The Cutting Edge Omnia.net|
[ Review - March 1999 ]
Manufacturer: Cutting Edge, 2101 Superior Ave., Cleveland, OH, 44114.
Tel: 1 (216) 241-3343. Fax: 1 (216) 241-4103.
Application: Optimizes audio for Web-based encoding.
Summary: Performs as advertised. The unit is in a class by itself.
Strengths: Extremely high quality construction and design, XLR and
AES/EBU connectors, very versatile.
Weaknesses: May be deemed too costly for most webcasters.
Dimensions and Weight: 32 lbs.; 19x5.25x16.25 inches.
Recognizing the increasing application of the Internet as a
platform for streaming audio, Cutting Edge has released the
first stand-alone processor box specifically designed to optimize
audio before it gets hammered flat in the encoding process.
The Cutting Edge Omnia.net comes to us from the broadcast world.
Its elder brother, the Omnia.fm, is a high-end audio processor
well known in the business of radio. Anyone doing live Internet
webcasting or creating downloadable or streaming audio files
for their web site can benefit from this four space, rack-mount
unit with its instantly recognizable alien- influenced,
post-modern melted design faceplate. Everyone agrees that
audio streamed over phone lines needs all the help it can get.
The Omnia provides a large arsenal of assistance in this
The user interface is simple and straightforward, incorporating
only two physical controls: a push-activated jog wheel and one
other recessed push button. Any of the many presets can be
modified by the user and saved to memory and/or a Cutting
Edge-approved PCMCIA card. For Internet radio programming the
Daypart feature allows difference presets to be used when
formats vary significantly. There is an interface for remote
operation (currently only Windows-based but slated to be
compatible with MSIE and Netscape browsers within the year).
The promise of communication and manipulation of the unit
through either RS-232, modem, 10BaseT or Internet connections
make the Omnia a go- anywhere tool. There are two PCA card
slots in the back of the unit; one for processing and one for
communication. Analog and digital outputs can be used
simultaneously. Cards can be swapped to rearrange the entire
system architecture. The I/O level LED meter window on the
front panel can be switched between input and output monitoring.
There's even a headphone jack, kindly placed on the front of
Features include: a "Thunder Bass EQ", with up to 12dB of
time-aligned bass boost; a "Warmth EQ" with up to 6dB (in 1dB
increments) of upper midrange boost and cuts in the 800Hz -
2kHz range for bringing out vocals; "Phase Linear Dynamically
Flat Time-Aligned Crossover", which keeps the entire audio
spectrum of the signal "exactly synchronized" across the whole
feature set; a "Wideband AGC", basically a "leveler section"
for control of the input signal; a "Multiband Dynamic Peak
Limiter", a three band spread (Low, Mid, High) for "sophisticated"
limiting; a "Non-Aliasing Distortion Controlled Final Limiter"
to prevent that irritating "digital feel" to your mix by
eliminating aliasings and a "Prediction Analysis Clipper" which
reduces overshoots in sample rate conversions (the AES/EBU
digital interface can accept any sampling rate between 32kHz
and 50 kHz).
This kind of audio jargon runs pretty thick for a non-techie
but fear not! Operation is simple. We were able to plug it
in and have it up and running in just a few minutes during
preparations for a webcast of The Other Ones in San Francisco
(see article in this issue). It's clear that the box supports
the "plug and play" mentality of high-pressure live situations
but also rewards a more painstaking study of it's powerful and
So how well does the Omnia.net perform? Very well. The unit
works exactly as promised, polishing and molding the audio
signal. Audio encoded and streamed with Omnia.net processing
is definitely clearer then the unprocessed variety. Aliasing
was eliminated and bass frequencies became appropriately present.
Typically, streaming audio encoders have poor control over
input levels and can easily experience a lot of clipping.
Audio optimized with the Omnia.net can be slammed wantonly
against the encoder. Transients are no longer a problem because
they have been "right-sized" out of the signal. Obviously,
that's not the only use of this rather elegant piece of hardware.
Webcasters, usually used to miniplugs and tinny, tiny audio
playback systems might be happy to know the Omnia.net is a true
audiophile device. From its XLR L/R in/out connectors to the
AES/EBU digital interface it's clear the Omnia.net is sculpted
lovingly by people who are just this side of fanatical about
clean audio. The box is not cheap but if you want to be sure
that all your listeners (even those with a 28k modem) can
understand and enjoy clean and sonically legible streaming the
Omnia.net the only game in town.
Side-By-Side Omnia Tests
Check out the Omnia.net test results here. We took short excerpts
of two piece of music (Yes' "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Uranus"
from Holst's the Planets) and did some encoding straight from
CD and then processed them through the Omnia. Both are limited
samples for educational purposes so as to show respect to the
rights-holders (and ASCAP/BMI).
One important item to note is that the Omnia really can excell
when put in live situations where your original is not from
a mastered CD.
- Yes - Heart Of The Sunrise (30 sec)
- Notes: Most noticable is a reduced amount of aliasing,
some additional bass frequencies response, and a little bit
of reduction of dynamic range.
- Unprocessed RealAudio:
- Omnia-processed RealAudio:
- Holst - Uranus (45 sec)
- Notes: The most noticable difference here is that the
one has a squashed dynamic range, meaning you can actually hear
the quiet parts much better. When on a wonderful stereo system
from CD, this can remove some of the emotion from a musical piece,
but when you're in RealAudio, it's well-worth sacrificing a little
emotional value for aural legibility.
- Unprocessed RealAudio:
- Omnia-processed RealAudio:
The FezGuys welcome your comments. FezMom told us to say that.