Aug 11, 2020 - Technology

Using the internet to let the bands play on

Ina Fried
people playing a band over the internet

A band plays together online using Elk's Aloha technology. Image: Elk

Swedish startup Elk is debuting a hardware-software combination on Tuesday named Aloha that allows musicians and bands separated by distance to perform together online using traditional wired internet connections and, eventually, 5G wireless networks.

Why it matters: Such technology was in the works before the COVID-19 pandemic and has become increasingly needed in an era where many bands are unable to meet in person.

Be smart: The big issue with collaborating musically over the internet isn't total bandwidth, but rather the delay, or latency, of the connection.

  • Latency comes from both the network and the device processing the sound on each end. It also depends on the connection as well as the physical distance being traveled.

What they're saying: CEO Michele Benincaso says that traditional video conferencing software can have a delay of up to 500 milliseconds (half a second).

  • Just using a PC adds 15 milliseconds of delay on each end. But musicians performing remotely require 20 milliseconds or less total delay.
  • The musicians’ internet connections and distance from one another matter too, but Benincaso said that the company has seen good results over standard home internet connections.
  • "Of course if you have a 56K modem, that won’t work," he said.

How it works: Elk's technology uses an optimized version of Linux to create a device that can send musical signals over the internet with far less delay than would be the case with a traditional PC.

  • Musicians attach their instruments to a pocket-size device that contains audio input and output jacks as well as an Ethernet port.
  • On the software side, Elk offers a video chat app that also contains advanced sound controls. You can see Aloha in a promotional video here.

Yes, but: Aloha won't be entering an empty field. Other products, including JamKazam, provide software and some hardware options for real-time music collaboration.

What to watch: Elk is planning an October public beta for Aloha, with commercial availability in the second quarter of next year. The company also sees opportunities in integrating video, including virtual reality, with music down the road.

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