BCD Audio - Director Mike LawAES-3 is the standard for interconnection of stereo audio signals between studio equipment. The standard originated from the SPDIF format used in CD players in the 1980’s , and has evolved to allow sample rates to 192KHz stereo, and to transport multichannel compressed audio at the 48Khz sample rate.

AES3 is the standard for interconnection of stereo audio signals between studio equipment. It originated in parallel with the SPDIF format during the 1980’s, and has evolved to allow sampling frequencies to 192 KHz stereo, and to transport multichannel compressed audio at the 48 KHz sampling frequency.

An AES standards committee now has an active project, with which I am involved, that would allow more audio signals to be carried with similar hardware to AES3. The project title is AES-X196, ‘Multichannel Audio in AES3’. The standard is in early draft form, as it is a new concept, and interested parties are welcome to visit http://www.aes.org/standards/meetings/init-projects/aes-x196-init.cfm or to the current project status at http://www.aes.org/standards/meetings/project-status.cfm or to the SC-02-02 meeting reports at http://www.aes.org/standards/meetings/ to access more information on the project.

AES-X196 is based upon the idea that eight 48 KHz signals could be carried across a 192 KHz link, and four 48 KHz signals across a 96 KHz link.

This idea is attractive, as broadcast audio has standardised on 48 KHz sample rate, but most AES3 compatible hardware is capable already of operating at the higher sample rates.

Currently in a Broadcast environment, the transport of surround sound and multichannel audio requires either encoded compressed audio , or multiple linear stereo links, and the new idea would simplify this.

Compressed audio requires expensive hardware and introduces considerable signal time delay. The distribution of multichannel audio across multiple stereo links is also unattractive, as many links are required and great care is needed to ensure that the correct audio signals are distributed and routed as a group. AES-X196 would solve both of these problems.

Another advantage of AES-X196 is in point-to-point links. If a single link is available between two locations that currently carries stereo, the new standard would allow that same link to carry more audio signals. This is important in existing installations, as it is often impossible to add more cable without lifting floors, digging up roads etc. Existing point-point transports ( such as ATM) might be able to pass the new signal.

An AES-X196 transmitter would be capable of operating with 2, 4 or 8 audio signals, and would be fully compatible with AES3 in 2 channel mode. Channel status information is carried with the audio, to identify the new modes.

An AES-X196 receiver would detect the correct mode, and extract 2, 4 or 8 signals accordingly, that would be fully compatible with existing AES3 2 channel signals.

Completely asynchronous routers, bypass switches, would be directly compatible. Existing AES3 distribution amplifiers might be compatible , provided they can carry the higher rates, and sample rate converters if present are disabled.

Large audio routers would need to be adapted to handle the new signal. If only a few inputs and outputs were required to conform to AES-X196, this could be easy to implement. New designs could be capable of all modes on all ports, including AES3.

There might be resistance to change from the existing AES3 standard, as some of the currently installed hardware would not be directly compatible. Initially it can be imagined that AES-X196 signals would only be used where the equipment was compatible, and this in itself is useful, as in point-to-point links.

Units that combine AES3 signals into AES-X196 feeds and split out AES-X196 into AES3 signals would be available that would make the migration easy to implement anyway.

BCD intend to develop units to implement the standard that will arise from project AES-X196. These units will be based on FPGA technology, to allow for a degree of experimentation. Other parties are expected to implement practical designs too.

The applications of AES-X196 set out here are as seen by BCD and should be read as my opinion, and not the AES; others will no doubt see other advantages and disadvantages.

About Mike Law:

Mike Law started out with an early passion for electronics and a summer job allowed him to work at UK mixer manufacturer Alice, where he learnt about broadcast audio, and 3 years at Birmingham University where he learnt about PA systems, lighting and putting on bands, culminating in an honours degree in Electronic Engineering.

Mike worked at Alice, designing audio mixing consoles until redundancy allowed him to set up his own UK company with the help of two Swiss recording studios, with the aim of producing a digitally controlled music console. The ideas behind that console is the basis of much digitally controlled analogue audio in use today.

His company, BCD Audio continues to this day, and Mike has become a specialist in designing digital and analogue audio systems, and has kept up with the times, and can now talk DSP and VHDL when he can find someone to converse with.

Mike is an associate of the IPS, a member of the AES, and is on the SC-02-02 committee, and is a member of the IET.

About BCD Audio:

Established 25 years ago to provide high quality audio systems for radio and television broadcasting, BCD Audio’s in-house skills were immediately sought after by prestige clients including the BBC and ITV companies. Today, BCD Audio’s designs are heard and seen all over the world, keeping broadcasters on air 24/7.

The product range has grown from pure analogue engineering to fully embrace today’s digital world, from standalone black box problem solvers, to dedicated rack mount units and full Eurocard infrastructure systems. BCD Audio can also deliver bespoke audio solutions to a client’s exacting requirements.

At the forefront of technological advances, BCD designers use the latest digital systems, often implemented with FPGAs or processors with network control.

BCD solutions now often involve video too, and the in house design skills include the processing of SD/HD video, with a bias towards audio embedding, de-embedding and DSP.

In-house manufacturing has also evolved; BCD have their own surface-mount assembly plant, and are capable of producing units in-house with fine-pitch components on multi-layer boards.

Recent projects include an automatic audio-triggered webcast system for the UK Parliament, which has evolved into a radio station webcast system, a 1U HD video capable audio mixer, and a fully digital audio monitor unit. BCD Audio rack- based systems have been specified in recent OB truck, radio station and TV studio presenter audio monitoring designs.

Mike Law concludes “We welcome enquiries from broadcast and installation companies, and if the solution is not already on the shelf, we will be happy to design and build it!”

Contacts for further information

Mike Law, CEO
BCD Audio (Acrone Ltd),
5 Bristol Way,
Stoke Gardens,
Slough, Berkshire,
SL1 3QE, United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 (0)1753 579524
Fax: +44 (0)1753 577981
email: sales@bcd-audio.com
web: www.bcd-audio.co.uk

Mel Noonan
Stylus Media Consultants
Broadcast Industry authoring & communication
office: +44 (0) 1525 756 097
email: stylusmediamel@gmail.com

300DPI CMYK photo attached: Mike Law of BCD Audio

Higher res photos by request to Stylus Media Consultants