Going digital with control room audio

To take advantage of the benefits of new emerging digital technology, such as IP telephony and the Emergency Services Network, many emergency services' control rooms are facing the need to replace their analogue systems with the digital equivalents.

Such a change should be done in stages as making this transition in one go is both risky and expensive to the control room. This post will provide a brief introduction to the transition to digital audio.

What is a Software Audio Mixing Unit?

As the name might suggest, a software audio mixing unit  is an audio mixing unit that resides in the software of a computer or workstation. It acts as a replacement to an external/hardware audio mixing unit, such as a soundcard.

Such technology has been the focus of control room technology development in recent years with the recognition that IP was coming to the fore.

What is its application in the control room?

In a typical control room environment, the operator communicates, using their headset microphone, telephone, analogue radio or TETRA (for emergency services). The softwareAMU takes audio from the source (e.g., the telephone, radio or TETRA) and mixes it in accordance with the operator’s settings to present it through the headset.

What are the challenges?

Whilst industry trend is moving towards digital audio, the majority of control room environments are slow to transition and so remain largely analogue. Therefore the current challenge for control room software suppliers during this 'interim' period is producing a product optimised for digital use but that still functions well in an analogue environment.

For control rooms that use TETRA, this challenge is only temporary and will disappear as control rooms migrate to the new Emergency Services Network (ESN). However, it is a challenge that must be overcome in order to maintain the integrity of the control room environment during the transition phase.