Thus, all lines go through a single snake to a box on the other end, which breaks out each line individually again. This approach makes each input available at the box, and at the end of the snake.
But it’s crucial to never plug into both the input of the box and the same input on the snake. Bad things will happen!
The goal is to gain the option of connecting a mic cable to the floor box for input or running the mic cable to the end of the snake, not both.
An alternative to multi-pin snakes are fan-to-box snakes. These plug into each line individually, so the snake jacks coincide with the floor box jacks.
This approach is more time consuming but much safer. Either approach saves time and cleans up the platform. (I generally recommend snakes ranging from 15 - 75 feet in length.)
Let’s say we’ve got all these items plugged in at the platform at various floor box/wall panel locations.
For example, drums are on channels 9-15, vocals on 74-82, lead guitar on 4, and bass on 63. We’re using a 32-input mixing console posted at front of house/operator position.
Wait a minute - our math doesn’t add up. More inputs on platform than at the console! This is where we encounter patch bays, which allow the sound tech to simply take any input on platform and assign it to any channel on the console via a short patch cable. Think of an old-time telephone switchboard in terms of look and function.
Subsnakes can also be a big help. (click to enlarge)
Patch bays can be our best friend, but they can also present problems and turn into your worst enemy. First, a quality patch bay may cost as much as $1,000. And even at that rather lofty price point, they can still be one of the first things to go bad within a system.
The best way to avoid patch bay problems is proper installation, and as a result, we recommend that only a qualified contractor perform such installs. It’s a detailed, labor-intensive process, which adds even more to the cost, but without proper installation you’re just setting up for a waste of dollars.
Another option is the “poor man’s patch bay” - a snake box, linked via its snake to the house console. The box is usually mounted at a location off the platform out of sight, ready to accept inputs running from the platform. You then simply take the platform inputs and plug them into the box as needed - easy and flexible switching of inputs.
Patch panels are a solution, but come with some downsides. (click to enlarge)
Keep in mind that while a 32-input console may be in use now, there may come a day when it makes sense to expand to a 48 or more input console. Use a snake big enough to accommodate this growth, simply covering the extra inputs until they might be needed.
One note is to be cautious - don’t allow anyone the opportunity to plug into channel 32 on the snake box if console channel 32 is being used for a CD player or other fixed use application.
Some of this may sound pretty basic, but the issues covered here come up with every project, time after time. You may be using a 16-input console/mixer now, in time need a 32-input console, and further down the road, you may need a 48-input console. Plan ahead, and run a snake and box big enough to allow for growth.
While a qualified AV contractor should be able to accomplish these requirements, it’s important to understand the concepts and to be able to raise questions and propose approaches that work best for your situation - now and in the future.
Rob Stam served as an A/V system designer and installer for more than 15 years, and has long been active as both a musician and a sound operator.