So I went through my annual “rite of passage” last weekend: I cleaned up cables and re-wired my studio. What I thought would take a single day and could be done with existing materials on hand, turned out to take a week and cost damn near $300….
What was I thinking…?
I’ve got a big birthday coming up this year and my wonderful wife (I mean that) has been pretty indulgent of me of late. I’ve been able to score some incredible deals on eBay for used equipment, and she has turned a bit of a blind eye on the random box that shows up from UPS. I think in part it may be because she’s not sure what to give me for my birthday. Or it could be that as I get older and it becomes more apparent that the “die is cast” as far as what I’ll be doing for the next 25 years (hint: it probably isn’t making a living from music), she may be taking some pity on me. Maybe it’s both. Whatever the reason, I’ve been able to pick up just about everything I’ve ever dreamed of having in terms of music equipment. (Now before you read too much into it, my dreams are quite simple. No huge consoles or exotic speakers or vintage microphones or outboard gear. Interesting synths mostly.)
So getting this stuff meant swapping some modules around in my rack and pulling a rack down from the attic to hold some new things. And, since I was going to be doing all of that, I figured I might as well go ahead and “tidy up” all of the wires and detritus that has accumulated behind the desk and rack in the past couple of years…
I knew I had to do some planning and prioritization before getting started.
- I have 3 rack units: an 8-space in my work desk, an Argosy 10-space, and an Argosy 14-space. That’s 32 spaces available for equipment.
- I have modules that total up to 38 rack spaces.
- I have only 2 audio interfaces (Motu 828Mk2s) limiting the number of audio ins and outs. (I eschewed using patch-bays; I want stuff “hardwired” into inputs and ready to go.)
Finally, I wanted each rack to be a largely self contained cube with a minimal number of wires running from one rack to the other, or from each rack to the computer or power supply. That meant at least three spaces in the 10 and 14 space racks would be taken up by an audio module (an 828mk2) , a midi module (MOTU 128 midi express), and a Furman power strip to create self contained “audio cubes”.
Over our recent vacation, I sketched out different configurations in my music journal. This was helpful, but of limited value (as we’ll see later).
First things first, I had to get my old 14-space rack disconnected from everything so I could pull the modules and cords. I moved the rack a bit, detached the wires and rolled it out…
Then I needed to rearrange all of the modules into their new homes. This part was a bit of a bear even with all of the pre-planning. The problem was that I did not take into account the front-to-back depth of each modules. You’ve got to keep that in mind because plugging audio or midi cables in after everything is assembled and rolled back into place (come on…you know it will happen) can be made much easier if you plan for that restricted access by stacking the modules in a stepped fashion to make access to things easier. Anyway, I took over the guest room (known as “grandma’s room” around here) to dissassemble and reassemble the racks…several times.
After I had that sorted, I had to the wire the modules. I did this in layers: Power connections first, then audio cables, then midi. I took care to bundle and run the power cords away from the audio cables. The picture below of the back of the 14-space rack looks a mess, but in person and up close, it really makes sense.
Then of course there was the wiring behind the desk for the computer and peripherals…
Now you would think – after all of these years – that I would own any cable that I could possibly need. I have dozens of midi cables, audio cables, firewire cables, and USB cables of multiple lengths and with every conceivable combination of connectors you can imagine. Apparently however, I did not have the particular combination of cables, connectors, and lengths needed by my new set-up. Over the next week I made two visits to GuitarCenter, a visit to Chuck Levin’s, a visit to MicroCenter, and placed a rush order with OWC, to get the cables (and a replacement PCI-e firewire/USB card for my MacPro) to string this mess together.
So I assembled the two racks…
I rolled them into my 9′ by 9′ by 9′ almost perfect cube untreated “studio” (which is just peachy for monitoring by the way), and hooked them together and into the computer system and into the APC power conditioners/back-up power supplies…
Rolled everything into place….
And voila! The newly configured studio!
Of course…this is where some of the real work began…
See, I had completely changed the midi port and audio input assignments and so had to rebuild my audio-midi settings, reconfigure my audio interfaces and sync so that one MOTU828 fed the other thru ADAT (so I could access each of its audio inputs independently), reconfigure my audio IO and labels and re-do my midi instrument assignments in in my various DAWS to match the new configuration (on-going at the moment as I only have StudiOnePro reconfigured at this time), and track down a bunch of little weird gremlins/anomalies to get this stuff to “work” easily. Getting MOTU’s CueMix to play nicely with my DAWs was an interesting couple of days….
In any case, it all appears to work and THIS time I’m going to manage my cables so that I don’t have to go through this again. Really. I will…Really.
I’m serious this time.