Waves Takes First Steps in Migrating Digital Broadcast Audio to the Cloud
Increasing its focus on broadcast, the company recently announced a cloud-based audio mixer
Audio-products manufacturers whose origins lie in music production form the bedrock of broadcast audio’s own historical foundations. From the gold-standard transducers of Sennheiser and Shure to the battleship SSL audio consoles on which entire classic recording studios were built, these products were as much instruments as technology platforms.
In the more virtual version of that universe, those manufacturers are joined by Waves, the Israel-based developer and supplier of professional digital-audio-signal–processing systems, which won a Technical Grammy Award in 2011. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Waves has become as synonymous with digital-audio processing as names like Fairchild and Teletronix were for midcentury music mavens.
Setting the stage for its next inflection point, Waves has moved into the cloud. At the end of May, the company announced its Cloud MX cloud-based audio mixer, which is powered by a cloud-based version of Waves’ 32-bit–floating-point eMotion LV1 hardware mix engine and augmented by Waves’ arsenal of audio plugins.
Breaking Into Broadcast
Although music production remains a key market vertical, Waves has been a growing force in broadcast audio, including sports, for which sonic quality is an increasingly critical component.
“The obvious thing that most people see when they think of Waves is for producing Grammy-winning records,” says Greg Kopchinski, product manager, Live & Install, Waves. “But what people don’t realize is that there’s a whole collection of processing plugins that support everything from noise reduction to improving the sonic clarity of individual channels or the complete mix itself. Whether it’s a talking head or a group of commentators, we have a number of tools that help an engineer deliver a pristine audio program. And we’ve also partnered with and incorporated the Dugan Speech Automixer capabilities that are used already in broadcast today. Engineers in broadcast sports and live events have a lot of the same requirements in that you have commentators in loud environments that need to be able to have their broadcast audio processed to make it sound as good as if they’re sitting there in the room talking to you. Whether that’s a matter of EQing and filtering to actually applying some AI-driven noise reduction, Waves has been addressing the needs of the broadcast-sports market.”
Kopchinski contends that broadcast sports has been pioneering in the transformation of workflows and workforces from centralized to remote and distributed. “Sports was forced very quickly into this by the pandemic, but sports broadcasters adapted quickly and took on leadership roles in how new workflows would evolve. Waves is part of that.”
Regarding the shift to cloud-based operations, he says the Cloud MX is a logical next step from what have already become largely virtual workflows.
“What we have learned from broadcasters that we’re doing early trials with is that, in their cloud workflows, they’re already using NDI as the primary transport protocol between all the production tools,” he explains. “What we’re able to do is route the audio in a way that [allows them to] pick off the specific audio channels that they want from their NDI streams and make them available to all of the audio processing in the mixer. What we’ve done is take a classic live mixer and create a cloud-based version that allows operators working literally anywhere in the world to access that cloud audio mixer, running on AWS. And, as long as their production streams are also in the cloud, they can take full advantage of the mixer as if they’re operating it right there in their own backyard.”
From Virtual to the Cloud
That’s part of a larger trend in broadcast: hardware makers like Calrec and Lawo have made virtual versions of their own hardware platforms that are compatible with cloud-based workflows. What distinguishes Waves’ initiatives is the company’s capabilities in integrating advanced audio processing into virtual and cloud-based workflows.
“What’s a first here,” says Kopchinski, “is the broad capability of the processing via plugins. Other options in the market have the basic channel-strip features for audio — EQ compression, gates, filters, and so on — but being able to do things like the automatic mic mixing; advanced, neural-based noise reduction; and multiband sonic enhancement, the types of capabilities that Waves processing brings to the process, is unique. It gives broadcasters capabilities beyond just basic mixing and routing functions. Plus, it’s an entirely cloud-based solution. There’s no need to have a mix engine or some part of the console located on-premises or at the main broadcast facility; in this case, all of the audio is sent to and processed entirely in the cloud. All the broadcast workflows are taking place in the cloud. You can literally log in and mix without anything other than a mouse or a touchscreen. [And] we fully support multiple touchscreens; you can set up your mixer so that you have your channel-strip window on one touchscreen and a fader bank of the most critical channels on the other, on up to four touchscreens.”
Plugins can also be used to create virtual custom signal chains that can be saved and applied as needed, as well as shared via the cloud.
“Take the broadcaster working in a baseball stadium where they already have their plugin chain set up,” he explains. “They could actually take that same plugin chain and put it in the cloud to get the same results as in the control room miles away and not have to rebuild a signal chain they already are working with.”
Kopchinski cites Waves’ FIT controller, which provides up to 16 hardware channels and is remotely interfaceable with the Cloud MX over RTP MIDI, as another element in how workflow and workforce roles are changing in the cloud.
“For instance,” he says, “the A1 might set up the audio infrastructure, but it’s actually the producer that does the snapshot recalls, because, once everything’s set up in the cloud, it’s oftentimes just a matter of minor adjustments. And one of the big things with staffing in the cloud is, you may not want to pay an A1 to be there just to move the fader a little bit. There is no requirement that you always have a system engineer online somewhere else to mix the program feed.”
Kopchinski sums it up: “We’re looking forward to hearing from the sports community. We’re hoping to get embedded into these productions and understand what broadcast-sports audio needs next, because it’s a rapidly evolving space, especially as related to the cloud production environment. We want to bring our expertise with audio processing — specifically, processing an amazing audio experience in the cloud — to where it’s going to bring the most benefit to broadcasters delivering live sports events to their audience.
“We’ve been on the sidelines of that for a while,” he continues. “Now we’re in the game.”