Updated: May 19
Sending and receiving audio over computer networks is not a new concept, but developments in the technology and standards have made it a very useful tool for a wide variety of scenarios. Dante is among the most well developed of those standards and is being widely adopted by the broadcast industry. It's used at sporting events for commentators to send and receive feeds to and from the OB trucks and studios on site and off; it's used in studio complexes to get audio from different rooms and it's used in venues to get audio to and from desks and stage boxes over a single cable; massively reducing the cabling cost and complexity of installation.
The whole concept boils down to using Ethernet based LAN's to move audio around at full bandwidth. The high bandwidth of gigabit networks and the bidirectional nature of network traffic means that, using a single cable per device, you can manage hundreds of audio streams from numerous devices entirely in software. This creates a simplicity of cabling, reduces the weight of the cabling required, which in turn reduces the burden on the physical rigging process.
Having worked in outside broadcast and live music events prior to these technologies being available (even MADI was a new and exciting technology when I moved away from that sector), I can definitely see the benefits of reducing the cabling complexity. We used to run a 48 channel system for the most part (occasionally up to 96...). That required a minimum of two 24 pair XLR multi-core cables, which were around 50 metres long. As I recall a cable that size would weigh roughly 30kg (but I could be wrong; all I recall is that it was uncomfortable to lift on my own as a fairly fit 25 year old). We also had a 32 pair multi-core around the same length which was impractical and hazardous for a single person to lift...
Then there was the inconvenience of actually plugging in every single XLR, correctly, at both ends, then physically repatching inputs if required.
I can only imagine walking in with a reel of two CAT6 cables (one for redundancy) and plugging that single cable into the stage box or switch. With a tiny bit of network config, you can receive up to 512 channels from any range of devices on their network !!
With that advantage alone, Dante is already sold to me. If I needed to build an audio truck tomorrow, it would all be Dante. I'd even go as far as to say I'd start to try and convert all major venues in the UK to Dante networks. No more dodgy patch bays on walls where various channels no longer work, just organise with the venue your receivers IP address and off you go; plug and play.
The setup and configuration of a Dante network is also relatively simple. Using Dante Controller you can route audio between devices with a matrix, and manage latency and cast formats depending on your requirements. All devices and channels can be named individually inside Dante Controller and all settings are copied instantly when using a redundant network. Basically removing physical steps and putting them at your fingertips on a computer UI.
In summary networking for audio is the future, and it's here already. A single RJ45 connector to boost channel counts on desks and recorders beyond their internal I/O and for other devices to receive channels. Using Dante Virtual Soundcard to turn a laptop with an Ethernet port into a multitrack powerhouse. Imagine turning up to a tracking gig with just a laptop a reel of Ethernet cable and a 4TB external SSD. Plug into their main switch and off you go; 64 channel recording just got insanely easy.