Residential or commercial, nearly every integrator is familiar with networking and has implemented technology game changers such as Sonos or iPad control into homes or entertainment venue environments using an existing capable network.
In most instances since 2001, when the popularity and necessity for networking changed from a unique real estate feature into an essentially mandatory one, Cat 5e became the most common variation of category wiring used.
In the analog domain, audio is no more simply explained than point-to-point, channel-by-channel connectivity. Single-ended interconnects for analog stereo are in Left-channel/Right-channel pairs, with that convention followed by nearly all analog cabling types. Analog can be ideal over short distances, however, numerous drawbacks are incurred when a residence is actually an estate, or when a massive commercial project includes a naming rights bid. Despite the mythos surrounding some analog cabling and the alluded alchemy involved in its creation, signal quality is impacted when long distances are traversed, particularly through harsh, noise-invasive environments.
Enter Dante, the Aussie company Audinate’s acronym for Digital Audio Network Through Ethernet, their protocol for communicating multiple audio channels over standard Ethernet IP infrastructure, using Cat 5e or better, and also fiber—optic cabling. The digital audio data is bit-accurate and uncompressed, traveling safely up to 300 feet over category cabling, deterioration-free, and maintaining sample-accurate system synchronization with ultra-low latency (as little as 1ms). Depending on the application, Dante is capable of 512 bi-directional audio channels over a gigabit Ethernet network – compare that to analog – and with Category 5e or 6A cabling, there are never concerns over gender connections, they are always male with software determining the direction of signal travel.
Integrators have discovered innovative ways to implement Dante into systems. One is to link Dante-enabled distribution amplifiers with AV-o-IP 1G and 10G systems, such as AVPro Edge MXnet and its 1G and 10G Dante-equipped encoders, that will extract audio, including multi-channel 3D immersive formats, from any source. By using Dante Controller, Audinate’s software management program, these signals can be routed on the Dante network and sent to any Dante-decoding device. (Note that Dante is not compatible with Wi-Fi as Wi-Fi is not fast enough for reliable digital audio transport). Dante Controller software allows users to configure signal routes and other settings that are stored in the individual Dante devices, and for projects where these routes are permanently established, these settings are maintained without a connected computer.
When signals are routed to a multi-zone distribution amp, such as the Dante-enabled AudioControlPro M6800D, source audio signals are selected from the stream, decoded, and made available for matrixed amplification to any of the 16 channels or zone configurations.
Category cable transports Dante signals in the digital domain between devices, a tremendous advantage over multiples of traditional analog interconnects, that by best practice, should be of high quality to withstand stray RFI and EMI in a hostile rack environment. All Dante audio is 100% lossless 24- or 32-bit, and sample rates from 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz are supported. With all Dante devices containing voltage-controlled crystal oscillator clocks, all channels are delivered with precise synchronization at near-zero latency, and any network connection is capable of being a Dante source point or destination point by simply adding a Dante device.
In commercial applications, Dante offers diverse solutions to connection headaches with legacy products, especially useful in take-over projects. Widely available Dante AVIO adapters interface with Satellite receivers, CATV boxes, CD/Media players, Internet Radio, DAB+ and AM/FM tuners, plus microphones placing them all on a Dante network from one project area, routing them to expanded spaces with Dante-enabled distribution devices using a single, ubiquitous category cable. New, labor-intensive wiring paths for countless, impedance-challenging long speaker wire runs, or source duplication due to the complexity of linking an existing system to additional areas, are eliminated, along with analog noise-related and latency issues.
AV-o-IP has fundamentally changed the A/V connectivity model by replacing point-to-point, multi-cable connections with software-driven network routing. Similarly, Dante enables audio distribution with precise time alignment and no loss of signal quality using a software-directed network protocol. The trajectory of Pro-Audio has been inexorably altered by Dante. In residential integration, with the advent of more robust wireless networking devices, many home builders have gravitated away from the norm of the early 2000s for network infrastructure wiring. In the project planning phase, residential integrators should lend heavy consideration to Cat 6A, including shielded Cat 6 where deemed beneficial, as well as fiber-optic cabling. Borrowing an axiom from the “old days”, wire is inexpensive, and patching, well…not so much. With the proliferation of AV-o-IP, Dante, and SDVoE technologies, it is time to revisit infrastructure wiring strategies to ensure these technologies that hold a high consumer demand can be correctly implemented.