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Why Axia and Ravenna Hooked Up

Will an interoperability mindset catch on among purveyors of products and protocols?

Interoperability is a goal for many people who use IP-based pro audio networking. Here and in future stories we’ll explore what this means for facility managers.

The trend is exemplified by recent news that Livewire and Ravenna protocols will talk to one another.

Ravenna was established in 2010 by ALC NetworX, which is owned by German console company Lawo. Livewire was launched seven years earlier by Axia Audio, part of the Telos Alliance and based in the United States.

I asked Axia President Mike Dosch why their arrangement makes sense; after all, it seems the two should be competitors. He said it benefits customers because it broadens the number of devices that can communicate on the network. It helps the equipment companies because, frankly, more connectivity means more sales.

It’s an interesting case study in how manufacturers that have been competing with their own realms and protocols find it appropriate to step across the convention aisle and chat a bit. Will the interoperability mindset catch on among other purveyors of products and protocols? There are developments in that area too.

To be specific, Axia chose IEEE 1588-2008 as the primary synchronization standard for its new xNode IP-Audio Interfaces. This means the nodes can interact with Ravenna-enabled devices.

Dosch said that a goal of Livewire development has been to rely on “off-the-shelf” technology rather than proprietary components, but a suitable master clocking system didn’t exist earlier so Livewire built its own.

A subsequent IEEE effort produced a clocking scheme distributed by the Ethernet master switch “fabric.” And when Axia was looking to enhance Livewire, it spotted Ravenna, which uses 1588.

Dosch liked Lawo’s philosophy of following as many open standards as possible. “If you try to compete on the idea that you have a better network than anyone else, you’re doing the market a disservice because it’s not compatible. Avoid proprietary protocols. … Instead of doing that work on our own protocol, we’ve worked with them to reshape Ravenna into becoming what we think ‘Livewire 2’ would have been.”

Axia, he said, will put both Livewire and Ravenna into future products. “But the direction we’re moving, and the direction we’re pushing even our manufacturing partners, is to move toward Ravenna because of the clocking technology.”

Currently, he believes about 3,000 radio studios have Axia AoIP networks, and 25,000 devices in the field are Livewire-equipped. Some 41 companies make gear that can “talk” with Livewire; those products include automation systems, sound cards, processors and transmitters. Meanwhile ALC NetworX says Ravenna, which is an open technology standard without proprietary licensing, is implemented by 14 partners that include Lawo as well as companies like AEQ, Digigram, Genelec, Sound4 and now the Telos Alliance companies (Telos, Omnia, Axia, Linear Acoustic).

So now, if you have a digital microphone made by Ravenna partner Neumann and you want to hang it on a Livewire network, you can do so via an xNode that provides the clock translation. (These nodes can slave to an external clock for their reference; a big facility with a lot of Ravenna devices might need to do that. But the node can support enough devices itself so that most radio stations probably wouldn’t need an external master, Dosch said.)

The agreement expands the universe of pro products that can be networked to about 70; and you can assume the two companies will be trying to grow the number of partners and interoperable products.

What about the matter of competition?

“A Euro customer wants to use a Telos phone system and Omnia processor on their Ravenna network but would not be able to do it in the IP environment,” he said. “Now the customer doesn’t have to choose sides based on which partner companies he wants to work with. … We’ll compete on other values, other attributes, better consoles, more interesting features. We’re not competing on the basis of having a closed network that only belongs to us.”

This announcement seems indicative of the direction that networking in general could be headed.

The Audio Engineering Society Standards Committee recently chartered a task group to develop an interoperability standard for high-performance media networking. For now the project has been designated AES-X192 (the final product name will take the form AESxx, where xx is some yet-to-be assigned two-digit number).

The project is managed by Kevin Gross of AVA Networks, who developed the CobraNet standard. He told me the X192 effort has about 100 members and that the most active participants include Axia, ALC NetworX, QSC Audio Products, IRT, the BBC, the EBU, Swedish Radio, AudioScience and Clair Brothers. Costs are borne by AES, Axia Audio, AVA Networks and QSC.

The initiative aims to figure out how various proprietary and standard protocols could be interoperable. Gross said protocols of possible interest include Ravenna, Livewire, Wheatnet-IP, Dante, AVB, Q-LAN and N/ACIP.

“Inclusion as an X192 protocol of interest doesn’t mean that that protocol will become interoperable — that’s dependent on the protocol’s purveyor making the necessary and presumably modest changes required to do things in an interoperable way,” he said. “Telos and Ravenna have thus far been the most proactive in this regard.”

Dosch thinks the X192 standard will be ratified within a year or so and “is going to look very much like Ravenna and Livewire.” For his company, he imagines a time when Axia products will have three logos on the rear — for Livewire, Ravenna and the yet-to-be-developed AES standard. “Let’s use the network to connect devices, not preclude devices.”

I’ve heard engineers say that such interoperability is much to be desired. Will other companies move in that direction? Will some version of an AES-X192 logo become a gold standard for IP audio interoperability someday soon? We’ll be asking that question and others. Stay tuned.

Paul McLane is Radio World U.S. editor in chief.