The transition from traditional analogue equipment to digital systems has been an interesting journey, where I have often felt that core principles were often not given the priorities that they deserved. For me, these core principles are:
Simplicity – Somebody speaks, others hear, and you can reply if required and be heard. It all sounds very simple, but of course, manufacturing a system that ‘just works’ is very difficult. Users though are (quite rightly) not interested in how difficult it may be, they want a system that makes it all look easy.
Reliability – The system quite simply has to work, so the system architecture must be resilient and built for redundancy as much as practicably possible. When comms fail, nobody else can work, so this reliability affects all users in every department.
Usability – We are in an age where we are surrounded by equipment covered in control buttons and Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) so people are less daunted by the prospect of using new or more complex looking equipment. However, there is a difference between users’ demands on their personal mobile phone and what they expect of the kit that they use for work. Also, remember that we pretty much expect comms users to sit down on the first day of a project and just start using the kit with minimal instruction, despite the fact that it is likely to be a different system that is set up in a different way from the one they were using last week.
Audio Quality – Great audio quality is now expected from consumer and professional equipment, so why should comms be any different?
I’ve looked at several digital comm systems in recent years that have met some of my demands, but not all of them. This is particularly true at the lower end of the market, where I have continued to prefer analogue systems simply because they deliver better results at that price point.
HelixNet has come to the market at a very reasonable price though, making a range of features available to those that have previously never had access to them. It’s obviously a product with a vast amount of research and development behind it and I'm sure the system will continue to develop over time. Right now though, core principles are there and ready for the marketplace – something that seems quite unusual in the era of firmware and software updates every week.
I look forward to further developments as our transition to digital systems continues.
Mathew Smethurst-Evans is a Sound and Technical Consultant with extensive experience from working for theatres in the UK. His hybrid workload and expertise regularly ranges from being a show sound engineer and designer to a building design consultant.