How Does A Patch Bay Work?

A patch bay allows you to modify the signal flow between devices in your studio without getting behind all of your gear and unplugging and replugging wires. 

Patch bays not only save that trouble, but they also reduce wear and tear on your equipment’s jacks. There are two types of patch bays: audio patch bays are switchboards that reroute audio signals; MIDI patch bays, on the other hand, reroute MIDI signals.

For new engineers and musicians entering a music studio for the first time, the patch bay is typically a source of confusion. It can be overwhelming with all these plugs and wires, and you may wonder, “Where do those patch points go and just how does a patch bay work?”

Even in a simple recording session, there is always a tangle of cables running from one end to the other, all of which are different colors, lengths, and connection kinds. Learning how to use a patch bay may look like it involves a manual, a degree in electrical engineering, a 300 IQ, or some magical mantras at first glance. 

But, if you understand the basic principles and norms, the process is as simple as running cords from one piece of equipment to the next.

Learning how to regulate the patch bay’s energy will change your life because it will enable you to send signals between each of the devices in your studio with ease, opening up an entirely new world of innovation and productivity.

Patch Bay’s Three Rules

However, there are a few things you should know before attaching your gear to a patch bay. 

This is accomplished by adhering to the following three basic setup rules:

  1. Outputs are connected to the top jacks.
  2. Inputs are connected to the bottom jacks.
  3. Only top-to-bottom connections are made.

Patch Bay Modes

When it comes to patch bay setups, there are several types based on their “normalizing” capabilities. 

The term “normalling” relates to how the patch bay in question handles signal flow in and out. Some let you choose the types of normalling you want, while others are only manufactured with one, so it is crucial to understand what their function is before you buy.

But let us tell you that it’s totally fine. You can be perfectly content in Normal mode; all you’ll need are extra patch cables. However, if you know how to use the other two modes, you will be able to dial in the magic and save time and work when it comes to cabling. 

Let us take a look at each mode:

Full-Normal Patch Bays

Without the use of a patch wire on the front, each output flows through the appropriate input straight under a full-normal audio patch bay arrangement. 

When a patch cable is attached in the front, regardless of an input or output, the original backlink is broken, and the signal is then routed straight through the patch cable.

Half-Normal Patch Bays

Once you plug a half-normal patch bay, the signal is split between two inputs. 

When you attach a patch wire to the output, unlike in a full-normal system, the signal flow is not disrupted. The original link is not interrupted when a patch cable is attached to the top row (the output jack). 

With a clone of the signal traveling through the patch cable, the signal proceeds to the normalled input. This is useful in a dry/wet recording when one signal is fully influenced by other signal chain components and the other is not.

Non-Normal (or De-Normal) Patch Bays

A non-standard patch bay is one in which none of the points are physically routed until a patch cable is used to do so. 

This is a much more time-consuming configuration that necessitates a greater number of patch cords. However, it can be advantageous in some scenarios, such as effects processing and feedback loops.

Throughput Patch Bays

A patch bay’s purpose is not always to generate intricate chains; sometimes, it’s just to conceal wire clutter behind the table or rack and transform the matching front jacks into direct “throughputs.” 

Throughput patch bays, such as the Hosa PDR-369 and MXL-369 XLR Patch Bays, enable all wires to connect behind the patch bay, allowing for the usage of a single cable for any of the inputs or outputs.

Keep in mind that normal and half-normal modes will, for the most part, meet all of your requirements.

Creating A Patch Bay Strategy

When it comes to setting up your patch bay, the best place to start is by determining how many inputs and outputs you’ll need, then understanding what sort of normalization you’ll need, and giving a detailed wire diagram to see just how your links will be formed. 

Many patch bay manufacturers even provide blank layouts to aid with signal routing visualization and planning.

Top-to-bottom matching isn’t a good idea: This is a common rookie error caused by a lack of understanding of the three basic modes. People often prefer to stack a piece of gear’s output and input vertically, although this isn’t the most effective method to use a patch bay.

Organize: Don’t underestimate the value of simple organizational tools in resolving headaches quickly. The use of scribble-strip tapes to mark the gear or output assigned to every jack on the front is one of the most visible examples. It’s also a good idea to name the cables themselves. Cable ties and split looms can also be used to keep cable clutter at bay behind the desk. 

Instead of cramming or scattering cords that aren’t in use yet, buy a cable holder to keep your workspace neat and your wires easily accessible.

Do I Need A Patchbay?

Do you? We’re not sure. You could benefit greatly from a patch bay if you spend over 1 minute trying to link a piece of studio equipment. 

Above everything, it gives you a place to practice and play with the signal flow so that the next time you step into a commercial studio, you won’t be panicked attempting to set up the cue sends. You’ll be at ease and able to concentrate on the task at hand.


Using the steps outlined above, you should be able to greatly simplify and comprehend the intricacies of a patch bay. Next time you encounter someone asking “how does a patch bay work?” you may just be able to give them all the answers!