In a world where we are constantly connected to technology through devices comes a product that is not in a physical piece of hardware, but instead connects virtually to software programs, USB or Thunderbolt powered devices, FireWire and built-in outputs of your computer. That product is called Dante Via and is available through Audinate’s website for about $50.
Dante Via is designed so even the everyday consumer is able to quickly and easily connect a computer to another computer and stream, record or broadcast between two computers. No Dante hardware is necessary, nor do you have to use the Dante Controller or Virtual Soundcard. In fact, Dante Via seems to throw up a fight if you are trying to run it while the Virtual Soundcard is open.
To get Dante Via on your computer, you have to check compatibility first—something that could be a reoccurring struggle for a largely “pro-sumer AoIP” product. My main workhorse laptop is about 7 years old and some of the newer operating systems are not designed to work on a computer of that age, causing me to have difficulty upgrading many of my software programs. Dante Via would not work with any OS beyond Lion, the last OS to work properly with my laptop. Audinate has moved incredibly quickly in its product development and support, so I believe they will be able to keep up with compatibility moving forward. If not, it could be a deterrent for some users.
After installing Dante Via, I found it best to restart the computer, even though the installer does not prompt it. Several issues I ran into on one computer were easily solved with a simple reboot. When using Dante Via, the layout is incredibly streamlined. The program allows for a simple drag-and-drop method to connect devices together and a click of a checkbox to enable Dante capability on a device or program. Enabling the devices for Dante allows the user to see transmit or receive properties in order to make the connections.
If you are like me, you have already driven into the territories of Dante routing and you have waded through comprehending the transmit and receive signals in the Dante Controller that defy typical audio signal flow properties. If you are already comfortable with routing signal paths in the Dante Controller, it can make Dante Via feel limiting since it eliminates the need for the Controller. That being said, comprehending the routing can be incredibly intimidating for someone who does not have an IT or Systems Tech mind.
Dante Via is opening up a large door that leads down a long hallway with many other doors, of which we know not yet where they lead to. It is both exciting and a bit overwhelming to think of the possibilities: Churches and universities can now stream their services and ceremonies into an overflow room without expensive hardware; TV and radio stations can capture audio from a site to their broadcast trucks down one simple cable; schools can network keyboard labs and small studios back to a main classroom with a simple switched network; companies can tie multiple computers together for presentations and video conferencing; retailers can play music over several systems by connecting them together; and more.
It’s a little mind-boggling, although awesome, that Dante Via provides the Master Clock source for all your devices and corrects incoming signals to match. When several FireWire devices have their own selectable clocking source, it is important to set these devices to 24-bit/48 kHz. The latency is minimal at 8 to 10 ms, which in the studio is perfectly acceptable. However, when you add into the mix USB or FireWire devices, the latency of the hardware will factor in as well. Dante Via does have output and input limitations.
At the school where I teach Music Production, I decided to try to use Dante Via to connect the main computer in the classroom to a couple of the computers in the individual studios. The students have access to five small studios where they are equipped with a MIDI Controller, MIDI Keyboard, Focusrite Scarlett 2i4, and Mac Mini. They have access to software such as Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Garage Band and Q Lab. Their studios are very small and do not allow users to record instruments such as an acoustic drum kit. The class lasts about 45 minutes, not giving the students much time to properly set up and tear down a studio session each day, so the more we can have set up for them ahead of time, the better. The drum kit is in Room 2 and the five studios are down a hallway on the other side of Room 1 (the classroom) and we needed to be able to connect all five studios to the drum kit mics. I set up an eight-channel MOTU unit in the classroom and connected it to a Mac Mini and then connected one Cat 5 cable to a large network hub where I would run Cat 5 out to each studio (or in this case, to the studios with Dante Via loaded on them).
Unfortunately, Dante Via does not allow for more than two channels with local applications, so recording eight mics on a drum kit will not work with this application of Dante Via—however it is possible with Dante-ready hardware. I also had difficulty figuring out how to route input and output to both the MOTU unit for the drummer to listen as well as to the studio to Pro Tools and the Scarlett outputs. I believe this capability could exist if it does not yet.
All in all, Dante Via is still beneficial to use in the classroom as a way of playing student projects from the studios to the classroom computer, as well as providing a way to connect individual computers and USB devices together for classroom instruction. We will be working toward integrating Dante Via and Dante hardware in the classroom to expand the network connections between the six studio computers.
Dante Via has some great user-friendly features. It allows a way to play sound on one computer and output it to a USB device on another computer. We are heading into a world of many opportunities integrating Dante technology in not just the professional industry, but the consumer world as well. There is still some distance to go but as quickly as Audinate is developing, I have no doubt it will get there.
Liz May is a live sound mixer, producer/engineer, educator and schooled pianist with wide-ranging experience in music theory, technology, publicity and arts/nonprofit management fields. twitter.com/soundlizzard