Dante Networked Audio: Hype or Help?
Perhaps you've been holed up behind a lighting console for the past several years and are unaware of the digital audio protocol called Dante™. Or perhaps you've seen the Dante logo appearing on more and more products and want to know how it might make your life easier. Either way, let's get you up to speed.
Audinate, the Australian company that created Dante, describes it as "an uncompressed, multi-channel digital media networking technology with near-zero latency and synchronization."
We've heard similar claims before, but the fact is, Dante has been adopted by dozens of pro audio manufacturers, including Shure, because it actually delivers on its promise.
Are there really benefits to using Dante-enabled Shure products? I'm glad you asked!
The Benefits of Dante-enabled Shure Products
Whether you're a user, integrator, audio pro, or consultant, there are many benefits to using Dante-enabled Shure products. Being able to network multi-channel audio devices together using just one CAT5e (or better) cable can save significant time and money. It also can add some sweet functionality without making things too complex.
Here is what makes Dante a great choice:
It lightens the load. Think about your typical copper snake: bulky, heavy, and cumbersome. Now imaging connecting, say, a stage box and mixing console with a single off-the-shelf CAT5e or CAT6 cable. Suddenly, the large conduits needed for traditional audio cable runs are unnecessary. Consultants and integrators can now stick to smaller conduits, or simply use plenum network cable when appropriate.
It saves labor and materials. Anyone who has spent the day terminating audio cables and logic terminals knows that this is a huge source of both labor costs and glitches in design-build projects. But Dante-enabled products can eliminate most of that. Just one termination at each end of a low-cost, off-the-shelf network cable can accommodate up to 512 bi-directional audio channels!
It expands functionality. Not only do Dante products save on weight, space, labor, and materials, but also they move signal routing to the digital domain via free software. Signal splitting is now done via simple matrix routes within browser-based software. So, say goodbye to transformer-isolated hardwired splits, and say hello to accommodating last-minute changes to signal flow with a laptop instead of extra man-hours!
Additionally, Dante networking all but eliminates several common analog audio issues, like interference from other electrical equipment, crosstalk, and signal degradation over long cable runs.
So, let's move on to specifics. And by that I mean specific benefits found in Shure's Dante-enabled products: two digital wireless systems and the world's best auto-mixer.
Dante + ULX-D® Digital, with Dual- and Quad-Channel Receivers
With its full-range audio that stays in the digital domain from transmission through reception, ULX-D Digital is arguably one of Shure's best-sounding wireless systems. Using the ULX-D Dual and Quad receivers on a network gives users control and monitoring capabilities, enabling the system to find and deploy frequencies to all networked channels in just three button pushes!
Both multi-channel ULX-D receivers are Dante-enabled, making networking simple. You'll find two Ethernet-style ports on the unit's back panel. Connect your Dante network to either of these ports with a network cable, and the network will "discover" your receiver in the free Dante Controller software, making your ULX-D channels into network assets for easy routing and control via an external browser-based control panel.
Why are there two ports? Because there is additional functionality! Shure includes a two-port network switch within the ULX-D receiver, which can be configured to daisy-chain multiple units together, and enables Shure or third-party control (control on one port and Dante on the other). In this way, integrating multiple ULX-D systems into popular control systems like AMX or Crestron becomes easily possible. Shure makes that process easy with a whole host of freely available control strings. Volume, mute, battery life, and all wireless operations can be accessed for easy programing.
The second port also can be used in redundant mode when demanding applications cannot suffer downtime in the event a cable breaks or a network switch goes down.
Dante + SCM820 Automatic Mixer
The SCM820 8-Channel Digital IntelliMix® Automatic Mixer for speech applications is another key Dante-enabled product from Shure. This device features optional Dante network connectivity. Designed for spoken word applications, it is truly one of the best auto-mixers in the world. (To learn why IntelliMix is both unique and awesome, read this.)
While it's pretty great on its own, the SCM820 on a Dante network provides for additional functionality. (See a pattern?) With its dual-port connectivity (same as the ULX-D), up to 12 SCM820 Dante-enabled mixers can be linked to form a 96-channel auto-mix, all operating under the same IntelliMix settings, yet requiring only one input channel within the final mix.
It's not unusual for a small church or school with modest mixing needs to use the SCM820 connected to ULXD4D or ULXD4Q wireless for a seamless and great-sounding solution.
Auto-mixers are great tools for applications in the production world, such as miking panel participants. This can be accomplished using analog inserts between the auto-mixer and the main console, but the SCM820 is used to its best advantage when operated digitally over Dante. No more bulky break-out/break-in cables, and routing is simple. The SCM820 hosts an onboard web GUI, easily accessed on a standard browser, allowing the user to make adjustments from a laptop or tablet instead of the front panel, with routing realized through Dante Controller software.
Dante + Microflex® Wireless
Since its introduction, this digital system quickly has become the gold standard for boardroom and conference room wireless microphones. Its easy system deployment, encryption, rechargeability, and network accessibility benefit users and integrators alike. Optimized specifically for a networked installation, Microflex Wireless, or MXW, is designed to work completely within the Dante ecosystem, with analog audio as an option.
With MXW, there is no rack full of receivers. Instead, the system uses a single wall-mounted access point for up to eight microphone channels. The MXWAPT, which looks like a standard Wi-Fi station, connects to the outside world by (you guessed it) a single network cable. Audio channels stream over the network connection via Dante and are quickly and easily routed to any network-enabled location or function.
For integrators, systems of eight or fewer channels are networked by a press of the Link button on the charging base station. Higher channel counts configure easily through the onboard web GUI and Dante's free Controller software. To convert from Dante digital audio to analog audio, Shure offers the MXWANI network interface, which also offers the ability to solo mics and monitor them via headphones.
Microflex Wireless is incredibly easy to operate, with automated channel selection and deployment, so non-technical users can activate and use the system without assistance.
Shure's Dante-enabled products offer easy setup with plug-and-play compatibility along with integrated media and control. Dante is a flexible and scalable solution, with up to 512 bi-directional channels of digital audio. Its low latency and lack of hum, ground loops, and signal degradation over long cable runs result in improved audio quality. Costs for Dante-enabled products are usually lower when compared to expensive copper cable with transformer-balanced splits. Labor is also less costly because Dante is easier to deploy, install, and/or terminate compared to analog audio connections. Even better, there is no software to buy.
Another advantage is that, as more major manufacturers adopt Dante, various products from different sources are beginning to "play nice" together. For instance, Yamaha CL Series digital consoles on the same Dante network as a Shure ULX-D receiver can discover, display, and control those Shure channels directly from the console's display screen.
The biggest advantage, though, is the ability to control a sprawling multi-room audio installation from a single remote access panel. A Dante network can be integrated into an organization's IT infrastructure, allowing monitoring and control of multiple devices from a central location. Add a Wi-Fi system, and the same control accessibility can be gained via a portable device like a tablet, smartphone, or laptop.
So there you have it. Even an old-school guy like me can see: specifying Dante products is better for everyone, from consultant to integrator to operator. With easier installation, lower labor cost, expanded functionality, and control system interoperability, Dante-enabled products bridge the gap between pro audio and IT without compromising audio quality.
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