NEW YORK, NY—This year’s AES Convention saw the AES67 standard for high-performance streaming audio-over-IP interoperability continue to mature, with news of a maintenance revision to AES67-2013, a live demonstration of nearly two dozen devices and a focused track of network audio events.
The standard revision, designated AES67-2015, clarifies some of the interoperability requirements, based on general implementation and experience with the “plugfest” testing held in Germany in cooperation with the European Broadcast Union (EBU) in October, 2014. Those tests included 16 products from 10 different companies.
The fact that AES67-2015 includes minor updated references (to RFC 7273 and clarifications in 6.3, 8.1, and 8.5) is a good sign, according to technical chairman Kevin Gross of the Media Networking Alliance (MNA), which was established to promote awareness and uptake of AES67. “The limited scope of these revisions is testimony to the robust and stable nature of AES67 as originally published and successfully implemented by numerous audio manufacturers. As proven in the plugfest testing, AES67 functional compatibility performs as described and these revisions further complement that functionality.”
At the New York AES Convention, the MNA demonstrated working interoperability between devices from different manufacturers employing Dante, Livewire, Q-LAN and RAVENNA protocols.
This year’s AES Convention program also featured a Network Audio track that leaned heavily on the implementation and use of AES67, while also encompassing sessions on AVB/TSN and Audinate’s Dante protocol. The events stressed the ease of set-up, ease of use and scalability of AES67. As noted at one panel discussion by Patrick Killianey, Yamaha’s “network guy,” working on the education side, AES67 is “the O negative of audio networking.” Phil Wagner of Focusrite Novation, which introduced its new Dante-enabled RedNet AM2 stereo headphone amp and line output interface at the show, offered his own metaphor: “AES67 represents the dawn of the XLR connector for digital audio.”
“You don’t need any special network equipment. Any of the currently existing managed switches are able to support AES67,” added Andreas Hildebrand of ALC NetworX, RAVENNA’s gatekeeper. In contrast, AVB requires specific switches, he said.
While a $50 switch might not be expected to be up to the task of supporting 24-hour operation, said Killianey, a mid-grade small-to-medium business switch will work just fine. “You can get a 10-port switch for $175, so they’re not ridiculously expensive,” he reported.
Ethan Wetzell of Bosch Communications was bullish about the opportunities offered by AES67, which he described as a connectivity onramp. “We’re reaching a point in the industry where connectivity and integration of devices is just becoming the law of the land. Everybody wants to tie more things together in more diverse ways and be able to deploy those things in a really flexible way. As a manufacturer, we need to be able to adopt methods that allow these systems to come together, regardless of what is being added and what is already in place.”
Unlike older networking protocols, such as CobraNet, that were proprietary and subject to changes in the business that could adversely affect their continued development and support, AES67 is different. “When you have an open standard like this, you’re not counting on one company,” said QSC Audio’s Rich Zweibel, speaking from experience as co-founder of the company behind CobraNet. “If somebody has to change or a company loses interest, it keeps advancing.”
For users, AES67 also offers an open-ended and future-proof solution. “The key promise of AES67 is that I’m not locked into a solution that’s frozen in time. I’ve got the ability to evolve as my needs evolve,” said Wetzell.
Wagner agreed, noting that broadcast clients have allegiances to companies for various reasons. “They like a certain console, a certain router. Where AES67 is going to really help all this is that they can retain those alliances with those particular brands. Now, as they get more into networking—broadcast is committed to a video-over-IP future, and audio-over-IP is going to go along with that—all the different endpoints, control rooms and machine rooms need to be able to interoperate.”
Hildebrand also shared that a new technical recommendation was recently published by the Video Services Forum, which promotes the interoperability of video networking. In a paper detailing the separation of an SDI stream into IP video and audio, he said, “They are describing AES67 as the way to transport the audio data. That’s a clear indicator that AES67 is a great benefit for the industry.”
Addressing any audio professional concerned about being replaced by IT guys, Wetzell said, “You can teach IT in an hour. But you can’t teach an IT guy how to mix. That’s art.”