Audio pro trade journals usually have some version of a feature known as a “buyers guide”. Some are more useful than others, and the ones that don’t require a manufacturer to advertise in order to have their products listed usually provide the most valuable information.
The buyers guide of Front of House magazine for February 2012 features digital audio snakes. These replace the standard audio mic snakes (multiple mic lines bundled into a single jacket) that have been the pro audio standard for ages.
The standard mic “snake” or multi-cable almost always uses the XLR standard connector at both the female (microphone) and male (mixer) end of the cable. This has been in use for decades. Consequently almost every manufacturers’ microphones will work with almost every cable makers cables and will interface with just about every mixer manufacturer’s products.
The digital version of the mic snake is designed to take an analog signal generated by the microphone, convert it to digital data, transmit it to the mixer position and then either plug directly into the mixer or turn the signal back into analog audio so that it can be introduced to the mixer as a re-converted analog signal.
I counted no fewer than 12 different digital protocols in use in the buyers guide, which means that one company’s equipment will not work with another’s.
While it is great to have device that reduces the amount of wire and the associated weight and bulk, having a system that will work only with itself means that sharing, cross renting, short term supplements (all practices that has helped lots of small companies grow and larger ones exploit more opportunities) is no longer an option. Your stuff is not going to work with their stuff.
Until the pro audio industry adopts a standard for the transmission of digital audio like the xlr connector was adopted for analog audio in live sound systems, this is really going to be a problem.