SoundGrid 101

What is SoundGrid? What is it used for? What are the necessary components for a SoundGrid setup? Learn all about the basics in this introduction to Waves SoundGrid.

Watch two short videos, followed by an article that goes a bit deeper into the SoundGrid system to find out how it can serve you.

Once you're done, log in to take the SoundGrid 101 test. Successful completion awards you with a SoundGrid 101 certificate and a credit voucher worth up to $50, for use in our online store (see terms & conditions).

For hands-on advanced SoundGrid training, sign up for one of our SoundGrid certification events.

#1 – What is SoundGrid and what are its uses?

Learn what SoundGrid is all about at its core and what are its uses and benefits in each environment: live or in the studio.

#2 – Components of a Basic SoundGrid Setup

Learn which components make up a basic SoundGrid setup, what each of these components do, and how they can be utilized for different needs.

SoundGrid is a Technology

SoundGrid is an Audio-over-Ethernet technology developed by Waves. It allows to stream high counts of digital audio channels (up to 128) and to process that audio through plugins at ultra-low-latency (as low as 0.8 ms). All taking place over a 1Gb network.

This makes SoundGrid a great fit for any environment – from simple project studios to live venues to complex networked recording and broadcast facilities.

Technically Speaking – How SoundGrid Works

SoundGrid is a proprietary Ethernet Layer-2-Protocol and EtherType. Basically, that means that SoundGrid is a way to move audio data between devices that "speak the SoundGrid language" and are connected to the same local network. These devices automatically convert SoundGrid to different audio formats and vice versa.

Audio is routed and streamed between devices – I/Os and servers – that are connected to the same network. I/O devices convert SoundGrid packets to and from other audio formats. Servers receive audio from I/O devices, take care of plugin processing, and send the processed audio back.

To allow for continuous, uninterrupted traffic, only SoundGrid devices should be connected to the network. In other words – SoundGrid is a private network. You can still use different network ports on your computer for other networks (such as internet).

Audio Networking, Scalability and Flexibility

SoundGrid systems are flexible and can be easily adapted and configured for optimal effectiveness per channel count, processing capabilities, routing and sample rate. Adding or removing I/Os or servers is quick and effortless.

Using only one Ethernet cable per device (Cat 5e/6 STP or Cat 7) greatly reduces cable runs and interference.

SoundGrid allows for server redundancy (currently up to 1 redundant server), parallel networks, clock fallback schemes, and automatic SoundGrid-host recovery.

SoundGrid Hardware

SoundGrid Servers – Processing Audio through Plugins

SoundGrid servers use standard Intel CPUs with optimized custom Linux OS. This allows for the kind of predictability, stability and low latency that were previously exclusive to DSP-based systems. SoundGrid servers can run hundreds of compatible Waves and third-party plugins, as well as extremely CPU-demanding plugins that are beyond the capabilities of DSP-based systems. It takes as little as 0.8 ms for a server to receive, process, and return audio — practically real time.

The high performance, stability and low latency of SoundGrid processing are possible thanks to a division of labor between:

  • SoundGrid server(s) — CPUs dedicated exclusively to processing audio through plugins.
  • Host computer — a standard Windows or Mac computer to manage the SoundGrid network (device configuration and audio routing).

In situations where ultra-low-latency is not of the essence (i.e. editing/mixing sessions), spreading the plugin load between the server (SoundGrid processing) and the host computer (local processing) is possible and might come in very handy.

SoundGrid I/Os – Bridge the Gap

Ranging from 2 to 128-channel audio interfaces, SoundGrid I/Os can "speak" multiple audio "languages". They can translate between different audio formats (MADI, AES, analog, S/PDIF, ADAT etc.) and SoundGrid.

There are two types of SoundGrid I/Os:

  1. Standalone audio interfaces – with or without preamps.
  2. Cards which are fitted into mixing consoles – basically making the console SoundGrid enabled.

With either type, sample rates of 44.1–96 kHz are supported.

SoundGrid Software

Control Software

Every SoundGrid network must have one computer running a SoundGrid host application which is used to control the entire SoundGrid network. The same computer can also run regular DAW applications (for recording etc.) in parallel. SoundGrid host applications are used for managing system and device configuration, server configuration and audio routing.

The following SoundGrid software applications are available — one for the studio setups, the other two for live environments:

SoundGrid Studio

Designed to be the heart of the studio. Enables recording and monitoring at ultra-low-latency with plugins, and creating up to 8 personalized headphone mixes.

eMotion LV1 live mixer

A full blown live mixer with up to 64 input channels (mono or stereo) and up to 35 output mix busses (groups, auxiliaries, matrices and main). Allows up to 16 I/O devices (hardware/software).

MultiRack SoundGrid

Designed especially for live sound applications, enabling traditional mixing consoles to use plugins. Provides up to 64 software racks (mono/stereo/surround), equivalent to outboard hardware processing racks.

Other SoundGrid Software

SoundGrid-Compatible Plugins

Whether made by Waves or by other manufacturers, these plugins can be processed on a SoundGrid server and be used for real-time applications and low-latency monitoring.

StudioRack

A cross-platform plugin software rack, used within DAWs, that runs chains of up to 8 plugins. It can operate in Local mode, where the plugin chain is processed on the local CPU, or in SoundGrid mode, where processing of the chain takes place on a server.

SoundGrid Driver

Allows third-party applications (DAWs) to use any SoundGrid I/O for audio recording, playback & MIDI recording. Offers up to 128 channels. Compatible with Windows (ASIO) and Mac (Core Audio). Any computer on the SoundGrid network that is not running the SoundGrid host must run the SoundGrid Driver application. This allows a computer to be recognized as a software I/O.

SoundGrid Connect

A feature of the SoundGrid Driver that makes any ASIO/Core Audio audio interface with a multi-client driver "speak the SoundGrid language". This makes it possible to offload plugin processing to SoundGrid servers even without a SoundGrid I/O, as well as adding such audio interfaces to an existing SoundGrid network for sharing and streaming audio. SoundGrid Connect is designed to be used in the studio, in situations where low latency is not of the essence.

Third-Party Hardware and Software Compatibility

The SoundGrid infrastructure is open to third-party hardware and software developers alike. Hardware units from manufacturers such as Allen & Heath, Yamaha, DiGiCo, CADAC, DirectOut, Hear Technologies and SoundStudio have a built in SoundGrid interface.

Plugin manufacturers such as Sonnox, Plugin Alliance and Flux use the Waves Public API (WPAPI) format to make SoundGrid-compatible plugins.

Waves is working closely with additional plugin vendors and several hardware manufacturers in order to create a wide range of solutions and expand the family of SoundGrid-compatible tools.

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