TECH TALK: Improving the Complete Workflow with Audio Networking

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Many AV professionals overlook the profound workflow changes that networking brings, as they see networking simply as a replacement for the cables and methods previously used.

Instead, digital audio itself was a revolution, and networking solutions are a logical extension of the changes brought by computing technology in recent decades. As audio increasingly moves to purely digital realms, the benefits of its flexibility, scale, quality and cost are obvious.

The Connected Approach
Analog systems (and some early digital systems) are connected “point-to-point,” meaning that each signal-carrying connection starts at one end of a cable and ends at the other, connecting only two devices.

While intuitive and easy to understand, this arrangement is rigid and very limiting — each output may connect to only one input, determined by physical jacks and cables. Changing signal flow means, by definition, moving these connections from one jack to another, swapping one cable for another.

When new functionality is needed, labour is involved and risks are entailed.

Networks operate upon a fundamentally very different model of connectivity. On a network, all devices are always connected together via a common fabric of switches, Ethernet cables and routers. Software is used to determine where data is sent and received, so any combination of signal routes can be made to happen quickly and easily with no change to physical connections.

This difference is profound. Networks have nearly infinite flexibility with regard to how an AV system functions and how endpoints can be deployed. Integrators and end users alike are no longer bound by the limitations of analog distribution, connectors and cables and can easily expand systems as desired.

None of this additional capability would be very compelling if it were difficult to figure out and use. Fortunately, leading solutions, like Dante from Audinate, focus upon delivering a great user experience and providing easy-to-use software tools that automatically discover all networked audio devices and allow connections to be made instantly.

Here, we look at what audio networking is and does, and its impact on workflow.

Where We Were: Point-to-Point Connections
Legacy audio systems are connected “point to point,” meaning each device has inputs and outputs, and signals flow over dedicated connections and cables. This simple approach has a physical wiring diagram, explaining the signal paths. However, issues with this approach include:
Difficult to scale
• Difficult to change connections
• Noisy, ground loops
• Many heavy cables
• Limited channel count by devices and connectors

Where Networks Take Us: Connect Anything
Audio networks are computer networks, with real-time audio being the primary data. In a network, all devices are connected to a common fabric, so signals are sent from any point to any other point using software.

The benefits of networks include:
Scale up to hundreds of devices, each with many channels
• Change connections simply
• Have a system immune to hum, noise and ground loop issues
• Carry all channels at once using lightweight, inexpensive CAT5/6
• Fully and natively integrate with computers for control and audio processing

Audio networking is transforming the way audio gets done in many sectors. With integrators adopting audio networking, workflows and customer satisfaction are improved. Integrators know that networked systems are quick and easy to install, with lightweight CAT5/6 cables and no ground issues, and are looking to customers to embrace this innovation.

With clear benefits, like easily accessible cables and software for routing, audio networking is a natural next step to simplify any AV professional’s work and workflow.

Live sound was one of the first areas to be advanced by audio networking, replacing bulky and unreliable analog snakes with CAT5/6. Live sound professionals were able to cover far greater distances with networked systems than with analog, easily covering large venues. And, precisely-timed line arrays benefit from networking with the tight synchronization of endpoints.

Additionally, audio networking is revolutionizing live event recording with the ability to connect any computer to the network to capture audio. Products are on the market now to deliver channels of pristine digital signal directly to recording applications.

Audio networking provides a level of flexibility and ease of use that aligns very well with workflows in nearly any performance, recording, AV broadcast production application. Connections can be rearranged, speakers and microphones moved to where they need to be, and a network jack is all that is needed to get the system up and running.

The low cost and universal utility of installed network cabling means that investments in this area pay off quickly, and pave the way for future innovations.

SI Asia Notes: This article was submitted by Brad Price, Senior Product Manager at Audinate. This is the second of two articles, to read the first where Brad discusses exactly what Audio Networking is, click here.

Brad has an extensive background in audioengineering, music performance, and software product development. He works with the development team to create software for Dante Audio Networking that brings value to audio professionals across a wide range of industry categories.

SI Asia thanks Brad and the Audinate team for their contribution.