Return to Frequently Asked Questions
With more than 4,000 installed studios (and more in the works), there's a lot of talk about Axia these days — much of it from our competitors!
You know how it goes... when there's something new on the scene that challenges the old order, there is a lot of labored huffing and puffing as people dependent on the old way get desperate to hold back the advancing tide. Telos' founder, Steve Church, said it 20 years ago in the Telos 10 manual: The first reaction to a fresh idea from the guys who are threatened is some variation of "it won't work." The next phases are grudging acceptance in the face of the evidence, and finally, copying the innovation as they see it succeed in the marketplace. Clearly, Axia is now in the third phase, but there are still some quite creative variations on "it won't work" being thrown around. We thought you'd appreciate some straight talk to clear the air about some of the things being tossed around.
Questions About Axia
- How many studios are running Axia now?
As of April, 2013, there are over 4,000 installed studios worth of Axia equipment. The adoption curve is still moving sharply upward, so by the time you read this, there are likely to be many more. In fact, there are more Axia IP-Audio consoles and routing networks on the air than any other brand – by a pretty wide margin. Many other people are using Axia gear for non-studio applications, like fiber or microwave links. Some have built routing switchers.
- Are those customers happy?
Very! Axia systems are faster to install than traditional routing setups, work reliably and are easy to reconfigure. Why not talk to the people actually using it and see what they have to say? We'll be happy to provide you with a list of references upon request.
- You talk about a “distributed system design philosophy.” What’s that about?
We listen to broadcasters. We realize that every station’s needs are different; one size does not fit all! Our design philosophy is to give you the cool stuff you want at a price that’s right — Axia will never try to “upsell you” on capabilities you don’t need. Some companies try to squeeze functions into their gear that clients don’t need or want, which leads to increased cost when designing systems.
For instance, with Axia, if you need “hard” audio I/O, you can purchase an xNode AoIP interface, designed with a compact form-factor that eliminates unnecessary ports and keeps costs down. If you need “soft” I/O, you can purchase an Axia IP-Audio Driver, to allow PC workstations to share audio with your studio network. If you need studio intercom capabilities, you can purchase an IP Intercom station for your rack or desktop. You get to choose exactly how much of everything you want, which saves you money and keeps system complexity down.
- I've heard that Axia is the easiest AoIP system to set up. Tell me why.
Axia believes that studio equipment should be powerful, but easy to use. So we’ve made system setup as simple as possible. For example, our xSwitch Ethernet switch (along with the network switches built into our PowerStation and QOR mixing engines) requires no switch programming – it’s pre-configured from the factory. Our xNode audio interfaces have one-button setup – just press a button, give the device a nickname, and it configures itself. We also have a PC application, iProbe, which can query and document each device on your network, and enable you to adjust settings and options from the convenience of your PC or laptop. iProbe can even manage full system configuration backups and automatic software updates for you. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
- I've heard that Axia costs a lot less than traditional studio systems. What did you leave out?
Nothing. Our cost savings compared to traditional routers are achieved by using standard, off-the-shelf switching hardware rather than custom-built solutions. It's a lot less expensive to use standard Ethernet for signal switching and transport than it is to construct a customized cross-point routing switcher, with its cards, frame and peripherals. This is the same principle that has driven almost all stations to use PCs for audio playout and editing – they are a lot cheaper and more powerful than any broadcast-industry specific machine could be.
Another way Axia saves money lies in the way PC audio is handled. With a traditional router, PC audio must be brought in through a router input card or console module; bringing multiple channels of audio into the system in this manner (from workstations or digital delivery systems) can significantly increase the overall cost of the system.
Instead, we wrote an IP-Audio Driver for Windows PCs that looks just like a sound card to the OS, but streams audio in and out of the computer's network card instead. Or, if you need the realtime MPEG compression or time compression features of a high-end sound card, our partner AudioScience makes an audio card with a Livewire output that plugs directly into the Axia network. Either of these approaches eliminates the cost of the I/O needed to get audio into the switching network. So Axia clients usually realize several thousand dollars worth of savings over and above the cost of the sound cards themselves.
- I’ve been told that Axia systems connect to radio products from multiple software and hardware partners. Why is this an advantage?
Audio networks have a lot of cool advantages: they’re flexible, configurable, highly resource-efficient, and deployment versus traditional systems saves money by reducing significant amounts of time, labor and materials. Axia’s vision, from Day One, has been a world where all broadcast equipment connects together natively. It’s a big advantage to simply plug your console, phone system, audio processor, satellite receiver, playout PC, et. cetera, into the network and begin sharing multiple channels of bi-directional audio over a single connection. Ands we’ve assembled a huge family of partners (over 60 as this is written) who see things the same way, and have built Livewire interfaces directly into their hardware and software products. One click of an RJ-45, and these products are ready to start making broadcast audio. And we’ve partnered with RAVENNA, the networking protocol developed by ALCNetworx, to further expand the equipment options available to broadcasters.
Other companies with IP-Audio networking schemes have a few radio partners, too, but not many — they’d really rather sell you more gear, in the form of audio interfaces to connect your equipment. Seems a little cynical, doesn’t it?
- Are there cooling fans in your equipment? Can I put your network gear in the studio?
All Axia equipment, from our console mixing engines to our audio interfaces, is fan-free. We select heavy-duty power supplies designed for high-availability service in harsh conditions (think: untended telecom gear deployed in the desert), and then design passive cooling systems to dissipate heat efficiently. Naturally, they’re utterly silent, so you can locate them anywhere – even in the studio.
- I've heard that with Axia, latency increases whenever you add inputs. The more sources you add, the higher the delay.
No, Livewire's latency remains fixed at the same low value regardless of the channel count. You can run a system with a thousand channels and the latency will be the same as for a single stereo stream. Indeed, the delay is so consistent that channel-to-channel phase shift is less than 1/4 sample. The total latency of an analog input to analog output using the Axia Livestream format is about 2.75 milliseconds:
- The time through the A/D and D/A converters is about 1.5 ms.
- The network transit time is 1.25 ms.
To put this into perspective, the analog input to output latency on a self-contained BMX-Digital is about 1.75 milliseconds; modern, high end audio processors typically clock in with around 10 ms. delay (and talent regularly monitors those on-air).
- How do I know that Audio over IP will be reliable?
Axia uses the same technology that underlies VoIP telephony. Did you know that nearly 75% of the Fortune 100 companies now use VoIP? Or that VoIP PBX systems now outsell the old kind by a wide margin? With these systems, telephones plug into a standard Ethernet/IP network. Contrast this with traditional PBX phone gear — proprietary devices which required you to purchase phone sets and parts exclusively from the company that built the mainframe. You were locked into a single vendor, because the technology that ran the mainframe was owned by the company that made the gear. (Kind of like the TDM router companies.)
IP is now accepted as a universal transport for almost any kind of signal. You see it in television studios, business teleconferencing, government communications, banking, etc. And it's hardly unproven, especially for applications specific to radio studio infrastructure. As of 2013, over 4,000 studios around the world - many in mission-critical, 24/7 broadcast applications in major markets like New York City, Chicago, Paris, Rome and Bangkok - have been built using Axia IP-Audio infrastructure.
- Your competitors claim their system is the only one that combines audio with logic routing. Does Axia route logic with audio, too?
Of course, and we’ve been doing it since 2003! We’re glad to see the other guys have it now, too. IP is great for data, no? Logic commands from external devices like CD players, DAT machines, etc., enter the network using GPIO Nodes. The logic data is then "bound" to the audio stream, and is routed with it to whatever console the source is loaded on.
Devices equipped with Livewire interfaces (like Telos Zephyrs and phone hybrids, Omnia audio processors, 25-Seven profanity delays and IDC satellite receivers, for example) supply audio and control logic directly from the device to the Ethernet switch over a single CAT-5e connection, further simplifying in-studio wiring and making Livewire's audio+logic routing even more convenient.
- What about Program Associated Data? Is your system compatible?
Yes. Devices that generate PAD plug into the Axia network; the information they supply is sent along with its associated audio, and any devices that need it can also plug into the network and retrieve it. This means that you can send audio and PAD together, without incurring extra costs for separate audio and data networks.
- I wouldn't use IP-Audio, because I don't want compressed audio in my studios.
Livewire is not compressed. Axia networks carry linear, 48 kHz, 24-bit studio-grade audio, and there are switches that have enough bandwidth to carry 10,000+ channels of uncompressed, real-time stereo audio simultaneously.
- If IP-Audio is uncompressed, I guess I can't use it for STL, because that's always compressed.
Sure you can, using Ethernet radios from companies like Motorola, Exalt, Dragonwave and others (see AxiaAudio.com/stl/ ) . These line-of-sight radios (and others like them) are capable of data rates of 45 Mbps or more — enough for several channels of uncompressed audio and data in each direction. On the other hand, if you want a compressed link, the Telos Zephyr or Z/IP ONE can do that for you. They take Livewire audio in, generate a compressed IP stream, then deliver it back again to another Livewire network or to traditional analog or AES devices.
- So what is the best audio format to use with Axia systems?
Axia networks don't care what format your music files are stored in. During the playout process, your playout software will uncompress any compressed-format files (MP3, MP2, apt-x, etc.) and present them to the Axia IP-Audio Driver. What this means is that all audio that moves within the Axia system is the same - uncompressed.
So, the question really becomes, what audio format is best for your storage needs, your convenience, and the desired audio quality you want to have on-air. Our feeling, since large capacity hard drives are very cheap nowadays, is that it's better to store all audio in a linear fashion, as the resultant audio quality will be higher, especially after any audio processing.
- One of your competitors claims that their gear can play Axia streams now. Is that true?
If you run across someone who isn’t a Livewire partner, yet claims interoperability, be cautious. Axia has always been willing to share our networking technology with anyone who wants it – even our competition! In the long run, the more gear connects natively to other gear, the better it is for broadcasters. We even set up a program called the Livewire Limitless License: for a one-time, low license fee, partners can built Livewire into as many products as they like, with no per-unit costs.
Despite this, some folks who aren’t partners have tried to reverse-engineer Livewire to provide capabilities their clients demand. Some have been able to make their systems output Livewire audio, but that’s all — without legitimate access to the technology specifications, they can’t provide richer integration like GPIO control and routing, PAD transport, automated mix-minus, or any of the other sophisticated functions that are part of the Livewire specification.
- Those other guys say they're just the same as you. After all, you all do audio over CAT-5.
We all use Category cable, but that's where the similarity stops. Axia IP-Audio networks are standards-based, adhering to Internationally-recognized Ethernet standards. Using a standard is much different than using a proprietary protocol with CAT-5. This standard makes it possible for any broadcast equipment or software vendor to interface directly with Axia networks.
Here's a partial list of companies that make products using the Livewire protocol to connect directly with IP-Audio networks. (Ask the other guys what products connect to them directly, without using a proprietary interface or breakout box.)
- 25/Seven Systems
- Audioscience, Inc.
- Broadcast Electronics
- D.A.V.I.D. Systems
- ENCO Systems
- Fraunhofer IIS
- International Datacasting (IDC)
- Nautel, Ltd.
- Omnia Audio
- OMT Technologies / iMediaTouch
- Paravel Systems
- Pristine Systems
- RCS / Prophet Systems
- Radio Systems
- Telos Systems
- Zenon Media
- If my favorite delivery system isn't on your list of partners, can I still use my system with Axia?
Yes, the same way you do it now: just plug the delivery system's outputs into our inputs, and send the contact closures into our GPIO nodes. (Then ask your delivery system provider when they're going to become an Axia partner!)
- We have an AM station, and those guys say their system can do mono streams, and yours can't.
Axia can route mono streams, too. Our xNode audio interfaces can be configured to route either stereo or true mono audio streams. This is built-in to all of our Analog and AES/EBU xNodes.
- I've heard that I have to use CAT-6 to connect everything. That could get pricey.
CAT-6 is used only for heavy-traffic network segments, like connecting one studio to another, or connecting switches to each other. All other equipment is connected with common, inexpensive CAT-5e cable.
- Is Axia more expensive to install than traditional routing systems?
In fact, Axia costs lots less to install, because everything in an Axia network connects using off-the-shelf Ethernet cables, which carry multiple uncompressed channels of stereo audio. 100Base-T links can carry 25 audio channels simultaneously; Gigabit links can handle 250. The money saved just from the elimination of expensive multi-pair cable for studio interconnects can be significant.
Even our audio connectors are designed to promote fast, inexpensive installation. All of our Audio Nodes use the Radio Systems StudioHub+ RJ-45 standard for I/O jacks (except for mics, which use standard XLR connectors); a huge variety of adapters are available from vendors for all kinds of devices. Tally up the savings in labor realized from not having to purchase and hand-solder hundreds of XLR and RCA connectors, and the money saved becomes even more impressive.
There's considerable time saved during Axia installations as well. Due to the reduction of cabling and the quick connection of devices, our clients tell us that installation of Axia networks goes 30% to 50% quicker than wiring studios the traditional way.
- Most companies recommend that I bring them on-site to help install and configure their systems. Do I need your help to install an Axia system?
With those other guys, you'd better hire their systems engineers. With us, it's much easier! If you know how to use a Web browser and plug a telephone into the wall, you've got all the skills needed to install and configure your new Axia network. And Axia 24/7 Technical Support is there to help if you need it, too, around the clock, every single day of the year.
If you still decide you'd like on-site installation services, we'll be happy to talk with you about it.
- I've heard that there's a PC inside your nodes. Is this true? I don't want to trust my audio to a PC.
No, Axia equipment does not have a PC inside. They do have webservers, which allow you to examine and configure them from any networked computer with a Web browser - a feature found in every well-designed networked device.
Our first generation of DSP engine used an Intel industrial motherboard running a Pentium-4 processor. We use a mix of Intel and TI and Motorola processors in our various products. Some people think that if there's "Intel inside" it must be a PC, but that is just as silly as imagining that every product with a Motorola processor inside is a mobile phone.
We do make use of PC's on our system to run certain applications, such as complex routing configuration and control, backup/restore/diagnostics apps, etc. These are programs that are rich in information, and benefit from being run from a PC with a big monitor. You really wouldn't want to attempt such functions with a few buttons and a microscreen.
- Is there a way to save and back-up an Axia network’s entire configuration?
Yes. We have an easy-to-use, inexpensive program called iProbe that runs on any Windows laptop or PC. iProbe completely automates the work of network documentation and backup.
- How does iProbe work?
When you open iProbe, it finds and catalogs every Axia device on your network. Then, it retrieves the individual settings for each device – IP address, I/O and GPIO settings, the names you’ve given to audio streams, even software versions, and saves them for easy recall whenever needed.
iProbe’s intelligent centralized backup can come in very handy. Let’s say a board-op spills a soda into a rack and blows up an xNode. You’ve got a spare, so you just connect it to the network and use iProbe to instantly configure it using the old node’s saved data. You’re up and running in minutes.
You can also use the tools built into iProbe to remotely configure brand-new devices from your office, TOC or off-site if the need arises.
- One of your competitors says their approach is better, since their gear copies the network configuration to every node. Why doesn’t Axia do that?
Axia engineers considered many approaches to system backup. Those guys have a good idea, but we deliberately chose a method that keeps you in control at all times, rather than abandoning control of your network configuration backups to machines.
IT professionals agree it’s essential to keep multiple data backups in multiple locations. The other guys’ system has a big flaw in that all of its backups are kept in the same place — inside the studio network. Instead, Axia uses data security “best practices” that enable you to export multiple copies of your system configuration and save them to multiple locations. You can keep a copy on your local hard drive, a thumb drive, or cloud storage (DropBox, SkyDrive, etc.), keeping your data truly safe.
- So you’re saying that the differences are mainly philosophical?
In part, but there’s a more compelling operational reason for Axia’s choice. The other guys’ system works by constantly having each node copy configurations from other network devices. In medium or large networks, this activity can add substantial traffic overhead to the network, which reduces the available bandwidth for the audio streams that make up your on-air programming. Another, more disturbing possibility is the very real risk of corrupted configuration records (caused by repeated write/rewrite operations) being copied systemwide and causing jitter, dropouts or dead air.
In the long run, we think it’s better that important decisions about system configurations rest with you, the engineer, rather than deep inside some line of software code. iProbe gives you control of where your backups are stored, when to take system snapshots, and how and when to restore them. The other guys don’t allow you this level of control.
- What else can iProbe do?
Along with system documentation and device backup/restore features, iProbe also keeps track of each device’s current software load, and can automatically download the most current software from Axia servers and update your devices on command. You can even organize your Axia devices into logical groups, so that you can update studios one-at-a-time. Or, group similar devices – xNodes, consoles, Telos phone gear, etc. – so that you can “push” new software to all of those devices at once, with one click.
Questions About Our Tech
- One of your competitors says Axia gear isn't reliable, because you're part of Telos, and Telos is known for power-supply problems.
It's true that some older Telos phone gear had power supply problems. We made a mistake; the parts Telos R&D sourced weren't as robust as their maker said they were. Of course, Telos took care of our clients and replaced all the faulty parts at our cost. But Axia R&D engineers are not the same as Telos' R&D group, and they learned from previous mistakes.
Axia buys state-of-the-art power supplies from a company that does nothing but design and build power supplies. And Axia gear is extremely reliable. In the last 5 years, Axia has shipped thousands of consoles, audio nodes, studio engines and routing control hardware around the globe. During that time, there have been less than a dozen power supply failures.
Here's an example: the power supply in our PowerStation is made by SynQor, a company who makes OEM power supplies for Fortune 500 companies. It's part of a family of power supplies designed for high-uptime telecom apps; designed to withstand all-weather installation at the base of cell towers in remote locations.
Some broadcast equipment companies would like you to believe that only they can guarantee reliable power supplies, because they build their own and therefore control the quality. But we think trusting hardened, industrial-grade power supplies from a major manufacturer is nowhere near as scary as trusting someone else's home-brew design.
- Some of your competitors say their node-like devices don't need to be configured when you replace them, like Axia xNodes do.
Not true; we both do the same thing, just differently.
With their system, each device is given a name – "BOB", for instance. That name is independent of the device's IP address, but all the configuration info is tied to its name. That information is then distributed around the network and stored in each of the other devices. When you need to replace a failed unit with a new one, you name it "BOB" and it reclaims the configuration info previously stored for "BOB" from the other devices on the network. That's pretty easy.
Axia is pretty easy, too. We have a program for your PC that, with one button, archives the settings for every Axia device — a single file with all of your settings. If you have to replace a Node, you can quickly restore its settings with one mouse click using iProbe.
Our competitors argue their system doesn't need a PC to replace a failed "node". But what's the big deal about connecting a PC? After all, it's a network. A bigger question is: why are they so concerned about their gear failing?
- Your competitors also say their audio interfaces are better because they can handle mixed signals.
Axia makes a Mixed Signal xNode that does that, too. It accepts mic, analog line, AES/EBU and even GPIO input – a real jack-of-all-trades. Axia's integrated console engines, PowerStation and the QOR family of engines, accept mixed signal types, too.
- What makes Axia xNodes better than the other guys’ audio interfaces?
First, let’s be clear: unlike some companies, Axia’s primary goal is not to sell you lots of I/O boxes. But, until the day that every piece of broadcast equipment has an Ethernet jack, a certain amount of I/O will be needed on AoIP networks for the foreseeable future. As long as that’s the case, we will make certain that Axia I/O delivers audibly excellent audio performance.
Our xNodes are third-generation audio interfaces. They’re years newer than other companies’ hardware, and they have been carefully designed using the latest studio-grade components to guarantee the cleanest, clearest audio response. For example, the CMRR of an xNode analog input is 80dB minimum, 20Hz to 20kHz; the THD+N on an xNode’s analog input to digital output is < 0.004%. Our digital I/O has 126 dB of dynamic range. We use microphone preamps with an EIN of -128 dBu. Those are number any recording engineer would be proud of! Interestingly, the other guys don’t cite their audio specs.
xNodes have a super-fast one-button setup designed to get new I/O configured and ready to pass audio in the shortest possible time. They’ve got high-resolution OLED front-panel displays with confidence meters and/or GPIO status indications. Analog and digital I/O connections are presented on both RJ-45 and industry-standard high-density DB-25 connections, so you can choose the connection method that suits you best. They can run on either AC or PoE power (with redundant auto-switching) directly from your system switch. And xNodes are half the size of competing products, so they you can add I/O a la carte, cutting costs and eliminating unneeded ports.
- The other guys say your system needs a PC to make it run. Is that true?
Not at all. We have a very sophisticated routing program called PathfiinderPC, which runs on Windows, that you can use to construct enhanced automated routing applications. PathfinderPC lets you construct automated “stacking events” that are triggerd by built-in silence detection, or by a user pressing a control on a console or rack-mount button panel, or by triggering a custom onscreen control on a studio PC.
But you don’t need Pathfinder to make your Axia network operate. Axia consoles and routing networks are fully self-contained and don’t depend on any external controllers. Some power users run PathfinderPC to take advantage of the advanced features it provides, but it’s not necessary.
- What levels of redundancy are available in Axia systems?
Axia is all about choices, so we let you choose the amount of power and network redundance that your plant demands. If you like you can design a system with power and network connection redundancy from the core, all the way to the edge – you decide what’s best for you.
For instance, our networked StudioEngine for Element mixing consoles includes standard redundant, auto-switching power supplies that are field-replaceable in seconds. The PowerStation and QOR.32 mixing engines feature auto-switching backup power as an option. xNode audio interfaces can be connected to both AC and PoE-enabled network switches, for automatic failover. xNodes and xSwitch components feature twin network interfaces, to protect the integrity of network links. And we’re glad to help you optimize your network switch fabric for maximum redundancy, too; just ask us and our Support experts will happily assist in your network planning process.
Questions about Axia Networking
- Some other console companies brag about using inexpensive unmanaged switches. They imply that an Axia network costs more because of the managed switches you specify.
Some folks will say anything to make a sale! Your Axia network might not even require a third-party switch, since we build zero-configuration switches (designed just for AoIP broadcasting) into our console engines. Even the most wallet-friendly Axia consoles come with this feature. No other console company does this! So you save the cost of an external switch, plus the time and effort of programming that switch. And if your plans are for a very large studio network that requires a core switch, Axia works with industry-standard switches that can be had very affordably from a wide range of sellers.Multicast network architecture is a recognized advantagecompared to unicast. It allows Axia gear to interoperate with the largest number of partner companies - broadcast manufacturers that make a wide range of phone systems, program delays, transmitters, audio processors, playout systems, satellite receivers, voice processors, loggers and much more. (See www.AxiaAudio.com/partners/ for a listing.) Be sure to ask the other guys how many radio partners their system has -- the answer might surprise you.
- Other systems built around un-managed networks say they're just as good as Axia. Is there a downside to un-managed networks?
First, lets talk about one of the plusses of an unmanaged switch: it has no configuration options. You just plug it in and go. All types of traffic - data, video, voice, file traffic, e-mail - has the same priority; none is more important than the other. This is great for networks that will connect primarily PC traffic, like small business or home networks, etc.However, an IP-Audio network needs prioritization. While your studio network can conveniently carry types of data other than your audio (like file transfers, IM sessions, etc.), its main duty is getting the audio to air. Nothing should be more important than that. That's one reason Axia uses managed networks, exclusively. Enterprise VoIP, which shares some DNA with IP-Audio, also insists on managed networks for these same reasons. Some other advantages of managed networks:
One additional note: while other systems rely exclusively on third-party switches, only Axia lets you choose industry-standard Cisco switchgear, or zero-configuration, built-for-broadcast Axia switches like xSwitch, in conjunction with the edge switches built into every Axia console engine, to design your network. No other IP console company gives you this choice.
- Security. Even LAN installations such as your studio network occasionally have gateways to the outside world. Managed switches can be set to allow only specific connections, preventing your network from being hacked into.
- Network management. Managed networks can be remotely administered, allowing granular control down to the individual switch ports, if desired. Unmanaged networks' ports are all on, all the time. Managed switches can also be administered from a friendly web-based interface.
- Guaranteed Audio Delivery. As mentioned previously, an unmanaged network cannot use Class of Service (CoS) and Quality of Service (QoS) priority tagging, which means that all traffic is equal - and your program stream could conceivably be interrupted by, say, a morning jock browsing Facebook or downloading a huge audio file from a website. Axia employs QoS tagging to ensure that audio is always first priority, and nothing can interrupt it.
- Redundancy. Managed networks can make use of Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), which allows an interrupted connection to automatically "route around" the interruption and find an alternate path to its destination, should the need arise. Unmanaged networks can't do this.
- Do Axia networks have any single points of failure? Is there a central ‘brain' I can lose that will take the system down?
Axia networks are distributed, with no central box. Ethernet networks can be designed any number of ways, including those that are fully-redundant and self-healing. Normally, our clients build larger facilities with "edge switches" serving each studio, connected to a redundant core. Each studio is able to operate stand-alone.
- I've been hearing about IPv6 a lot. Will this affect how Axia networks operate?
Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) is the IP addressing structure that powers the Internet. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has designated IPv6 as the successor to version 4, due to its larger address space, which offers more flexibility in routing traffic and allocating addresses, providing hundreds of billions more possible IP addresses than IPv4.
There are no compatibility issues between products using IPv4 or IPv6 addressing. Both addressing schemes can co-exist on the same network and interoperate smoothly. Axia systems employ Multicast streaming for audio routing. This is fully developed within IPv4, but it it not widely used under IPv6. For this reason, Axia will continue to use IPv4 until such time as IPv6 will provide the same consistent performance. We monitor the technology standards very closely and we plan to move to IPv6 when Multicasting is widely implemented.
There is one case in which IPv4 could be a limitation: If you plan to have several hundred billion devices on your network. If you have plans to build such a large network, call us. We'll gladly implement IPv6 for you right away!
- Your competitors say that your networks can catch viruses. Are they serious??
There are no general purpose operating systems in Axia devices, so the answer is "No." You can keep computers attached to your Livewire audio network safe by keeping it isolated from data networks.
- Why can't I just use my favorite switch with Axia?
People ask us this question every so often. When clients require a third-party switch, we recommend Cisco because their reliability, feature sets and performance are the best we've found. They also offer a wide range of switches at all price points to meet individual users' needs.
How come other manufacturers' switches don't measure up? This is mostly due to individual manufacturers' differing implementation of the same "standards". For file transfers and e-mail, these differences are immaterial. But for VoIP and, most especially, IP-Audio, these implementations become more important. It's quite possible for a given switch to "work" with just a few nodes attached, but when a more robust test of Axia's capabilities is applied, that same switch can fail.
For example, we found a nice, inexpensive switch from a well-known manufacturer which, on paper, met all specs and worked with small systems in the lab. However, it turned out to not actually meet its own published specs when deployed for rigorous service in a large Livewire system.
For this reason, we recommend and qualify only selected Cisco switches for Axia clients whose network designs require a large switch fabric. And for more moderately-sized networks, there are Axia-designed switches built into our PowerStation, QOR and xSwitch products — which employ some of the very same high-performance chipsets found in Cisco switches.
- What happens if someone accidentally unplugs a cable? What then?
Axia audio nodes "advertise" the presence of their audio streams to the entire Livewire network. So if someone unplugs an xNode, the sources attached to it will be offline. But all you have to do is plug that xNode back in, and it will "advertise" that the audio streams are available again. Within 10 seconds, all destinations that need those sources will be back up and running.
Additionally, among the many features of Pathfinder is a silence detect function that can be programmed to switch to another feed should one stop working for any reason.
- I read an article recently about broadcast audio networks and how they relate to the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) Reference Model. Where does Axia fit in that model, and how does it compare to Cobranet and EtherSound?
You might have read Brent Harshbarger's article in ProAV Magazine. As the article says, the OSI model is a seven-layer framework that defines network functions.
Axia operates on Levels 1 through 5 of the OSI model. The IP Network Layer provides routing capabilities. The UDP Layer provides transport service using port numbers. The RTP Layer provides additional information about streams, helping to identify media format and look for dropped or duplicate packets, as well as other useful functionality using the RTP standard for best compatibility with other media streaming solutions. By comparison, EtherSound and Cobranet function on only the first two network layers.
- A friend in the PA business told me about Cobranet. That's something like Livewire, right?
Cobranet was not developed for broadcast use, which demands very low latency in the DJ-to-headphones path. Cobranet is much higher latency than Livewire, making trouble for live listening. It also will not allow non-audio traffic on the links — an important consideration for broadcasters who wish to have machine control, PAD, RDS, etc. integrated within their facility.
There are also limits to the number of audio sources Cobranet can handle. Cobranet groups audio channels into "bundles" (which are packets), 8 mono audio channels per bundle. According to the Cobranet website, there is a systemwide network limit of 8 bundles. 8 bundles x 8 channels = a 64-channel limit, whereas IP-Audio networks using the Livewire protocol can handle upwards of 10,000 stereo streams.
Cobranet is not IP Audio, since it works only at the Ethernet level. Axia networks use state-of-the-art IGMP (Internet Group Management Protocol) to manage the transmission of Multicast audio streams, which allow multiple subscribers to receive and use audio from the same origination point. IGMP also makes it possible to dynamically add and subtract subscribers from a stream. Cobranet does not use IGMP; users must map out individual point-to¬-point connections with Unicast IP addressing. If more than one destination wants to listen to a given source, the source has to send multiple copies of the stream, which then hits Cobranet's limit of 8 streams coming from any given source. You could choose to send audio as Multicast IP data to all points on the network, but with 8 bundles of channels active, all 100Base-T links everywhere in the system would be at full capacity. These limitations make Cobranet unsuitable for broadcast audio networks.
- What about network collisions? Isn't Ethernet going to drop audio packets?
Years ago, Ethernet used a shared coax cable. In rare cases two devices would grab the bus simultaneously. When this happened, one would back-off and send a few milliseconds later. These were the famous collisions. But with today's switched Ethernet, there is no shared bus – each device completely owns its own full-duplex link. There are never collisions or lost packets as a result of network congestion; it's physically impossible.
- Your competition says that you have to be an IT expert to run an Axia system.
We're engineers, and we like to talk tech. Sometimes, we talk about the tech more than we need to! But in this respect, an IP-Audio network is like a car: you don't have to understand how the engine works in order to drive it. Just connect two pieces of gear together with CAT-5e and they will talk to each other — like plugging a mic into a mixer. We’ve even created an Ethernet switch just for Livewire – xSwitch – that requires zero programming. You just plug it in, assign an IP address, connect your Livewire devices, and start passing audio, with no other setup required. The Livewire protocol takes care of routing the audio without any need for intervention from you. And the equipment interface is all web-based with GUI control. It works intuitively, and you don't have to know anything about the tech inside to make it work.
That having been said, another of the advantages of Ethernet and IP is that bookshop shelves are full of well-written books that can explain any aspect of standards-based networking at any level of detail you might want.
- They also say that Axia networks only work with one switch, and if they stop making that switch, I won't be able to expand or modify my network.
Axia has qualified many different switches from Cisco, the most respected outfit in the field, to suit the needs of different-sized installations. Ethernet has been around for more than 30 years. It is supported by hundreds of vendors. It continues to evolve to be faster and more powerful, to use different connection media, etc., but backward compatibility is always maintained (that’s part of the standard!).
Not only that, we’ve built switches into our console mixing engines, and developed a stand-alone switch to suit the needs of broadcasters. With Axia, you always get plenty of choices.
- One of your competitors says that you'll have to replace the Ethernet switches every 3 – 4 years. And when you do, you'll have to load all new software to work with it (if you can even make your stuff work with it).
Ethernet is a standard, IEEE 802.3. Axia gear works with any switch or router that supports the standard. We do generally need higher-end switches because Livewire uses advanced multicast and Quality-of-Service features that are not included in low-end switches.
You might want to upgrade to a larger or more powerful switch for some reason in the future; for example, if you were to add more studios to a cluster. Or maybe you would like to change from copper to fiber for some kind of remote uplink connection. Or you might want to replace an older switch at some point. Thanks to IEEE 802.3, the replacement switch would simply plug into the network and function, with no software changes needed on any equipment. But there is certainly no requirement to do this at any particular time interval. Ethernet's open and evolving nature gives you choices that closed systems don't. That's an advantage.
- They also say that Livewire systems can run out of capacity because they use 100Base-T networking. Can they?
Not true: Axia employs both Gigabit and 100BaseT network links. And Axia networks can handle up to 10,000 stereo streams at once. That’s a lot! They’re deployed in some very large facilities, such as Radio Free Europe, Minnesota Public Radio, NPR Network Operations Center, Sirius-XM Satellite Radio, and more. These broadcasters create and consume a huge number of audio channels, and they don’t run out of bandwidth. Here’s why.
The backplane of a modern Ethernet switch can handle full duplex traffic on all ports simultaneously without any packet loss. And since Axia component links are designed so that they never exceed any port's capacity, we never exceed the switch capacity. The way we prevent port overload is simple: we "own" each port. Every Axia audio node is plugged into an unshared 100Base-T port on the switch. Even when all of a node's inputs and outputs are active, we are still well under the bandwidth of the ports, and the switch is completely under control. Because the switch has the backplane capacity to handle all ports fully loaded, the system performance doesn't change from one to thousands of audio channels.
Let's explore the issue of switch capacity a little further. We know how much capacity is required per port for each node, and we know that a node will never produce or consume more than 16 stereo streams total. But what about the mix engine? To support a large console with a lot of buses, inputs, mix-minus outputs, etc., you may have 40 or 50 simultaneous signals (or more). Because this could exceed the port capacity of a 100Base-T port, the mix engine is connected via Gigabit Ethernet only. Using Gigabit for the engine, we could support a 200 fader console with 200 outputs and still have room to spare! Each console's mixing engine gets its own Gigabit port.
- Some companies say that a network using all-Gigabit links is faster than 100Base-T. They say it has less latency. Is this true?
If you’re moving large files around from one computer to another, sure – Gigabit is faster, because you have a larger pipe to shove those big files through – so more data flows concurrently, and the transfer completes faster.
But IP-Audio is packet-based streaming audio – not a file transfer. As such, each channel of IP-Audio data is a fixed size; it can’t vary. That means it’s going to arrive at its destination on a 100Base-T link at exactly the same time as it would on a Gigabit link.
Think of this as cars travelling a roadway. If you have 8 cars travelling a 10 lane highway, would they arrive at their destination any sooner if the highway was increased to 100 lanes? Of course not.
- The other guys say that their gear doesn't require you to configure Ethernet switches -- that their products are 'plug and play.'
You should examine that claim closely. Third-party Ethernet switches, even those from Cisco, must be configured to ensure that IP-Audio signals (which are made up of faster, smaller packets than standard network data packets) receive data priority and are transmitted properly to air. Axia makes switch configuration as painless as possible. If you like, we'll configure your network's switch for you, free of charge. If you prefer to do it yourself, clear, concise "how to" documents are posted at AxiaAudio.com/manuals/ .
Of course, you can also choose to do away with switch configuration altogether by choosing a zero-configuration Axia xSwitch, or an Axia mixing engine with a built-in, pre-configured switch.
- I’ve heard that Axia built their own standalone network switch. Why?
Yes, it’s called xSwitch, and it’s the first of its kind: an Ethernet switch custom-built for the needs of broadcasters using Livewire IP-Audio networks. Here’s why we developed it.
Up until now, configuring the network switch has been the most unwelcome part of setting up an IP-Audio network. You had to load a terminal program onto your computer, hook up a port emulator, and once connected, you’d spend an hour (maybe more) typing commands into a prompt box, hoping that they all “took”.
To eliminate this frustration, we built an Ethernet switch (using industry-standard chipsets found in high-performance, brand-name switches) and pre-configured it for use with Livewire systems. So, no configuration, no programming, and virtually no setup. Just assign an IP address, plug it into your network, and it’s ready to go.
- What Ethernet switches will I need for my Axia network?
You won’t need any bleeding-edge products from the skunkworks, if that’s what you mean. In fact, you may not need a third-party switch at all! Every console we make has a custom-built, zero-configuration Ethernet switch built in – perfect for standalone studio deployment, but these switches can also be daisy-chained to create larger studio networks. If you just need a few local switch ports on the edge of your network, or if you’re building a smaller studio, our standalone xSwitch might be what you’re looking for – it’s pre-configured to install in under a minute.
Of course, facilities with multiple rooms and large routing networks require core switches with larger capacity. For these systems, we’ve qualified a number of switches from Cisco, the industry leader in switchware. You can see the selection at AxiaAudio.com/switches/ .
- I want to send audio to my Axia network from a PC workstation. What Ethernet NIC (Network Interface Card) should I use?
Axia recommends the Intel PRO/1000 GT for computers with PCI slots, and the PRO 1000 CT for PCIexpress. Customers will also want to make sure they use the most current Intel ProSet driver for whatever operating system they use.
Questions about Axia Consoles
- Your competition says they've got a track record of many years' building consoles, and Axia doesn't have that experience.
Axia is 10 years old, with more than 4,000 consoles shipped and on-the-air so far. That's actually quite a lot of consoles... more than Klotz, more than Logitek, more than SAS, and more than the post-PR&E Harris. We think our track record speaks for itself.
- The other guys say Axia consoles don't have all the features they have. Like voice processing.
Sure we do. Voice dynamics is a standard feature on all Axia consoles — and it was developed by Omnia's Frank Foti, who knows a little something about audio dynamics processing. Other standard features include per-source EQ and panning, automatic mix-minus, talkback to individual mic positions, and even headphone EQ and one-touch off-air recording functions on most consoles. All of these features can be set and saved to instantly recall each jock's favorite settings using Show Profiles console snapshots built into each board.
Axia consoles also do things that no other console can do. For example, you can connect the latest Telos broadcast phone systems with one RJ-45 — all audio I/O for four hybrids plus line-selection control from a tightly integrated drop-in panel enter the system using one skinny Ethernet cable. The console can feed individual mix-minus, generated on-the-fly, to every phone or remote codec that’s on the air. You can talk back from the operator’s mic to individual guest headphone channels. Step through automation events using “soft keys” located right on the fader strip. Even combine multiple channels of audio with Virtual Mixer (VMix) technology to ride gain on groups of inputs using a single fader.
Add our Pathfinder routing control package, and you get extensive user-programmable event handling, built-in silence-sense that automatically switches to a backup audio feed, interactive on-screen virtual control panels for studio PCs, and much more.
- Will my Axia network need an appliance to perform Mic processing?
Some other console companies make outboard mic processing boxes that they want to sell you at extra expense. But Axia believes in building in all the tools you need, not charging you more for them. So nearly all of our consoles come with built-in mic processing, designed by the experts at Omnia, that's very configurable and sounds great! You can assign processing to nearly any mic, codec or phone source (unlike other systems that "hard-wire" processing to a specific source). Best of all, you can develop personalized mic processing settings for each talent, and apply those settings at will to your on-air microphone using our consoles' Show Profiles, which allow you to set, save and recall console configurations at the touch of a button.
- What does Telos know about console design, anyway?
Quite a lot, actually. We've got the biggest R&D department in the broadcast industry, and it's filled with folks who've spent years around consoles, figuring out what works and what doesn't. We have a couple dozen ex-broadcasters and broadcast engineers on our staff, by the way. It's fair to say we know our way around faders and buses.
- I wouldn't buy Axia consoles; I want modular boards.
Our Element console is modular. Element modules contain groups of four faders, which are easily accessed for service by removing just two screws and a cable or two. They're hot-swappable, too – since all the mixing is done away from the board, in the StudioEngine, you can even take out a module while it's on the air without affecting the audio in any way. Indeed, you can hot-swap the entire console without disrupting audio.
- The other guys say their lower-cost consoles are better than Axia's because they have individual fader modules. Is that true?
Back in the old, analog days, when all of the console's audio went directly through the faders, individual modules were a must-have. They got dirty, and the audio became scratchy. Or the windings would develop a flat spot. Or the wipers would snag and break. You needed individual faders back then.But that was 30 years ago. Fader technology has come a long way since the '70s! Axia uses recordiing-studio grade, 100mm. conductive-plastic faders with a sliding noise level of less than 100mV. They're rated for hundreds of thousands of operations, so the likelihood that you'll need to change one over the life of your Axia console is low. Not only that, these faders are side-loading (versus the old-style top-loaders used by other console companies), which means that dust and dirt that simply drop past the fader, instead of falling into it. This pretty much eliminates the need for the periodic removal and cleaning necessary in the old days. To further reduce the need for maintenance, the switches used on Axia consoles (from On/Off controls to bus-assignment buttons, are aircraft-quality, rated for millions of operations, and lit by LED.)With all this modern technology, the chance that you'll need to replace worn-out parts in an Axia console is pretty low. But if your talent drops a Coke into the board, call us - our Support crew is online and ready to help 24/7, 365 days a year.
- What happens if I need to replace an on/off switch? Do I have to send the whole module back to the factory?
Our console components are chosen for their ability to stand up to even the most heavy-handed jocks. For instance, we use switches designed for avionics, and rated for long life. We even designed our our own buttons and protective bezels specifically to prevent switch element damage from abuse.
Of course, we realize that all equipment requires maintenance eventually, so our consoles are made to be serviced easily in the field. On/off switches, for instance, can be individually replaced, as can individual faders. And since actual audio mixing is done outside the console, you can actually pull an Element module while it's on-air without disrupting any audio streams controlled by its faders. In fact, you can disconnect the entire console! All of our consoles - Element, iQ, Radius, DESQ, RAQ - are designed in this manner.
- I've heard that your consoles are good at mix-minus. What's so different about the way you do it?
We're part of Telos, so as you might imagine, we've studied mix-minus for a long time. And we've always been amazed at how complicated and confusing it is to set up correctly. With today's radio shows relying heavily on phones and remotes, something needed to be done.
Our consoles generate mix-minuses automatically, on-the-fly, without any intervention needed from talent. The way it works is simple: when a caller is on the air, he hears the main Program feed, minus himself. When off the air, he hears a special "off-line" phone mix that can contain audio sources: pre-fader audio from the host mic, other phone callers, etc.
Best of all, mix-minus settings for audio sources such as phone hybrids and remote codecs are assigned to the source itself, not the console fader — so when a source that needs a mix-minus is loaded onto any fader, on any console, the mix-minus settings are automatically loaded too.
At the physical level, mix-minus is easy, too. Livewire carries audio in both directions, so one RJ-45 covers everything.
- How many mix-minuses can your consoles have?
One for every fader! There's a lot of processing power in our mixing engines, enough that Axia consoles can provide automatic mix-minuses simultaneously for every fader on the console. You'll probably never need to have 40 mix-minuses running at once, but isn't it nice to know that you could?
- I just need a router — I don't need consoles. Can I still use Axia?
No problem. Axia networks can work with your existing consoles. Just plug the inputs and outputs into our audio nodes and use Router Selector nodes to control X-Y switching functions. For sophisticated systems, use our Pathfinder router control software package. You can do everything any other router can do – and much more.
- One of your competitors talks about 'islands of reliability.' They claim that a networkable console with built-in inputs and outputs is more reliable than an Axia console.
Our consoles have built-in I/O, too, thanks to our state-of-the-art PowerStation and QOR mixing engines. And these have something our competitors don't: a built-in, designed-for-broadcast, zero-configuration Ethernet switch. Axia is the first and only IP console maker to put the switch right into the console, saving your configuration time and worries. PowerStation and QOR engines even have optional redundant backup power sources, with automatic switchover, so it's not just your console that has backup power - it's your I/O and network switch as well.
Larger networks of more than 4 consoles need an external switch to manage inter-studio traffic. But each Axia studio has its own edge switch built into the console, and each edge switch (with all its studio peripherals connected) is its own self-contained audio network. This includes all of the inputs and outputs to and from that studio. So, in the unlikely event that the core switch failed, each studio can still be operated independently of the rest of the network.