The goal of all technological innovation is either to do more or to reduce costs, or better yet, to do both at once. Particularly in a down economy, there is tremendous pressure on manufacturers, designers and installers alike to deliver greater performance and flexibility, while also reducing costs. Well-designed digital audio networks have delivered unbeatable functionality to system designers and endusers, but so far that performance has generally come at a premium price compared to analog alternatives.
This was the design goal with Aviom’s AllFrame Multi-Modular I/O system: to deliver even more flexibility and, most critically, to reduce the final installed cost of the system to reach that hallmark of real innovation: doing more and costing less.
In some ways the AllFrame system will be very familiar to people who know Aviom. Under the hood, the All- Frame uses the same networking engine as the rest of our Pro64 Series—the Pro64 version of our A-Net technology. A-Net was developed from the ground up specifically for transporting high-fidelity digital audio, and so it is able to deliver demonstrably better audio and clock performance than any Ethernet-based system, while also eliminating many of the arbitrary constraints on system topology and signal direction. A simple, reliable and robust technological foundation was a key starting point for the AllFrame.
All of Aviom’s products are modular, but the AllFrame takes modularity to a new level. The heart of the system is the F6 Modular I/O Frame, a multipurpose network frame with six field-configurable I/O card slots and integrated Cat-5e and fiber-optic connectivity. With up to 24 channels in one device and the ability to support both inputs and outputs, the F6 is able to drive down the per-channel cost of the network right away.
Users can outfit the F6 with the audio card complement to suit their application, and the configuration in a given frame can be changed at any time, by the installer or end-user, without complicated (and costly) reprogramming. For many customers (and designers), this allows a much more efficient—and therefore costeffective— utilization of hardware to meet a more diverse range of requirements.
In addition, the F6 can be installed in a variety of ways: on or in the wall with other AV services in a standard NEMA Type 1 enclosure, in a standard 19-inch rack, in a floor pocket or on the floor as a stage box. This flexibility is also an important element of the cost equation, as the mechanical flexibility eliminates the need to install multiple analog connection points (backstage, for instance) and run conduit and analog wires to an equipment room full of racks. By digitizing the signal right at the existing connection point and providing that connector integrated into hardware, the All- Frame eliminates hours and hours of labor at installation.
Instead of terminating and testing all those analog connections, the installer simply has to install a box (which is part of the job anyway) and connect Cat-5 or fiber plus power. The labor savings are so dramatic that, according to the analyses we’ve done and run by professional consultants and installers, the final installed system cost (hardware plus labor) is less than an analog alternative in many cases. Thus, the customer gets the power and flexibility of a high-performance network and saves money. The installer, meanwhile, gets his job done in a fraction of the time.
The AllFrame products were shaped by extensive market research on the part of Aviom—more than for any product we’ve ever introduced. The goal of this product was to make it easier for more people to take advantage of the technological breakthroughs a digital audio network can deliver and to save money at the same time, and we had to understand all the pain points. For AllFrame to be successful, it had to work for everyone—designers, installers and end-users alike. To that end, we conducted scores of interviews with AV consultants, systems integrators, contractors and end-users and actively cultivated their perspectives and thoughts on the various designs.
More than anything, we learned just how carefully we needed to listen to the sometimes-contradictory needs of our diverse customer base. Very quickly, we saw (not surprisingly) that different types of customers had very different preferences and priorities—for everything from physical form factor and size to connector type and placement, thermal performance, noise levels, channel count and so on.
It’s impossible to be all things to all people, especially if you’re aggressively containing costs, so we had to work very hard to strike the right balance and to develop, for instance, a noiseless way to maintain acceptable ambient temperatures, even when an AllFrame loaded with mic pres is shut behind a service panel in a hotel ballroom. The hotel guys need to be able to close the door on a device that’s in the network, but the performance space users can’t tolerate a noisy fan. No one can take a product that’s not reliable. So we had to keep working these issues and balancing the various perspectives.
Above all, when it came to the development of AllFrame, we knew we had to offer our customers a truly compelling reason to make the transition to a digital audio network. By keeping the cost down, making it simple to use and, ultimately, listening to our customers’ needs, we believe we’ve accomplished that.
Chandler Collison is the director of marketing at Aviom, the developer of the A-Net digital audio networking protocol and manufacturer of the Pro16 and Pro64 series audio networking and personal mixing products.