Gear Talk: Audio Distribution Part 5

Welcome to our final article in the audio distribution series.  Over the last 4 weeks we’ve covered the gamut from analog patch panels and analog splitters, to the older digital distribution formats, to the latest and greatest in audio networking in use today. Today we’ll focus on some of the more proprietary but well known manufacturer specific formats that are widely used today, most of which you will probably recognize. Buckle up and let’s get started!

First up, is Waves Soundgrid.  Anyone familiar with using Waves plugins live, has likely come across soundgrid in some form or another.  Soundgrid is Waves’ proprietary format and allows for up to 128 bidirectional channels to flow over a single ethernet cable.  Soundgrid can handle sample rates between 44.1K up to 96K. Soundgrid is a layer 2 network technology that uses one of three applications to route audio between devices.  Waves MultiRack which, when coupled with Waves processing servers allows the end user to process additional audio tools through a live console in real time with little to no latency.  MultiRack can act as a soundgrid router in addition to its duties as a plugin host. Waves LV1 is an actual software audio mixer with 64 stereo channels of audio and can hold up to 16 different soundgrid compatible devices.  Waves LV1 can be used as a traditional console or used as a giant audio router for soundgrid, or both. LV1 also allows end users to use Waves plugins directly in the mixer allowing for very flexible and detailed mixes. The last application, Waves Soundgrid Studio is primarily designed for DAW use and allows for additional processing power by offloading plugin processing to an outside PC instead of using the DAWs processor.  This too, can act as a soundgrid router. Waves Soundgrid is a fairly robust platform with options of integrating with MADI, AES50, Dante, and AES3, as well as having a driver for computer audio to be added to the Soundgrid network for recording or multitrack playback. Waves also works with many different manufacturers to make option cards for direct connectivity to many different audio consoles. The only possible downside to Waves Soundgrid is that a host program like LV1, MultiRack, or Soundgrid Studio have to be actively up and running for audio to properly flow and stay routed. You are also completely reliant on perfect performance from all parts for the system to work. 

Aviom’s ANET is another format still in use, while older and mostly replaced with Dante it can handle a 64 channel stream.  ANET uses a proprietary Layer 2 network technology to shift 48K audio around to different devices. It uses proprietary hardware and software to make and control routes.  Aviom’s ANET is most popular for its 16 channel personal mixers. Aviom made ANET cards for many console manufacturers and also analog to ANET converters that allowed end users to convert analog line level signals to ANET signals to be used with their personal mixing systems.  ANET was also utilized with limited success in large venues for it’s channel count and routing capabilities.

To help connect multiple consoles, DigiCo developed Optocore.  Optocore is a Ring distribution system that can handle up to 512 channels of audio at 96K.  Optocore can be used in a star topology but loses some of its redundancy. One nice feature with Optocore is that outputs are automatically calculated by the number of inputs being assigned so a lot of the math is done automatically for the end user.  Optocore can also be interfaced with a number of other manufacturers via option cards or via a MADI converter.

For major broadcast consoles there are a couple options for users to choose.  Calrec’s Hydra and Hydra 2 networks and Lawo’s NOVA networks. Each of these are basically giant routers with thousands of inputs and outputs also capable of handling hundreds of processing channels.  Both formats have redundancy for both DSP and control. Both use a computer to make routes but are not dependant on the computer for the routes to be maintained. Both Calrec and Lawo can integrate with almost any audio standard and have options for both analog and digital IO.  These consoles and their router frames are intricate pieces of technology and can act as a hub to a television studio or an OB sports or entertainment truck. Both utilize remote I/O boxes so that they can be networked through an entire installation and can easily be scaled up or down based on the needs of the current client or production.

Allen and Heath has built a new 96K protocol for the dLive and SQ Platforms called GigaAce.  GigaAce is capable of handling over 300 channels of bidirectional audio and control down a single ethernet cable.  GigaAce is a layer 2 format and primarily point to point to point with the ability for redundancy. One useful feature is that GigaAce can carry control data for multiple A&H consoles down the line so one A&H console with other A&H consoles connected to it via GigaAce can bridge control networks off a single ethernet cable.  Allowing an end user to easily control A&H consoles spread out at an installation.

StageTec uses a proprietary network protocol called Nexus to handle audio networks of 4096 by 4096 when properly configured.  Like Lawo and Calrec it can handle consoles with hundreds of processing channels. StageTec is seen mostly in large theatre type installations but is making inroads into broadcast setups.  StageTec consoles are also capable of distributed I/O boxes and can easily be scaled based on the needs of the client or production.

Yamaha has developed a new network technology called TWINLANe.  In addition to their heavy use of Dante in their CL, QL, and TF mixers Yamah has also developed TWINLANe as a method for audio transport in their PM Series consoles.  TWINLANe allows for 400 channels of audio to be distributed to consoles or devices on the network.

SDI, or Serial Digital Interface is the de-facto standard of video transport in use today.  Almost all professional video devices use SDI to carry audio and video. While SDI is not necessarily an audio format I did think it important to cover because HD-SDI has the ability to carry up to 16 channels of 48K audio down one stream.  This means you can send full HD video and 16 channels of audio down one cable. This can be extremely beneficial to installations that already use SDI to transport video because those SDI lines can also carry audio and can be used to distribute audio where no additional audio cabling may be run.  Keep in mind however, that not all SDI devices are created equal and that some can only see two, four, or eight, channels. If you’re looking to utilize the audio channels inside an SDI stream make sure the devices involved (including any SDI routers involved) can handle the amount of audio needed.

While there are many other audio formats in use around the world today I wanted this article series to cover the main ones in use and some of the original formats that grew the audio industry.  Understanding the basics of digital audio and digital audio networking will be crucial as audio consoles merge ever more with IP protocols and turn more and more into network devices. As capabilities and inter-connectivity grows, it’s crucial to understand the ability of your console to connect with other devices. We know that these last few weeks of audio distribution may have been a bit of drinking from the fire hose so please feel free to ask questions below, drop a thought on Facebook, or email us at engineers@studiostagelive.com. As always, if you want to be emailed when a new post is live on the site, sign up at this link! See you all next week!

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