Axia’s president talks about the company’s first year, its new modular console, and what’s next.
23 May 2005, Cleveland Ohio, USA
One year ago, Telos Systems announced the formation of a new division named Axia, specializing in audio-over-Ethernet. One year later, we sat down with Michael “Catfish” Dosch, President of Axia, to talk about what that first year held and what’s on tap for the next year.
Mike, new companies always start out with high hopes. Was Axia's first year as good as expected?
It was much better than we expected! We figured the first year would be endless demonstrations, presentations and maybe a few sales. We did do a lot of demos and seminars, but we also took a lot more orders than anticipated. Many broadcasters tell us that "IP-Audio is the future", and they’ve either already purchased or are planning to purchase Axia products soon.
How has the broadcast community reacted to the idea of IP-Audio? It's pretty revolutionary tech.
Reactions vary among individual broadcasters, of course, but generally, the early adopters - broadcasters who are eager to embrace new ideas and technologies - have been the most excited about Axia. An interesting segment that may surprise you is broadcasters with tight budgets. They tell us they like Axia because it allows them to enjoy high-end features that, previously, only the richest stations could afford — for about half the investment.
Of course, there are many broadcasters who are skeptical or unaware of the benefits of IP -Audio. We've still got work to do to prove to all broadcasters that this tech is the best way to build studios.
There have been some high-profile Axia installations in this first year. Care to tell us about them?
We've built dozens of studio projects this year, from very small to quite large. We have just as much fun working with a college radio station like WEGL as we do at a commercial station like Radio Skonto in Riga, Latvia, or helping to install a huge multi-studio facility for a big city station like WOR. It’s quite a privilege to have stations entrust us with their studio audio.
So how are those first Axia installations doing?
Great. Several stations have been on the air with Axia for more than a year now, and all of our users tell us the system is rock-solid! You can imagine that most clients are pretty happy when their installations come together in a fraction of the time that other digital solutions would require. The simplicity and power of Ethernet never fails to impress.
What was the most unique Axia application you observed?
A large consumer electronics company is using Axia to test their audio products; they send various audio test signals into nodes that feed products undergoing stress testing in an environmental chamber. But most folks don't have such unusual applications. Most of our clients are building broadcast studios and choose Axia as a routing switcher, a console, a soundcard replacement, or all of the above.
What questions do engineers ask most about Axia?
"Will I experience audio dropouts? Won't there be a lot of delay? Do you need to be an IT expert to hook this up? Do you have a smaller control surface?" The answers, by the way, are "No, no, no and yes." Let me explain.
First, Axia networks are fully duplexed and non-blocking, so there are no collisions or dropped packets like people used to experience with older, non-duplexed Ethernet networks. The technology that makes reliable, precision networked audio possible is the Ethernet switch.
Second, delay isn’t a problem because Livewire is designed for mic-to-headphone monitoring in broadcast applications, with total input to output time of about 2.75ms. To put that in perspective, a high-end, non-networked, digital console from a major manufacturer is 1.75ms.
As to IT expertise, installing, configuring and maintaining an Axia system is incredibly simple whether you’re an IT expert or a newbie. And lastly, yes, we are now offering control surfaces in different sizes.
Were there any first-year challenges?
Surprisingly few. We spent a lot of time refining the technology in our labs before we brought it to market, so those first clients, who may have been hoping for an adventure, only experienced boringly stable products. I'd say our biggest challenge was building products fast enough for some of our more eager clients, but that's a fun problem to solve.
I've noticed quite a bit of "disinformation" regarding IP-Audio from Axia's competitors. How do you respond?
Usually with a chuckle! When VoIP phone systems began to emerge, I doubt that the companies who built PBX products said "Hey, that VoIP stuff is great and it works better than our stuff and costs half as much." Does anyone really expect to hear a truthful, unbiased opinion from a company with a vested interest in the old tech?
We think broadcasters are smart enough to come to their own conclusions. Engineers with questions about our tech shouldn’t just take our word for it — or our competitors'. We urge interested broadcasters to talk to Axia users. The people who use the gear are the best equipped to tell you how well it works.
Last year, you mentioned some new Axia products in development: a scalable control surface, more DSP-based features in the Mixing Engine, new software applications. How did that go?
Like clockwork. We showed SmartSurface software version 2.5 at NAB; it has built-in mic processing and some other nice new features. The Element modular control surface was also introduced at NAB, and we’ve already taken several large orders. Element builds on the success of SmartSurface and adds some new capabilities, like the ability to mix surround or stereo audio. A station that’s planning on doing HD Radio™ can use Element for stereo programming now, and be confident that they're ready for discrete surround or anything else HD Radio might throw at them. And we launched a new PC utility called iPlay, which allows any ordinary PC to listen to any Livewire audio stream. Of course, we've got more new product ideas in the pipeline...
Axia recently added more technology partners whose products work directly with Livewire. Any more coming?
Yes. Pristine Systems and OMT [iMedia Touch – Ed.] are now offering the Axia IP-Audio driver in their products so that their delivery systems can send digital audio to Axia audio systems without soundcards. We’ve also just finished evaluating BE's Big Pipe Ethernet radio and have certified it as Livewire-capable. And we’re talking to more companies about licensing our technology and/or making compatible products. Readers can check our “Partners” page on the Axia website to see what’s up.
Cool. So what's on tap for Axia's second year?
More partners, more products, but best of all, more interesting clients. After putting Axia through an extended evaluation, Minnesota Public Radio has chosen Axia to equip the new studios they’ll be building later this year. And there are lots more projects in the works.
Thanks for your time, Catfish.
Axia, a Telos company, builds network-based professional audio products for broadcast, production, sound-reinforcement and commercial audio applications. Products include digital audio routers, DSP mixers and processors and software for configuring, managing, and interfacing networked audio systems.