Patchbay or jackfield? It doesn’t matter - two words essentially for the same thing. We normally refer to jackfields, probably because it sounds a bit more, well, BBC, so I’m going to stick with that.
The professional audio industry stole the idea from the telephone exchanges back in the days when an operator was responsible for patching each call, using a patch cable. To this day, we refer to the original, larger type as a “GPO” jackfield.
For our purposes, jackfields allow access to the inputs and outputs of multiple audio devices, allowing the user to patch between inputs and outputs of each unit. They are essential with large-format mixing consoles, where there is no other form of access to the desk’s functionality.
So, there are various different types of jackfield available and it’s important to know the distinction between them:
The first incarnation of the jackfield, as used at the telephone exchange in the early 20th century. In many ways, this is still the best choice. High quality, large jacks give the most reliable connections. We call these “B-Gauge” jacks, as opposed to the “A-Gauge” jacks you might be more familiar with, as used in the TRS Jackfield below. Don’t confuse the two - an A-Gauge jack will damage a B-Gauge socket.
Effectively a miniaturised version of the GPO jackfield, allowing twice as many jacks in the same space. The smaller jacks make legends more difficult to read but offer a similar quality level.
The cheapest and simplest option, but at the cost of quality and reliability. These units generally employ back-to-back connectors rather than hard-wiring and are far less robust in construction. That said, they’re simple and cheap to replace.
Stay tuned to find out why you might benefit from a jackfield in your own studio!