REACHING 20,000 MUSIC EDUCATORS EACH MONTH IN PRINT/DIGITAL. SUBSCRIBE NOW FOR FREE! CLICK HERE!

RealTime Audio Box Pro Tested, and It Works!

Mike Lawson • March 2021UpClose • March 6, 2021

The solution is Ethernet, this tiny Pi Computer, the RealTIme Audio app.

The Future of Remote Ensemble Performance is Here!

Everyone wants to get back to the classroom to play together. Unfortunately, we are not quite there yet, but hopefully heading that direction with vaccines coming out. However, distance learning tech is now part of our everyday arsenal of tools, isn’t going anywhere, and more than ever music educators need to have at their disposal easy-to-use hardware and software to make tech as easy as a toaster to use so it doesn’t get in the way of teaching music.

The Problem

The biggest issue is latency, that delay between the time sound leaves your voice or instrument, hits the mic, travels over the Internet, and gets to the ears of the student musician. It makes playing impossible. Well, it used to.

The Box Pro connected is simple to setup with its integrated audio interface.

The Problem Solvers

Over the course of the last year, I have written about multiple products that sought to perform a triage to the urgent need of music educators and their musicians to be able to perform with each other remotely. We talked about JamKazam, Realtime Music Solutions (RMS) and JackTrip Foundation (which received a Best Tools for Schools designation this year, and in this issue, following their debut at NAMM’s Believe in Music Week). All were using different approaches to solve a similar problem. At lot of people were scrambling to fix this latency issue with urgency.

At the time of the article in October, JackTrip did not have a box for me to test. I had already tested JamKazam prior to the article on their solution, which is now online only sans hardware. Similarly, JamKazam used to have a box that addresses latency (see October 2020 issue for more info on their web-based solution), not unlike what JackTrip was planning to soon debut, and now, similarly what RealTime Audio has produced and delivered with their Box and Box Pro products. RMS is a completely different, really good solution, but not apples to apples in comparison to what JamKazam, JackTrip are doing. The JackTrip box looks identical to the Box Pro, but the software inside is not the same, so don’t let that fool you. Both are working toward the same goal, using the same platform with the basic form factors of the Pi computing hardware, so it makes sense the boxes would look as similar as two PCs sitting side by side.

The Players

In December 2020, MatchMySound and Taylor Robinson announced they had teamed up to solve this distance learning issue for music students.

Taylor Robinson Music boasts over 15,000 private music instructors in 50 cities, Taylor Robinson Music is a gigantic music lesson marketplace in the United States. Since 2010, Taylor Robinson Music students and teachers have used its online platform and app to find each other, schedule lessons, communicate, and handle payments. Lessons are held either in the student’s home, the instructor’s approved studio location, or via webcam using Taylor Robinson Music’s award-winning “One-Click Webcam”, a Zoom-like web conferencing app built specifically for music.

MatchMySound is part of Accelerando, a music education company that specializes in music assessment technology, it’s flagship practice and feedback technology. Many of you are already using their products, perhaps even unaware. MatchMySound, powers the apps Achieve Music, Noteflight’s SoundCheck, MusicFirst’s Practice First, Habits of a Successful Musician series, Piano Adventures’ Sightreading Coach, My Choral Coach, and Marching Band Pro. Accelerando’s mission is to make learning fun, exciting, and affordable, and proudly serves its solutions to publishers, schools, private teachers, student musicians, and hobbyists worldwide.

“RealTime Audio will use the combined power of Taylor Robinson Music’s groundbreaking ultra-low latency technology and MatchMySound’s innovation and resources to offer musicians and educators the solution they’ve been looking for,” said MatchMySound CEO David Smolover. “Taylor and his team created a brilliant technology that could not be timelier. Since the onset of the pandemic, all music-making activities have been disrupted. With RealTime Audio, students, and teachers will be able, once again, to make music together.”

“Musicians will be able to jam together in real-time, sharing both audio and video simultaneously,” said Taylor Robinson, founder and CEO of Taylor Robinson Music. “Our Zoom-like video interface features an ultra-low latency audio connection that is a total game changer in the world of music.”

RealTime Audio Box Connected to USB Device and Ethernet

The Thinking Outside the Box

“The RealTime Audio app is a Zoom-like solution for musicians. In addition to featuring twice the audio and video resolution of a typical Zoom session, it boasts an extensive suite of music-related tools including voice pitch detectors, instrument tuners, metronomes, and chord and scale generators. Most importantly, RealTime Audio connects to the RealTime Audio Box/Box Pro, streamlined and surprisingly compact equipment about the size of a wallet. When used in conjunction with the app, the RealTime Audio Box reduces audio lag so much that it allows musicians to play comfortably – live and in sync – as if they were performing together in the very same room. Accessible from a computer or mobile app, it’s the only solution on the market that allows for seamless and synchronous remote music performance for both audio AND video. The RealTime Audio webcam app is intuitive, elegant, and, above all, easy to use.”

RealTime Audio Box Pro

The RealTime Audio Box, and the Box Pro, are the first offerings from newly formed RealTime Audio, which feature technology that enable musicians to play or sing together in real-time with an ultra-low latency video and audio platform. The company was recently formed by MatchMySound and Taylor Robinson Music.

RealTime Audio Box

These devices are basically Raspberry Pi computers, in this case, with a designated single software function, to provide audio over Ethernet with no discernable latency issue, in ranges roughly up to 1000 miles away from the other performer using the system. They are super affordable. They are a tiny, and I mean tiny, computer you can put in the palm of your hand running a flavor of Unix. Raspberry Pi OS (previously called Raspbian), is a Debian-based (32-bit) Linux distribution. If you’re super curious about the microcomputer powering this, visit raspberrypi.org.

Stepping into the Box

The difference between the Box Pro and the Box is the Box Pro has an internal audio interface solution vs having to connect an external audio interface to the Box. RealTime Audio sent me one of their Box Bundle kits to try, which included the Box, and sturdy Ethernet cable, a pair of headphones and a two-channel USB audio interface. At test time, they did not have a Box Pro on hand. For my personal needs (and I need one of these), I’ll get the Box, because I have high-end audio interfaces I can connect to it already. Each offering can be bundled with a dynamic microphone, mic stand, mic stand phone mount, headphones, and all the needed cables. The bundle for the Box Pro is an additional $155, and the bundle for the Box, because it reduces cables needed but adds an inexpensive audio interface, is about $200. With the Box Pro selling for $150 by itself, the cost is roughly $305 all in, with the Box bundle and non-internal audio interface Box selling for $70, the total for it is about $225. Ethernet is a necessity. Streaming live audio over WiFi isn’t going to work. Fortunately, all home Internet systems have Ethernet, and the Boxes are self-configuring, just plug them in.

All connected and ready for live music making

Upside/Downside

The Box Pro with the bundle makes the connection process a little more idiot proof, it’s just the Box Pro, cables/adapters, and a microphone or instrument to connect. No gain stages from a separate audio device, just plug it in and go. The less expensive option with the inexpensive two-channel audio interface requires a little more hands-on knowledge, but it also gives you more options for using nicer microphones like condenser microphones that require phantom power and well, just sound better. Since I already own everything I need for this to work, mics, interfaces, et cetera, a Box by itself works for me. However, I am an old audio engineering geek, and I’m not dealing with high school students having to connect this stuff and make it idiot proof. So, consider your students’ ability levels in that area, and choose wisely. However, the stand-alone interface solution does not have a significant learning curve, so don’t fear the interface route.

This Thing Works!

I downloaded the RealTime Audio app from the App Store with Apple for iOS. It works the same on an iPad as it does on an iPhone. Other platforms are in development. Within about five minutes of connecting my interface, then plugging my microphone and guitar into the audio interface, the interface into the Box Pro, and the Box Pro into my Ethernet port on my cable modem/router, I was ready for audio.

I connected with two people within 1000 miles of me. One was in Dallas, the other in Atlanta. I was in Nashville, in-between them, so my Box was the “initiating device” that they joined with using their Box Pros, simply by entering the name of my session into their video app. I setup the session on the app using the login info assigned my Box, created a jam room in the app, and they asked to join the room, after I gave them the name. Atlanta is hundreds of miles from Nashville, and Dallas is twice as far as Atlanta. The Dallas connection was providing the demo and tour of the product, but the other guitarist was in Atlanta, and I’m telling you, zero latency issues.

“These devices are basically Raspberry Pi computers…to provide audio over Ethernet with no discernable latency issue…”

Why Distance Won’t Matter for You

Unless you are having a class clinician who is going to perform with your online room for your group, you won’t have 1000 mile distances. Being in the same city and school district, your students will be safely well within a relatively tiny radius, meaning this Box and Box Pro solution will give you the absolute ability to perform as though you were on a Zoom call, but with zero latency, each participant hearing in real time. And I mean real time. I jammed some of my tastiest blues licks along with Steve from MatchMySound playing his blues chord progressions, and it just worked. The demo really didn’t take long because, again, it just worked. And just worked is what you need to be able to get your students able to rehearse together, and even perform together. The current limitation is roughly ten simultaneous users, but RealTime Audio is currently developing a director’s box, in essence, a souped up version of the system that will allow virtually unlimited connections from the Box and Box Pro devices with the director’s version functioning as the main host machine. It sounds complicated, but it actually is not.

The system is starting to roll out now. You can sign up for a demo at realtimeaudio.com and get information on ordering the Box and Box Pro, along with ordering the accessory bundles with mic stand, cables, microphone, et cetera at www.realtimeaudio.com/hardware.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!