Knowing his campus was about to be shut down due to Covid-19 and that remote learning was to begin only days later, Thomas Kikta, chair of contemporary music media and jazz at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh was in a hurry to find the students and facility at the university’s Mary Pappert School of Music a means of improving on the poor audio quality of Zoom meetings. He found his answer in Digigram’s Iqoya *Serv/Link, a multi-channel IP audio codec, paired with Iqoya Guest, Digigram’s web-based solution.

Now, without having to install any applications or plug-ins, the students and facility could receive video via a Zoom link and audio via the Iqoya Guest link which opens directly into their web browser.

Digigram’s Iqoya

While most of the university’s distance learning classes only require intelligible audio, for music classes reliable, high-quality audio is a prerequisite. ‘On scale of 1-to-10, audio quality is an 11,’ Kikta says. ‘We need to hear vibrato; we need to hear the decay of the reverb. That’s what you lose on a Zoom call. As the instrument decays, it starts to digitise, and it starts to flutter. If there’s a gate on it or a compressor, you hear that. It cuts off your decays.

‘The Iqoya changes all that. I took a sound wave tone generator, and I ran 20Hz to 20kHz to my sound engineers, and they were watching the meters on their end and I was watching the main control panel, and it stayed stable from 20Hz to 20kHz.’

The School of Music is currently using 24 stereo channels and 48 mono, splitting them up daily depending on the classes, lessons and auditions on the schedule. ‘When it comes to lessons, I just worked with a class that had 16 violinists and one professor,’ Kikta explains. ‘They can all play away and she can play back to them and then she can ask them to play back what she just played. They do almost a volley for serve, and she’s thrilled how it’s working. And while that class is going on, I have a recording workshop going on on other channels.’

A set-up video has been key in getting professors and students up and running on the platform: ‘I send the set-up video to the professor and the professor sends it to the students,’ Kikta says. ‘I thought when I first saw this that it was something for engineers, and I needed it to be user-friendly so everyone, including our older professors, could get up and running on it. I made some suggestions, and so far, every problem encountered has been an end-user’s deficiency. The system has been very stable.’

With in-person classes set to resume on 24 August at half capacity, Kikta says the *Serv/Link will be critical heading into the 2020-2021 school year: ‘A class that normally held 23 people will be down to 12 or 13. Those that don’t come into the classroom will be told to stay in their dorm room, within Covid regulations, and log in via Zoom to see the lecture and use the Iqoya link to listen in.’

Lectures and lessons aside, the *Serv/Link will also play a key role during the music school’s audition process.

‘No one is allowed on the Duquesne University campus that isn’t already a part of the school family,’ Kikta adds. ‘So, we are going to distribute the Iqoya link and Zoom link to the students and judges. While the students aren’t performing in-person, the Iqoya’s audio quality offers the judges the opportunity to hear the fine details of the student’s playing as if they were.’

Looking ahead to when the pandemic is over, Kikta said using the Iqoya for remote auditions will help the school reach a broader base of students, including those who live too far away to attend in-person auditions: ‘It will help us get the cream of the crop. Students who normally wouldn’t travel all the way from China or Honolulu can now audition via the *Serv/Link.’

Similarly, Kikta plans to use the Iqoya’s X/Link IP audio codec – which is designed for live remote broadcasting – and couple it with a link from free web streaming site Caster.fm to showcase the students’ music on the university website. ‘Our goal is to have a 24/7 loop broadcasting recordings from the Mary Pappert School of Music,’ he says. ‘When someone comes to our web page, there will be a button that says something like, ‘Hear the Students of Duquesne University.’ When someone clicks on it, concerts will be streaming from Caster.’

Two other channels will broadcast student recitals – making it easy for students who have family and friends out of state to virtually attend their performances.

‘This will allow grandma, who lives in Washington State, hear her grandson’s recital in Pennsylvania. We plan to broadcast all the student recitals so that friends, families and donors can listen without having to physically come to the university. The X/Link will feed our programming up to Caster, so that’s another key application we’ll be using it for once classes resume.’

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