How To Install Half Rack Studio Devices In A Full Rack

Here’s a guide on how to install half-rack (compact) studio devices the right way (so that two half-rack devices can be installed side-by-side). The bad news is that no one sells any products where you can just mount your half-rack device and install it into your full-sized (normal) rack. The good news is that I was able to modify a $20-$30 rack shelf and I’m gonna’ show you how I did it…

Foreword

What I did was do a major modification to a rack shelf with a lip on the front. This is the rack shelf I got.

I strongly advice against getting this type of shelf as it’s just not worth the trouble cutting the metal off. When buying a rack shelf, get one that looks like this.

This way, all you have to do is drill mounting holes… or simply use 3M adhesive tape to hold it in place (like the one below, but get it in roll form if possible).

Also keep in mind, when buying a rack shelf, having one with lots of vent slots may not be the best idea when trying to drill holes so it’s probably best to buy a rack without vent holes.

You might be looking at your half-rack device or looking at one online you’re thinking about ordering and thinking there’s no way to use screw holes to mount it… or that it can even be mounted like a normal half-rack device.

Here’s the Samson C-Que 8; doesn’t look like something that’ll work at all for our scenario, look at those thick rubber feet! These units are meant to be mounted on top of each other, with the rubber feet locking into place with other Samson units.

Well the feet are held in by screws; unscrew the screws, the feet come off leaving a perfectly rectangular, flat device. Better yet, we’re going to use the same screws that held the feet in place to secure the device to the rack so we don’t even have to buy additional screws.

Parts needed

  • A rack shelf
  • Drill
  • Philips screw driver

The process

If there’s any feet or something similar to your half rack device, remove those and any screws on where we plan on mounting it to the rack shelf.

We’re going to need to mark the holes of our device on where to install it into the rack shelf. If you have your own method of marking holes, use it. But my method is to take a piece of printer paper and lay it on top of the device, lining the corner of the paper to the corner of how we want it placed on the shelf. Feel where the tiny screw holes are and poke a hole into the paper.

Then transfer the paper and its holes to the rack shelf and line up where we want the device’s position. We’ll then drill holes into the rack shelf.

Use the screws of the device to screw it onto the rack shelf and install the rack shelf into the rack.

My experience

I thought the lip on the rack shelf I was ordering wasn’t going to be that big of a deal but it ended up blocking, esthetically, the bottom part of the Samson C-Que 8 (headphone splitter). So I set out cutting off the front metal lip.

What a stupid waste of time it was cutting the lip off. It took like two hours or some ridiculous amount. I’ve cut a lot of metal with my dermel before, but the metal of this rack shelf was really tough for some reason. I kept breaking cutting disks or simply filing the disks down to nothing without getting much more than an inch cut.

I finally cut the lip off.

There was a little but of a lip still that I wanted to sand down. So I switched attachments and started sanding the lip down. Within two minutes of sanding, my dremel, which I’ve had for probably 5 years, died.

I went online, looked at solutions to seemingly dead dremel’s and took mine apart to look for a culprit; none found. Something in it had died, without warning.

I got most of the lip sanded down within those two minutes of using the dremel before it died, so I then took a file to finish the job. What would have taken probably two more minutes with the dremel look like 20 minutes of rigorous filing with a big, professional file. Ugg. This is why you shouldn’t buy a rack shelf with a lip people. Please, learn from my mistake.

But I then drilled screw holes into the rack. I decided to change the position up and mount the rack shelf on top of the device, which required extra drill holes in the shelf… and at least one extra drill hole due to mismeasuring.

But the end result turned out fantastic. Having the rack shelf on top helps create a nice “roof” look to the rack. And, since I’ll likely always want the headphone splitter towards the top of the rack, having the shelf act as a roof works out.

I could have taken a sharpie to draw in some of the exposed metal but it’s not noticeable in person. I can totally see myself installing another half-rack device from Samson or another brand and it’ll fit perfectly next to it.

In a few days, I’ll be installing the rack rails to the wood… and the rack devices to the rack rails. I don’t have the screws yet. Right now, I have the rack devices zip-tied to the rack rails and everything is just sitting on the furniture.

It’s actually very stable and doesn’t move at all, I can plug and unplug things without anything moving. However, I want to be able to remove devices without having all the other devices being effected. So I’ve ordered 14” long rack rails to install (I’ll need the extra length as the screws need to be installed in a particular way since the wood normally wouldn’t allow rack rails to be installed).

Why would rack devices be half-sized?

The reason is because it doesn’t make much sense to make a device that takes up an entire 19” if its internals can fit into half that space and if the interface on the front can be effective at 9.5”. Audio companies know that rack space is at a premium but they opt to make practically everything full sized because, although shipping costs a little (not much) more, it makes engineering and designing devices that much lazier. That’s why, many times, you’ll find rack devices that are unnecessarily tall or thick. It’s harder to manufacture electronics to be small or controls to be uncomplicated and simple so they just take the lazy, unprofessional route.

The benefit of half-rack devices are that they don’t take up space that isn’t needed. Being smaller means the devices are easier to transport, either live gigs or simply moving to a new location.

Compare my 8 channel Samson half-rack to this 4 channel Rane full rack. Both are headphone splitters yet the Samson has so much more functionality. More ins and outs, VU meters and is even the same depth or less than the Rane.

Many would think the Rane must be doing something that it needs to take up that much space. That’s what the manufacturing companies want you to believe; don’t buy it. Here’s an unnamed brand full-sized splitter I found online that happens to have its cover off. See how much wasted space there is in there? All those knobs and connections could fit into a half-rack device with room to spare.

Now take this full-sized headphone splitter from Samson.

Look familiar, doesn’t it? It’s like the half-rack Samson but double the connections. But, guess what? The same thing can be accomplished using two Samson half-rack devices, installed side-by-side and they come with a daisy-chain connection on the rear to do exactly this.

There’s pros to buying the full sized Samson device; only one power plug to install and it installs directly into the rack instead of into a mount surface. But I’d rather do the half-rack devices as they’re more modular; you can buy them in stages and expand them as needed. Buy the first, then the second and then a third, all connected via one output connection. If you only need 10 stereo connections, three half-rack Samsons get you 12 connections where one full-size Samson gives you only 8 or two full-size gives you 16 (either too few or too many).

Not to mention mixing and matching of different function half-rack devices is much less of an issue as they don’t take up that much space and you already have an open area when one device is installed by itself.

Why aren’t half-rack mounts for full-sized racks sold?

Because companies making audio devices simply don’t care. No one really took an initiative to create a standard that was acceptable like the normal, U1 full-size standard. That, and because companies themselves aren’t making many half-rack devices because of the reasons mentioned above. Naturally demand will be less for half-rack devices if no companies are trying to make the more-challenging half-rack form factor. Yet, in all other electronic industries, companies are making smaller, more convenient devices. Not studio hardware companies.

Sure, users can demand half-rack devices all day long, but if no company is making them, users can’t “vote with their wallets” to buy competing brands. And the users that do go out of their way to get half-rack devices have to deal with the hassle (yo) of trying to install half-rack devices into their full-sized rack.

Don’t be fooled into thinking there’s mounts out there for half-rack installation into full racks; there aren’t. Take a look at this mount, it looks exactly what we’re looking for.

But no, it’s for a half-rack device to be installed into a half-sized rack. Look at the images of my Samson C-Que 8 installed into the rack and you’ll instantly see another half-rack device will be flush against the other device.

The device in this image has rack ears on both side; buying two of them to install together wouldn’t work, the inner rack ears would have to be cut off with a dremel… and if doing all that stupid mess (yo), it’s better just to screw the devices into a full-sized rack mount.

Half-rack devices are like a badge of honor to me

When Reason first came out, every FX device was half-rack sized. That was my first exposure to half-rack devices. I marveled at the attention to detail that these devices weren’t mounting to the rack like all the other devices but, instead, had some kind of mounting adapter that installed in the rack and the half-rack devices slid or snapped into the mount itself.

When I first started creating 5 AM Awake (interesting story involving being at Steak and Shake at 5 AM with my Korg padKontrol), nearly all effects in the rack were half-rack devices. Yet they sound as modern as anything today, click play on the video below to hear.

Much like the rest of the real world, most devices in Reason now are these full-sized monstrosities. But, just like the real world, there are still uses for half-rack devices. I’ve used a DDL-1 in every single one of my songs from over 10 years ago to this very day. And the Spider Audio / CV Merger / Splitter is a half-rack device I use constantly throughout all my projects (man I wish a real-world equivalent existed).

So that’s why, for me personally, it’s so awesome having a half-rack device. Some people may have an OCD thing when it comes to having a device installed on only one half of the rack and having a hole leading to the back of the rack on the other side… but that’s exactly how it is in Reason. That’s even more awesome.

When I have people over, they don’t comprehend exactly what the virtual Reason rack represents size-wise. Many either assume the Reason devices are smart-phone sized or flatscreen TV sized; most don’t correctly assume the size of the devices are 21” in width. Even after I’ve (recently) gotten rack hardware and started using audio patch cables (spray painted green to help people visualize their function), people still don’t grasp the size of Reason’s rack (now most always assume it’s bigger than it really is because Reason’s audio patch cables are rendered unrealistically thin).

What’s cool is, since there’s now always a DDL-1 and Spider Audio Splitter installed at the top of every project, when the conversation comes up to Reason’s virtual hardware… I’ll simply point to the Samson C-Que 8 as a reference to a real-world half-rack size.

This is why having half-rack devices in real life are a badge of honor that I don’t think the majority of music studio-type people would appreciate.

What are the devices in my rack used for?

The device at the bottom of the rack is a LiveWire power conditioner… not something you need with modern studio hardware, by the way, but I’m having a weird power issue with my mixer and I’m running it solely off the LiveWire to help.

Above that is my TEAC PB-64 patch bay. I use this to switch connections… basically just like flipping the rack around on Reason but instead of having to craw behind the rack, I manage it all from the front.

And then there’s the Samson C-que 8. It’s an 8 mono, 4 stereo powered headphone splitter. This is needed for when multiple people are over. Being in an apartment, this allows us to hear whatever we want coming from the studio as loud as we want without disturbing anyone.

The front jacks enables quick connect and disconnects, something very important to me… and separate level control allows us to turn the headphones up or down. The separate volume control is very important as I don’t have to worry if one set of headphones has a lose fit and isn’t as loud… or now even using different make / model headphones, knowing the volume can be adjusted separately.

Half-rack devices rock

I’m extremely happy with the way this all turned out. And, best of all, people can learn from my mistakes on how to install half-rack devices into a full-sized rack the right way.

Later. – MJ