Study Hall

The Right Connections: An Introduction To The Wonderful World Of Patching

It requires organization, labeling, and great attention to detail, and if it's not done properly, it can cause immense frustration and stress.

When it comes to completing tasks at events like festivals, A/V installations, or maintenance system checks, there are many similar tasks that need to be accomplished. These tasks include hanging a PA system, setting up front of house and monitor consoles, and cable patching.

If you’re not familiar with cable patching, it’s simply the process of connecting inputs, outputs, or other external devices using different types of cables such as XLR, NL4, NL8, Cat5/6 and more.

However, cable patching requires organization, labeling, and great attention to detail. If not done properly, it can cause immense frustration and stress. We all have horror stories about it, but they can be great learning experiences!

A Lot Of Ways

There are many different approaches for patching inputs and outputs, whether using physical cables or audio networking software such as Dante Controller. Some of the most popular tools include sub-snakes and splitters.

A sub-snake is a group of audio cables contained within a single casing. There is a set of XLR cables at one end of the casing, which is typically called a fan out. On the other end, there is a stage box that consolidates all of the inputs and outputs together. They come in several different lengths, wire gauge sizes, and channel counts.

A splitter is similar to a sub-snake, but the inputs that are plugged in via XLR can be sent to multiple types of audio equipment, such as consoles. There’s usually one multi-pin main output and a second multi-pin split output. Having both of these outputs on the split will allow for two multi-pin cables with an XLR fan out to connect a FOH console and a monitor console. Hence the name, splitter, or splitting of the signal.

There are a variety of methods for connecting audio devices like consoles to sub-snakes and splitters. Analog setups are commonly established using multicore cables with multiple connectors, such as XLR and multi-pin. However, digital stage boxes are connected using twisted pair cables, including Cat/5/6 and fiber optic cables. It’s important to note that both analog and digital stage boxes have their unique features and advantages.

Digital stage boxes provide a few benefits over analog ones, including a high resistance to noise and grounding issues as well as their use of smaller cables, which provides cable redundancy. However, digital snakes and stage boxes also have their drawbacks, such as the introduction of latency during the analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion processes, which can result in a significant audible delay.

Both analog and digital setups have their specific purposes and can be suitable for different applications. It’s essential to consider the specific needs of the application before making a choice between analog and digital setups. By doing so, one can ensure that they choose the most appropriate option that meets the specific requirements of their audio setup.

Audio adapters are crucial for many applications, especially when it comes to patching. There are several types of adapters to be familiar with, such as TRS, XLR, TS, Neutrik Speakon, RCA, and banana plugs.

Take, for instance, an XLRM-dual XLRF Y-cable – if you’re managing the stage at a festival and you realize that each band has a completely different stage plot, causing you to reconsider the sub-snake layout, a Y-cable can come in handy. It enables you to connect to a specific channel on a stage split and route that channel to two different sub-snakes on either side of the stage. This is an excellent way to streamline inputs.

Here’s another scenario: You’re at a gig using a digital console and stage box, but you notice that the stage box doesn’t have XLR outputs, only 1/4-inch. That’s a problem because the monitors are powered and can only receive XLR inputs.

However, if you have 1/4-inch-XLRM adapters, you can effortlessly plug in the 1/4-inch end to the output of the stage box and connect the XLR end to the speakers. It’s essential to have a range of adapters on hand during gigs since they can be a lifesaver in tricky situations.

Hard & Soft

Now that we’ve established the basics of patching and identified some common equipment that is employed, it’s time to delve into the two types of patching: hard and soft. In the previous paragraph, I explained the concept of hard patching, which involves connecting devices via cables. Soft patching, on the other hand, is a highly effective method for altering the inputs or outputs of a console without physically moving the cables themselves.

I’ll illustrate this with an example. Suppose you’re mixing a band and have received the input list. Typically, you would connect input 1 to channel 1 in a sub-snake or splitter, which is known as 1-1 patching. This would make input 1 appear on the first channel of the console.

However, if you need to move the kick drum that is currently plugged into channel 1 of the sub-snake, simply re-patch it within the console using the digital patchbay. You can assign channel 12 on the console to channel 1 of the sub-snake, and the kick drum will then show up on channel 12 or any other channel you choose, despite being physically plugged into channel 1.

Organizing inputs is crucial for any live performance to run smoothly. Soft patching has numerous benefits, and labeling connections on sub-snakes, stage boxes, or XLR cables with tape helps in keeping them organized.

Proper labeling can save a lot of time during troubleshooting and make changeovers much smoother. Taking an extra 20 minutes before the gig to label the connections can help relieve stress during the show. Additionally, color coding sub-snakes based on their location on the stage can be very useful for a festival or multi-act show.

With the right tools, techniques, and knowledge, patching can become a fun and rewarding experience. By paying close attention to detail, being organized, and using the right equipment, we can make the job easier and provide excellent service to our clients.

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