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Digital Connections and Sync

Digital Connections and Sync

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Published by: mikealexmac on Jul 05, 2012
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“Sample Multiplexing” or S/MUX is usedto transmit high-bandwidth digital audio us-ing lower-bandwidth technology, such as ADATLightpipe. S/MUX works by joining two or moredigital audio channels to represent a single high-er-bandwidth channel. By using S/MUX technol-ogy, you can stream 4 channels of digital audioat 88.2 kHz or 96 kHz over the same Lightpipeconnection originally designed to stream 8 chan-nels of 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz audio.TheDigiMax FSandFireStudio 26x26of- fer one set of S/MUX inputs and outputs. TheFireStudio Lightpipeis equipped with two sets ofS/MUX inputs and outputs, so it can record andplay back 16 channels of audio at 88.2 kHz or96 kHz or 32 channels at 44.1 or 48 kHz.
Developed by the Audio Engineering Societyand the European Broadcasting Union, AES/ EBU (ofcially known as AES3) is a 2-channelformat that can carry audio signals at up to 192kHz. AES/EBU employs a 3-pin XLR connec-tor, which is the same connector used for mostprofessional microphones. A single cable carriesboth channels of audio data. No current PreSo-nus products have AES/EBU digital connectionsbut the now-discontinuedDigiMax 96kwas oneof the rst 8-channel mic preamps to offer them.S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) wasco-developed by Sony and Philips to transferstereo digital audio. It is essentially a consumerversion of AES/EBU, and as with AES/EBU, asingle cable carries both channels of the stereoaudio signal. Digital Audio Tape (DAT) machineswere among the rst devices to be equipped withthis protocol but it has since become popular inconsumer audio products such as DVD players,as well as in semi-pro and professional audioproducts.any PreSonus products are equippedwith standardized digital audio inputsand outputs, enabling them to trans-fer digital audio to and from an assortment ofdevices without conversion to and from theanalog domain. Some PreSonus products alsohave dedicated, standardized connections fordigital-audio synchronization signals. To helpyou understand these technologies, we’ve pre-pared a brief tutorial on digital connections andsynchronization.
ADAT Optical
The Alesis ADAT modular digital mutitracktape recorder allowed users to record eighttracks of digital audio simultaneously. TheADAT Optical interface protocol, commonlyreferred to as “ADAT Lightpipe,” was developedto stream eight channels of 16-, 20-, or 24-bitdigital audio at 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz, allowingmultichannel digital transfers between ADATdigital recorders and otherdigital audio devices over asingle ber-optic cable. TheADAT Lightpipe format hasbeen adopted by many audiomanufacturers because it isa compact way to transfermultichannel digital audiodata between devices.ADAT Lightpipe uses the same type of opti-cal cables and Toslink connectors as the S/PDIFtwo-channel optical digital audio protocol (dis-cussed shortly). These cables can be purchasedat your local recording-equipment store. Toslinkis an optical-ber connection system developedby Toshiba that uses a JIS F05 connector (see
Fig. 1
). The generic name for this standard is“EIAJ optical”.Current PreSonus products that offer
ADATLightpipe I/O include theFireStudio
Light-pipe,FireStudio 26x26, andDigiMax
 FS. TheDigiMax D8offers ADAT Lightpipe output only.
Digital Audio Connections andSynchronization
FIG. 1: ADAT Lightpipeand S/PDIF optical usethe Toslink connectionsystem
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The most common connector used for S/PDIFis an RCA coaxial connector (see
Fig. 2
). WhileS/PDIF RCA coaxial uses the same connector asthe analog RCA connection on consumer au-dio products, the cables are not the same, andthese connections shouldnot be confused. PreSonusproducts that offer S/PDIFRCA coaxial inputs and out-puts include theFireStudio26x26,FireStudio Mobile, andFireStudio Project. TheStudioLive
16.4.2andStu-dioLive 24.4.2digital mixershave an S/PDIF RCA output, and theCentral Sta-tionhas an S/PDIF RCA input.S/PDIF also can be sent over Toslink opticalconnections, and these have become fairly com-mon in semi-pro and professional audio gear.This is the same connector used for ADAT Light-pipe but the digital protocol is different. TheCentral Stationoffers an S/PDIF Toslink opticalinput, in addition to its S/PDIF RCA input; it isthe only current PreSonus product that offers S/ PDIF on Toslink.
TDIF (Tascam Digital Interface) transmits andreceives up to 8 channels of digital audio over asingle cable and uses a 25-pin D-sub connector.Tascam introduced TIDF with the DA-88 modu-lar digital multitrack recorder, and the formatwas later adopted by other companies. However,PreSonus products do not use TDIF.The TDIF-1 specication has developedover the years. Early versions did not supportself-clocking so a separate BNC word-clockconnection was required. Later products addedself-clocking, and the TDIF-1 version 2.0 speci-cation added transfer of higher-resolution (upto 192 kHz) digital audio, albeit with reducedtrack counts.
Digital Clocking, Word Clock,and BNC
Digital clocking signals are used to syn-chronize digital audio signals owing betweendevices in order to avoid data errors. Why is thatnecessary? Read on!Analog audio is transferred through a cable asa continuous electrical waveform–it’s not di-vided into discrete steps—and electricity travelsthrough a straight wire at almost the speed oflight. So when you route audio between analogdevices, the signals arrive instantaneously, forpractical purposes. Therefore, you don’t have tosynchronize analog audio when routing betweendevices.Transferring digital audio is a very differentmatter. Computers and other digital devicesoperate one step at a time, which happens veryquickly but it’s not instantaneous, and digitalsignals are not inherently in perfect time. True,uncompressed digital audio plays at a xed rate(the sampling frequency) but digital clocks arenot perfect; their frequency can drift, and theyalmost always have at least some irregular errorsknown as
. Therefore, two devices, each fol-lowing its own clock, are highly unlikely to stayin agreement about precisely when a samplestarts and ends. The result is usually an artifact:a pop or glitch in the audio.To avoid this problem, when transferringdigital audio in real time among multiple digitaldevices, all digital devices need to follow a singlemaster clock. That means the master clock hasto send a signal that essentially says, “everyonestart
at this moment 
and follow me!” Even ifthe master clock’s timing is imperfect, all of theslave devices will follow the timing errors exactlyand will stay in sync with each other. Therefore,you won’t get timing-related artifacts.Three basic clocking systems are in commonuse in digital-audio systems. Each is used invarious PreSonus gear.In a
self-clocking system
, the clock signalis embedded in the audio stream. Samples arestreaming in real time, with the clock markingthe start time of each sample. The receivingdevice extracts the embedded clock signal fromthe digital audio. Self-clocking is implementedin every digital audio protocol (ADAT, S/PDIF,AES/EBU, etc.), and all PreSonus devices thatoffer ADAT Lightpipe or S/PDIF I/O employ self-clocking systems for those connections.
FIG. 2: RCA coaxialconnectors are commonlyused for S/PDIF digitalaudio.
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Distributed clocking 
systems are commonlyused in professional environments with multipledigital devices because a clocking stream thatdoes not contain audio will be cleaner than aclocking stream that does contain audio, as ina self-clocking system. In a distributed system,sync signals and audio signals are separate. Theclocking signal in a distributed clocking systemis called
word clock 
. (A
in this case, is axed-size group of digital bits.) A word-clockgenerator creates digital pulses that controlthe frequency of the internal oscillator of eachdevice to avoid frequency drift. Word clock doesnot carry location information, the way timecode does, nor does it carry audio information;it only determines the rate at which samplesshould occur.Word clock is used for a few types of distrib-uted-clocking systems but the most commonin professional audio uses a BNC connector(see
Fig. 3
). In this system, word clock is sentover dedicated, shielded, coaxial cables withstandard twist-lock, BNC-type connections oneach end. The cables are rugged and can carryclock signals much farther than standard opticalcable. BNC connections aremade in several impedancesbut PreSonus devices re-quire an impedance of 75Ωto achieve consistent sync.We’ll discuss various waysof wiring word-clock devicesin the section “Synchroniz-ing Multiple Digital AudioDevices.” PreSonus devices that offer BNCword-clock connections include theFireStudio26x26,FireStudio Lightpipe,DigiMax FS, and DigiMax D8.FireWire and USB don’t use an embeddedclock for timing; instead, they use a processcalled
, in which the audio stream isdivided into packets of data that are transmit-ted sequentially. The receiving device buffersthe signal, reassembles the sample stream, andthen sends the audio signal from the buffer atthe appropriate time, as determined by the de-vice’s sample rate. This ensures accurate timingwhen going from a FireWire or USB interface toa computer and back.(Note that copying an audio le is not a real-time transfer, so audio sync is not an issue.)
Synchronizing MultipleDigital Audio Devices
Whether you are using BNC or another digitaloutput to generate word clock, it is necessaryto designate one device as the “master” word-clock device to which all other digital devicesare synced, or “slaved.” Many digital devicesperform equally well as a master or a slave,although some devices must be one or the other.Synchronizing a device to a lesser-quality clocksource is likely to degrade its performance, andnot all word-clock generators are created equal.You generally need to determine which devicehas the best clock and to designate that deviceas the word-clock master. This is done withcareful listening and A/B testing.Once you’ve determined which device is to beyour master clock, you will need to sync the re-maining digital devices through series or paralleldistribution or some combination thereof. Ofcourse, if your digital-device chain only consistsof one master and one slave, syncing the two isas simple as connecting a BNC word-clock cablefrom the output of your master device to theinput of the device you are slaving.When working with multiple slaved devices,the job gets a bit more complicated. Series dis-tribution requires that your digital devices haveboth a BNC word-clock input and a BNC word-clock output. Parallel distribution uses a BNCT-connector attached to the BNC word-clockinput of each slaved device. This allows theword-clock signal to be sent to that device andthen sent on to another device. A BNC word-clock output on the slaved devices is not usedfor parallel word-clock distribution.If the last device in the chain does not havea word-clock terminate switch, you will need toattach a BNC terminator plug to the other sideof the T-connector. This helps to stabilize theword-clock sync and keep the word-clock signalclean. Both word-clock terminator plugs andBNC T-connectors can be purchased at mostrecording-supply retailers.A third option for syncing your digital devicesis to purchase a high-quality, dedicated word-
FIG. 3: Word clock isusually transmitted overBNC connectors.

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