If the audio business is all about options and brand preferences, then there are more than a few audio networking options available to contractors and consultants at this time. Or are there? The phrase "audio networking" has been much abused of late, and more than a few guilty parties have referred to proprietary control protocols like Harman's HiQnet, QSC Audio's QSControl and even Peavey MediaMatrix as "audio networking solutions." As powerful as these tools are they only work with those individual brand offerings. But the fact remains that audio transport is different from "control" and the terms are not interchangeable. Audio transport using off-the-shelf ethernet components is still the domain of EtherSound and CobraNet. After the launch last month of multiple new EtherSound enabled products at the PLASA show in London, EtherSound business development manager Jimmy Kawalek answered a few questions about where this audio networking/transport thing is going.
What is the networked audio protocol situation at present?
JK: EtherSound and CobraNet are both quality products that take advantage of off-the-shelf ethernet componentry for audio transport. We need to be able to get a clear message across to the contractors, consultants and touring professionals that they can easily learn this new, very flexible method of audio transport, and working in conjunction with their long-term partners (the manufacturers) apply it creatively.
What can help to convince more systems designers and installers of the merit of networked audio solutions?
With audio networking, many are afraid of the great unknown; what may happen scares them off. So they immediately write it off, which is a great injustice for this technology.
Many also say that the offering is very limited, but that's why I'm incredibly jazzed right now that we have four different digital console manufacturers on board with EtherSound-Allen & Heath, DiGiCo, Yamaha (via the AuviTran YGDI card AVY16-ES), and InnovaSON. That's huge because consoles are usually the start of the audio chain and now there is a large range of options. My job is not just to have licensee names on the wall for us, but it's to get those audio manufacturers to build products with our enabling technology inside so that there is a choice of brands that contractors are familiar with.
How can fears about this technology be abated?
People have to realize that a lot of time, money and dedicated engineering effort has been spent by the licensees to ensure that the technology is real and that they have invested wisely before developing their products. System redundancy using things like power over ethernet and other very cost-effective ways of keeping devices alive also exist. But there still is the fear of the "what-if." The way to calm those fears is through education and increased hands-on usage.
We're still trying to move this technology downstream and educate people about the fact that these flexible and usually upgradable technologies can even be applied in a simple 300-seat house of worship. It's not just for Super Bowls, stadiums, Oscars, Emmy's and the Rolling Stones. The large systems installers have realized years ago that using audio transport technologies was the only cost-efficient method of pulling off complex jobs. This technology can move downstream very well; it gives these smaller venues like houses of worship so many more options that they never had before. By going with a networked audio system, meaning transport, control and other protocols, advanced components can live harmoniously in a smaller environment and be very cost effective.
Ethernet is not new; it is well-tested and proven for its reliability and performance. Taking advantage of this technology is a natural progression for the audio designer and installer to give them a flexible path for change, growth and reliability.