Questions About Axia
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.
- 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.