Hardware for mixing, mastering, and modular synthesis combine with unprecedented interoperability thanks to PATCH Series digitally controlled analog routing
Toronto, Canada, February 6, 2023— Neil Parfitt’s studio contains more analog gear than many. In addition to a collection of the EQs, compressors, and effects found in many commercial studios — distributed between a separate summing station and producer’s desk— it also sports a back wall covered with modular synthesis gear. “I compose music for animation and synthesizer sound design services for film and television soundtracks, and that led me down the path of deploying a Hybrid workflow as efficiently as possible.” Parfitt says. After an early-career stint with Nelvana animation as a music editor, Parfitt has found freelancing a good fit for his diverse talents. “Being a freelancer involves having your hands in a lot of different pots, sometimes all at once,” he says. “I never would have had the opportunity to work on all these different productions any other way.” In a fast-paced industry, Parfitt needed a way to cohesively integrate the multitude of hardware that was key to his workflow. The Flock Audio PATCH XT, a digitally controlled fully analog patchbay with 192 point connections, proved just the tool he needed.
For Parfitt, the release of the PATCH XT—the largest PATCH Series unit available to date— coincided perfectly with a reimagining of his work space. “I’m a bit of a gear junky, and at some point the walls started closing in on each other in my little studio,” Parfitt says. He embarked on relocating his studio space from an attached garage to a larger location. “Because I was starting from scratch with the space, I was able to tune and organize everything the way I wanted. I’ve had a 64 point PATCH flagship since 2018, but when they announced the PATCH XT I knew it would be the silver bullet my setup needed because it finally had enough connectivity to wrangle all my gear without compromise.”
Hardware takes orbit
For Parfitt, the combination of the PATCH XT and his flagship PATCH–seamlessly integrated into a multiunit configuration within PATCH APP–has allowed for unprecedented flexibility in routing between the hardware residing in different parts of his studio. “Everything analog in the room is connected to the PATCH units,” he says. “That includes the synths, the producer desk, the summing station, all of it. Everything works together, so the room is like a sonic sandbox for me now.” Parfitt notes that before integrating the PATCH Series, connecting his whole studio with this level of interoperability would have been impractical, if not impossible. “Before PATCH I had a lot of gear hardwired a certain way for convenience. But that meant I couldn’t randomly run my drums through the modular and then out through an outboard reverb in a different rack and back into the DAW without climbing behind the racks and reconfiguring the spaghetti. Now everything is available right on the routing matrix in PATCH APP. It’s never been this easy.”
In addition to gains in flexibility for Parfitt with the PATCH Series, the speed of making a routing change in PATCH APP allows him to make thoughtful A/B comparisons between gear. “The thing with auditioning equipment is that if you don’t hear your options back to back instantly, you really can’t compare them objectively,” he says. “If I take a minute to go under the table to rewire inevitably my brain will pick whichever signal sounds louder. PATCH is so fast that I can really make an informed decision quickly at mix position.”
With as many different hats as Parfitt wears as a freelancer, saving his routing presets within PATCH APP helps him quickly jump to the right workflow for the task at hand. “I have a baseline configuration in PATCH APP for every working scenario which I can recall with a click” he says. “I could be doing a synth session in the morning and then have to flip gears to mix a score in the afternoon, and now I can just open a preset and instantly reconfigure the entire space. You can’t even really gauge how much time and money that saves. PATCH totally changed the equation.” That same instant recall also allows for fast and painless revisions. “The ability to quickly recall routings is really significant,” he says. “I save my routings for each project, so if a client asks me to reprocess a synth or run it through a different piece of gear, it’s no problem. It used to be a monumental task.”
Parfitt also leverages the power of PATCH’s multing capabilities to ensure he has the right options at mixdown. “I use multing frequently during synthesizer sound design sessions because, for example if I process in series on the modular and it sounds cool at 3 a.m., it might be “a little over the top” listening back the next morning,” he says. “Now I can effortlessly mult out any elaborate effects to another pair of ADC channels while maintaining the dry print, so I can balance with a fresh set of ears later. This flexibility really helps with modular synth work because it’s very likely you’ll never get that sound again, so you don’t want the effects ‘baked in’ just in case. It’s also a great tool for printing multiple compressors and reverbs and then having the options to pick and choose later once it’s living in the DAW.”
Next Level Control
After getting familiar with PATCH APP Classic during his first few years as a PATCH owner, Parfitt recently upgraded to the new PATCH APP DX and began taking advantage of its premium features. PATCH APP DX’s color coding integration is among the new features that have proven vital. “I use color coding for everything,” he says. “It’s like a visual blueprint of my studio. Compressors, EQs, Reverbs, Delays, pre-amp feeds, summing mixer I/O, and modular all have different colors. I can just glance at the PATCH routing matrix and know what gear in the room is being utilized. Then I can hop over to that area of the room to tweak!”
But perhaps no feature new to PATCH APP DX has been as impactful for Parfitt as the full-featured iPad integration of the software, which enables complete control of PATCH routings and allows him to take photos of gear settings to store with saved routings. This helps Parfitt be more precise and organized in executing recalls than ever before. “I used to have endless photos and notepads all over the place in case I needed to do a recall, but that’s been completely eliminated by PATCH APP DX,” he says. “Now all of that is living right in my saved routings when I need it, whether it’s a day, a week, or a month later. No more, ‘Wait, where did I put that notebook? And I can use the annotation feature to take down additional notes or mark settings if it’s a hard-to-read piece of gear. It’s night and day!”
In addition to taking photos with his iPad for recalls, Parfitt makes ample use of the mobility a full-featured version of PATCH APP DX running on iPad provides. “I’m not tethered to my computer anymore,” he says. “I can be standing by my modular rack in the back of the room working on a synth and change a compressor routing right from my iPad. Or if I’m tinkering at my summing mixer I can swap an EQ without having to move.” This untethered flexibility also helps create a better client experience for attended sessions. “If I have a client at a playback, I can control processing from the sidelines while they’re listening without causing any distraction. ‘Do you like this sound or this?’ Right from the iPad.”
An expanding universe
Though Parfitt acknowledges the power and efficiency in-the-box workflow can offer, he feels that having unlimited options does not equate to unlimited creativity. “When I have anything and everything available to me, I find there’s just a tendency to spend too much time tweaking,” he says. “Does spending 5 hours EQing a tambourine with 20 plug-ins really get you where you want to go? I prefer to say, ‘I’d like to use this particular hardware EQ that I know well, dial it in, move on and continue writing music. It’s a totally different mindset. And the PATCH Series helps me make those critical listening decisions as effectively as possible. It makes the hardware integration feel as effortless as using plug-ins.” As he works on synthesizer sound design for numerous television and film scores, he is excited by the blossoming possibilities of his new studio. “The PATCH has blurred the lines between my synthesizers and traditional outboard equipment,” he says. “I’m able to try routing orders that I was previously deterred from, or that would have been impossible without ripping the studio apart. The PATCH has really opened up the floodgates of experimentation, and I can fully focus on the sound because the technical infrastructure of the studio has become invisible.”
About Flock Audio
Flock Audio Inc. is a pro-audio manufacturer based in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, founded in 2017. The company is best known for its PATCH System Series, which is a Digitally controlled, 100% Analog Patch Bay routing solution for professional audio environments. For more information on Flock Audio and its products, please visit the company website at http://www.flockaudio.com.