Posted in education
on December 30, 2016 4:34 pm EST
The Designer’s Primer on Audio Networking
Connecting audio on a network can be both a blessing and a curse. A Church Designer exclusive report from the 2016 archives.
The benefits of audio networking are significant. There are far fewer cables to run—a 70% reduction in speaker wire, 50% fewer connections, and 30% less conduit, according to sources at Attero Tech, provider of cost-effective networked AV solutions based in Fort Wayne, Ind.
For all their focus on the next life, houses of worship have to contend with the technical exigencies of this one, especially when it comes to audio. That includes higher channel counts, as church sanctuaries and worship spaces today have to be able to host a much broader range of functions and events as part of efforts to deepen engagement with local communities. What’s making that easier lately is the growing ubiquity of audio networking—digital platforms that move audio as data packets rather than as streams of signals, using IP protocols similar to those used to transport data on other network systems. Audio has been digital for more than two decades now, of course, but the shift in its transport, from the need for one cable for each channel to the concept of combining up to 16 channels of discrete audio on a single Cat-6 cable routed through Cisco-type data switches, represents a sea change in how audio gets from one point to another.
House of worship technical directors and the AV systems integrators who work with them have seen a lot of choices spring up around them in recent years, starting with the granddaddy of them all, CobraNet. That networking platform remains available and viable, although its use has declined due to latency and transmission-scheduling (i.e., data-traffic control) issues compared to the current generation of networking systems. Broadly, network types can be divided into two categories: proprietary formats, which work only within a manufacturer’s own ecosystem or are available for inclusion in various manufacturers’ products; these include Audinate’s Dante, Q-SYS from QSC, Harman Professional’s HiQNet, WheatNet from console maker Wheatstone, and Livewire from Telos Systems. Open-standard formats, available for inclusion into any product, include the AES67 interoperability protocol, Audio Video Bridging (AVB), and Ravenna from ALC NetworX and which has been heavily supported by Lawo’s product ecosystem.
Of these, the Dante system has garnered the lion’s share of the market in North America, its name approaching synonymy with the idea of networking itself, much like Xerox once did for photocopiers. Ravenna has gotten especially good traction in Europe and in broadcast. Personal preference among AV systems integrators will play a large part in determining which networking platform is ultimately chosen, as does the nature of the other components in a sound system. For instance, a system comprising exclusively QSC components would make it an apparent candidate for the use of the Q-SYS network. But Dante’s rapid ubiquity has led most major audio systems manufacturers (including developers of other networking systems) to make their products compatible with Dante, with more than 250 licensees reported in 2015. While the exact brand of networking system used in a house-of-worship sound system may be utterly transparent when in use, broad inter-compatibility is important to ensure that any future upgrades to the system are also compatible with the network.
Of [proprietary systems], the Dante system has garnered the lion’s share of the market in North America, its name approaching synonymy with the idea of networking itself, much like Xerox once did for photocopiers.
“Wide compatibility is crucial for future-proofing a sound system,” observes Ryan Knox, senior consultant at Dallas-based AV consultancy and design firm Idibri. “If we have to switch out amplifiers or other components down the line, it’s critical that they be able to work with whatever networking platform we designed the system with.”