Bridging Traditional Wired Intercom with Mobile Devices

We have two venues running services simultaneously, with volunteers all over the place. Communication is essential to us staying on schedule and coordinating our efforts.

Our primary wired intercom is the Clearcom Encore system. Nothing too fancy – just your standard analog 4 channel party line system with main stations, remote stations, and single channel belt packs placed throughout the control rooms, auditoriums, and tech booths. In each auditorium, we use 1 channel for tech communication and 1 channel for the band in-ears. That takes up all four channels.

 

Photo Apr 29, 8 00 00 PM
Here is one of our four-channel stations for our Tech Directors to use. They can talk on any channel.

 

 

Photo Apr 29, 8 00 37 PM
Most of the volunteers have a single channel station where they can only talk on one channel.

 

Where we have really leveraged this technology is with our bridge to mobile intercom, using a software product called Unity Intercom. By itself, Unity is a Mac-based server application with remote clients (iOS, Mac, Android, Windows, etc.) that connect over the network. Version 2 was limited to 6 partyline channels, but Version 3 that was just released has an option to extend that to 128 partyline channels, which is impressive! The Unity Intercom software is a great solution for allowing mobile intercom use.

The flexibility for us comes with the bridge from our traditional wired intercom to the Unity system so that no matter which system we are using, we can communicate with everyone. There are a lot of ways to do this, like using a 2-wire to 4-wire interface, but we bridge ours using Dante (audio over IP) with a product from Studio Technologies, the ST-45DC.

m45dc_f_72p-e1517952265955m45dc_b_72p-e1517952276513

This interface comes with 2 standard 3-pin partyline intercom connections, and an ethernet port for the Dante network. It’s POE-capable, so if your network switch supports it, no other power supply is needed.

 

Photo Apr 29, 8 01 31 PM
You can see both 45DCs and our Unity Server Mac Mini here in the rack. They are powered by the network switch and everything is connected over the network.

 

With two of these 45DC’s, we can bridge all four channels of our wired ClearCom intercom to the Dante network. Our Unity server (running on a Mac Mini) has Dante Virtual Soundcard which allows us to bring in Dante network audio as audio input. You do need the “Advanced I/O” Module from Unity in order to bring your audio in/out.

 

Photo Apr 29, 8 03 07 PM
Here is a view of the inside of the rack. You can see the back of the 45DC;s, the Mac mini, and the intercom patchbay as well. I wired ours through the patchbay for ultimate flexibility, but it isn’t absolutely necessary to do this.

 

Intercom audio can now pass from the analog intercom system, through the Studio Tech 45DC’s, through Dante directly to the Unity server. Any audio that comes out of Unity goes back to the 45DC’s via a Dante subscription, and the 45DC’s take care of all audio nulling. A side benefit: With your intercom traffic on Dante, you can route it to other places too, like recorders, speakers, etc. Want to record a channel of intercom to be able to listen later and improve your production communication? With this setup, it’s no problem!

To use the wireless intercom, we usually ask volunteers to install the free Unity client app on their personal devices and connect to our server. We have campus-wide public wifi, so they can be anywhere in the facility and still communicate on intercom. The Unity server allows you to control which users can listen to which channels, and you can  control which ones they are allowed to talk  as well.

 

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We also have inexpensive tablets available for volunteers who may not have a personal device to use.

 

I had our IT department configure port forwarding which allows us to access the Unity server from outside the network (i.e. the Internet), which means we can be anywhere in the world and still communicate with the team in real-time, if necessary! This will be very helpful should we ever go multi-site or otherwise have an off-campus event that requires coordination with on-site volunteers.

Setup Recap:

  • You need an existing Wired Intercom like the ClearCom Encore System.
  • As many bridging interfaces as desired for the channels you want available to Unity
  • Mac computer to run Unity (you can dedicate a computer or just use one you already have)
  • Unity Server with as many licenses as you need, as well as the Advanced I/O License
  • Dante Virtual Soundcard software for the Unity server computer

If you are considering a wireless intercom workflow to use with your wired intercom, I hope this helps!

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