Digital Audio MaGIC

In the crush of new products and technologies scrambling for attention at every Consumer Electronics Show, some intriguing announcements can get buried in the noise and require a closer look than is afforded by a quick listen and chat in a demo room. One such technology on display at the 2002 CES was MaGIC, a new high-resolution audio connectivity standard.

MaGIC was developed by Gibson Labs, the technology division of the well-known Gibson Guitar company, and is intended to make high quality real-time audio networking possible for everything from the largest live venues and professional recording studios to the high-end audio home environment.

The technology behind MaGIC was officially unveiled at the recent Audio Engineering Society convention last November: the name is short for "Media-accelerated Global Information Carrier." Gibson says the new standard makes normal CAT-5 Ethernet cable perform like a "super cable," capable of carrying "more information faster, farther, and in both directions." According to the company, "MaGIC can replace up to 64 audio cables and countless MIDI, control, and sync cables with a single wire. This means better fidelity and easier use for all audio networking."

Gibson had a static display set up in a modest booth in the Parthenon Ballroom at CES, so a quick sonic evaluation was not possible. On paper, the new technology compares favorably with other standards including FireWire: up to 32 channels in each direction plus MIDI and control on a single wire; sample rates up to 192kHz with bit depths up to 32-bit; use inexpensive Ethernet cables and jacks (CAT5 and RJ-45) for all networked components; low latency (250µs point-to-point latency times across 100 meters) and negligible signal loss at long distances; phantom power and control of digital instruments (batteries not necessary) via the same cable that carries output data.

Gibson adds that MaGIC is capable of supporting the multichannel DVD-Audio 24-bit/192kHz specification and can also provide control information for creating "intelligent" networks by working as a free-standing or controlled (host-based) self-identifying system. According to the company, "MaGIC compares to existing technology as IMAX movies compare to home movies of the '50s."