While there is still no de facto standard digital connection, the optical connection is one of the most common. Any studio that plays host to a multitude of optical equipped gear will find the Frontier Design Group Apache to be a potential must-have box. The Apache is a 12 in, 12 out optical patch bay capable of patching both ADAT (eight-channel) and TOSLink (two-channel) optical formats.
Product PointsApplications: Studio
Key Features: 12 optical inputs; 12 optical outputs; MIDI I/O and control; PLL for each input
Contact: Frontier Design Group at 800-928-3236, Web Site.
+ Supports both TOSLink and ADAT formats
+ Simple to use
+ No sonic degradation
The Score: The perfect device to quickly change patching configurations between multiple optical equipped peripherals.
The 1RU Apache is 4.8 inches deep and weighs 4.5 lbs. In addition to a standard IEC power connector, the rear panel of the Apache is equipped with 12 optical inputs and 12 optical outputs. A switch on the side of the Apache allows the power to be set to either 120 or 230 volts. Also on the rear panel are two MIDI I/O connectors which allow presets to be stored to a computer or stand alone sequencer if the 12 internal presets aren’t enough. All of the Apache’s front panel functions can be accessed via MIDI SYSEX. In addition, MIDI allows an unlimited number of Apaches to be cascaded if 12 inputs and outputs are not enough.
On the front panel there are 12 input buttons, 12 output buttons and five function buttons (Status, Patch, Store, Recall and MIDI). All 29 buttons have corresponding LEDs and there is also an ADAT Optical LED.
The Status button toggles between the Scanning Status and Activity Status modes. In the Scanning Status mode, the Apache continually scans through the inputs from 1 to 12 lighting one input with all of its corresponding outputs. While scanning through the inputs, if there is no signal present at the input, the input light is dim. If there is input signal present, then the input light is bright. If the input signal is in ADAT format, then the ADAT optical LED light illuminates. In the Activity Status mode, the user can press an input or output button to display its current patching.
Pressing the Patch button puts the Apache in Patch mode. In this mode, each input is assignable to one or more of the outputs. In the Store and Recall modes a patching configuration can be either saved or loaded. Pressing the MIDI button puts the box in MIDI mode. In this status, the Input LED corresponding to the MIDI device ID illuminates. If the Output 1 LED is off, the Apache is not receiving MIDI messages, if it is on dim, the Apache detects MIDI active sensing and if it is on bright, the Apache is currently receiving MIDI messages. The Output 2 button toggles the box in and out of slave mode, the Output 3 button toggles the box in and out of duplicate device ID and the Output 12 button lets the current patches be sent to computer.
One of my initial questions about any digital patchbay is how does it handle clocking issues. The Apache provides an independent PLL for each input. The box reclocks the input signal’s clock and transmits it to all of the outputs that signal is routed to. This assures trouble-free clocking and routing with full 24-bit resolution. The Apache also recognizes, reclocks and passes any information that is encoded in an ADAT optical signal including S/MUX, MR-X, PAQRAT and any other variation of ADAT optical signals.
I initially tested the Apache using an ADAT card-equipped iZ RADAR and a Digidesign ADAT bridge and I found the box to be a cinch to get up and running. To create a patch from Input 2 to Output 4 you simply press the Patch button, the Input 2 button and the output 4 button. To create a patch from Input 1 to Output 1, 2 and 3 you press the Patch button, the Input 1 button, the Output 1 button, the Output 2 button and the Output 3 button. It’s as simple as that. To see what input is patched to Output 2 you simply press the Status button and the Output 2 button. Once a configuration is complete, it can be saved by pressing the Store button and then the input button corresponding to the patch number you want the configuration to be saved as. To recall a configuration, press the Recall button and then the input button corresponding to the patch number you want to recall. Switching my Pro Tools input from tracks 1-8 of the RADAR to tracks 9-16 was as simple as pressing two buttons (a whole lot easier than crawling behind my rack with a flashlight and repatching everything). I experimented with TOSLink connections by connecting the output of a CD player and a DAT machine to the input of my CD-R. Once again the Apache performed flawlessly.
For my tests I had perfect results using optical cables between 5 and 10 feet. Frontier Design Group has tested optical cables up to 33 feet long without any sonic degradation though they recommend using the shortest optical cables possible to minimize the optical pulse distortion that occurs in all plastic fiber optical cables.
The Apache optical patchbay from Frontier Design Group is an excellent box for anyone who spends a reasonable amount of time patching and repatching optical cables. It is reasonably priced, flexible and simple to use.
Apple 400MHz PowerMac G4 Pro Tools MIX Plus v5.1.3; iZ RADAR 24 hard disk recorder with Nyquest 96 kHz card; Lucid Gen-X-96 clock; Mogami cabling; Alesis MasterLink; PMC TB1, Yamaha NS-10M monitors; Hafler amplification.