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PSN2021: networks and speakers

What does the future of the industry look like in five years' time?

Personal jetpacks and meals in pill-form might not be set for launch in five years’ time – but certain developments in pro audio may well be. David Davies and Dave Robinson gathered the predictions – and the pipe-dreams, perhaps – of leading lights from across the equipment manufacturing business

Lars-Olof Janflod, marketing & PR director, Genelec on the monitors and speakers sector in 2021:

I believe that is a gradually growing need for monitors [going into the future]. As streaming takes over more and more, there will be a greater number of channels like YouTube that require more content to be produced. The demand for quality will also rise in tandem, and content will not only come from or through mobile phones but by more professional means.

In the music business we see more music being produced than ever before, although it’s not done the way it used to be. The studio is in the hands of the songwriter/ composer/artist. This trend has been with us for some time and there is no sign of it ending. New music genres like EDM have become very popular and are growing rapidly. Add to that the incredibly successful gaming industry and I think not only monitoring, but the whole pro-audio industry, is looking at a bright future.

What would he like that sector to be like in five year’s time?

I think and hope that we will have a more advanced situation from a technical standpoint. The monitor industry or the use of monitors is traditionally very conservative; the majority of users still think that you can take the monitor out of the box, put it on the meterbridge (if you have a console), plug it in and play. There is little consideration for placement or acoustic calibration – instead we more often hear that users prefer the manufacturer’s setting of controls, if there are any! Compare that with the SR industry where things like placement, rigging and, above all, acoustic calibration are necessities. It should also be the case in the studio. I am pleased to say that we at Genelec provide users with the right tools to meet these demands.

Simon Browne, director, product management, Clear-Com on intercom in 2021: 

We would expect a tighter interoperability between all audio devices based on common standards for not just audio over IP, but also the control of levels, crosspoints, labels, and other metadata such as source device descriptions and diagnostics. I expect this may come down to a small number of standards choices with groups of manufacturers [being] compliant with each or multiples of them.

What would you like the intercoms sector to be like in 2021?

Clearly we would like a unified common audio and control standard that lifts all suppliers and leads other sectors with high performance audio solutions that scale from the auto-industry to live sound and distribution.

Pieter Schillebeeckx, product director, TSL Products on audio monitoring in 2021:

As we all know the broadcast industry is going through a period of rapid change as it is becoming more and more IP-centric. This will ultimately affect all parts of the broadcast chain including audio monitoring. In five years’ time, we expect that we will reach the point at which we will start selling more IP connected audio monitors than traditional baseband audio monitors. At the same time, we anticipate that many of the tasks performed by audio monitors and their operators are going to be automated and predict a move towards software-based audio monitors to fall in-line with the move towards “COTS” (common off the shelf) IT hardware.

And what would he like it to be in five years?

Alongside a healthy demand for traditional style audio monitors for use in live production (such as our the new TSL MPA1 range), we would like to see a real increase in demand for automated audio monitoring probes ­– both software and hardware based – that allow the monitoring of a large number of channels at different points in the chain. These are two very different applications that will ultimately require different approaches.

Lee Ellison, CEO, Audinate, on media networking in 2021:

Audio networking is relatively early in terms of mass adoption, but that is changing rapidly. In the next five years we would expect over half of the live sound and commercial installations to take advantage of audio networks. In fact, media of all type, both audio and video will be transmitted over a common IT infrastructure, managed from a computer or mobile device. Today, 1GB networks can easily support huge amounts of audio network capacity, but we anticipate 10GB networks will become more ubiquitous and more affordable.

And what would he like it to be in five years?

Our vision is that audio and video systems are converged over standard IT networks, and become the default, and Audinate and Dante continues to be the dominant networking platform for all networked media. We see that as people become more comfortable with IT networking, they will realise that connectors like the XLRs and other analogue connectors actually add superfluous costs to the equipment, and become optional. Obviously microphones and speakers will need to convert the analogue-digital end, still but all the other I/O devices, mixers, matrix switchers, etc, could be cost-reduced. If you think about it, if networking is built in standard in AV equipment, you eliminate all the added XLR, analogue connectors, and video connectors that actually burdens the cost of the AV system installation. At Audinate, we are looking to lead this transformation of the digital revolution.

Dane Butcher, CEO and founder, Symetrix, on installed sound DSP in 2021:

Installed audio DSP systems will become highly standardised in five years’ time. The importance of interoperability between devices from different OEMs will become exponentially more relevant between now and 2021. With respect to both audio and control signals, the trend will continue toward the use of fewer, more comprehensive protocols.

The basic economics of cost reduction in the technology sector will be a compelling force driving AV integrators and consultants to utilize standardised, readily available, off-the-shelf hardware whenever and wherever possible. In short, there will be a continuing migration away from application-specific hardware in favour of low-cost, general purpose hardware running application-specific software.

In 2021, OEMs will be leveraging open-source software like never before, and passing the advantages on to their customers. Integrators will benefit from increasingly powerful application-specific software, resulting in better than ever system performance with fewer design hours invested.

What would you like the situation to be in 2021?

There will always be start-ups trying to enter the field, but the 80/20 principle will apply more than ever, in that a small majority of OEMs will dominate. Symetrix’ razor sharp focus on installed sound DSP hardware and software will continue to keep us in the top echelon of installed sound DSP providers through 2021 and beyond.

Tony Andrews, co-founder, Funktion-One, on large-scale audio systems in five years’ time:

Unless Vero achieves what we hope for, I would expect the continuing institutionalisation of large-scale audio with system choice narrowing, audio quality remaining mediocre and level constraints becoming more draconian. At least we now have Dante as a decent digital protocol. Overall there is much room for improvement

What would you like this to see in 2021?

I would like audio to be understood as an art worthy of proper consideration and respect. What I would like and hope for in large-scale audio is the full appreciation of the dimension and depth that real high-quality audio can be. Clean, pure audio is a multi-dimensional, immersive experience. It can be so transporting that you lose the difference between the inside and the outside of your head. To achieve this level of quality, inherent distortion has to be extremely low, transient information at all frequencies has to be intact, dynamic range uncompromised and, obviously, even spectral balance across the frequency range.

I would also hope that lighting and set designers stop deciding where the audio is allowed to be put and promoters and managers actually dare to go amongst the audience to hear what the people experience.

That engineers spend more time listening and learning what good sound is and less time looking at screens. That people who are making audio judgments solely on the relative sizes of numbers leave our business for a more suitable profession, like accountancy.

And that promoters realise, particularly in so-called dance music, that audiences are not just coming for a big name but also for big audio; and that audio should receive a fair share of the budget rather than being chiselled so that the ‘star’ can be overpaid.