Studio Diary #32: Rewiring The Studio Rack

Last week, I finally did it: I replaced all the home-made wiring in my rack with professionally-made cables. And, seeing as I was taking everything apart anyway, I used it as an opportunity to give everything a much-needed clean too.

Why did I do this? What was involved? How long did it take? And was it worth the trouble and expense? Read on to find out.


I recently replaced all the home-made cables in my studio rack with professionally-made ones from Studiospares. While I was at it, I used the opportunity to change where everything was plugged into my patch bay too.

This work brought a whole host of benefits. Some were expected, but most were not.

I ended up eliminating all noise (expected); being able to make more use of the gear I already own (expected); having more treble in my signal (unexpected); liking the Kemper for the first time ever (unexpected); eliminating the hum from my TLM-49 mic (unexpected and unexplained); and improving the ventilation for my SYN-5050 power amp (expected).

I wish I’d done it sooner.

Table of Contents

What Exactly Did You Do?

Here’s what I did:

  1. I stripped down my studio rack, removing all existing cables.
  2. I took everything out of the rack, and gave it a much-needed dusting.
  3. I re-secured all of the square bolts to the rack.
  4. I replanned the signal paths through the patch bays.
  5. I changed the normalisation settings on my Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1 patch bay.
  6. I put everything back into the rack, taking the opportunity to move a few things around to make better use of the space.
  7. I cabled everything back up, using professionally-made cables this time.
  8. I sat down and tested most of the signal paths through the patch bays.

All in all, it took me two evenings + a full day of effort to do.

Why Did You Do This?

When I got my Synergy OS module, I had a lot of trouble with signal quality and noise. I tracked this down to a faulty home-made cable that I was using in my rack.

I had a lot of those cables in my rack. Nearly everything in the rack that was wired into my Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1 patch bay used those cables. If one of them was giving me trouble that I hadn’t noticed before, there was a good chance that others could be doing the same.

That problem happened back in February, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Obviously, my home-made cables had to go, but what would I replace them with?

It took me the best part of three months to figure that out.

What Cables Did You Go With?

I found a pack of TRS patch bay cables from StudioSpares. Each cable is 60 cm long, and being TRS they have the benefit of being balanced cables. Not that any of my gear has balanced inputs and outputs that I know of, mind.

(These are the same folks I got my studio rack from back in 2019.)

In a rack like mine, 60cm is long enough to cable everything up – as long as the patch bay goes in the middle of the rack. If you’ve got a taller rack, or (like me) have gear sat on top of the rack too, you’ll need something longer. To cable up my SYN-1 enclosures, I bought these cables from Amazon.

So far, I’m very happy with all of the cables that I bought.

Did You Re-Use Any Existing Cables?

Yes, I did.

I’ve got some Fender instrument cables that I’m using for longer runs out to my pedal board. (I have two runs: one for drive pedals, and a second for delay & reverb). These, I kept. I didn’t see any reason to replace them.

I also use Fender instrument cables for patching in the FX send/return of the Fryette PS-100 Power Station. I kept these as well.

(Why Fender cables? My local guitar store only sells two brands of cables – Fender, and D’Addario. While they should be interchangeable, the Fender cables were a lot less prone to noise when I was gigging.)

I also reused all of my existing XLR cables. My local guitar store made them for me when I first got the rack, and I’ve been very happy with them.

You Mentioned Replanning The Signal Paths?

Seeing as I was going to re-cable absolutely everything in the rack, I took the opportunity to rethink exactly what was cabled up and which patch bay ports it was cabled into.

Some Signal Paths Were No Longer Needed

I’ve used the rack a lot over the last two years, and while some of the signal paths got used a lot, I couldn’t help but notice that some signal paths didn’t get used at all.

  • I never used the FX loops on the SYN-1 enclosures. I unplugged the cables almost immediately after first wiring them in, and never missed them.
  • I never used the line inputs on the Focusrite Octopre. I bought this to give me more mic preamps. I just don’t need any extra line-level inputs.
  • I stopped using the patch bay ports for the instrument inputs on the SYN-1 enclosures after the problems with the Synergy OS module that kicked this whole exercise off. Those inputs are on the front of the SYN-1 enclosures, where they’re easily accessible.

So, there was simply no point in cabling those up like that a second time.

I’ve also sold some rack gear since I first planned out the rack. The ISP Decimator ProRack G and Matrix GT1000FX have both gone to new homes. Those cables could come out, and the patch bay ports get reassigned to something else.

Some Signal Paths Were Missing

I also discovered that plenty of ports on my existing gear had never been cabled up in the first place:

  • Line inputs 1-4 on my Apollo x6 interface (just line inputs 5 & 6).
  • Mic inputs 3-8 on my Focusrite Octopre. (Mic inputs 1 & 2 are on the front of the unit; they don’t need cabling up.)

Looking at my notes, I’d always planned to cable these up, but had forgotten to actually do so 🤦‍♂️. I clearly never needed them before now.

This was an opportunity to put that right.

New Signal Paths Needed Adding

One reason I had to do all this was that I needed to make room in the rack for a new FX processor (blog post coming soon). It’s got quite a few stereo ins and outs, and I needed to assign them ports on the patch bay.

How Do You Plan / Organise Your Patch Bay?

I’ve got two patch bays: a Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1 for normal jacks, and an ART P16 for XLR cables. Let’s talk about the P16 first, as it’s the easier one to plan for.

Organising The ART P16 XLR Patch Bay

The ART P16 XLR patch bay is a very very simple piece of kit. You get 16 XLR ports, and they’re all either inputs or they are all outputs. There’s no routing or switching at all, and you can’t change the orientation of individual ports on the unit.

I’m using mine for mic inputs.

  • On the left hand side, starting from port 1, I’ve got my Apollo x6 inputs, then the mic input to my Kemper and the mic input for my dbx 286s vocal preamp/processor unit.
  • On the right hand side, starting from port 16, I’ve got the mic inputs for my Focusrite Octopre. Six of them are cabled up through the P16. Inputs 1 & 2 on the Octopre are on the front of the unit.

I don’t need to have any XLR outputs cabled up. Everything that has an XLR output also has a corresponding 6.53mm jack output too. The XLR outputs are normally for long cable runs to a front-of-house (FoH for short) sound desk at a live venue. Not something I have here at home 🙂

(Not to say I wasn’t tempted to get a second ART P16 for XLR outputs. I almost bought one, before I understood that it wasn’t needed.)

What’s Wired Into The Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1 Patch Bay?

I use the patch bay to make it convenient to patch my delay and reverb pedals in between any signal source and signal sink that I’m using.

Most of the gear that’s wired into the patch bay is either a signal source (guitar preamp, pedal board, the Kemper) or a signal sink (audio interface, amplifier head, power amp). Sound comes from a signal source, and sound terminates at a signal sink. They’re the two ends of a signal chain.

That’s had a big effect on how I’ve organised what cables are plugged into what ports on the patch bay.

Organising The Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1 Patch Bay

I’ve got the patch bay organised:

  • top-to-bottom first,
  • then left-to-right

I’ve organised things so that all the outputs of my gear are plugged into the top row of jacks on the back of the patch bay. All the inputs of my gear are plugged into the bottom row of jacks on the back.

That way, when I look at the front of the patch bay, if I want to connect two pieces of gear together, I know that I need to run a cable from somewhere on the top row to somewhere on the bottom row. It keeps things nice and simple.

Then, I just started at the left with signal sources (the returns from my Gigrig G2, the send & return from my delay and reverb pedals, and so on), and worked my way along.

One thing I am doing that’s a little different is that I don’t put the inputs and outputs from the same gear together. What do I mean by that?

  • The inputs that go off to my FX loop are on the bottom row of channels 3 & 4, while the returns from the FX loop are on the top row of channels 5 & 6.
  • The 6 inputs to my audio interface are on the bottom row of channels 14-19, while the 6 outputs from my audio interface are on the top row of channels 8-13.

What I’ve done is try to organise things so that the signal paths I use the most almost always flow left-to-right across the patch bay. It just suits how my brain works.

Is There A Different Way To Organise Everything In The Patch Bay?

While I was writing this blog post, I realised that it might have made more sense to put inputs on the top, and group inputs and outputs for devices on the same channels. For example:

  • The inputs that go off to my FX loop could have been on the top row of channels 3 & 4, while the returns from the FX loop could have been on the bottom row of channels 3 & 4.
  • The 6 inputs to my audio interface could have been on the top row of channels 14-19, while the 6 outputs from my audio interface could have been on the bottom row of channels 14-19.

This way, the ins and outs of any piece of gear is grouped together into one set of channels. Putting the inputs on top and the outputs on the bottom might also be more natural for people to follow too.

I’m going to stick with my left-to-right flow for now, but I am sorely tempted to try this different approach at some point later in the year.

Keeping Track Of What Is Patched In Where

I can’t remember what is patched into each channel of my patch bay. Unfortunately, I don’t have the means to create labels for my patch bay either. If I could make labels, they’d probably be too small for me to read at my age.

So, instead, I’ve setup a simple Google Spreadsheet to keep track of what’s patched into where. It works for me.

How I Normalise My Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1 Patch Bay

When I first got this patch bay, normalisation was the thing that confused me the most. But it’s actually really simple. It boils down to a yes/no choice for each channel in the patch bay.

What Is Normalisation?

The top and bottom ports on a patch bay channel can be linked, or they can be totally independent.

When they are linked:

  • signal flows from the top rear jack to the bottom rear jack without you needing to plug in a patch cable
  • signal also flows from the top rear to the top front jack
  • if you plug in a patch cable to the bottom jack on the front, then the signal stops flowing from the top to the bottom (ie, the top and the bottom are no longer linked)

This is called half-normalisation.

When they are totally independent:

  • signal flows from the top rear jack to the top front jack
  • signal flows from the bottom from jack to the bottom rear jack
  • there is no signal flow from the top rear jack to the bottom rear jack, unless you plug a patch cable into the two front jacks

This is called de-normalised or isolated.

There’s also a third type called full-normalisation, but the Neutrik doesn’t support it.

Why Would Anyone Use Half-Normalisation?

The benefit of half-normalisation is that it establishes a default signal chain. Signal flows unless you plug in a patch cable. You use patch cables on the front panel to patch something into each of these default signal chains.

That’s very handy if you’re wiring up a collection of outboard gear to form signal chains. You can have the output of your mic pre flow into your compressor then into your EQ and into your audio interface, without needing any patch cables on the front of the unit.

It’s not the right choice for me.

Why Did You Set All The Channels To Be Isolated?

If I was using half-normalisation with my collection of gear, I’d have unwanted, nonsensical signal chains.

The problem with half-normalisation is that signal is always flowing unless I stop it. And stopping those signal chains isn’t as easy as it sounds. I can’t simply plug a cable into the port on the bottom row. The other end of that cable has to be plugged into something as well. If I don’t, then I get grounding noise going into that input.

Effectively, in a half-normalised patch bay, all your inputs are live all the time. All you’re doing with your patch cables on the front panel is changing where the input is getting its signal from.

In an isolated patch bay, none of your inputs are live until you plug patch cables into the front panel to create a signal chain.

Setting every channel to be isolated works a lot better for me. I just don’t use all the inputs all the time, and I don’t have any default signal chains that would benefit from half-normalisation.

Deciding What Goes Where In The Rack

When I put everything back in the rack, I did take the opportunity to move a few things around.

Some Principles For Organising The Gear In The Rack

There is no right or wrong with this. This is just my thinking.

  • The power conditioner goes at the top of the rack, so that I can use the pull-out front lights (they only shine downwards).
  • Any power amps go at the bottom of the rack, because they’re very heavy.
  • Patch bays go roughly in the middle of the rack, so that the cables at the rear can reach everything.
  • If any gear has front panels that I will interact with (like the Kemper), then I want these towards the top of the rack for ease of use.
  • Any gear that I won’t interact with (like my audio interface) can go towards the bottom of the rack.

This worked very well for me.

Some Principles For Organising The Cables In The Rack

Again, this is just my thinking.

  • I run all the power cables down one side of the rack. This is my attempt at keeping noise from power to a minimum.
  • I use the shortest IEC power cables that I can find. I’m assuming that longer cables are going to create more opportunity for noise.
  • XLR patch cables run down the other side of the rack, as far away from the power cables as possible. There’s not that many of them, and it’s easier to tie these up together as one bunch.
  • TRS patch cables live in the middle of the rack. There’s too many of them to route to/from one side of the rack; it’s just much easier to let them fill up the middle space. I do have them bunched together using cable ties, to help keep them from flopping around near the power cables.
  • Be systematic about the order that you do the cabling. I did the bottom row of TRS first, then the top row, and then the XLR cables last. I found it cut down on mistakes.

I’m sure folks who do make up professional studio racks would have much better advice!

Some Advice For Working On A Studio Rack

There’s a few things I’ve learned over the years which made putting everything into the studio rack a lot easier this time around.

  • Test all your cables using a cable tester first. I use a Behringer one that I got for about 10 quid of Amazon. It won’t catch call problems, but it’ll catch the really dumb stuff.
  • Lay the rack flat on its back, so that rack gear drops in vertically. That way, you don’t have any problems trying to hold gear up while you’re bolting it into place.
  • Those square bolts that you get for modern racks? They’ve got little hooks on one side, and you need to put those hooks into the square bolt holes on your rack. Do this, and the bolts are held in place at all times. Makes swapping gear in and out a lot easier in the future.
  • Head lamps (the kind we normally get for hiking on an evening) are your best friend when working in the back of the rack.
  • You’re going to be kneeling a lot. Use knee pads. I didn’t, and I certainly felt it for a few days afterwards!

And finally …

Test Everything Now

I found that breaking down the rack, putting everything back in, and cabling it all up was physically tiring work. I was so tempted just to plug in and start enjoying it. But I wasn’t done yet. I still needed to sit down and test that every input and every output worked.

I don’t want to be troubleshooting cabling issues when I’m trying to use my gear.

It was a good job that I did, too. With this many cables involved, it was inevitable that some of them ended up in the wrong port.

Was It Worth All This Effort?

Hell, yes. I ended up with quite a few benefits – some expected, some a welcome surprise.

Noise? What Noise?

The main reason I did this was to eliminate signal noise caused by my dodgy home-made cables, and I’m delighted with the results. My rig is the quietest it’s ever been in here.

I Can Make More Use Of The Gear I Already Own

When I built this rack in 2019, I didn’t cable everything up at the time. I intended to, but just forgot to do so. This time round, everything that can be cabled up is cabled up. It’s all there, ready to be used whenever I need, however I need.

It’s already proven useful. My band is working on its first EP, and the other night when we wanted to plug another mic in … we just plugged it in and carried on. I couldn’t have done that with the way the rack used to be cabled up.

Everything Is Tidier

Back in 2019, I used home-made cables partly so that I could keep each cable to the minimum length needed. My thinking was that it would be easier to keep it tidy that way.

This time round, I’m using a lot more cables that are all the same length. And yet, somehow, the back of the rack is much tidier this time around. It’s much easier to work in.

I can’t make any sense of this one.

There’s A Lot More Treble Than Before

I’ve had to start tweaking settings, because there’s noticeably more treble in the audio signal than before.

This has only affected paths that used the old home-made cables. The signal path I used for all my pedal-related blog posts never used those cables, so that nothing’s really changed there. But for recording, or anything involving my Synergy amps? Yeah, there’s a bit of a change there.

This was something I didn’t expect.

My Kemper Sounds … Good?!?

I never saw this coming either.

Regular readers (and friends on certain Internet forums) will probably know that I have a hate/hate relationship with my Kemper. So much so, that part of redoing the rack is prep for finally moving it on and replacing it with a Helix rack.

Now, that has to wait for a few months, so for now I’ve cabled it up. It would be a total waste to have it sat there and be totally unusable.

When I was testing the signal paths, I fired up the Kemper (it takes soooo long to boot up these days), and started playing on a Tweed Deluxe profile. (The Kemper is known for doing Marshall-voiced amps a lot better than Fender-voiced ones.)

To my total shock and amazement, it sounded good. I really enjoyed playing it, and I’d seriously consider using it in a recording.

(I will do something with this Tweed Deluxe profile for a Tweed Tuesday post at some point.)

So now I have a dilemma that I wasn’t expecting: do I keep the Kemper? And … can I use the Kemper as an FX processor in my rig?

My TLM49 Mic No Longer Hums?

Remember my blog post about my TLM 49 developing a fault? I still haven’t had it repaired yet.

After the unexpected success with the Kemper, I decided to plug the TLM 49 in. I was expecting it to still hum like anything. There was no hum at all. It was perfectly quiet.

This makes no sense to me at all. Nothing I’ve done to this rack has changed the signal path for microphones. All the XLR cables are the same as before. Same power cables, same audio interface … same everything.

I’m completely baffled by this.

The SYN-5050 Is Better Ventilated

As much as I love my Synergy rig (real valve amps at a fraction of the cost of separate amp heads), the SYN-5050 power amp has always been a source of frustration to me.

Fryette designed it as a 1U rack. That means it needs active cooling; it needs an always-on fan. Fryette picked the most early-90’s whiny PC fan that you can imagine for the job. The fan has two speeds: tolerable and downright annoying. And when the fan kicks up into its higher speed, I can’t switch that power amp off fast enough.

It’s one of the main reasons why I don’t use my Synergy rig more often.

When I put everything back into the rack, I dropped the SYN-5050 down a bit, and made sure it has nothing directly above it or below it. This should improve the ventilation a bit, and cut down on the number of times that the fan kicks into overdrive.

Will it be enough, or should I just cut my losses and find a SYN-50 amp head instead? I guess we’ll find out this summer.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I know it’s a long post, even for me 🙂

Doing all this was very disruptive. I seriously hope that I don’t have to do this again for a very long time. It was well worth the effort.

I started putting gear into a rack so that it was ready to go whenever I wanted to use it. Now that it’s all been re-cabled and re-organised, I’ve finally achieved that.

And the timing couldn’t have been better.

The day after I finished doing the rack, my band sat down to start work on its first proper recording project. The revised rack has already proven very useful, even at this early stage. We found that the gear’s no longer in the way; the gear now serves our creative process. Sounds like a cliché, I know, but it’s true. We’ve done two sessions so far, and for the first time ever, the music is truly coming first.

But hey – it was worth doing just to get rid of the noise that used to plague my setup.

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