This article is about the use and priceworthyness of Tiptop’s Stackcable patch cable. In that context, it is of interest to anyone with a Eurorack system.
While working on this post, I discovered the Hosa Hopscotch series. So the article was quickly revised. Let’s hope there’s no nonsequiturs as a result.
What is a “Stackcable”?
A Stackcable is a Eurorack-style (3.5mm TS) cable where in each plug there’s a jack into which you can plug another (Stack-)cable. Available in the typical lengths from 20 to 150cm, it can be considered as the combination of two patch cables with a 1-to-3 multiple.
When I talk about multiples in this post, I always talk about passive ones.
With that advantage described, there’s also downsides. First, price. A Stackcable is much more expensive than a normal patch cable (we’ll talk about price comparison in detail below), and it takes up more space – which might very well provide problems in Eurorack systems with lots of very small (read: 2hpmodular) modules.
Note that the Stackcable is not a completely new invention: if you’ve ever been to an electronics lab, you’ve no doubt seen banana cables of this type (in fact, from my experience they are the predominant type in typical lab settings).
The one alternative known to me is the Hosa Hopscotch. It’s a standard cable with a splitoff going into a jack at one end. This makes it a combo of a patch cable with a 1-to-2 multiple.
One of the plugs (the one with the splitoff) is also bigger than a standard one, so the caveats mentioned above apply as well.
Prices for Cables
I do what I always do in such situations and simply look what a typical larger online store has to offer. For a reasonable medium cable length, we get:
- 2.30 for a 50cm cable (Doepfer) – 2.30 per piece,
- 37 for five 30cm cables (Sommer Cable), – 7.40/pc,
- 12.90 for six 60cm cables (the sssnake), – 2.15/pc,
- 16 for five 30cm cables (Moog), – 3.20/pc,
- 19.90 for eight 34cm cables (Hosa), – 2.49/pc,
- 24 for five 45cm Hopscotch – 4.9/pc,
- and 7.90 for one Stackcable (independent of length), which is obviously 7.90 per piece.
So with the majority of products in a range between 2 and 2.50 bucks per cable, the Stackcable is more than three times as expensive than a typical competitor, and the Hopscotch about two times as expensive.
A Proper Comparison (?)
Now you’d most probably wouldn’t use a cable that is more than three times as expensive and even takes up more space: you’d use it in scenarios where you’d normally need a multiple.
Use Case: 2/3 Oscillator Voice
Let’s say we have a two-oscillator synth voice controlled by a sequencer, and we’ll be looking at the pitch CV right now. Using the usual approach, you’d go from the sequencer CV out to a multiple, then from that multiple to each oscilllator’s CV in. This requires three patch cables and a multiple. Using a Stackcable, you’d patch from the sequencer to one oscillator, and then from the Stackcable to the second oscillator. You’ll need a Stackcable and a (standard) patch cable for that. Finally for the Hopscotch scenario, you’d use a Hopscotch and one patch cable.
For three oscillators, it’s quite similar: four patch cables and a multiple vs. one Stackcable and two patch cables. As the Hopscotch only is a 1-to-2 multiple, here you’ll have two Hopscotch and again one patch cable.
Similar use cases include distributing gate to more than one destinations (e.g. two or three envelopes).
Use Case: 3 Oscillator Voice plus Filter Tracking
Now we need to distribute the signal to four destinations. For the non-Stackcable version, you need five patch cables and a multiple.
For the Stackcable version, you need two Stackcables and two patch cables.
And finally for the Hopscotch version, it’s three Hopscotch and a patch cable.
Prices for Multiples
Multiples typically come as small (2hp) modules or as “flying” things such as the Black Market Modular Monomult.
Again, some price indications:
- Black Market Monomult, 1-to-5, flying: €9,
- Dreadbox Splitter 1-to-6, 2TE: €29,
- Intellijel Mult, 2×1-to-4, 2TE: €32,
- Make Noise Mult, 3×1-3/1×1-7/1-5+1-3, 4TE: €33,
- Doepfer A-180-2, 2×1-4/1-8, 2TE: €35,
- IME Multiple Miggs, 2×1-5/1-9, 4TE, adds Attenuator: €48.
In summary, a typical Multiple costs around €15 and 1TE of rack space, with the Monomult being the odd one out with €9 and no rackspace for one Multiple.
A Proper Comparison (!)
Now that we’ve got some data on Multiples, we can continue where we left off.
We can now do a comparison of cost and rack space for the use cases we’ve discussed above, which are one-to-two, one-to-three and one-to-four. We’ll do that for a combination of standard patch cables (we’ll pick the lower middle ground of the Hosa cables) with a) Stackcables, b) Hopscotch, c) Monomults and d) rack-mounted Multiple (here, we’ll pick the Intellijel Mult). For the latter, we’ll only take half the price and rackspace as we’ll be only using one of its two multiples.
As for rackspace: I’ll add a further column which includes cost for the rackspace. What does one TE of rack cost? Depends wildly on your case, some values are 1.63 (Mantis), 2.03 (Rackbrute 6U), 2.20 (Doepfer LC 3U), 2.38 (Pittsburgh 420). Rather than doing a big market study, I’ll use 2.00 as kind of a middle ground for now.
|D: Intellijel Mult||23,47||25,96||28,45|
|D + Rack Cost||25,47||27,96||30,45|
This result honestly came as a surprise to me. The Hopscotch is the cheapest solution in all cases (followed by the Stackcable), while the rack-mounted one is the most expensive, and is so even if we don’t consider the cost of rack-mounting it.
I decided to add a few more, if somewhat theoretical use cases: one-to-five (which is bound to make the most efficient use of the Monomult, but will hit the Intellijel badly), and another 1-to-8 one, replacing the Intellijel Mult with a Doepfer A-180-2, and finally 1-to-6 (which will hurt the Monomult).
|D + Rack Cost||53,43||55,92||61,41|
So we’ve collected some more data, actually what I consider all sensible splitting scenarios available. And the distances in price sometimes change quite drastically over the scenarios, e.g. for 1-to-5 A, B and C are really close together, while for 1-to-6 it’s completely different.
There is one thing that doesn’t change over the use cases, and that is the order the contestants are in: it’s always (from cheapest to most expensive):
- Hosa Hopscotch, as the cheapest one,
- Tiptop Audio Stackcable,
- Black Market Modular Monomult,
- Any rack-mounted solutions, independently of whether you count in the cost for rack space.
And with that, there’s really a clear end result.
- The traditional way of using modules for splitting signals is the most expensive solution, sometimes by a factor of more than three.
- If you want an affordable solution: Hosa Hopscotch.
Is that really the right way?
There may be scenarios where the Hopscotch (or our second place, the Stackcable) are not for you. Space limitations can be an issue (which I would assume are more a problem for the Stackcable than the Hopscotch), as can general approaches in system design. For example, if you want to quickly grasp what gets split in a given patch, and right now do so at the few multiples in your rack, then any of the presented alternatives are not for you.
Otherwise – well, if it’s about money, you know what to do now.