Tech Focus: Digital Audio Networking, Part 1 — The New Alphabet Soup
A look at the major standards, protocols, and systems available today
Audio-networking platforms have proliferated considerably in recent years, underscoring the shift in signal transport from copper to fiber. Their arrival promises exponentially more channel counts and the virtual elimination of latency, but their diversity in types and features, — plus the added complexity of their IT-based foundations converging with the traditional A/V-based ecosphere of broadcast plant, remote operations, and sports venues — is making for a complicated transition. Here are the major elements of the audio-networking sector at the moment.
A standard for audio-over-IP (AoIP) interoperability, AES67 was developed by the AES and published in September 2013. A Layer-3 protocol suite based on existing standards, it is designed to allow interoperability between various IP-based audio-networking systems, such as RAVENNA, Q-LAN, and Dante. The Media Networking Alliance (MNA) was formed in October 2014 to promote adoption of AES67.
Developed by Audinate, Dante is an uncompressed, multichannel digital-media–networking technology, with near-zero latency and synchronization. The company passed the 200-licensee mark earlier this year.
Owned by Cirrus Logic, CobraNet combines software, hardware, and network protocols to deliver uncompressed, multichannel, low-latency digital audio over a standard Ethernet network. Developed in the 1990s, it is widely regarded as the first commercially successful implementation of audio over Ethernet. It was designed for and is used primarily in large commercial audio installations, such as convention centers, stadiums, airports, theme parks, and concert halls.
Digigram’s EtherSound is compliant with IEEE 802.3 Ethernet standards and has been developed as both ES-100 (for use on dedicated 100-Mbps Ethernet networks or within a Gigabit network as a VLAN) and ES-Giga (for use on dedicated Gigabit Ethernet networks).
Introduced in 2003, Livewire+ audio-over-Ethernet system was developed by Axia Audio, the studio-audio division of the Telos Systems. Its primary application is routing and distributing broadcast-quality audio in radio stations. Livewire is interoperable with RAVENNA-based systems and equipment, and its most recent iteration enables full AES67 interoperability. Designed as a superset of functionality using common protocols and formats, Livewire+ is available as an open standard through Axia’s Livewire+ Partner Program. To date, there are more than 80 Livewire+ partner companies. More than 6,000 studios worldwide have installed Livewire+, and, as of 2015, there were more than 60,000 individual Livewire+ devices in the field.
Optocore is a proprietary digital audio and video network designed to carry 1,024 inputs to any output of all network nodes at the lowest fixed latency (41,6 μs is currently achievable).
QSC’s Q-SYS software-based DSP platform natively provides a Layer-3 network-audio protocol on Intel hardware with no additional cards or hardware required. QSC’s Q-LAN network-audio protocol also provides device discovery and conveys control and monitoring to and from system peripherals. Combining the Core 3100, Core 1100, Core 500i, and Core 250i hardware with Q-SYS Designer Software and peripherals makes up the complete Q-SYS platform.
Using standard network protocols and technologies, ALC NetworX’s RAVENNA can operate on most existing network infrastructures. The format has primarily targeted the professional-broadcast market, including in-house signal distribution for broadcast plants and other fixed installations, interfaces at venues and events, remote-production support, and inter-studio links across wide-area–network links and production facilities. RAVENNA has seen its biggest traction in the European markets.
Riedel’s RockNet real-time, low-latency audio-distribution network conveys 160 24-bit/48-kHz audio channels counterrotating on a single Cat 5 cable. The system can accommodate up to 99 devices on a single network.
Wheatstone’s WheatNet-IP network system uses Internet Protocol to enable audio to be intelligently distributed to devices across scalable networks. It enables all audio sources to be available to all devices (mixing consoles, control surfaces, software controllers, automation devices, etc.) and controlled from any and all devices. WheatNet-IP is AES67-compatible and represents an entire end-to-end solution, complete with audio transport, full control, and a toolset to enable exceptionally intelligent deployment and operation.