Elk Live Bridge Review: Play Music Together Online – WIRED
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Elk Live Bridge Review: Play Music Together Online – WIRED

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8/10
Playing live music together is one of the most cathartic experiences humans can have. I know this fact intimately; one chorus of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” with a few cool older kids in fifth grade and I was hooked. Over the next two decades, playing drums with people became a cornerstone—not just of my education and professional life, but of my mental health. When I feel like crap, I go bang on something with my friends to feel better again. 
Then, the pandemic: no more shows to play, and I didn’t want to be within six feet of anyone indoors. As a musician whose instrument takes up a good chunk of a converted garage, I was particularly screwed. It’s pretty tough to lug a drum kit to the park for a jam session. The Elk Bridge, a new audio interface that allows you to play with up to five people at once within 620 miles in real time, would have really kept my friends and I closer together during a tough time. 
The Bridge wires into your router, pairs up with a musician on the other end, and allows you to play with no latency—as long as they’re in the aforementioned 620-mile circle and have a reasonably speedy internet connection. Can’t make the drive across town for a rehearsal? No problem. Global pandemic have people fearing for their lives and unwilling to leave the house? Hey, at least we can still jam.
Ever try to play music with someone over Zoom or Facebook? You’ve probably found a problem. Latency, or the delay between the time you play something and the time you hear it back on headphones or speakers, has been the enemy of recording digital audio for a while.
It’s basic physics. It takes time for a microphone to capture audio; for your interface to convert the waves to digital signal; and for your computer to play it back. Factor in network speed and computer processing for rebroadcasting instantly, and there’s never been an affordable way for musicians to play together over the internet live. 
Until now. The Elk Live solves this problem by joining each of its in-house interfaces directly via a peer-to-peer connection and using a proprietary operating system. Because the interfaces don’t actually hit your computer for processing—they instead act like standalone servers to broadcast your music to the other side in real time—it saves enough time that you can play with others without any audio delay at all. 
So long as you meet distance and internet speed criteria (620 miles, plus at least 10-Mbps up/down speed and less than 10 milliseconds of ping), you’ll hear the other musician as though they’re in the same room, which is truly a game changer for everything from practices to live remote performances.
The Elk Bridge (the name for the yellow brick that you plug your microphones and headphones into) looks mostly like any other audio interface. You’ll find two microphone/line inputs on the front, a 3.5-mm and ¼-inch jack. On the back, there’s MIDI in and out, optical in and out, a USB-C power input, and an Ethernet port to connect it to your router.
Unlike most audio interfaces, none of the Elk Live service’s software runs on your computer. Instead, you control the software via a web app (which requires a $15 per month subscription). While you mess with levels and a mixer inside the app, every bit of the audio processing is happening inside the yellow box and being transmitted directly to another person’s yellow box on the other side.
Elk Live Bridge
Rating: 8/10
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This physical, peer-to-peer solution is how Elk Live manages to work so well. In testing with a friend, I had no problem jamming out on bass and drums through our headphones on the Elk Live app. It’s a bit like a social network. You can find users and friends and add them to see when they’re online to jam, though I imagine that most people, like me, will buy these as a group and just text their friends to hop online.
The web app’s interface is simple and easy to use. You can tell it to use phantom power, and to set the levels of both your and your musical partners’ sound so you can each have your own mix, just like in a real studio. You can also download the app for iOS and use it on an iPad.
The audio quality is easily on par with what you’d expect from a consumer recording interface like the ever-popular Focusrite Scarlett. You get clear modern microphone preamps that don’t add much color. Still, they weren’t far off from the tone I typically get from my two overhead drum microphones through fancier gear (in this case, a pair of Cascade Vin-Jet ribbons with Lundahl transformers I usually put through a Focusrite ISA Two). As a tool for playing live music, the sound is more than adequate. You can also have a live videofeed going while you play, but it obviously won't be broadcast in totally real time (you'll hear the audio live and experience a slight delay in the video). It works to chat between takes.
As someone who has spent countless hours driving across town between rehearsals, I can see the Elk Live system being particularly enticing for bands that frequently get together for songwriting sessions or to just run over old songs. The Elk Live seems suited to situations where you don’t need full, studio quality sound, but do want to hear each other in some detail.
Elk Live Bridge
Rating: 8/10
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Members of the Elk team have told me that famous studio and touring musicians have started using these for songwriting and practice sessions in cities like LA, where time spent driving across town can easily measure into the hours per day. More robust, commercial versions of the Elk Live system have even been used by the San Francisco Opera.
One downside is that you can’t use the Bridge as a standalone recording interface for offline use and recording, as far as I’m aware. This may be implemented via a software update down the line, and it would be a nice improvement to allow folks to record on the go, in addition to playing live. As a drummer, having just two inputs is also a bit limiting (I have 12 mics on my kit for recordings). Most folks who use this probably sing or play guitar, keyboards, or bass, in which case two inputs is probably plenty.
The Elk Live OS system is an extremely fun and useful tool, and one that I’d have considered buying for myself and friends during the pandemic had it been available. These days, it’s a bit less of an immediate need for me, but for those musicians who are so busy they can’t easily find the time to jam, or for those whose musical collaborators might have moved a bit far away, this could be a really cool solution. Elk Live sounds better than any PA or headphone system you’ll find in most practice spaces, and you don’t have to leave your house. Who knows, maybe it will enable a whole new future for musical collaboration.
Elk Live Bridge
Rating: 8/10
If you buy something using links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more. Please also consider subscribing to WIRED


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