Review: Samson S-Patch Plus Patchbay
I’ve had a home studio for a while now, but all that time I’ve been getting by with directly connected equipment. Over the years one of my biggest goals has been to build up a pair of golden channels that would contain my main recording chain.
The default channel looks like this:
Microphone > Preamplifier > A/D Converter > Interface > Computer
However, because of G.A.S. over the years I have accumulated some other preamps that were meant to be used for this instrument or that. These I have defaulted to using the built in A/D converters on my interface which (arguably) aren't as optimal as the converters on the dedicated unit. I have an outboard compressor and other preamps that largely sit idle because I don't have enough inputs to connect them to.
Furthermore, I haven't added anything else to the input chain (for instance EQ or compression) because I don't always want to use these effects but have no good way of rewiring them on the fly.
So I decided that it was time to try out a patchbay, which would allow me to route together a chain in seconds without crawling behind my rack and following cables around.
Being new to patchbays I didn't want to spend a ton on the unit and poked around the internet for a good affordable purchase. Although you can spend a grand or more on a bay, there are several in the $80 - $150 range, and of these the Samson S-Patch Plus unit seemed to get some pretty good reviews. I found one at Front End Audio for $119 (during one of their 15% off sales for the extra discount). Front End Audio also has an option to add 12 or 24 Mogami patch cables, so I went for the 12 cables as well. I figured that even if this bay didn't work out I could use the cables on a different unit.
First Impressions And Setup
My first impression of the unit was that it felt quite solidly built just pulling it out of the box. Before racking it I took one of my TRS patch cables and tried out a few of the connectors, and found that the plug fit snugly with no play, but was easy to pull in and out. The package came with feet that can be attached in case you want to set it on a desktop, but I had space so I just racked it.
Setting up the equipment was easy once I had the routing configuration written down. Mine was a very simple use case but I still had to mull over it a few times before I wrapped my head around it. The lower set of connectors I used for inputs from my preamps, so I used female XLR to TRS to connect the XLR out from my pres to the TRS on the patchbay inputs. I then used male XLR to TRS to patch channels 1 and 2 of my A/D converter, which has XLR inputs and then connects to the audio interface via SP/DIF, and then TRS to TRS to patch the input channels of my interface.
I did take some care to think about my default chain, so that my two favorite preamps would be routed automatically to the dedicated A/D converter without any patch cables necessary. Once that was all done, I was able to squeeze out from behind my rack and start having some fun!
Samson S-Patch Plus Features
One fantastic feature that the Samson has is the ability to switch from Normal to Half Normal on the fly, right from the front of the unit. This is much more convenient than units that come with top side switches, which would require de-racking to switch, or require opening the front panel.
To test the normal modes, I first switched one of the channels routing one of my main preamps to the dedicated A/D converter to [N], or fully normalled. I then plugged in a patch cable from the output into the input of one of the channels that is routed directly to the input on the audio interface. As expected, the patch cable broke the path on the first channel and routed into the other channel. I then switched the first channel from [N] to [HN], or half normalled. As soon as I did this, the signal was routed to both channels. I had figured there would be some sort of pop or click, but the switching was seamless.
Another feature that makes this a great choice for a first patchbay is that there is no soldering needed. On many of the higher end units you'll need to have some skill in soldering in order to wire things up. Although learning how to solder is relatively easy and useful for home studios (and many other things), it does take practice, requires a soldering iron, and also a space to do the work. The Samson doesn't require this - the inputs and outputs are all TRS connectors, and the configuration is all done through the front panel switch.
When I was researching this unit, I did read a concerning review that there was leakage from one channel into the channel next to it. This didn't make sense to me, and I didn't hear see it in any other review, so I decided it wasn't going to sway me. Nevertheless, I did a test on the first couple of channels. I plugged in a mic > preamp into channel 1 and left channel 2 blank, and then recorded both into my DAW. Channel 2 was completely silent except for an almost imperceptible noise floor if I really cranked the output. I'm wondering if the reviewer might have still had a hot preamp plugged into a channel he/she though was disconnected. I did find that if I left a second preamp plugged into the second channel some signal came through, but it was from the preamp, not channel bleed.
I will mention a gripe that echoes that of other reviewers - there is no place to write on the patchbay itself what channels are connected to what, and very little space for a sticker with readable writing. I have a small studio and remembering the connections is not an overwhelming task, but I could see if you had lots of outboard gear and a few of these patchbays you'd have to have a separate cheat sheet hanging on your rack to guide you through the connections.
When I started Songwriter Sidekick I really wasn’t expecting my first review to be of a patchbay. But I was so immediately happy with this unit that I had to get it down on "paper." This will be a fantastic - and affordable - way for me to start utilizing all my gear while keeping a solid workflow. Although there are others to consider in this price range (see below), I'd highly recommend the Samson S-Patch Plus as a first patchbay. And I will look forward to be spending much less time with this chaos: