“There have been happy accidents; there have been less happy accidents. But overall, we are happy with the accident situation,” declares Stephan Flock, former RME design guru, current DirectOut CEO/CTO, recording engineer…and the possessor of a rather nice line in dry humour.
PSNEurope caught up with Flock during IBC 2012, a show that – in audio terms at least – was characterised by the rise-and-rise of the ALC NetworX-developed Ravenna networking technology. DirectOut was one of 19 Ravenna affiliates to be present at the show, and as Flock confirmed, is convinced that Ravenna has what it takes to become the new standard for audio-over-IP (AoIP).
But there was another connectivity motif at this year’s exhibition; namely, the continued resurgence of support behind another, rather older technology – MADI. Here, too, DirectOut is keeping pace with the trends, bringing to market two new MADI-compatible products…In a nutshell… tell us about the latest MADI devices.The D.O.TEC EXBOX.AES is a compact AES/MADI front-end with coaxial and optical MADI I/O, including serial embedder/de-embedder (RS-232). Up to eight AES3 signals(16 audio channels) can be converted to MADI – and vice versa. Accessibility was a real buzzword for the product design, hence the straightforward access to all settings – for example, the signal routing, baud rate and scaling factor – on the front panel.
We have also introduced the D.O.TEC EXBOX.MIDICOM, which is a compact MADI embedder/de-embedder for serial signals such as RS-232/422/485 and MIDI.
Incidentally, it’s worth pointing out that demand for MADI solutions has led to some special requests recently, including one for a custom design that was used for the first time on the Steps reunion tour. The audio team needed a device to automatically switch between two MADI streams for the live show multitrack playback.MADI seems to be enjoying a real resurgence at the moment. Why do you think that is…and how much longer can it last?I would say that there are two primary reasons for its current popularity: firstly, it is nearly 25 years old and is therefore a proven technology; and secondly, the technology needed to implement MADI I/O is considerably less expensive than it was 10 years ago. I would anticipate that MADI will remain in demand for some time to come, but with new formats on the horizon I wouldn’t expect it to keep growing.Looking to the future of connectivity, the Ravenna audio-over-IP audio networking technology appears to be on the crest of a wave at present. DirectOut has been part of the Ravenna group from the early days, so what are your own expectations of this technology?It has long struck me that we are moving into an era in which people are looking in-depth at the necessities and properties of networking, and selecting solutions on the basis of the requirements brought to them by end-users. In this regard, Ravenna has several primary benefits. For sure, TCP/IP operation is one of them, but there is also the technology’s inherent scalability and the fact that as the various elements improve, so will the overall networking experience.
As to the long-term future… well, I’m not that great on big-picture trends! However, as long as straightforward, point-to-point connection is required, I think we will see a demand for MADI. In terms of full networking, the big challenge is to make audio-over-IP easier to use, and I think we see that becoming a reality with Ravenna, although the market is still yet to make a final decision, of course.Four years on from the formation of DirectOut, what kind of progress report would you give the company?At the very start, we had some grand overarching ideas about having product design, development and distribution all in one operation, and in retrospect that may have been rather naive. It took us a while to sort out our focus – which, essentially, is on the ‘gaps’ that you find in various corners of the pro-audio market – and adjust our energies accordingly. So the first year or so was tough, but the last 2-3 years have been excellent – really productive.Notwithstanding occasional extra labour, we have a core team of five people, and I think that is about the right size for the niche areas in which we operate. I don’t rule out further expansion, but ‘small and manageable’ remains the general philosophy. DirectOut is unusual in that most of its staff are still active as live or studio engineers. To what extent do you think this benefits the company?Very much – we all have our eyes and ears open constantly, and we derive plenty of ideas from our other interests. In my case, that’s been a 20-year-long career as a sound engineer, mainly for the Deutsche Grammophon label. It’s still a big part of my working life, with recent projects including a wonderful album of Christmas music featuring [celebrated Welsh bass-baritone] Bryn Terfel.So, what’s next?Underlining my point about ideas coming directly from customer requests, we are currently working on a new microphone amplifier solution – our first to include more than one- or two-channel operation. I am hoping that it will be made available by the end of this year.I would also like to strengthen our distribution network, although there aren’t any specific priorities at present. In all honesty, the company has evolved through a series of happy accidents, and I am very happy for that to continue!