This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Pro Sound News. Innovations is a monthly column in which different pro audio manufacturers are invited to discuss the thought process behind creating their products of note.
My journey in launching Flock Audio and subsequently developing our flagship product, PATCH, began when I was working as an audio engineer full time in my home studio. As my studio became more successful and I gained more clients, I began to acquire more and more analog gear. Soon, I needed to increase my routing capabilities as well—and I just didn’t want to settle with a traditional patchbay design. I began looking for other solutions on the market, but couldn’t find any that did what I needed it to do in the analog routing domain. I began to wonder why this did not exist, and that started me on my journey to creating a new, revolutionary piece of analog routing gear, simply called PATCH.
I started drafting designs for a hardware and software GUI solution on my iPad, and refined the designs over time, adding certain things in and taking other things out. Once I honed in the design to a point where I felt comfortable, I teamed up with some experienced electrical engineers to help with the actual hardware portion of the development. Together, our main challenge was to figure out how to impart a user experience that would both be very familiar for customers, but not present too steep of a learning curve. We also wanted to make the software very intuitive so the routing itself would be easy and make sense. These were the foundational design considerations of the PATCH system.
What we were building had never existed. The traditional patchbays we have come to know in the audio industry are built on 150-year old technology, originally designed for the telecommunications industry. When operators used to route phone calls, they would use these huge patch panels to route all the connections. Even though the rest of the audio industry had continued to evolve and reinvent itself, there had not been any similar innovation around patchbays, so most patchbays that exist today are built on 150-year-old principles, but in smaller, rack-mounted form factors.
When testing these traditional patchbays, we found that older ones had very noticeable signal degradation from oxidation and cables being inserted and reinserted over the years. Since patchbays are a staple in so many studios, most people don’t even realize this degradation is happening because it occurs so slowly over time. We were amazed at how many old patchbays like this are out there in commercial studios all over the world, literally degrading sound quality, unbeknownst to the user.
The other thing about traditional patchbays is that the user experience has never improved or evolved. Oftentimes, engineers spend too much time managing cables and recall notes rather than exploring new routing opportunities or A/Bing equipment; this can really inhibit creative possibilities. In fact, most of the engineers I speak to say they literally just leave their patchbays untouched unless there is a break in a cable somewhere—so many of them are not even being used and act as more of a fixed hardwire for their studios.
When we developed Patch, we had three major objectives. The first was to make its form factor compact and aesthetically beautiful. We were a brand-new company coming out of Canada that nobody had ever heard of, with a product that nobody had ever used or experienced, so, we needed to make sure that we made a good first impression and built trust with our first round of customers. Second, the software had to be very intuitive and make sense. It had to be as simple or complex as the customer needed it to be and significantly extend the capabilities of the hardware. Lastly, the third major element was sonic transparency. We are very proud of the sonic transparency we have achieved because there is no audible difference between using a PATCH versus a regular cable. It is important for engineers to know that PATCH leaves no ‘audible footprint’ and doesn’t change the audio signal in any way.
One of the features our customers really love is PATCH’s recallability, which allows them to store routings, and route various test scenarios with the simplicity of a mouse click. This makes recalling tracking or mix routings from a previous session seamless. Something else our customers really like is the front panel I/O, which provides the ability to quickly patch in another piece of gear on the fly. Finally, the multing capability is a new feature that has proven important, especially to mastering engineers. Now, users can mult without facing impedance issues or level changes to the signal. Mastering engineers love this because they can print their final chain through two, three or even four different converters to see which they like best; or have the client decide what they prefer. This obviously saves a lot of time since the original process of patching, printing, patching again and printing again is no longer required; it can all be done in one simple execution with PATCH.
It took us essentially two years to get our product to market. Once we finished our first batch of 10 Beta units, I gave the very first one to Greg Wurth, a well-respected audio engineer in California who has worked with Steve Vai, Mary J. Blige and many others, to get his feedback. His feedback was extremely positive and he said he’d never experienced anything like PATCH before, so I knew right then that we got it right. After sending the unit out to other mixing and mastering engineers and commercial studio owners, we received similar positive feedback.
Now that we have achieved resounding success with PATCH, we will be introducing our PATCH LT model, which will contain half of the patch points, but have the same patented routing technology and routing capabilities. We are confident this will appeal to engineers who are looking to get into a Flock Audio system at an affordable price point.
Moving forward, we are working on scaling Flock Audio solutions not only to just commercial studios and mastering facilities, but to other markets as well, such as broadcast and systems integration, which we are diligently working on at this time. We are thrilled by our success so far, including our growing customer base, and Flock Audio will continue to create audio equipment that engineers trust and feel confident about using every single day.
Darren Nakonechny is the founder and CEO of Flock Audio.
Flock Audio • www.flockaudio.com