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CB Electronics XP-Relay

CB Electronics XP-Relay

The XP‑Relay combines CB Electronics’ sophisticated patchbay control system with the purest possible signal path.

Regular readers will know how impressed I was with CB Electronics’ XPatch 32, which I reviewed in SOS August 2021 — in fact, I stated that “if I were in the market for such a device right now, I’d be buying this one.” The XPatch ecosystem has grown better since then, too. Not only have the promised higher channel‑count versions become available, but the software control app is more intuitive and feature‑rich. As with their main competition, notably Flock Audio’s Patch, the XPatches employ active electronics and the routing is performed using amplifiers.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using amps for the switching, particularly if you exploit their benefits has CB did on the XPatch devices (CB achieved commendable noise and distortion figures, and the amps make possible both very fine calibration of each channel for each attached device and, since my review, level automation) but for some people the idea of anything other than a ‘straight wire’ connection between devices is anathema, particularly if they have no need of the extra functionality that active electronics can deliver. Such people should find CB’s latest product, the XP‑Relay, rather more enticing...


As the name implies, the XP‑Relay is closely related to the XPatches, but there are also fundamental differences in design and it joins rather than replaces them in CB’s range. Like the XPatches, it is a digitally controlled analogue routing matrix, and it’s controlled by the same XPatch app (which can communicate with up to four units of either type connected to the same Mac or Windows computer). But in this case the signal routing of the analogue signal is performed by relays, rather than amps, and the main benefit of this is that there is literally never anything more than a ‘wire’ connection between the inputs and outputs — just as would be the case on a traditional open patchbay. Also, the use of sealed relays means it should be less prone to contact problems than such bays, and unlike the XPatches it’s possible to pass through phantom power from preamps — and since all ‘pins’ make contact only with those of their intended destination there aren’t the same risks in handling phantom power as there are with a conventional jack patchbay. (As I’ll cover in more detail below, the XP‑Relay is itself also capable of supplying mics with +48V phantom power).

Of course, there are also some potential disadvantages compared with the XPatches. Since there’s no amplification or buffering you can’t apply gain offsets for different devices/channels, there’s no possibility of level automation, and you can’t, for example, route a guitar or bass DI to a line‑level device without involving other hardware to take care of the different levels and impedances. Also, the maximum channel count for the XP‑Relay is lower, since relays are bulkier and more expensive than amps, and other new facilities take up space on the inside and panels too. Currently, the maximum size of XP‑Relay, which is the configuration sent for review (I’ll discuss other options below), is a 16x16 matrix. It’s possible, though, to use the control software to link two such devices for stereo use, one unit handling 16 left‑channel signals and the other the corresponding 16 right‑channel signals. In short, they’re similar devices but not the same, and if you’re contemplating a purchase you’ll need to weigh the relative pros and cons according to your needs.

You need to use the software to specify what gear is attached and to set up your routing options, but thereafter use of the app to control the switching is optional.

As with the XPatch, the real ‘cleverness’ of the XP‑Relay, from a user point of view, lies in the XPatch control app. This has been updated frequently, and at the time of writing we’d reached XPatch version 4.4, which represents a significant improvement over v3.3 that I’d been evaluating when writing my XPatch 32 review. For one thing, it now supports drag‑and‑drop signal path configuration, which makes setup easier, but there are also plenty of smaller touches that combine to make it considerably more intuitive in general. You need to use the software to specify what gear is attached to what I/O and to set up your various routing options, but thereafter use of the app to control the switching is optional. You can use the software alone if you wish, but there’s now built‑in support for switching using an Elgato Stream Deck (see box), and the hardware can also be operated standalone, with support for MIDI control and footswitch‑based preset‑scrolling. All of which opens up all sorts of possibilities in the studio and on stage.