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Ethernet collisions - how to avoid them?

Soon your recording studio will be connected entirely by an Ethernet network - no point-to-point cables any more. But what about Ethernet collisions? Will they harm your audio?

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The world of music technology and sound engineering is rapidly moving away from cables and voltages over to an IT (Information Technology) based infrastructure. So just as anyone working seriously as a sound engineer currently has to know about stuff like balanced lines and how to wire an XLR connector, in the near future a sound engineer will be expected to set up a network and crimp RJ45 connectors. Can you do that?

Ethernet is the mainstay of any wired network. Simplifying for clarity, all the workstations are connected together on a network. Multiple streams of data share the same network wiring, going to the correct destinations thanks to a system of addresses.

But if all computers and workstations share the network wiring, how come data doesn't get messed up along the way?

One method is the avoidance of Ethernet 'collisions'. A collision occurs when two workstations try to place data onto the network at the same time. Obviously, this would corrupt the data. However, the network can detect when a collision occurs and both workstations wait a random time before attempting to place data on the network again.

I experienced something similar to this on the motorway (freeway) recently...

I was in the outside lane, which in Europe is intended for fast traffic. I wanted to slow down so I indicated and started to pull into the center lane. But at the same time, another car in the inside lane also indicated and started to pull over.

Had we continued, then we would have crashed, but fortunately both I and the other driver detected the potential collision and moved back. True to Ethernet protocol, we both waited a random time interval before trying again.

In Ethernet, unlike the motorway, collisions do no harm and are a normal occurrence.

By David Mellor Tuesday February 1, 2005
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