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RME BOB32 Universal Breakout Box

RME BOB32 Universal Breakout Box

Virtually every professional audio device that has multi-channel analogue or digital interfaces has adopted the 25-pin D-sub as the most space-efficient connector: mixers, preamps, interfaces, consoles — it's found so ubiquitously now that even the AES has finally recognised the need for a formal published standard! The AES59 specifications designate the pin-outs and applications for both eight-channel balanced analogue and AES3 digital audio interfaces, and both are, thankfully, identical to the original Tascam arrangement. However, although the analogue version has been embraced universally for many years, with eight balanced inputs or outputs running in a single 8-way loom, the same is not true for digital I/O configurations. Hopefully, the existence of AES59 will resolve that over time, but at the moment there are at least four incompatible manufacturer-specific formats that provide four stereo channels running in each direction. Tascam, Sadie, RME and Avid all comply with AES59, but Yamaha and Apogee use a different configuration, and legacy Genex and Euphonix equipment employ two further arrangements!

With all that in mind, I recently got quite excited to discover that RME have brought some welcome rationalisation to the potential nightmare of incompatible breakout cabling, in the form of the BOB32. This rack-mounting passive patch-bay features a pair of 25-pin D-subs on one panel, and 16 XLRs on the other. The latter are orientated for digital I/O in alternating groups of four female and four male connectors, but it can be used for analogue I/O as well via XLR sex-changers. Simple D-sub to D-sub cables (not supplied) are required to connect multi-channel device(s) to the BOB32, and XLR cables can then be used to access signals as required. (Both Tascam-to-Tascam and Yamaha-to-Tascam D-sub cables are available).

Brilliantly useful though this simple arrangement is, the BOB32 has more to offer. Internally, each group of eight XLRs is connected to its respective D-sub via a ribbon cable, and the motherboard has two PCB sockets for each cable: one configures the D-sub for the AES59 wiring format, while the other provides the Yamaha format. Changing from one to the other involves undoing three screws to remove the case lid, releasing a spring clip, moving the ribbon header plug, and refitting the clip and lid ­­— it takes a couple of minutes and is trivially simple to perform. If required, one half of the BOB32 can even be set for an AES59 connection format and the other for the Yamaha arrangement. So for anyone needing to integrate a Yamaha console digitally with an RME interface, for example, this is a very neat and flexible solution.

But that's still not all. Some people need to swap D-sub connections for different devices rather than XLRs, and the BOB32 makes that very easy because both front and back panels have rack ears, allowing it to be installed in either orientation; XLRs at the front, or D-subs at the front! However, in my line of work I often need to swap both XLR and D-sub connections, and scrabbling around the back of a rack isn't my idea of fun. So I was overjoyed to discover that the BOB32 is hinged in the middle and can be folded so that both the XLR and D-sub panels end up on the front of the patch bay. Utter genius! Two metal plates are supplied which screw onto the case in different places to hold it rigidly either as a straight front-back panel, or as a folded front-front panel.

The BOB32 is neat, tidy, completely removes tangled breakout lead confusion and, if you often need to swap connections regularly, provides easy access and a solid base in the rack to pull and push against. Given its superb versatility, solid construction and elegance of design I was expecting a scary price, but actually the BOB32 doesn't cost much more than two professional-quality breakout looms. This is one of those products that solves a frustrating problem in a very elegant and satisfying way. I love it! Hugh Robjohns

£169 including VAT.