I first set my eyes on the Arria.Live system, from Arria Live Media, at our church’s bi-annual national conference in Columbus, Ohio earlier this year. Dave Andersen, Arria’s Vice-President of Business Development, was invited to introduce the Arria.Live system to me and to get feedback on the system. Dave hooked up the system and explained the concept to me. I immediately saw the game changing potential for both facilities managers and church plants.
Let me start by explaining what the Arria.Live is not. It’s not a Dante system. It’s not centralized. It’s not complicated. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way let me walk you through a typical system.
Not your normal mixing system
The Arria.Live doesn’t fit into the mold of a standard audio system. There’s no mixer board, for one thing. It’s decentralized so you can control it from more than one controller (iPad). It’s extremely modular, going anywhere from one channel all the way up to 32 channels. The sound is clean thanks to the 24-bit samples at a 48KHz sampling rate. Latency is kept to 2ms or less. It’s integrated within its own infrastructure but is flexible enough to hook up existing equipment and still work properly.
For a video explaining the system (made by Arria folks), watch below:
Arria Live Media was kind enough to send out a pre-production evaluation system to test out. Opening the 2-foot square box revealed a bunch of small boxes, each one labeled with the function. Arria supplied:
- A pre-configured AC router
- 8-port power-over-ethernet (POE) switch
- Plain cat-5 network cables
- Input boxes (modules) for 1 mic, 4 mono inputs, and 1 stereo input
- 4 speaker output boxes.
Each of the Arria.Live modules is very well made with an aluminum chassis and cover that feels solid. The connectors on the mono input modules are all combo connectors for ¼ inch or XLR. The stereo input has RCA jacks. The speaker outputs have a pigtail connector terminating in a right-angle XLR male connector. Each module has an aluminum cover that is ribbed, both for heat dissipation as well as handling ease.
On the other side of each module is the Arria.Live logo which lights up depending on what’s happening (more on that in a moment). The Arria.Live microphone looks like and sounds like a SM58 clone, except fatter. The other distinction is that in place of a XLR plug in a standard microphone, there’s a network cable plug at the bottom of the mic along with a clear ring that has a similar function to the module boxes logo.
The Arria.Live system is designed to live on a network. Whether you decide to use your existing network or keep the system on a private network is your choice. But remember that once your existing network gets a lot of traffic it will affect the response of the Arria.Live system.
I don’t know if Arria Live Media is planning on selling a starter kit with a pre-configured router like they sent me but I would recommend them doing so along with the POE switch. Keeping the Arria.Live on a separate network provides the best solution for responsiveness.
The system is ridiculously easy to setup. I purposely didn’t ask for any instructions to see how hard it was to set up. The router is pre-configured to run in DHCP mode. I only had to check to ensure that the pre-configured IP address was not interfering with my work router and then plugged in the router. I connected the 8-port POE switch to the one of the router’s ports.
The iPad app
Once I verified the router and the POE switch were up and running, I downloaded the app onto my iPad. One thing that Arria Live Media has assured me is that any iPad generation can run the app. Currently the iPad is the only tablet supported. I launched the app and it comes up searching for Arria.Live hardware and patiently waits until you hook up modules.
They recommend to start by hooking up the output modules first then the input modules so I ran network cables to each of the output modules. I then ran two powered stage monitors and hooked up two of the output modules to them. Had to use a ¼ inch to female XLR adapter but no biggie. I set up two powered speakers and did the same thing to them.
Then I ran network cables to each of the input modules. For the microphone, they sell a cable that looks and feels like a premium microphone cable but is a network cable. I hooked up an electric guitar, a keyboard, an acoustic guitar, and a djembe to the mono input modules and a Macbook Pro to the stereo input modules.
Now the coolest part is that as you hook up each module, the app will immediately show each module as it’s being connected! Not only does it show each module but Arria.Live also sets an initial gain based on the module so if you don’t know anything about audio you can have a working system in no time!
The input modules and microphones show up in individual channels with faders. The output modules show up in the output section as speakers under a column labeled MIX. The Arria.Live system allows for up to 32 inputs by 32 outputs. So for my setup I created a second MIX column and renamed it Mon as well as renaming the initial MIX column FOH.
Going back to the input section, you can touch each input channel to bring up a detail view. In the detail view you can name the input, set EQ (parametric), gate, and dynamics.
All the settings are clearly labeled and designed in a way as to not be intimidating to the novice audio folk. You also have the ability to mute each channel. Remember those Arria.Live logos and microphone clear ring that I mentioned before? They are functional! On the module boxes the logos blink rapidly until they connect to the app. Same thing applies to the microphone ring. A neat function within the app is the ability to color code the input modules and microphones.
At this point everything was hooked up and I turned on my Macbook Pro and played some music. I turned up the Mac fader to unity and also turned up the FOH fader and got music playing through the speakers. Total time from hooking things up to getting sound? 10 minutes at the most. After the first time I managed to get it down to 5 minutes.
So how does it sound? Pretty good. It’s comparable to a Behringer X32. Low noise floor, decent headroom. Eq is easy to get things sounding good and the easy-to-use effects (a slider that goes between reverb and delay) work. While the Arria.Live system is designed to be easy enough for anyone to run, advanced users won’t feel constrained with pretty much all the controls that a regular mixer has including pan, gating, full parametric eqs on inputs and outputs, delays, and gain control. The faders are long-throw so fine control is possible.
Next I tried using an existing wireless mic that I had and plugged that into one of the input modules. While it won’t recognize it as a mic, you still have all the rest of the functions of the input module.
One of the best aspects of the Arria.Live system is that each module is intelligent and retains the settings you configured. For instance, if you used module 1 for the acoustic guitar and module 2 for the keyboard, you can move the modules around anywhere on the stage and they will still be acoustic guitar for module 1 and keyboard for module 2. May not sound like a big deal until you think of the Arria.Live mics. They also maintain the intelligence. So Sally on Mic 1 will always be Sally on Mic 1. If the singers accidentally switch mics then they’ll be able to immediately tell that they’re on the wrong mic.
All the settings stay with the module. You can rearrange the inputs anyway you’d like in the app without affecting the modules. Scenes support is going to come in a future release of the app. The app does have a groups function where you can group channels together (like a DCA).
What if the iPad dies?
While the Arria.Live system needs an iPad to get up and going, it doesn’t depend on it to keep going. So you could set up the system, turn off the iPad and the system will continue running. Until the iPad app comes back you won’t be able to adjust settings but there are definitely scenarios where I can see this being a benefit, almost like locking the mixer.
You can also control the system through any number of iPads. There’s no limit.
No more DI boxes…sort of
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that the input modules also function as a DI box so you can eliminate that piece of equipment if you currently use one! You also have 48 volt phantom power available per channel. There is also an in-ear module that wasn’t available for my review though I’m looking forward to testing that in the future.
One thing that you may not have noticed is that I haven’t mentioned anything about a snake. That’s because there isn’t one! Because the only thing that you have to wire back to is the POE switch and depending on how you have everything set up you won’t need to run wires anywhere else except the stage.
Arria Live Media recommends for the best signal quality to keep the analog side of the system as short as possible so I put all input and output modules as close to each source and speaker as possible. I put the router and the POE switch in an inconspicuous location and hooked everything up to the POE switch. You can daisy-chain POE switches too so you could possibly have multiple POE switches acting as stage sub-snakes.
The Arria.Live system is a game changer. It’s not a mixer in the traditional sense. It’s not even an
iPad mixer like some of the embedded tablet mixers that still need the inputs and outputs to come back to a central point. It’s a modular, networked, integrated system consisting of input and output modules that allow for expansion in single channel increments. No other mixer allows for that.
For a church plant that’s just starting out and doesn’t have funds or talent to acquire and run a traditional mixer this is an easy-to-transport and run audio system that can be configured for just the number of channels that are needed at the time. As the church plant grows or the worship team grows, additional modules can be added one at a time.
I focused on churches here but for traveling musicians this system is a marvel. If you’re a small band or an individual artist you won’t need a sound guy and can run it from the stage. It’s also really easy to transport. I’ve kept my system in a plastic tote. Other than the microphones you don’t have to have any special transport cases for the equipment. Think of that the next time you’re humping a mixer up two flights of stairs!
For facilities managers who have multiple multi-purpose rooms and need separate audio requirements this simplifies their job. Imagine having modules in each of the rooms, all controllable via one or multiple iPads. Arria Live Media doesn’t recommend trying to run more than one Arria system on a single LAN.
A single building (or campus) can certainly install multiple Arria.Live systems, but each should be on it’s own LAN, with dedicated WiFi access, and be behind a router. One iPad can be used to control multiple systems, but to switch a single iPad from one system to another the operator would need to change to the appropriate WiFi access point and probably re-start the app.
As long as the system is on the same network as the rest of the building the facility manager can adjust audio parameters from anywhere in the building. Each room can be separated within one iPad so the manager can control multiple rooms at the same time. Or iPads can be mounted to the walls of each room to give users control over the system while still allowing the facility manager to monitor and override the system. So one room could have a simple one mic and one speaker module while the next room could have 10 inputs and 4 outputs. Up to 32 inputs and 32 outputs can be spread out across the rooms. Flexibility and control.
Any negatives? Some minor ones. It’s a pre-production system so there’s been several updates of the firmware and software. I’m older and cut my teeth mixing on analog boards and while I’ve transitioned to the digital side pretty easily I still like the tactile feel of real faders. I tend to mix from muscle memory and don’t like having to look down at the board to see which fader and how much I have to move it. Nothing against the Arria.Live system. I feel that way with any of the mixer solutions that use a screen instead of faders. People that don’t know audio or are a lot younger than me won’t have an issue.
I can see that when you get to larger channel counts (above 8-10 inputs) the screen can get crowded and you’d have to scroll left and right to reach additional channels. But the Group function compensates for that and functions similar to DCAs. You can stay on one screen and adjust using Groups. Again same thing with other solutions.
MSRP for each of the input modules and microphones is around $200. The output modules and the in-ear module is around $350 each. So a 4 input, 2 output system will run around $1,500 MRSP. Going to an 8 input, 4 output system will run around $3,000 but that includes 4 microphones. How does that compare to a typical digital mixer/digital stagebox combination?
Going with a Behringer X32 and s16 stagebox will set you back around $2,500 street price. You’d get more channels and more capabilities at this point with the Behringer but you’d have to have a dedicated spot to put the mixer and it is definitely more intimidating to the neophyte to learn and use properly.
At the time of this review I hadn’t been able to demo the latest additions to the Arria.Live system; a condenser mic, a stereo out module (for recording), and an in-ear module. I’m looking forward to checking them out. I see a lot of potential for additional modules being developed and Arria Live Media has been pretty responsive to ideas and suggestions.
Is it right for YOU?
The following questions will help you decide if the Arria.Live system is right for you.
- Can you benefit from extreme portability?
- Do you have problems getting qualified volunteers?
- Are your volunteers intimidated by a standard mixer?
- Do you have the space for a standard mixer?
- Do you want to mix remotely, even from the stage?
- Do you want to have the flexibility of controlling the system from anywhere?
- Do you need the ability to expand the system by as few channels as you need?
- Do you want a system that’s easy-to-use yet has advanced capabilities?
As I’ve said before, I believe this system is a game changer. It does require a different way to think about running audio but the flexibility and ease-of-use along with the decentralized functionality and use of multiple iPads for control will change your mind. It’s a system worth checking out.
Chris: Here’s that final note I mentioned was important. Brian and I always approach equipment purchases with caution. If you ask us if you should by an Arria.Live system, it would be like you asking if you should buy a Radial ProAV1 DI box or an Avid mixer because our answer would be the same; it depends. What are your needs, you budget, your current and future requirements? The list goes on.
We do think the Arria.Live system is a great product in the right installation. Would your church benefit from an Arria.Live system. Well, it depends.
Check out the Arria.Live site for more information.
Thought? Questions? Comments?