AoIP Applies to Small Stations, Too

Entry-level options exist for radio stations that are ready to take the plunge
By Hal Kneller ,

IP and networked radio studios are all around, as seen and heard at the recent spring NAB Show. But are smaller radio stations (without in-house engineers or IT people) ready for this evolution and is it affordable?

The key technical advantages are:

• Massive wiring and labor cost reduction at installation
• Audio/sources easily routed without adding wiring; quick/easy to add/configure new sources
• Remote access via Internet for diagnostics or reconfiguration
• Special effects (mike processing, EQ, profanity delay) often built-in
• No wiring changes for source reconfiguration

Numerous manufacturers employ AES67 (AoIP) or individual proprietary standards with each touting his protocol advantages. The purpose of this article is not to compare and contrast all systems but to expose smaller stations to entry-level possibilities and price points. 

The architectures are either a traditional audio console with standard or optional network interface, or a “control surface” with no audio that rather connects to and controls an “engine” interfaced to audio sources and a network. Either approach offers studio control and availability of local/remote sources shared across the network.

Recognizing smaller stations’ budget is paramount, a transition can be accomplished one room at a time by replacing an old analog console with a networked system. Commence one studio and install a replacement console or control surface with engine. With additional budget, add a “node” or whatever it is called in your system in the rack room. Now that one studio is connected with a couple of Category 5 or 6 cables and then connected to rack room sources, studio sources in the local room are also tied to the network. Once you have budget to do a second room, tied to the node in the rack room, sources in each studio can also share as desired. Miles of old audio wiring can be removed.

Depending on the system, you may also avoid the expense of sound cards, bypassed by an AoIP network that uses software to route audio.

We asked several manufacturers about entry-level options in AoIP.

Wheatstone IP-12 WHEATSTONE

Wheatstone says that its IP-12/IP-16 digital audio console is popular as an entry-level IP network system for small to medium-sized radio operations, due to its price and scale

The layout is traditional, with 12 or 16 input faders and control room/studio/headphone monitor functions, but its rack-mount I/O engine allows full interface to the WheatNet-IP network, a “distributed intelligence audio network” with integrated control layer and audio tool kits for mixing and processing at each I/O access point.

With one IP-12 studio in place, additional studios expand the network, allowing sharing of sources and mixes. Price is around $8,000. Additional rack-mount units (which Wheatstone calls Blades) can add specialized multi-channel processing and I/O options, available for sharing throughout interconnected studios.

Logitek Pilot LOGITEK

The company offers a combination of AoIP with TDM technologies in its networked consoles and emphasizes the use of high-density audio nodes to “simplify wiring, use fewer network switches and eliminate latency issues.” Two models of AoIP engines are available: the JetStream Mini, which handles up to 128 digital or analog inputs/outputs in a 2 RU chassis, and the JetStream Plus, a 4 RU engine with 240 channels of I/O. The company also offers a range of control surfaces, which have the appearance of standard consoles but which have completely assignable faders, busses, softkeys, etc.

Tag Borland, president of Logitek, says 30 to 50 percent of its systems sold are implemented as single studio console replacements that have no IP cable plugged into the network jacks but are used as traditional “boards” with future network capability.

The most basic system is a Pilot control surface paired with a JetStream Mini dense node engine. For features, users have EQ, profanity delay, store/recall of presets, etc. and reap many advantages sans network. Entry point is just north of $5,000.

Axia Radius TELOS

At the Telos Alliance, Axia Product Manager Milos Nemcik said the Radius control surface is intended for entry-level and smaller studios. Axia uses standard Cisco managed Ethernet switches and Category 6 wiring for inter-studio trunking (Category 5e for in-room connections). He said as few as one or two Ethernet cables from the tech core to the studio are all that is needed.

How difficult is setup and configuration? Compared to 10 years ago, when you had to write scripts and INI files with text editors, today it is all managed by user-friendly GUI. The company also says Radius doesn’t use a third-party switch that needs setup; there’s a pre-configured switch built into the mixing engine.

Axia xNodes can be placed anywhere in a facility for ingestion or output, even outside using their Livewire standard. Basic studio entry is $6,000 and add $1,600 for rack room node; and systems can be built for less with Axia DESQ or RAQ mixers.

GatesAir NetWave GATESAIR

Paul Barzizza, manager of Business Development at GatesAir, says he likes consoles such as the NetWave or Oasis for entry level. Both are standard digital consoles with the ability to add VistaNet (GatesAir’s proprietary networking system). He said these have the feel of a traditional console, and from an installation standpoint, plug in the analog or AES3 sources and outputs as conventional analog boards with VistaNet proprietary interface optional.

Either of these may install in the traditional environment and later more studios and rack room can be networked. Paul says engineers feel very comfortable with this approach, as it is so traditional yet offers the future-proofing of networked audio. Entry cost would be about $5,500 for the basic Oasis console, add $4,000 to bring the rack room into the console via VMConnect networking.

Lawo JADE LAWO

At the spring NAB Show, Lawo Commercial Director Mike Dosch showed JADE, a software-based system running on a PC i5/i7 platform under Windows.

JADE is middleware performing radio console functions such as mixing, routing, processing, mix-minus and more. Using a touch screen, the virtual mixers appear with slider faders, on/off and remote control functions all tied in. Audio input and output is via AES67 AoIP. Just plug an AES67-compliant I/O device into the Ethernet port on the computer and you have a standalone console. Or connect it to a network and share audio across multiple workstations. This product is probably the minimum price point for a real-radio console. It interfaces to most automation without sound cards.

JADE Engine/Studio software runs about $2,000 (plus computer and AoIP audio interface).

ARRAKIS SYSTEMS

The company says its AARC-NET networking solutions allow for integration and distribution of many analog or digital sources via standard IP audio networking.

Arrakis ARC-15BP Blue “The core of the AARC-NET network is based on are Cobranet products from AudioScience,” it states. It is compatible with Arrakis ARC, MARC and X-Mixer consoles as well as most other analog or digital audio devices. The company emphasizes both affordability as well as ease of installation and setup. “No more punch blocks or multi-pair cables. Changing a wiring connection is a simple software choice. Wiring kits are available to simplify the install and transition. Most importantly, AARC-NET is world standard Cobranet, not a custom one-of-a-kind network.” Price ranges from $1,969 to $3,951.

The company’s Ben Palmer also reminds us that to utilize IP doesn’t necessarily require you to have to purchase all IP consoles. “Each protocol has an analog node that allows any analog console to connect to an IP network. This is a nice thing to know since most people are intimidated about purchasing all new consoles, along with the IP switches. For instance, our AARCNET switches will connect to any analog or digital source.”

CONCLUSIONS

Peter Femal, president of Public Media Engineering LLC in Chicago, contracts with large and small public and commercial stations. He offered his opinion regarding installation/configuration complexity and long-term reliability.

In his view, a primary advantage is the ability to access equipment remotely for troubleshooting or re-configuration; the accessibility saves a trip. He sees savings through minimal wiring and quick configuration. He discourages clients from tinkering with configurations because he can do it quickly and easily (remotely) and there’s no risk of a client creating unintended consequences. As to budget, Peter believes a station needs to be in the $8,000 range to obtain and install a basic entry-level system including studio and rack room interface.

I also asked whether, if a small station’s contractor seemed to be steering his client away from this technology, the owner should go out and get a second opinion. “Yes, definitely, there’s still some ‘scare factor’ out there [but] the whole world is headed in this direction,” said Femal.

My take on all this: If someone can handle accurately crimping an RJ-45 connector, they can implement these systems. The manufacturers I spoke with feature GUI setup/configuration and no-charge remote factory tech support via Internet. These are far easier to install than punching down wires as in the “good old days.”

Hal Kneller has been in broadcasting for 50 years as an equipment sales rep, a broadcast engineer and radio station owner/operator. He consults and serves on the SBE Certification committee, holding CPBE, DRB, AMD and CBNE certifications.