You say you are tired of chasing down bad snake lines, ground hums or just good old electrical noise? Well, how about going digital? No, not just a digital console or processing but a fully digital snake! It’s not a dream (or even a weird hangover), it’s here; the future is now with the help of the new LightViper snake by Fiberplex.
Live reinforcement, installation, contracting
Fiber optic network; A/D-D/A conversion; 48 kHz sample rate; 24-bit
$8,942 as tested with 300 feet of fiber
Light Viper/Fiberplex at 301-604-0100,
+ Lightweight and compact
+ No loss no noise
+ No colored sound
– DA 88 connectors
Overall a brilliant piece of the future.
Fiberplex is a company that has been around for more that 35 years dealing with government contracts in fiber optic and secure communications. In the development of other products they realized that this technology is useful in the professional audio and contractor fields as well.
From this came the birth of the LightViper. The LightViper is a 32-input, 8-return fiber optic audio snake. The brain of this is the stage box, VIS1832, which can take balanced or unbalanced inputs. No need for direct boxes! Phantom power is controlled in groups of eight channels. Each input employs a Neutrik XLR/1/4-inch TRS combo connector with the eight returns on Neutrik male XLRs.
Because the A/D conversion process requires line level signals, the LightViper includes preamplifiers at the input end. The inputs have three gain level adjustments: 0 dB (line), 26 dB and 46 dB (mic). I found that for standard mic inputs the 26 dB setting worked best. The outputs of the preamps are sampled at 24-bit/96kHz before being sent down the fiber pair (both 48 kHz and 96 kHz sampling rates are supported) The unit also has the option of creating additional splits (i.e. monitors, recording); up to three splits can be created with no loss or degradation of the signal.
The fiber cable that connects the stage box to the mixer box is a mere 1/4-inch in diameter. A 300-foot reel weighs just less than six pounds. Fiberplex claims that you can run 1.25 miles with no loss. Since this is all in the digital realm, you end up receiving a flat frequency response (± 0.3 dB) and a >100 dB dynamic range. The fiber has a crush resistance of 228 lb/in and is jacketed with Kevlar. The durability of the fiber is amazing.
At the mixer end of the fiber is the VIM 1832 which is the D/A break out. Breaking out into analog XLR connector is done through the TASCAM DB-25 balanced analog standard (eight channels per connector). Now, if you have a digital console that can receive digital inputs, Fiberplex provides digital access through three more sets of DB-25 connectors (AES3 breakouts). The digital outs are simultaneous with the analog; meaning you can split to a digital record, for example, and still use the analog outs for a live room mix. The only analog or digital determination that has to be made is on the eight return lines where there is a switch to activate either connector. When using the digital I/O the unit can be slave or master using either word clock or Superclock via the BNC connectors on the VIM 1832 unit.
I had the opportunity to use the LightViper on several gigs over the past few months. I was amazed at how lightweight and compact the whole system was. It will all pack up into a case that you could store in an overhead compartment on an airline. Try doing that with a standard copper snake!
Now that portability is not an issue, the standard performance-based questions arise. Since you have preamps within the unit, how do they sound? Is there any colorization? Can the sampling rate be changed? Will this investment outlast a conventional snake?
As far as the preamps are concerned, they sounded superb. I ran an end-to-end test through the unit using pink noise as a reference while metering through SIA Smaart Live. First, the latency measured a mere 0.63ms from the stage box to the analog outputs through 300 feet of fiber. The phase trace was fairly uniform and the frequency response never varied more than ±0.3 dB from 20 Hz to 16 kHz.
So, I would say there was little-to-no colorization and the preamps sounded excellent with the large variety of mics (from high dollar condensers to your basic dynamics) that I used through the system.
As a side note, I want to make clear that since this is digital, not only does the signal have to be at line level (+4 dBm) to be sent down the fiber, but you will also receive it at line level at the mixer end. I have seen people really screw up their gain structure because of this.
The only down side I found to the whole system was the 25-pin breakout connectors. They will work great in a permanent install but they aren’t that roadworthy. If you have to screw and unscrew those connectors every night from gig to gig it would be, in my opinion, the weakest link in the rather impressive chain.
In speaking with the folks at Fiberplex, I also indicated that I would like to see a unit in a larger format. The 32 x 8 structure will not be large enough for a decent sized concert or festival setting. They assured me that that is something that they are working on and have planned for later on this year.
I was blown away! The LightViper is so lightweight and efficient you can’t go wrong. The future is now; and this is the correct use of the technology that we have been waiting for. No loss, no noise, no interference. Hell, run it across power lines it doesn’t care; it’s light waves ahead (sorry for the pun). Yes, the price is a little high but it will outperform and outlast any copper snake out there.
David Rittenhouse is a senior live sound engineer at RCI Sound Systems and a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.
Yamaha O1V, Yamaha M2000 consoles; QSC, Lab.gruppen fs6400s amplifiers; dbx Drive Rack 480; TEAC CD 1400; Apple iPod; EAW kf 730s, kf 300s speakers; Shure MX 412s, SM 81s, SM 57s, Beta 58, AKG CK 391s, Crown Iso-Max microphones.