The fall convention season is behind us. Between the NAB Radio Show, the AES convention and a long series of regional and state conventions, the chances are good that at least one event was in your neighborhood. I hope you took advantage of the opportunity to attend one or more.
The last convention I attended was the AES convention in San Francisco. While the AES has a slower pace for radio than the NAB or NAB Radio conventions, there was still plenty to see and investigate. The AES convention gives me a chance to see other areas of audio and look for new ideas. In some cases, a manufacturer may display a product with no intention of offering it to a radio audience, but after I ask some questions and explain how the product could be used in radio applications, the ideas begin to flow and sometimes a new market for an audience is discovered. Many times, these hidden gems will debut in the New Products section of an upcoming issue.
Many years ago, radio was the audio innovator and audio technology super user. This is no longer the case, but while radio is not leading the development of audio technology, we are still heavy users. Most often, this technology is developed for the computer, telephone or pro audio industries. We have adapted our ways to use existing technology to our advantage instead of dictating needs and usage to the technology developers.
With this in mind, one common thread that I saw at the AES convention involved high-speed data transfer. Between Ethernet, Firewire, Cobranet, Mlan and some USB, data connections ruled the day. The data connections are not being used for equipment control, but for audio transfer.
The idea itself isn't new. Voice over IP has been a buzz word for several years. The Firewire and USB interfaces are commonly found everywhere. You can't go anywhere without seeing some form of Ethernet communications. What has changed is that almost every piece of equipment had some kind of audio networking capability.
This development no doubt pleases the wire and cable manufacturers. They have the opportunity to rewire all the facilities with CAT5e or better wire.
We have used a digital audio standard for many years: AES3. This works well, but it is already being viewed as limited in capability. There are many that tout routing a facility's entire audio through computer wiring. Some are pushing using off-the-shelf computer hardware. Personally, I think the technology is a little young to entrust everything to IP transport, but that day is coming.
In small facilities, there is likely no need to implement a high-speed data network for audio, but larger facilities with extensive routing and switching needs will likely make the transition much sooner.
Choosing an audio-data system today is not an easy task. Several formats have established themselves in particular niches, while other formats are highly proprietary. The systems that are supported through multi-manufacturer alliances may have the initial edge, but the technology development cycle transitions so quickly, that today's minor player could easily be tomorrow's dominant leader.
So what's a station to do? Should you tear everything out and start over? Hardly. The technologies in popular use today work well. Take advantage of the mature applications, they are reliable and proven.
The adventurous types may boldly reach for something outside the usual. With the risk comes the potential for great success or great failure. Either way, the trend of using high-speed data paths for audio distribution will continue to evolve and develop. Just make sure you choose the right one.
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