Networked Audio “Appliances” Connect

In the kitchen, if you need a processor, a mixer or a blender, you simply plug it in, use it, then put it away.
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In the kitchen, if you need a processor, a mixer or a blender, you simply plug it in, use it, then put it away. It’s an imperfect analogy, but Ethernet-capable audio tools have similarly become appliances—plug in the unit you need, swap it out when you need a different device for a different application.

There are various audio networking protocols (some also carry data and control traffic) currently in use. But with the publication of the AES67-2013 standard, a subset of these existing protocols, potential industry-wide interoperability is on the horizon.

“We are seeing the equivalent of the XLR connector in networked audio develop via the new AES67 standard,” says Phil Wagner, president, Focusrite Novation, Inc. “In a short while from now, we will look back at the transition from analog to network cabling and wonder what took us so long,” continues Wagner, specifically noting the convenience and cost savings associated with audio-over-IP (AoIP) networking. “Set-up times are greatly minimized by using AoIP, and it’s getting easier to use AoIP with more manufacturers coming to the party.”

AES67 interoperability may not be ubiquitous quite yet, but Focusrite’s RedNet interface products, which network using Dante, are part of a very large—and growing—ecosystem. “Over 150 OEM manufacturers have now adopted Dante,” reports Ervin Grinberg, director of marketing, Audinate. “Any combination amongst hundreds of Dante products can be utilized to create the ultimate studio, from microphones, consoles, preamps, amplifiers and I/O devices.”

The benefits of networking go beyond long, simple cable runs, says Udi Henis, who handles international marketing for Waves. “Imagine you have three control/mix rooms and three performance rooms. Networking means that at any given moment, any of the control rooms can use any of the performance rooms simply by accessing the I/O through the network, including patching audio to and from that performance room for recording and monitoring/talkback, and (remote) controlling the I/O’s settings for mic gain, phantom power, etc. from the mix room.”

Waves’ SoundGrid system adds low-latency processing to the network. “Using StudioRack, it enables sending the plug-in process from the DAW to the SoundGrid server, freeing up your DAW’s CPU,” explains Henis. “It also places a low-latency mixer in front of your DAW, meaning you can send a processed—with Waves and other plug-ins—monitor mix to the performance room I/O headphones output, in real time, over the SoundGrid network, while applying similar or totally different processing to the recording path, and/ or your own monitoring patch in the control room.”

By using Ethernet instead of USB, PCI or other busing methods, multiple DAWs may even be interconnected, continues Henis. “Because we are using Ethernet, your I/O and DAW can be easily located in different rooms or, in the case of fiberoptical cables”—since Ethernet has a distance limitation of about 330 feet—“in different buildings.”

Henis also notes, “Networking allows you to add units to your network by just plugging them into your network switch and installing control software into your DAW.”

An Audinate innovation, Dante Via, recently unveiled and available at the end of this year, further expands the Dante ecosystem. Grinberg explains, “Dante Via is an application that bridges all the soundcards and applications onto the existing network from your computer to Dante-enabled audio equipment. You may also create a stand-alone network with Macs and PCs.”

The network could be temporarily extended, for example, by connecting USB microphones and other audio interfaces into a Dante Via-enabled computer and placing it on the network. Audinate’s software app, Dante Virtual Soundcard (DVS), additionally enables a PC or Mac to directly introduce audio channels on a Dante network to any DAW without a hardware interface.

Focusrite’s RedNet units provide a portal to and from the Dante network for a variety of other audio formats, including analog, AES, optical and S/PDIF, as well as MADI and Pro Tools. “When a facility needs to connect its MADI output of a film console or Dolby processor to a speaker processor such as a BSS London device, a RedNet 6 MADI-to-Dante bridge does the trick,” says Wagner.

Tying a Pro Tools|HD recording rig into a live sound system is equally simple, continues Wagner: “Just add a RedNet 5 HD Bridge. For a MADI console, just add a RedNet 6, and now you have MADI to Pro Tools via the Dante network.

“The possibilities are endless when everyone talks the same language.”