Adventures In Audio
The Internet goes analogue!

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Wednesday September 16, 2020

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Will there ever be such a thing as analogue internet? Some say that stranger things have happened before.

C'mon, the internet is digital. It has to be digital, it always has been digital, and it always will be digital. Surely?

Of course. The internet (which apparently we spell with a lowercase 'i' these days) is digital. I wouldn't be surprised if there is an analogue push back in years to come, probably because of security issues, but as of now the internet is totally digital.

Or is it..?

Well something interesting came to my attention the other day, through an article in Sound On Sound magazine.

Cranbourne Audio EC2 microphone preamplifierIt's a microphone preamplifier. Some might say, "yet another microphone preamplifier", but I'd say that you can't have too many options.

It's the Cranbourne Audio Camden EC2, which offers two channels of 'award-winning' microphone preamplification provided by their 'highly commended' Camden preamp design. You know, I don't mind a bit of marketing. It keeps manufacturers and software developers in business and, without it, pro-audio suppliers' warehouses would probably become tumbleweed-blown dustbowls.

But though I don't mind the marketing, I prefer features and specifications, and how well a piece of equipment is built. Most of all, I want to know what the gear can do. And this fairly conventional-looking preamp has an interesting trick up its sleeve that could potentially turn a few things round in the audio industry.

Analogue Ethernet

As you probably know, if your internet isn't connected together by wi-fi, it's connected by Ethernet cables. Ethernet is an amazing invention that's so brilliant you can almost ignore it. It just does its job, which is to transmit packets of data around a network. Digitally of course.

And so digital boffins have developed better and better ways to implement Ethernet, and part of this involves the design and manufacture of suitable cables.

A commonly used type is Cat5, which has four twisted pairs of solid or stranded wires wrapped in an outer layer of protective insulation. Cat5 is rated to be good for any run up to 100 metres.

The thing about Cat5 cable, and the Cat5e, Cat6 or Cat7 (higher numbers indicate better performance and other good things) is that they are commonly used in the computer industry, easily available and cheap.

C.A.S.T.

C.A.S.T. is Cranbourne Audio's 'Cat5 Analogue Signal Transport' system and - guess what - it uses Ethernet cables. The cable can be Cat5, but the higher numbered Cats should offer better performance.

"Oh yeah, so you replace a mic cable with a computer cable, what's the good in that?" Yes I hear you say that. I said it myself at first.

Well the thing is that each Cat5 cable can carry four balanced audio signals. If you use Cat7 cable, then because each pair is individually shielded, then these can be mic level signals.

So you can cut your cable count by a factor of four. Anyone who has spent considerable time with installations, as I have, will say that's a pretty good thing.

In and out

So with a single Ethernet cable, you can get both signals from the two preamps of the Cranbourne Audio Camden EC2 out into the wide world and into one of Cranbourne Audio's C.A.S.T. enabled devices and thence to your other studio equipment.

What more, you can send two channels of audio back to the Camden EC2 and into its C.A.S.T. inputs and two internal headphone amplifiers. What you do with this unusual facility is entirely up to your imagination, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on possibilities.

The future is analogue?

Well OK, the internet isn't going analogue any time soon. But sending analogue audio down a cable that was designed for computers is a new and interesting thing. Whether it sets the world on fire, we'll have to see. But it's worth keeping an eye on and see what develops.

P.S. There's also digital audio via Ethernet, but that's another story for another day...

 

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