Audio Networks - Key Considerations

Today everything is making use of a network. When it comes to the history of audio networks- it’s full of incompatibilities and questions of its reliablility to give an optimum performance in a production environment whether it’s broadcast; live, cinema, post or recording.

In this article, we will discuss some key aspect to consider in audio networks and some key information that will help you out to design and configure your own.

The reason behind using audio networks.

Audio network has emerged and developed from legacy audio distribution and roughting , workflows and limitations, one of the most prominent limitations of analogue was signal degradation once it’s scaled up. With audio networks, high channel count is possible with less cabling and more flexibility plus seamless routing.s

The Complexity Myth.

“ How complex is it and do I need network experience? ”; those seem to be on the top list of questions when it comes to using an audio network; however developers work tirelessly to streamline the technology and make sure that users don’t need specialist knowledge. For users it’s an intuitive experience.

Types Of Audio Networks.

There is a number of audio networks that have been developed over the years some of which we will discuss briefly below. There is an abundance of resources online for those who want to dig more into each network type.

Dante.

image courtesy of    Audinate

image courtesy of Audinate

Developed by Audinate, it is an uncompressed media network that utilizes software, hardware, and network protocols. By using standard network technology to tranfer large nubers of multichannel audio across long distances and to multiple locations, supports a minimum latency of 150 microseconds.

AVB.

AVB is an open standard protocol developed by IEEE, it doesn’t require any manufacturer licensing to use the technology. The protocol dedicates and reserves a portion of the bandwidth available on the network switch for media use. It offers precise synchronization, control and identification of participating transmitters/receivers.

Image courtesy of    Vector E-Learning

Image courtesy of Vector E-Learning

Deploying AoIP Networks.

With that out of the way; let’s examine key considerations in deploying an audio network, we will discuss the challenges and further explore on the experience of industries that have already migrated to IP.

Some of the key concerns in AoIP jitter, delay and reliability- we will focus on complexity issues in larger scale networks.

Broadcasters have been migrating to IP based infrastrucutre over the past few years as they realise that it’s cost effective and flexible. It is important to note that wide scale replacement of the infrastructure will prove different challenges, namely multiple points of failure - access requirements for external links ( for the network enthusiasts think NATS & Firewalls ) - audio network traffic and how it’s integrated with other network traffic - compatibility - monitoring and synchronization.

AoIP offers a number of advanteges over legacy links, namely ( cost - flexibility - scalability - availability - efficiency).

Network Deisgn.

From a design perspective; we need to consider reliability, configuration and management. To break it down :

Topology.

One of the key aspects of AoIP systems which must be flexible and scalable for future proofing.

Latency.

Managing AoIP and other network traffic is crucial. Quality of Service (QoS) provides a solution to manage each type of traffice throughout the network. Unmanaged networks provide no prioritization

Flexibility/Interoperability.

Larger networks are designed to operate in clusters within which they can distribute Audio; Some manufacturers have been implementing the recommendations set out in the N/ACIP Tech Doc 3326 detailing the minimum requirements for interoperability.

Synchronisation.

There are a number of options for synchronisation of a network; namely precision time protocol, more about this can be found at IEEE.

Control/Management.

A while back, network management was a bespoke operation with no central management. Some manufacturers now offer two network ports for audio and control. Moniring is done usually using SNMP. It is important to note that with SNMP is that it is a simple protocol and complex configurations and controls are traffice intensive and not so easy to programme. AES have released AES70-1-2018 as Open Control Architecture; more info about can be found at AES.

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Although Audio networks might have different complexities between different deployments and configurations, however it provides redundancy options that is not available in other mediums, AoIP solutions must provide management system which is flexible and intuitive for users.



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