Established in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is a public research university in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is one of the world’s oldest universities in continuous operation. The university has five main campuses in Edinburgh that support more than 42,000 students, placing the university among the top ten largest universities in the UK.
In early 2020, as the realities of the pandemic were starting to take hold, the School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh reached out to the university’s Learning Spaces Technology team asking for a way to share audio between its three instruction labs, and then also share audio back-and-forth with students attending remotely. At the time, because of campus restrictions, the university could not bring contractors or electricians onsite to install the new audio cable systems needed. Faced with the challenge, the Learning Spaces Technology team began researching IP-based audio to make use of the university’s existing IP network. The resulting solution involved a set of Dante-enabled audio components, all connected via the University of Edinburgh’s regular network, switches and cabling on the same VLAN as all the other AV and managed by DDM (Dante Domain Manager).
Stephen Dishon, the Learning Spaces Technology Team Manager at the University of Edinburgh, explained that the school already had made an investment in Extron AV control systems and Sennheiser in-ceiling and wireless microphone systems, so he and his team started looking into what these manufacturers and their existing equipment had to offer.
“I spoke with our Sennheiser associate about their intelligent ceiling mics and learned that the system is Dante enabled and that we actually had a demo unit on campus; so we borrowed the unit, popped it into the ceiling in one of the Engineering labs, connected it to the network, and it worked,” said Dishon. “We made a few network connections with lab techs on campus and with some users connected remotely, and everyone was very impressed with the quality. The Dante connectivity made our audio network test a quick and easy success, so we were off and running.”
Dishon explained that the Extron control/DSP and HDMI switch units, and the Sennheiser multi-channel wireless microphone receivers they owned were all out-of-the-box Dante equipped. Each lab and overflow room also had a pair of Monacor Dante connected speakers as well as Yamaha and Lightware equipment to complete the audio setup.
“One of the key trends we have seen in the last few years is more and more Universities adopting the use of Dante as an audio transport standard,” said Inesh Patel, Business Development Manager at Sennheiser. “Much of the reason for this is down to the general adoption of Dante throughout the AV industry, the guarantee of interoperability and the incredible variety of Dante products available. Sennheiser’s TeamConnect Ceiling 2, with its complete pack of audio features and integrated Dante and support for DDM has helped many Universities improve their sound reinforcement and remote/distance learning delivery.”
The Dante platform from Audinate is a complete AV-over-IP solution that allows audio, video, and control data to be transported over standard 1GB ethernet networks. Supported in more than 3,000 Dante-enabled products from more than 500 manufacturers, Dante replaces point-to-point analog and digital connections with software-based routing, effortlessly sending AV channels anywhere on the network with perfect digital fidelity.
For the Engineering labs, the digital audio signals run from the ceiling mics to the signal processor over the network, then from the signal processor — also Dante-enabled — to a pair of network-ready speakers in each room. Additionally, the speakers and microphones are powered via the IP network connection. For the hybrid learning structure, each Engineering lab has an instructor and about ten students spaced properly within the classroom, with about 30 students attending remotely. The labs are used for instruction for 6 hours a day, five days a week. At any one time, there are roughly 90 to 100 remote students.
“We keep growing our audio network system, and everything keeps working. There’s no need to buy, build or run long, multiple runs of analog cables, we just plug our equipment into data points on the network — which we have everywhere — configure the workflow with Dante Controller software or Dante Domain Manager, and we’re good to go,” said Dishon.
Dante Domain Manager is a server-based solution that brings a centralized, complete view of the entire networked audio deployment. Dante Domain Manager makes it easy to define user access for any area of the system, and alerts and audit logs ensure issues are quick to identify and solve. Dante Domain Manager delivers campus-wide AV network monitoring and management for better remote, hybrid, and in-person education experiences.
“We also have a few Dante AVIO USB adaptors in each space just in case the instructor or a guest needs to quickly connect their laptop or device to the audio network; the adaptors are easy-to-use, plug-and-play devices, and we can add nearly anything to the audio network with them,” added Dishon. “We have many instruction spaces here with audio equipment that is not Dante-enabled so we’ll be relying on AVIO adaptors to onboard gear in those situations. We’re also looking at getting some of the Bluetooth adaptors because a couple of our instructors would like a cable-less connection.”
The affordable, easy-to-use family of Dante AVIO adapters allows users to connect any audio gear or computer to a Dante network — delivering the interoperability, performance, and scalability that only networking brings. Available in a range of USB, XLR, AES3 and Bluetooth configurations, Dante AVIO input/output adapters connect audio devices to any Dante network with no software installation needed.
“As we moved the Engineering lab systems over to the network, all users were impressed with the performance; and as the scale of the pandemic became more apparent, we started to look at how we could continue to grow our audio network,” said Dishon. “We next set up a couple of larger lecture spaces for the Edinburgh College of Art, where they were using a Dante-enabled Bose Panaray steerable array loudspeaker system, and it connected as easily as everything else.”
A large College of Art seminar room also needed to move to a hybrid learning model. The room features cameras and a pair of large projection screens that display the remote students. The department needed to have complete audio interaction and question/answer responses between instructors and students in-class and remote. Similar Dante connected control, DSP, microphones, and the Bose sound system are all connected over the department’s IP network.
“This seminar room is larger than the Engineering labs, but again, everything worked perfectly. We’re still figuring out some design elements with our campus-wide network, and the general AV equipment shortage hasn’t helped, but I see nothing other than the continued growth of Dante at the University of Edinburgh,” said Dishon. “Dante audio networking really helped us adjust and adapt during the pandemic, and we’ve expanded the system since then. I’m glad we took the opportunity to learn about all that Dante technology offers.”