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Broadcast Audio Goes Digital! Are You Ready?

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CreativeCOW presents Broadcast Audio Goes Digital! Are You Ready? -- Broadcasting Editorial


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So, you want to "Make the Move" from analog audio to digital audio? I recently had the opportunity to design and rebuild the entire audio department of eight suites and one VO booth for our company, studioZ. In today's technological world, there is no reason to still be using analog for your audio signal. Analog is ancient. Analog is archaic. Analog is antique. Digital is the way -- all the way. And it's not that difficult of a move, if you do it correctly and systematically. I want to talk a bit about why you should make the move and discuss how it was time-consuming but worth the effort. Not only will you be pleased with the results, you'll have moved into the present and be ready to leap into the future!

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the word "analog" as: "of, relating to, or being a mechanism in which data is represented by continuously variable physical quantities." An everyday sound, as what people hear, is referred to as "a natural analog signal." This analog signal is continuous, in that it happens without any interruptions or breaks. A digital signal is not continuous, because it uses a series of 1's and 0's to represent the sound as information or values which signify pitch and volume.

The only problem, and this isn't really a problem much anymore, is synchronizing an analog signal of infinite values of voltage at an infinite sequence of times (since an analog signal is "continuous") with a system that has a finite set of voltage values and may be updated only at a finite rate (which forms a "word" -- only so many 1's and 0's available to represent the otherwise continuous signal or a "word length"). This difference of technologies causes most of the problems when converting from the world of volts and time to the world of finite word lengths and clocks.

It's the ability to transcribe the analog sound into a digital code in order to be able to transmit it across the globe with no degradation that is your aim. However, it's the quantity of those 1's and 0's you can pack into a stream (aka "compression" -- not to be confused with the type compression that occurs during transcoding) that determines the degree of sound you achieve.



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For example, the studio where I work has seven ISDN audio codecs made by Telos Systems. They are all analog, so they were connected with an SSL AlphaLink unit. That unit converts analog to digital and digital to analog. The analog signal from the codecs goes into the AlphaLink, is converted, and then the AlphaLink interfaces via MADI fiber cable with the SSL MADI-X8. MADI is indispensable. Used by small and large audio facilities across the studio industry, MADI technology, basically, allows the transmission of 56 or 64 channels of digital audio data at up to 48 kHz, or 28 or 32 channels of digital audio data at up to 96 kHz.




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Don't be fooled, though; we had to coordinate pulling an existing ISDN line from each room... one at a time... and then re-terminate it at our new "centralized" rack, which I like to call our "hub." Once we were down to only a few live ISDN boxes in rooms (and temporary analog cable was everywhere), we then started rolling MADI out. It was a bit painful for our audio engineers, but in the end, magnificent!

The MADI-X8 then connects via fiber and digital BNC cables to the Avid MADI-HD hardware in each of our eight audio rooms. The MADI-HD is then connected via DigiLink cable to the Pro Tools HDX card. The 24-bit maximum resolution makes the MADI standard ideal for work with a large number of audio channels, such as when a digital audio workstation is used with a large format mixing console. At this point, signals can be received directly in Pro Tools, simply by selecting what audio feed you want!

In addition, I calibrated the output of all of our ISDN codecs to -12db going to our MADI system via the Avid DigiPre unit (which is in-line and in-between each audio codec) and the AlphaLink. So in effect, its ISDN audio codec out into the DigiPre and then into the AlphaLink; AlphaLink then sends fiber out to our MADI-X8 in digital fashion. Complex, but not as difficult as it seems!

The streamlining is incredible... if you want audio from ISDN codec #1, simply punch up MADI-1 on your Pro Tools recording track! ALL of our feeds can be heard in any room, simultaneously! As for "talkback" and sending audio back to the talent (in order for the remote studio and talent to hear the audio engineer's direction), it was set-up so that we can send four independent and simultaneous talkbacks! This means that we can record four remote talent feeds AND send them to each other so everyone can interact during sessions, without audio slap-back of each talent to him/herself. Amazing! The audio engineer utilizes SSL's audio routing software, which I programmed to interact with our Pro Tools rigs.



In this photo: Audio Engineer and great friend, Tim Brennan. Click image for larger view.


We are also in the process of setting-up mix-to-picture in our rooms. Utilizing our Facilis Terrablock storage, we reference HD-quality video for mixing and then feed it through Blackmagic Design's DeckLink Studio card and then off to a 47" flat panel. I am now also adding a smaller screen in our VO booth for ADR work!

As I've shown, making the move from analog audio to digital is nothing to fret over. There is enough technology that exists to make the transition one that is not only smoother than you could have thought but one you won't regret. We had to do it in phases, so it does take a little time and definitely some know-how. It might appear scary, at first, but once it comes together, it is well worth the effort! We now have far more capabilities than our facility ever had!



References:
* "Analog." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Jul 17, 2012.
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/analog

* "Digital to Analogue Conversion." PHY 406F -- Microprocessor Interfacing Techniques. © James R. Drummond -- September 1997.
https://encrypted.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=advantages%20to%20converting%20analog%20audio%20to%20digital%20audio&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CEIQFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.upscale.utoronto.ca%2FGeneralInterest%2FDrummond%2FMicro%2Fln_d_a.pdf&ei=Hfo3UJmtHpGByAGfn4HwDA&usg=AFQjCNHACzvhT6M_XoXj4sml3P52g9Q8gw&cad=rja


Comments

Re: Broadcast Audio Goes Digital! Are You Ready?
by Ryan Salazar
One additional note - Many thanks to Kevin Scott at Sweetwater Sound. He helped me draw everything up for this particular design and sold us all of the equipment. Everything was flawless, thanks Kevin and Sweetwater Sound. :)

Ryan Salazar
Director of Engineering & Post Production Technology
954.826.6011 cell

Member: SBE, SMPTE, IEEE and ACM SIGGRAPH
Re: Broadcast Audio Goes Digital! Are You Ready?
by Andrew Janowski
The easiest way to transport digital audio or video is by sending it by fiber optic line.
There are 2 ways , digital video could be send directly without any compression.
Analog baseband  Audio and video could be digitized first and send it as a audio video over fiber
there is no quality loss . convenient way for sending audio or video is a IP solution .
Audio and video could be encoded as a MPEG2 or H.264 and audio as a MPEG1 or AC3, it could be broadcast  from place to place using Ethernet or INTERNET network.

http://www.thorbroadcast.com/
Re: Broadcast Audio Goes Digital! Are You Ready?
by Ryan Salazar
Greetings from "Up Top!"

Apparently, you are responding to my article from Australia – from a place we (in the United States) refer to as "Down Under." To start, I'd like to thank you for reading my posts! Regardless of your opinion, all my readers are valued!

And thank you for referring to my article as "from 1998." As you've "worked in some of the state of the art studios that Australian Radio has to offer," I need not give you a history lesson of your own stomping grounds.

We obviously have a completely different operation than you do. Source Connect wasn't an option as most of our VO talent don't have it. Some of them don't even have computers! We still (along with many other major post houses) utilize ISDN codecs. All of our systems need to be as identical as they can be so revisions of spots (we do tens of thousands a year) can be performed from any other room. So, we utilized MADI to allow all of our rooms access to multiple ISDN codecs along with newer IP (hardware) codec technologies that are currently coming out.

Yes, I realize digital has been around a long time. Notwithstanding the fact that Australian radio technology lags behind mainstream US technology (and always has), Australia was still testing digital radio in 2001 (having begun in 1999), according to: http://www.commercialradio.com.au/index.cfm?page_id=1009 (See the very last item in the timeline of that URL). Widespread use of the FM band was fairly new to you then, with AM bands still the standard well into the 1990's (despite the editable Wiki stating that FM came in the early 1990's).

So, in essence, your "state of the art" wasn't the "state of the art" here in the United States.

And while "go[ing] digital in broadcasting [may] require nothing more than a Macbook Pro, Mbox, Mic, Plug ins and say Waves Gold," as you've described, a professional studio requires professional equipment that can not only provide the best sound but operate continuously for long periods of time without having to meddle with it.

There are still many smaller "mom and pop shops" using analog audio and many of them love the "warmth" and "fuzzy" of analog. My article was targeted for medium to large sized broadcast and post facilities looking to "Make The Move."

So, in your own words: "let this be a lesson to those who are new to Broadcasting audio" (including yourself). Again, thank you for reading!

Cheers!

Ryan Salazar
Director of Engineering & Post Production Technology
954.826.6011 cell

Member: SBE, SMPTE, IEEE and ACM SIGGRAPH
Re: Broadcast Audio Goes Digital! Are You Ready?
by Peter Groom
Just to add

Digital was so long ago now, that many have chosen to go back into analogue a second time for the warmth.
Interesting article tho.
Peter

Post Production Dubbing Mixer
Re: Broadcast Audio Goes Digital! Are You Ready?
by Kacey Baker
Guy's the last thing I want to do is project arrogance or even come across ignorant as every engineer has a work flow that works for them. But I truly find it amusing that this article is being published in 2012 considering 'BROADCAST AUDIO WENT DIGITAL 15 YEARS AGO, WE WERE READY BACK THEN' :)

What next? Next month Top Gear publish an article entitled 'the amazing new transportation device, with wheels, are you ready?' <--- okay that's a cheeky joke, not being a total jack a$$. Let's step back a bit. :)

Guy's I've worked in some of the state of the art studios that Australian Radio has to offer, the PT HD C24 for example, sure it's great but you know what, and let this be a lesson to those who are new to Broadcasting audio, (and probably a point of debate for others), but for those looking to go digital in broadcasting require nothing more than a Macbook Pro, Mbox, Mic, Plug ins and say Waves Gold. :)

That alone has all your show packaging, supers, billboards, sweepers, song edits, etc etc across the day imaging etc COVERED! :)

Add Source connect pro and wallah, you're set up with an isdn for Vox session. :)

It really is no brain surgery and cost less than $7K, .. really don't know how much simpler it can get, but the HD system for pro tools is really unnecessary. The power of Native processing these days is at it's highest and thunderbolt adds a new dimension of speed and efficiency. :)

Anyone worried about the purity of sound from any DAW, show me a purist's work and I'll show you work done one a laptop that probably sounds better and engages listeners/viewers without any threat to T.S.L. :)

Thanks for the article from 1998 heheh kidding.
I hope anyone enter digital audio enjoys it, the possibilities are endless and fun... just don't lose yourself too much in the endless possibilities and stay focused on your demographic hehe :) http://kcbproductions.net/audio-music.php
Re: Broadcast Audio Goes Digital! Are You Ready?
by Ty Ford
Ryan,

Back at you!

My BAL days, I now refer to as my "Hearst School of Corporate Broadcasting" period and yes they were really good for me. I strted as Announcer and Prod. Dir and ended up adding Ops Mgr. while I was there. That was 8.5 very good years. I had come from the other end of the spectrum - a 3 kW Class A FM in Bethesda, MD (WHFS @102.3) where every milliwatt mattered.

I was the "paper CE" at WHFS because the station manager had let his 1st phone expire and didn't want to take the test again. I was pretty green and still am about RF, but had good AF chops and good ears.

Your story is a good one. You obviously have a lot going on there and made some really good choices.

Regards,

Ty

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide
Ty Ford Blog: Ty Ford's Blog
Re: Making the Move: Analog Audio to Digital
by Ty Ford
Oh, THAT!

You know what they say, picture without sound is...well...surveillance.

When I was ops at at WBAL AM-FM, i used to have lunch with the ops mgr in TV. One days he said the only difference between TV and Radio capital budgets were three zeros.

Regards,

Ty


Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide
Ty Ford Blog: Ty Ford's Blog
@Ty Ford
by Ryan Salazar
That's great! LOL....and yet, so true! :)
I bet working at WBAL was awesome. Nice to meet you btw. :)

-Ryan

Ryan Salazar
Director of Engineering & Post Production Technology
954.826.6011 cell

Member: SBE, SMPTE, IEEE and ACM SIGGRAPH
Re: Article: Making the Move: Analog Audio to Digital
by Ty Ford
It's 2012. What took you so long? :)

Regards,

Ty Ford
Cow Audio Forum Leader

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide
Ty Ford Blog: Ty Ford's Blog
Re: Article: Making the Move: Analog Audio to Digital
by Ryan Salazar
In a word..... BUDGET

:)

Ryan

Ryan Salazar
Director of Engineering & Post Production Technology
954.826.6011 cell

Member: SBE, SMPTE, IEEE and ACM SIGGRAPH


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