Can a single piece of hardware finally make online jamming viable?

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If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we don’t love each other. The lockdown revolution has happened, just a little faster than expected, and for many of us there is no going back to the old routines of the office, the pub… and the band rehearsal space ?

The latter is a little trickier, but a Swedish company called Elk Audio thinks it can help. It’s Elk Live, a system that uses an audio interface and internet bridge combined to deliver the promise of latency-free online music collaboration – so it should sound and feel like you’re all in the same room even if you are miles apart.

There are already apps that make such claims, but Elk’s idea is to cut out all the middlemen, not just one. You plug your instrument and/or mic (plus headphones) into the front of the device, a super-fast Ethernet cable sends the signal straight to your router, and it’s all controlled by lightweight in-browser software whose job principal is to stay away.

Now, if you’re with a service provider that uses homing pigeons instead of fiber optic cables, you’re going to be in trouble. But for many of us, the broadband network is blazingly fast these days, and most of the latency that creates all those annoying stop-start moments in Zoom calls actually happens at each end of the line. , between our input/output devices and routers.

Let’s be a little more specific about the pigeon-powered internet: Elk recommends minimum upload and download speeds of 10 Mbps, and a “ping” measurement of less than 10 ms. If you don’t know what that means, head over to speedtest.net and you can find out in seconds.

For our tests, we organized a three-way jam between London, Brighton and Dorchester. It’s not too ambitious – London to Dorchester is around 120 miles away – but it’s a lot further than you’d want to meet in person for regular rehearsals.

live elk

Used

Compared to the usual setup for group workouts – from carrying your gear to the rehearsal room to reminding the drummer how to count to four – getting started with the Elk system is pretty quick. You’ve got a few cables to plug in, all you have to do is log into the Elk Live Studio site, check your levels on the mixer screen, and make sure everyone’s on the call.

Once the “band” is assembled, each person can adjust the levels to how they hear everyone else (in stereo) so there’s no need to argue over who’s too loud. Naturally, there’s also a video screen so you can all see each other, although this goes through your normal Wi-Fi, so some latency here is unavoidable.

And the sound? Unfortunately for us, our Brighton-based guitarist’s home internet speeds were well below recommended figures and he eventually had to give up in a choppy fog of frustration, but the line between London and Dorchester was indeed – most of the time – virtually latency-free.

live elk

The technical requirement here is that you get along fast enough to be able to play on time; the musical requirement is that it sounds natural, without any sense of estrangement. And when the network is strong, that’s exactly what Elk Live can deliver.

For us, things got a little off in the evenings – not enough to make synchronized play impossible, but enough to feel weird and kill any sense of spontaneity. Well, it’s rush hour on the Internet; when we met again in the morning, everything was operational again. If we had been geographically closer, this might not have been a problem.

So, is an Elk Live session as good as a real group workout? Of course not, because doing anything online will never be as rewarding as its equivalent in the real world. But if getting together IRL just isn’t possible, this system is able to break down the practical barriers that previously made it impossible to play together over the Internet.

As a moment in the history of music, this yellow box could therefore turn out to be very important. But for now, keeping in mind the price of each unit plus monthly subscriptions, your willingness to take that leap will depend on your commitment to the idea of ​​remote collaboration.

Main characteristics

  • THE PRICE £300 + £14.39/month
  • THE DESCRIPTION Low latency audio interface and internet bridge, made in Sweden
  • CONNECTIONS Two XLR/TRS combo inputs, each with switchable phantom power; stereo headphone output (jack or mini-jack), two line outputs, optical digital in/out, MIDI in/out, USB-C audio, USB-C power supply (adapter included), Gigabit Ethernet (cable included)
  • DIMENSIONS 140x140x45mm
  • CONTACT wapiti.live

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