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Technomad Schedulon Product Test

Technomad Schedulon
Product tests
by Devy Breda

We must thank the consumer electronics (PCs included) people who have developed cost-effective technologies that us pro audio folks can benefit from. Case in point is the advent of portable digital audio players (MP3 players). In the pro audio world, there is a number of manufactures that have developed and bring to market cost-effective digital or solid state audio recorders/players which have gained acceptance in many applications for field recording broadcast, sound reinforcement, and public address systems. It is not unusual now to hear these devices in use in many public spaces such as department stores, where a customer can press a call button on a pillar, which triggers a pre-produced announcement over the PA system alerting staff that “a customer requires service in the sports department,” or an announcement at the airport reminding us that the airport is a non- smoking environment.

There are many environments where a message has to be communicated to the masses either by immediate command through the push of a button, or triggered by a third-party control or by some internal scheduler. There is a number of fruitful choices from a number of manufacturers (TOA, Nel-Tech Labs, Raicom, TASCAM, Stop & Listen, etc.) that have developed products for common commercial audio applications. A recent addition to this arena of digital audio players is the Schedulon from Technomad (check out http://www.technomad. com). Yes, the folks who bring us military/ weatherproof-grade loudspeakers.

 

The Technomad Schedulon a rackmount (1U) MP3 player/recorder with a built-in scheduler that can be used in a variety of pro audio and commerical security applications.
The Technomad Schedulon a rackmount (1U) MP3 player/recorder with a built-in scheduler that can be used in a variety of pro audio and commercial security applications.

 

The Schedulon is a rackmount (1U) MP3 player/recorder with a built-in scheduler. With the use of a web browser or by navigating via a front panel knob and display, the Schedulon offers the ability to upload audio files, schedule playback of audio files, and automate playback of audio files.  The unit utilizes flash-RAM memory, which makes this unit more dependable than a PC-based solution. Although the unit has an onboard clock, audio files can also be triggered by an external clock server.

The Schedulon can record audio from its stereo line-in jacks   audio is encoded as high-quality (192 kbps) MP3 sound files and assigned to any desired knob location for playback. The better option is to upload the audio file using the browser application or to upload files to Schedulon’s USB memory drive from your computer.

The applications for the Schedulon and many similar units are numerous: repeat messaging at airports, department stores, malls, training facility scheduling (schools, airports, hospitals), corporate audio (no CDs to misplace), training, sports facilities (load team music or special effects for instant playback), automatic safety announcements, theme park audio, sound effects, pool-side music or DJ applications, and much more. Upon evaluation, it did not take much time to connect the unit and navigate through the browser.

Once connected and logged to the unit, you will discover six tabs (Status, Settings, Control, MP3 Upload, Knob Set, Scheduler) allowing you to view and enter values via drop-down selection. All but the Status tabs permit entering and adjustments to the unit. Without the use of a computer, you can navigate through the functions with the front knob and display, but this makes it taxing.

Different play modes can be assigned to each knob position: play forever/unit stopped by user (for sirens); play once, then stop automatically (for songs like the national anthem); and play while button held in (for sound effects). The fact that each knob position can store a different audio file AND play behavior is unique in the marketplace, I believe. The evaluation unit had 50 or so preloaded audio files, most of which, to no surprise, had military applications. One surprise that happened when I logged on was that the unit announced its IP address, which could inadvertently be announced over the PA system for all to hear.
Generally, the unit worked to expectation, and can be recommended for applications as previously noted.

The unit we evaluated did not offer any contact closure or RS232 port for interconnectivity to other control systems. The audio outputs are unbalanced (not-so-pro audio), and the device’s “current time” is found at the Status tab; however, the current time should also be at the Scheduler tab for ease of reference during programming. Additionally, the unit data port is found in the front panel, something I would not expect if this unit is to be driven by external IP-based timer or clock. Projects or systems requiring additional features may not find this unit appropriate, but overall, the Schedulon is a good performer and is basic in operation and functionality.

Devy Breda, CET, CTS, is an Audio Visual Systems Designer at Mulvey & Banani A/V, a division of Mulvey & Banani International Inc. ( http://www.mbii.com ).

 

Manufacturer’s Comment

The announcement of IP address can be turned off as an option. The unit can have sounds triggered by CGI commands via Ethernet/LAN, and  the unit can automatically synch itself to an external time server
These are two different things. Both use the network. The time-server synch is critical if you need things to happen exactly on time, for years at a time. The Data Port (Ethernet port) can be located on the rear if requested at time of order. – Technomad LLP

This review appeared in the December 2008 issue of Professional Sound.

Audio Review: Technomad Schedulon

Solid scheduling-enabled audio player and recorder that fits the simplicity bill.

By John McJunkin

Technomad, manufacturer of military-oriented audio equipment (particularly PA systems) has introduced its Schedulon scheduling-enabled audio player/recorder. This device is nearly identical to Technomad’s SuperConductor, which is the purely military version of the device. As a manufacturer of military-grade technology, Technomad is known to make its products figuratively bulletproof, and the Schedulon was developed with this notion in mind. It records to and plays back from RAM, so there are no moving hard-disk parts to cause problems. It’s distinguished from similar computer-based solutions by the fact that it is a standalone device, immune to viruses or operating system crashes or hang-ups. I’ve always been a great believer in over-engineering, which helps avoid embarrassment and, more importantly, the potential loss of clients that can be caused by equipment failures. The Schedulon very much appeals to my sensibilities in this regard.

The military recognizes that much of its equipment is destined to be operated by 18-year-olds who have little experience with technology, so simplicity is the key word. The Schedulon’s 1RU front and rear panels very clearly fit that bill. There are just five features on the front panel: From left to right, there’s an LCD display, a data-input knob, a removable thumb-drive access panel, an RJ-45 Ethernet port, and a large bat-handle power switch. The LCD displays 32 characters on two lines, and it is very reminiscent of the old-school Yamaha processors and synthesizers. The data-entry knob is of the large variety colloquially described as “chicken-head”; it spins continuously for data input and can also be depressed as a pushbutton switch. It doesn’t get much simpler than a single knob and a basic LCD display for control and feedback.

 

The Technomad Schedulon automatic mp3 player and recorder, adapted from Technomad military technology
The Technomad Schedulon automatic mp3 player and recorder, adapted from Technomad military technology

 

The rear panel is also simple. From left to right, you’ll find a fuse holder, the unit’s integrated AC power cord, a Neutrik 1/4in. TRS output jack, a second RJ-45 Ethernet port, and two stereo RCA pairs representing audio in and rec in. Again, the Schedulon sports a very straightforward, no-nonsense design, which is right in line with the requirements you’d expect from the military.

The Schedulon is essentially designed to do one thing: automatically play audio at prescheduled times or immediately under human control if desired. There are obviously numerous applications for such a device. In an educational setting, specifically a school, the Schedulon can be used to play tones or recorded speech intended to alert students that class begins in 10 minutes, again 5 minutes later, and then a final alert 1 minute prior to the start of each class hour. The minimum time resolution of the scheduling is 1 minute, so countdowns that update every minute are possible. Additionally, emergency messages can be delivered, alerting students of a fire or other dangers. For numerous applications, the ability to play hourly chimes to indicate the time is nice, particularly since a specific number of chime strokes can be played or even a pleasant voice can announce that it’s 10 o’clock, for example. Up to 100 scheduled playback events can be programmed into the system. In military settings, the device can be used to play Reveille in the morning, Taps at dusk, and other military-oriented sounds. As a matter of fact, the device ships from Technomad with quite a number of military sounds, including alarm sirens and bugle calls. Among other applications, the Schedulon would also be useful in subways, airports, hospitals, or other public buildings, even to provide BGM. For that matter, this system would be useful for any application in which you would otherwise use a flash-drive-based recording/playback system.

In addition to scheduled automatic playback, immediate manual playback is easily accomplished by the Schedulon, which would be useful in the case of an emergency or other situation that necessitates immediate, spontaneous playback of certain messages or alerts. The unit allows a maximum of 99 slots for audio. The maximum length of the audio is determined by the size of the removable flash thumb drive. The unit ships from the factory with a 1GB drive, but larger drives can be installed. The unit compresses audio into .mp3 files, with resolution ranging from 32kbps to 320kbps. Audio is recorded by the unit at 192kbps, which is difficult to distinguish from CD quality by most listeners without the benefit of an A-B comparison. At the nominally standard rate of 128kbps, hundreds of songs could be stored on a system with a 1GB thumb drive. Technomad says that a future version of the system will support the recording and playback of uncompressed 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV audio. The unit’s thumb drive is upgraded very easily by removing the front access panel, pulling the original drive out, and replacing it with the new one. Also, all system parameters, scheduling, and audio are stored on the thumb drive, so it can be transferred into another Schedulon unit — in effect cloning the original.

In line with the military aversion to computer viruses, complete control of all system parameters can be accomplished from the front panel, but computer control via Ethernet is indeed an option; this is the only way that externally recorded .mp3 files can be introduced to the Schedulon. It’s possible that the system would be loaded with all desired audio files and then installed with the intention of only front-panel control. On the other hand, since the system can be controlled remotely via IP, it is beneficial to maintain a network connection — particularly if you’re practicing good network security. Password protection prevents a malicious user from making changes, both from the front panel and via the network. Another major benefit to maintaining a network connection to the unit is that it can connect to a time server, keeping its internal clock precisely correct at all times. On a related note, the Schedulon has an optional backup battery available, which is again in line with the military notion of ongoing technology performance regardless of external circumstances. I discovered this battery feature when I jokingly flipped on the power switch before the unit was plugged in. Imagine my surprise when it fired up.

Among other advantages over similar audio-streaming-over-IP solutions is a network interruption that will not halt playback of critical audio from the Schedulon, since all the audio is stored internally. Additionally, IP bandwidth is not expended by audio streaming. I was prepared to announce that my only criticism of the unit was the somewhat unorthodox 1/4in. TRS audio output. I would normally expect Euro-style or barrier strips or a stereo pair of 1/4in. TRS jacks. As it transpires, however, I was shipped a beta unit. The production version will actually have stereo RCA pairs for input and output, which is a little more orthodox.

In spite of these minor inconveniences, this unit is very solid and would be a great choice for any application in which good-quality scheduled audio playback is necessary. I’d recommend taking a look at it.

John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Podcasting in Chandler, Ariz. He has consulted in the development of studios and installations, and he provides high-quality podcast-production services.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

  • Company: Technomad
    http://www.technomad.com
  • Product: Schedulon
  • Pros: Very tough and bulletproof.
  • Cons: Network implementation requires pretty solid IT skills.
  • Applications: Military, educational, and public-building scheduled announcements.
  • Price: $1,879

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Audio playback: MP3-format audio, 32kbps to 320kbps, stereo or mono, fixed or variable bit rate.
  • Audio recording: MP3-format audio, 192kbps, fixed bit rate, stereo.
  • Dimensions: 19″×1.75″×10″ (W×H×D)
  • Weight: 4lbs.
  • Data input: RJ-45 Ethernet jack
  • Audio input: 1×1/4in. TRS (stereo)
  • Audio output: 1×1/4in. TRS (stereo)

This review initially appeared in the December 2008 issue of Sound & Video Contractor.