Best Outboard wiring

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Best Outboard wiring

Post by Chimera »

Hi all and Happy New Year,

I recently purchased a Gainlab Audio Dictator (valve compressor) and am awaiting delivery of an Empress (valve EQ). I also have an old DBX 166XS floating around somewhere too.

I am on Cubase 11/12 Pro and am using an RME Fireface 802 and a Ferrofish Pulse 16 for audio in/out.

My studio is hardware synths only. I have 8 stereo output synths and a single mono out synth. I have several Samson s-patch plus patchbays currently unused and if I am honest I would prefer it to stay that way!

I plan on using the Dictator and Empress for tracking and mixing and hope they can be an integral part of my sound design. I am having trouble deciding which is the best way to go about installing the outboard into the system. Initial thoughts were that I would put the three units in series rather than separates and use up a pair of in/outs on the 802 and use them as a hardware fx insert in Cubase. The other option would be to press the patchbays back into action but as you can probably gather I'm not a huge fan of patchbays.

I am struggling a bit with brain fog currently (long story). Any alternative layouts I should be considering?
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by The Elf »

Chimera wrote: Thu Jan 05, 2023 12:01 pm I have several Samson s-patch plus patchbays currently unused and if I am honest I would prefer it to stay that way!

:headbang::headbang::headbang:

Why?!

The patchbays are your ideal answer! Wire them up so normalised they are set in your typical configuration, then you can chop and change 'em around in seconds as you like.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Chimera »

Probably sounds hilarious but after you helped me set them up I eventually sold all my hardware FX because it all seemed like hard work :bouncy::bouncy::headbang:

It seemed like a relief to get rid of the patchbays and I was hoping to avoid painting myself back into that particular corner.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by The Elf »

If patchbays aren't helping then either you're failing to understand what they do, or they are not set up correctly for you.

Honestly - unless you are genuinely happy to be forever stuck in one wiring configuration (which is where you were, and it wasn't working), patchbays are your answer. I really can't imagine not having them!

I'm happy to come back at my own cost to set them up for you. But it sounds like we need to go through your system in fine detail to understand what it is that baffled you.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Chimera »

I understood (deliberate past tense) how they work but I have developed Parkinsonism (Parkinsons caused by medication) and my memory is shot to pieces. I have to constantly relearn all sorts of stuff - hence why it was a relief to get rid of them.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Hugh Robjohns »

By my count the Ferrofish has 16 analogue inputs which can take your eight stereo synths, and the 802 has a further 12 inputs. You need one for your mono synth, leaving 11... and your three outboard processors need a total of six inputs.

So you have more than enough I/O in your system to plug everything straight into your interfaces, and handle all the routing directly in your DAW (or via RME's TotalMix).

No patchbays needed... although I'm with the Elf when it comes to their usefulness in many situations.

Routing everything via the DAW can be simplified further by creating preset routing templates for standard and favourite configurations — or even better, set up the routing via RMEs TotalMix presets.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Chimera »

TBH, I really tend to only use 3 or 4 favourite synths at most. Perhaps I need to scale things back to match my capabilities.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by The Elf »

Sorry to hear that. :(

Given your cirumstances I can see it's maybe not so clear cut.

You could try to get everything connected directly to your interface - then you can set up your chain either in TotalMix or in Cubase.

You know where I am if you need me - happy to help you out. :thumbup:

Cross-posted with Hugh, but we are essentially saying the same thing...
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Chimera »

Cheers Elf,

I'll try and have a think and see if I can work something out but expect an email!
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by The Elf »

Chimera wrote: Thu Jan 05, 2023 1:24 pm Cheers Elf,

I'll try and have a think and see if I can work something out but expect an email!

:thumbup:

Happy to help, mate.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by jaminem »

Hugh Robjohns wrote: Thu Jan 05, 2023 1:15 pm By my count the Ferrofish has 16 analogue inputs which can take your eight stereo synths, and the 802 has a further 12 inputs. You need one for your mono synth, leaving 11... and your three outboard processors need a total of six inputs.

So you have more than enough I/O in your system to plug everything straight into your interfaces, and handle all the routing directly in your DAW (or via RME's TotalMix).

No patchbays needed... although I'm with the Elf when it comes to their usefulness in many situations.

Routing everything via the DAW can be simplified further by creating preset routing templates for standard and favourite configurations — or even better, set up the routing via RMEs TotalMix presets.

Hugh is right of course, but the question I would ask my self is 'do I want to use the HW outboard with my HW synths in series?' i.e. send the output of the synth to the input of the compressor and then into Cubase, so you 'print' the effect.

If the answer is no, then setting up the HW outboard as insert effects and avoiding the use of a patchbay as Hugh describes above will work just fine. You can apply HW effects post recording to the synths just as you would any other plugin (just remember to the setup with latency when you first set up the external FX in Cubase - there's a box the appears when you open the HW plugin that allows you to measure it, its a simple 1 click process so not arduous)

If the answer is yes, then that's where the patchbay comes in handy, you still route the inputs to the outputs and set up external effects in Cubase, but you go via the patchbay and normal the I/O of the HW to the I/O of the interface.

This way should you want to patch a HW compressor into the signal path before the interface you can do it very easily without going round the back of your rack and plugging/replugging etc. Also useful if you ever want to chain HW outboard together so as to avoid multiple passes through the converters
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Chimera »

Well my new sapele rack unit has arrived from Studio Racks - first conclusion is that whilst two 19 inch racks side by side look great, they pose more of an issue with getting them wired up than a unit on castors. Once wired they will be in a much better position for use. Having swotted up on patchbays again I now remember they aren't particularly complicated. Just need to keep some diagrams of what connects to what and not try to rely on memory. Thanks for all the help guys.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Hugh Robjohns »

Diagrams are always a good idea, but if the patchbay is labelled properly it should be obvious what is connected to what.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Hugh Robjohns »

Chimera wrote: Sat Feb 04, 2023 12:23 pmWell my new sapele rack unit has arrived from Studio Racks - first conclusion is that whilst two 19 inch racks side by side look great, they pose more of an issue with getting them wired up than a unit on castors.

I have a triple-bay rack unit. It has Teflon pads underneath and I can move it fully-loaded without hernias on a laminated floor.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by The Elf »

Chimera wrote: Sat Feb 04, 2023 12:23 pm Well my new sapele rack unit has arrived from Studio Racks - first conclusion is that whilst two 19 inch racks side by side look great, they pose more of an issue with getting them wired up than a unit on castors. Once wired they will be in a much better position for use. Having swotted up on patchbays again I now remember they aren't particularly complicated. Just need to keep some diagrams of what connects to what and not try to rely on memory. Thanks for all the help guys.

You know where I am. Begin slowly and test everything as you progress, one piece at a time.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Chimera »

Thanks Elf, its beginning to look a lot like Brexit with nothing agreed until everything is agreed but wiring instead of agreements. I am thinking of connecting the outboard processors to the Fireface as they will be in constant use and I presume the A/D conversion is marginally better than on the Pulse 16.
Currently looking like an explosion in a wiring factory :sos:
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Hugh Robjohns »

Chimera wrote: Sat Feb 04, 2023 3:16 pmI am thinking of connecting the outboard processors to the Fireface as they will be in constant use and I presume the A/D conversion is marginally better than on the Pulse 16.

Yes. Makes sense, especially if you're using the outboard for mastering. The Pulse A-D is more than good enough for synths etc.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Chimera »

thanks Hugh
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Arpangel »

I’ve been through this scenario many times, as a few will know.
I came to the conclusion that after awhile, you find your own quite simple narrow way of working, that you use most if the time, the flexibility of patch bays seems attractive, but the reality for me was that I never got beyond the normalised connections, so I just dismantled them in the end.
Also patching gives you yet more decisions to make, and more options, which just got in the way.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by The Elf »

...but then you're having problems and trying to find workarounds, as evidenced by recent posts.

Do it once, do it right.
Do it right, do it once.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Arpangel »

The Elf wrote: Sun Feb 05, 2023 1:43 pm ...but then you're having problems and trying to find workarounds, as evidenced by recent posts.

Do it once, do it right.
Do it right, do it once.

Or don't do it at all, thats a third possibility, if it doesn’t suit us, right or wrong, there’s no point.
Only the OP can decide, but like a lot of "wallet emptying" things in music tech, you won’t know until you’ve tried, and sometimes, you just cant visualise the outcome.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by zenguitar »

Most wallet emptying exercises in music tech come as a result of not doing it right first time.

Andy :beamup:
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Luke W »

There's certainly an element of "to each their own" with these sorts of situations.

That said, I'm close to making a start on getting a patchbay installed, and although I'll mostly be using everything in a fairly fixed configuration, I've decided that if it prevents me from having to crawl around the back of my desk and racks just once then it will have been worth it!
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Sam Spoons »

zenguitar wrote: Mon Feb 06, 2023 10:36 am Most wallet emptying exercises in music tech come as a result of not doing it right first time.

Andy :beamup:

TBF 'doing it right' is frequently a wallet emptier too :D
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Arpangel »

Fair enough, if you need one, fine.
But it’s my experience, and I’ve witnessed it in pro and bedroom studios alike, unless you keep bays well maintained, you’ll have issues, at some point, not if, but when.
The way I see it, it’s just more to go wrong, and solder tags on bays are almost mandatory, plugs front and rear, forget it.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Hugh Robjohns »

My experience... Plugs front and rear, standard A-gauge domestic jackfield. Three years and counting no issues whatsoever. No maintenance necessary. Almost daily use.

... But I am using relatively expensive Signex CPJ48 panels. Buy cheap, buy twice (or get frustrated and throw the baby out with the bathwater!)

I wouldn't advocate adding a patchbay just because they look good. ;-) Good patchbays are expensive and obviously introduce potential points of failure. So if you don't need the flexibility of a patchbay don't use one.

But if you do need that flexibility the only other equivalent option is an electronic router or matrix system which is even more expensive.

For the OP, the question is really just about workflow. He has sufficient connectivity available to wire all three outboard devices directly to the DAW via his RME and Pulse interfaces. If he only needs to access the outboard units individually it will work perfectly well if connected that way.

The only downside to that approach is if he wants to daisy-chain the outboard devices since that will require several A-D/D-A passes in and out of the interfaces. Sound quality really won't be an issue with multiple A-D/D-A stages, but latency through the converters may well be.

In that situation it would be much better to use an analogue patchbay so that all analogue signal processing can be performed in the analogue domain, with only the complete chain's send and return passing through a converter.

If one unit is used more often than others it could be normalled across a set of interface send/returns, but when a chain of processing is needed (or a different unit to the default option) that can be over-plugged quickly, easily, and flexibly on the patchbay.

It's really just about workflow, flexibility, and convenience. But don't skimp on quality.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by Arpangel »

Hugh makes a good point, cheap bays aren’t good, you have to get the best, as he said, like Signex.
The sockets on cheap bays wear out very quickly, I had a friend who I used to jam with, he had a load of those cheap studio Spares bays, the number of times we had to stop using a bit of gear because of dodgy connections in the bay, that would take too long to sort out in a session.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by James Perrett »

I can remember having problems with patchbays in the old studio where smoky sessions were very common but the newer Studiospares patchbays that were only ever used in a non-smoking studio have been fine.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by The Elf »

All my (jack front and back) Samson S-Patch (not expensive) bays have worked perfectly from day one to today. I think I last re-wired around 8 years ago, to install my MADIFace/A32 combo, and I've not had to touch them since.

So is it the technology, or how it's implemented?

Come to think of it - same thing in 'the other place', where I wired up the bays at least 10 years ago. Samson S-Patch bays, jack front and back. Never a single problem.
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Re: Best Outboard wiring

Post by sonics »

I haven't used patchbays in years, but I used to have socket cleaning tools which I used regularly. For studios I hired (some of which were often too busy to do something as trivial as clean a patchbay) they were some of my best-ever toolkit purchases.
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