchbay is the designer of the system: A carpenter may build a really nice set of rooms, but if you have to go through the garage to get from the bedroom to the bathroom, odds are he should have been a little more specific about hallways and doors.

There are lots of benefits to adding a patchbay to your system, but you do need to understand terms like balanced and unbalanced, as well as normalled, half-normalled, etc. That's where your Sweetwater sales engineers fit right in. They know about patchbays — they probably struggled at one time themselves to understand this simple, yet seemingly confusing item. So they are in a perfect position to explain and help you choose the perfect patchbay for your system. Prices for premium ProCo patchbays start at just $375. And, of course, we'll also help you add quality cables and other necessary connectors to your studio to help make the most of your investment in both time and money!