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Anatal Electronics XBay 256

Digitally-controlled Analogue Routing Matrix By Matt Houghton
Published March 2024

Anatal Electronics XBay 256

Software‑controlled ‘patchbays’ are invaluable for recall and routing in hybrid studios. Is this the right one for you?

Anatal, a Netherlands‑based company formed by designer Dennis Bekkering, are the third manufacturer in recent years to launch a digitally-controlled analogue routing matrix with sufficient I/O to make it viable as a replacement for a traditional studio patchbay. Currently, the only direct competition I know of comes from Flock Audio (whose Patch range I reviewed in SOS April 2021) and CB Electronics (I reviewed their X‑Patch 32 in SOS August 2021 and XP‑Relay in SOS August 2023). Each has a slightly different offering, but at heart the proposition is the same: you hook up your audio interface, analogue outboard gear and perhaps a mixing console to these rackmount devices, and you can then use control software to route analogue signals from any input to any output. Manual patching becomes a thing of the past, and recall quicker and more reliable. As the signal path is all analogue, there’s zero latency too.

But Anatal take a slightly different, ‘less is more’ approach, based around what Dennis calls Advanced Matrix Architecture (AMA). You can find more information about this on the Anatal website but, in essence, AMA is a setup in which (as with the competition) the routing is performed by analogue 16x16 crosspoint switching chips. Passive types (with no amplification) are used here, so the only ‘amp stages’ in the signal path are those used to electronically balance the input and output. Critically, the signal passes through many fewer of these chips than in a conventional X‑Y grid‑like matrix. The key benefits, Dennis suggests, are: a very clean signal, no unwanted gain changes, low heat (so fanless cooling, making the device quiet), fewer components (so fewer potential points of failure), and a relatively lower cost per channel.


Anatal sent me their XBay 256 for review, and this boasts a whopping 128 inputs and 128 outputs — equivalent to 2.67 typical TT bantam patchbays, and enough for a reasonably well‑equipped studio. Dennis also stressed that the modular approach to construction means XBays can have different channel configurations: the inputs and outputs are based on eight‑channel boards so, starting at a minimum of eight inputs and outputs, you can add inputs and/or outputs in blocks of eight. You can have more inputs than outputs (or vice versa) too. I’ve given the price for the standard models elsewhere in this review, but as the price is based on the number of input and output cards, if your I/O needs are more modest the figure will fall accordingly. Those with obscene collections of gear and the funds to match might also be interested in the larger XBay 512: this offers a dizzying 256 inputs and outputs, which is at least twice that of competitors’ nearest models (though I gather the supply of this model is limited.)

A peep inside the XBay reveals the neat, modular approach to construction.A peep inside the XBay reveals the neat, modular approach to construction.

A pair of sturdy handles fixes the 4U front panel to the case and makes the unit easy to manoeuvre when (un)racking. There’s a power on‑off switch but no other front‑panel controls; everything’s configured by the AOS (Analog Operating System) app, of which more later. On the back is a vast array of DB25 connectors (32 on the review model), wired to the AES59 (Tascam) standard. The channel numbers are indicated clearly enough for normal lighting conditions, but as they’re arranged in two pairs of columns (inputs on the left pair, outputs on the right, viewed from the rear), these aren’t ever really in doubt. Also on the rear is a chunky twist‑lock connector for the standalone linear power supply; a suitable 2m cable is supplied. The PSU connects to AC mains using a similarly chunky cable, again with a robust twist‑lock connector. It’s very high‑quality stuff, and built to last.

All analogue connections are made using AES59 (Tascam DB25 D‑Sub connectors).All analogue connections are made using AES59 (Tascam DB25 D‑Sub connectors).

Completing the list of external features are a grounding terminal and, for connection to a computer running the AOS software, a USB B socket. Ethernet is an option on some competitors but not here — yet. USB has a limited range so the main control computer must be nearby, but the story doesn’t end there. First, the XBay supports more operating systems than most, including Linux and Raspberry Pi. Second, you can work remotely from, say, your DAW machine or an iPad in the live room, thanks to a browser‑based version of the app that communicates bidirectionally with AOS running on the main machine. Dennis tells me he’s also considering ways to fit a Raspberry Pi inside the XBay, opening the door to various wireless and other connectivity options in the future.


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