TECH TALK: The Evolution of Audio Transport

2208
Audio technologies have evolved a great deal over the past few decades, from all-analog systems, recording and instruments, to an era of analog/digital hybrids and MIDI-enabled devices, to now, where almost everything is digital, computer-based and is jumping on standard IT networks.

Audio networking (also known as Audio over IP, or AoIP) is a combination of software, hardware and network protocols used to deliver uncompressed, multi-channel and low-latency digital audio over a standard Ethernet network.

AoIP transports audio between devices in real time by using standard IP technology, and it has a variety of advantages and benefits relative to the older, analog method of connecting devices.

Audio networking replaces the idea of connecting all devices “point-to-point” using dedicated cables with a fundamentally different paradigm: all devices are connected via a common fabric, and all audio routes are simply messages that go from one named device to another.

Audio networks, therefore, are essentially the same as the computer networks we use every day for email, file transfers and more, and the two are compatible with each other.

This idea is tremendously powerful, as physical infrastructure no longer dictates how a system works. Networking changes the way a system is connected and how that system is installed and maintained.

Networks use thin, lightweight CAT5/6 Ethernet cables to carry hundreds of audio channels going to any number of devices. Gone are the analog systems requiring separate cables for each signal or legacy point-to-point digital connectors used for short runs.

Additionally, system integration is made far easier with a network. All connections are made using only one type of cable and one kind of jack. Once in place, the system can be endlessly reconfigured without having to get into walls or ceilings to move cables, using software running on a common PC.

By choosing to install readily-available gigabit networking equipment, an installation is effectively future-proofed for many years to come.

Audio Networking Solutions
There are several audio networking solutions that exist for specific applications, like Dante, CobraNet, Ravenna and AVB. However, Dante is the leading solution, with over 1,700 products available from more than 400 manufacturers covering nearly any type of audio device.

No matter the vendor, Dante-enabled devices are guaranteed to be interoperable and freely and easily connect to each other.

Dante transports uncompressed, multi-channel audio over a standard IP network. Using common gigabit switches, Dante supports devices up to 512 channels each. Latency is deterministic in Dante and is typically set to be one millisecond or less – even with many devices in a large system.

Once connected, all Dante devices automatically discover one another and are immediately available for control and routing using the Dante Controller software. Dante Controller includes diagnostic tools to monitor network health and behavior, as well. Dante Virtual

Soundcard is popular software that allows any Windows or Mac PC to receive and transmit of up to 64 channels of audio on any Dante network, while Dante Via lets users connect discrete USB devices and audio software applications to any Dante network.

With Dante, the ability to route uncompressed, 24-bit audio directly to and from computers with no additional hardware saves costs, reduces sources of trouble and makes integration with digital content easy.

Dante is innately flexible, and the ability to route audio to any device with the click of a mouse means that a single network can serve many different roles and purposes with minimal effort or risk.

As audio systems and transport continue to evolve, legacy non-networked audio products run the genuine risk of obsolescence. An investment in network infrastructure is a sure way to avoid that dilemma for customers and end users of audio systems, smartly “future-proofing” installations.

Steering customers and end users toward networking prepares them and their facilities for a world of new possibilities, stretching for many years to come.

This article was contributed by Brad Price, Senior Product Manager at Audinate. Brad has an extensive background in audio engineering, music performance, and software product development.

SI Asia Notes: This is the third article within our TECH TALK on Audio Networking series. To read the first article on exactly what Audio Networking is, click here. For how to improve your workflow using Audio Networking, click here.

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