Dante enables socially distanced playing

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Audinate’s Dante digital audio networking solution is being used by a university in Nacogdoches, Texas, to enable students to play together while still practising social distancing.

Stephen F Austin (SFA) State University has utilised Dante in its music and sound recording technology programmes since 2018. In that time, Dante has not only become part of the curriculum, but has also enabled many of the university’s major live productions.

“When we looked at returning to classes in the Fall of 2020, we had to figure out how to hold music practice with safety considerations related to COVID,” said James F Adams, assistant professor of music and director of sound recording technology at the university. “We knew we needed to separate students into individual rooms because of the nature of many of the instruments. And, not surprisingly, it was Dante that came to the rescue.”

Audinate notes Dante distributes hundreds of uncompressed, multichannel digital audio via standard Ethernet networks, with near-zero latency and perfect synchronisation. Dante allows audio, control and all other data to coexist effectively on the same network.

Near-zero latency is crucial in live performance. At SFA, keeping the latency under a 7ms roundtrip across networked rooms allows students to perform in isolated spaces, while still hearing others in near real time.

“To still have live music classes we had to ensure there was both minimal latency and that we could host students with as little risk as possible,” said Adams. “That meant vocalists needed their own room. Woodwind and brass players needed their own space. But with Dante behind all of our signals in and out of these locations, we were seeing a sub-5ms roundtrip delay in delivery from one room to another. For most that delay will be imperceptible. And so far, it has worked excellently.”

New facility, new workflow

Adams said the music department had already planned a move into a temporary space at the start of the Fall 2020 semester. This was due to the planned construction of a new music facility. The temporary space for the music department – once used as a facility for broadcast coursework – came with the need for updated infrastructure. While not a perfect setup for music, it did mean Adams and his team could plan for social distancing from day one of the retrofit.

“It actually worked out well in that we had multiple classrooms that were being unused,” said Adams. “We could make each of them an individual performing space and utilise Dante throughout.”

Six rooms are currently networked for live performance. Three of those spaces can welcome multiple performers who are not utilising ‘wind power’ for music. The other three are for single occupants. All rooms have HEPA filters and are meticulously cleaned after each use.

SFA sound recording technology freshman and guitarist Tanner Tankersly prepares for a tracking session

SFA sound recording technology freshman and guitarist Tanner Tankersly prepares for a tracking session

How it works

Focusrite RedNet X2P audio interfaces, which offer 2×2 Dante connectivity, are used in all rooms for both input and output. Microphones picking up the music being made in each room use the X2P to convert the signal to Dante. The Dante signal coming back into the room – typically the mix from the main control room – utilises the outputs on the X2P devices, with students tapping in with headphones. Dante-native Focusrite RedNet AM2 devices, which offer stereo analogue output for Dante networks, are also used for headphone output in rooms where multiple students are allowed.

Multiple Focusrite RedNet 2 I/O devices, a Focusrite A16R MkII I/O device, a Focusrite RedNet PCIe-R, and multiple Focusrite RedNet 5 devices – which enable Dante integration with Pro Tools – are utilised in the main control room.

“From the control room we mix the signal for distribution to students across the network,” said Adams. “We have connected everyone from singers, guitarists, trumpets, clarinets, drummers, you name it. It sounds great for every use we’ve needed.”

Near- and long-term solutions

Adams said two additional performance rooms will be wired for Dante at the start of 2021. Once the new music facility is complete it will be completely connected by a Dante network.

“We learned a lot this semester about how flexible and scalable Dante really is,” said Adams. “People can still achieve a lot of great things if they can’t see each other. If they can hear one another, and there is minimal delay, then that is definitely enough. We’re at such a negligible delay right now that we can perform small concerts together. It’s very exciting.”

As it stood in Fall 2020, Adam’s department was utilising a total of 250 Dante signals. But he expected that count to go up as the university begins to consider the use of audio-over-IP networking outside of the music department.

“The IT department is looking to us as a model for AV right now,” said Adams. “I’m getting asked daily about how we successfully solved our social distancing challenges. There are a lot of ideas about what our system will look like long term, but it is obvious Dante is going to expand throughout campus. This is a solution that isn’t just short-term. It’s a long-term answer.”

Images: Andrea Pacas

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Izzy became editor of Auditoria magazine in 2018, having previously served as assistant editor on the title earlier in her career. She is also the editor of Business Jet Interiors International, Railway Interiors International and new launch Cruise Liner Interiors International. Over the course of a decade as a business-to-business magazine editor, Izzy has covered everything from airline catering to car safety technologies, autonomous vehicles and business aviation airports. Outside of work, Izzy loves watercolour painting, live music and travel.

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