The dark era of copper is coming to an end. Its reign of terror will soon be a distant memory. No longer will you need to run hundreds of feet of heavy copper-laden cable. No longer will it take four people hours to hump cable to front-of-house. No longer will our industry's need for copper microphone cable fuel the necessity of mining. Al Gore will be proud. So pull the canaries from the mines, and tell the soot-faced miners to step out into the sunshine because the RockNet® 300 is here. Media Numerics Ltd. has created an impressive audio networking system that could cause the industry to rethink how sound systems are designed, built, and installed.

What It Does

RockNet is a realtime, low-latency audio/data distribution network expressly designed for touring and installed sound applications. The system provides a cost-effective, universal solution to a full spectrum of audio distribution applications. “It was designed to perform like a traditional analog active split system,” explains Vinnie Macri, US vice president of Media Numerics. RockNet can link up to 99 devices into a single network comprising 160 audio channels. “These 160 channels can be dropped to a maximum of 768 outputs in the bi-directional network without limitation,” Macri adds. “Channel inputs can be microphone, analog, or digital audio.” RockNet supports Cat5 infrastructures as standard. In addition to the pure audio transport, the system offers a 10/100BT interface at each device. A highlight is a streamlined redundancy concept on the device and at the network level. The network is self-healing for single connection failures and offers significant advantages in performance, consistency, and flexibility.

RockNet is not just one product. It is several that work in conjunction to create the audio network. An eight-channel microphone pre-amplifier/ADC and an eight-channel line output/DAC are single rack space units that can be placed anywhere to accommodate analog inputs and outputs. When it comes to digital, RockNet offers an eight-channel AES input, and an eight-channel digital output. For those using a Yamaha desk, there is a 16/16 channel digital I/O for Yamaha. And then there's RockWorks PC-based remote control software.

How It Came To Be

“The inventor of the product and the management of the company have 25 consecutive years of experience in digital transport/routing system hardware and the operation of these systems in professional applications, particularly for very large critical television broadcast solutions,” says Macri.

RockNet brings these experiences to live and installed sound applications, but Macri notes that extensive global marketing research was done to define the product features before any circuits were finalized. “We simply listened to what a large cross-section of the live sound market wanted and started to build toward making those features into a line of products that met the requirements in line with what we knew would already work,” adds Macri. “Several end user partners were brought in under non-disclosure agreements in this process.” Over the course of two years, as RockNet was being engineered, beta testing was also being performed.

What's Next?

Media Numerics is definitely not resting on its laurels. The manufacturer has plans for many future additions to the RockNet family, including an inline network repeater and a fiber optic media converter. The RN.362.IR inline repeater extends the length of the Cat5-based infrastructure between two RockNet 300 devices to a maximum of 1,500'. “The inline repeater is designed for long haul applications where extended distance between network devices is required in system designs,” says Macri.

The RN.351.FI and RN.352.FO provide media conversion of the RockNet proprietary network to fiber optic cabling. Macri explains, “The fiber modules are equipped with cages for standard small form-factor pluggable (SFP) fiber transceivers.”

What End Users Have To Say

Adam Shulman, consultant, and Steve Sockey, partner, of SIA Acoustics recently finished a high-profile corporate event in the Promenade of The New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center. SIA chose RockNet as the electronic backbone of the audio system. “There were a variety of inputs — podiums, audio-for-video, and audio playback — and outputs located throughout the entire space,” says Shulman. “At each of three podiums, seven loudspeaker arrays, the video switching area, and FOH, a rack was placed that contained the necessary power distribution equipment, an uninterruptible power supply, and the appropriate RockNet units. A total of 33 RockNet devices were required to feed the 70 Meyer M1Ds, 16 Meyer USW-1P subwoofers, eight Meyer UPJ-1Ps, and nine Meyer MM-4s.” Shulman goes on to explain the complexities of the system, which included the use of over 600 acoustic panels to tame the extremely reverberant space. “The technological aspect was only half the battle. We also had to address the acoustical concern,” says Shulman.

Shulman adds that using RockNet in place of traditional multi-core snakes eased the process of load-in and -out, “an element of critical importance, given the extremely tight timeframe for the event,” he says. “We loaded in overnight with rehearsal the next morning, with the event almost immediately after the conclusion of rehearsal. It was much easier and more straightforward to run power and two Cat5 cables to each rack and be ready to go. Since we laid out the patching and routing beforehand, this was all that was needed on site.” Shulman also worked closely with Media Numerics CTO/president Matthias Knoth — who made the trip from Germany — to determine the optimal routing and to program the RockNet devices before they left Masque Sound for the event. “Having him on hand was invaluable,” says Shulman.

Shulman explains the front-of-house setup for the event. “Each RockNet device includes two independent power supplies. In this case, one power supply of each device was connected to a local UPS and the other directly to the line power. We used two Yamaha PM5Ds with the three RN.341.MY cards in each console. One PM5D was redundant. In the case of a console failure, for example, we needed only to reconnect two pieces of Cat5 and be running again. We could also view the complete status of every RockNet device from the mix position via the RockWorks software, an extremely useful tool.”

Daryl Bornstein, sound designer, used RockNet for the latest NBC Christmas in Rockefeller Center broadcast. “It is a great product,” he says. “It saved at least 50 hours, allowed flexible audio distribution on a show famous for major last minute changes, easily provided necessary audio isolation, and, most importantly, gave us a tremendous sense of security. It is one of the few out there that actually does everything it advertises. For PA and television, the quality is well beyond what we need. I haven't used it in the studio yet, but I hope to make it the backbone of my remote recording package.”

Bornstein does have a wish list of additions. “These requests are already in the development pipeline, but I would like a full cross-point matrix, not a mixing matrix,” he says. “Also, I'd like independent mic-pre controls, so separate consoles could have separate gain control. I would also like configurable boxes, for instance, a box with four ins and four outs. They are a small company, but they are very good at listening to the end user.” Knoth was also in New York from Germany for the tree-lighting.

On the future of RockNet and audio networking, Shulman says, “Matthias hinted that much of the power in these devices is still untapped. There are a million directions it could go.”

For more information, visit www.medianumerics.com.

Shannon Slaton is a sound designer and engineer living in New York and currently mixing Legally Blonde and Spring Awakening on Broadway. Other Broadway mixes include Jersey Boy, Man of La Mancha, Sweet Charity, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Bombay Dreams. He designed the current national tours of Hairspray, The Producers, The Full Monty, Contact, The Wedding Singer, and Kiss Me Kate.