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Somewhere along the way, networked audio gained a reputation for being difficult to set up, confusing to sync, and generally not worth the hassle. But, as our Head of Audio Matt Ward explains, this simply isn’t true – the benefits of networked audio far outweigh the costs, especially when solutions like Avid’s MTRX have made it so much simpler to get started…
Why do you think people are nervous about approaching networked audio?
I think with any new technology there’s an element of fear, and audio engineering is fundamentally different from network engineering, so there appears to be a lot to get your head around when you’re starting out. I also think there's a generalised fear of clocking in the networked audio world, because we felt like we’d solved those problems with the old AES and MADI systems, and now we’re having to tackle them all over again. But none of it is actually difficult once you do get your head around it.
What advantages will people get if they push through the fear factor and go ahead with a networked audio setup?
When you route audio at the IP layer, it's a lot easier to change where things are going. No more patch bays, no more Krone frames, no more complex wiring harnesses and central termination panels. You don't have to have cables going all over the place that you have to patch. And any routing hardware you do need is commodified – an audio router that does a few thousand cross points will cost you tens to hundreds of thousands of pounds, whereas a network switch that does the same thing is about £350.
Even if you implemented networked audio without an automated system and wanted to continue physically patching cables, you’re getting hundreds of thousands of possible connections on an affordable network switch rather than paying £2000 every time you need to wire in an extra 96-way Bantam switch.
“You’re minimising your capital expenditure, you're building scalability fundamentally into the systems and then you're giving you're giving yourself the ability to rapidly deploy and redeploy, all of which just makes facility life much easier.”
The other big advantage is that networked audio is fundamentally scalable. If I want the director to hear what's going on in the studio but he's sat in the lounge having his lunch and doesn't want to move, I can take an audio feed to him anywhere in the building. If I decide I want to record in an unusual space because it has an interesting acoustic character, all I need is a Cat6 cable and a little black box and I'm working. I don't have to trail cables all over the place; I can use my facility's structured wiring. If I need to make a system bigger I just patch it back into a network switch and it works.
For a lot of the same reasons, networked audio is really helpful when it comes to the rapid redeployment of resources. If you’re sharing resources like audio processors or VO booths between multiple suites, networked audio allows you to reconfigure that setup much more rapidly than patch cables and termination panels. There’s a natural flexibility that comes from being able to use commodified equipment and being able to route things from software on the IP layer.
Are the clocking issues as much of a roadblock as people think?
The clocking architecture is consolidated into the network, so once you understand how it works, it's actually much simpler than a traditional audio system. I think more than anything it’s the fear factor of tackling something new that trips people up.
How easy is it to integrate all this into an existing Pro Tools setup?
Obviously the Pro Tools implementation of this is incredible. Their MTRX interface can be customised to deliver pretty much any digital or analogue I/O you’ll need, and that includes massively scalable networked audio with multiple 128 and 64 channel cards.
The 128 channel Dante card has built in SRC (sample rate conversion); really handy for those horrible situations where your DAW and Dante infrastructure absolutely must lock to different clock sources.
The 64 channel card is a very reasonably priced entry point, and gets you the configuration of I/O you need, whether you're trying to capture live concert feeds, an orchestra or anything else that needs a high channel count. Even the MTRX Studio, which is an entry level model a lot of people have been using as the basis for their remote studios during lockdown, has 64 channels of audio in and out on a single Dante port.
Why MTRX and not a more traditional solution?
Networked audio is bi-directional and lets you move multiple channels over a single cable. So for example at a concert you could use remote devices to capture ISO camera feeds, ISO audio feeds and audience reactions, and move all that data back to an MTRX over a single Cat6 or Fibre cable.
And it has great routing tools built in. It uses DADman software, which we’re all familiar with, and can support up to 1500x1500 cross points. And because everything’s software defined, you can save the route map for a specific project or space and recall it whenever you need it, so the setup time is pretty minimal. Furthermore, the MTRX or MTRX Studio can act as your monitor controller with room EQ and time alignment, which saves the extra cost and complexity of having a a separate box for this task.
As an Avid Elite Partner for Audio and a company with nearly 30 years’ networking experience, we’re perfectly placed to help you develop a networking solution that suits your business. As well as design and installation of the network itself, we can help you maintain your key infrastructure and provide all the hardware and software you need to support a new way of working. And with ten Avid Certified Support Representatives on staff, we’re your best option for support, too.
Want to know more? Put your questions to the team using the form below. Alternatively, get in touch on 03332 409 210 or email audio@Jigsaw24.com. For the latest news, follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
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Pop your details in the form and our team will get in touch. Alternatively, call us on 03332 400 888 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com.
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