Innovative Dante-Enabled 3D Audio Lab at Virginia Tech

April 6 2016, 03:10

An innovative 3D audio lab recently put into use at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, gives undergraduates and graduate students experience with a 57 channel ambisonic environment for both hands-on learning and research. Virginia Tech also reaches out to middle and high school students to give them early experiences in this cutting edge audio technology as a way to stimulate interest in pursuing audio later on. This innovate effort uses equipment from a variety of companies that produce Dante-enabled network audio gear.

Immersive audio is a cutting edge technology, not only in audio installations but in university research labs. Dr. Michael Roan’s ASPIRE (Acoustics, Signal Processing, and Immersive REality) lab recently made use of two Attero Tech unD32 32-Channel Dante break out boxes to drive 57 JBL LSR305/LSR308 powered loudspeakers. Along with equipment from PreSonus, Focusrite, and Warm Audio, any of the 10 workstations in the lab can drive the loudspeakers in this completely Dante-networked setup.

The ASPIRE lab is a state of the art audio engineering technology teaching and research laboratory located in Randolph Hall on the Virginia Tech Blacksburg campus. The lab is used to teach the fundamentals of the engineering principles used in Audio Engineering. Students learn core Engineering, Mathematics, and Physics topics related to microphone design, loudspeaker design, digital signal acquisition and processing, filtering, room acoustics, human hearing, and high-density loudspeaker array surround sound. Each student has access to the 10 PC-based workstations with Reaper DAW software.

Each PC is connected to a Presonus Studiolive 16.0.2 16-Channel digital mixer. To facilitate studies in immersive audio, the lab is equipped with 57 JBL LSR305/LSR308 loudspeakers driven by two Attero Tech Dante (audio over Ethernet) 32-Channel breakout boxes. To study the principles related to the recording chain, the lab is also equipped with a rack of classic signal processing units from Warm Audio consisting of 2 WA-12 microphone preamps, 2 WA-76 1176 style compressor/limiting amplifiers, and 2 EPQ-WA, Pultec-style Tube equalizers. These classic outboard gear elements are connected to the Dante network via a Focusrite Rednet 1 device so that students can access any input or output in the rack via Dante.

The ASPIRE lab is also connected to the Acoustics lab in Randolph hall via a Dante Link to a Focusrite Rednet 2 device.  This gives undergraduate students access to research equipment, such as a G.R.A.S. head and torso simulator for binaural studies and a Bruel and Kjaer 4206 Impedance tube to study acoustic absorption. Lastly, future plans for the ASPIRE lab include a high-bandwidth connection to the CUBE theatre to distribute simultaneous immersive audio for performance or engineering studies.

Dr. Roan, an Associate Professor in Virginia Tech’s Mechanical Engineering department, indicated that ”these (Attero Tech) breakout boxes are working fantastically sending audio with pretty much zero latency to the labs 57 loudspeakers from any of the labs 10 workstations. We’re really loving their functionality. Last week 20 middle-schoolers came into the lab completing an ambisonics workshop - flying their favorite tunes around the space. They were literally dancing in the aisles!”
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