Elk Live Bridge Review: Play Music Together Online

play live music together is one of the most cathartic experiences people can have. I know this fact well; a chorus of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” with some cool older kids in fifth grade and I was hooked. Over the next two decades, playing the drums with people became a cornerstone of not only my education and professional life, but my mental health as well. When I’m feeling down, I go out with my friends to make myself feel better.

Then the pandemic: no more shows to play, and I didn’t want to be closer than two meters to anyone indoors. As a musician whose instrument occupies a good chunk of a converted garage, I was particularly stuck. It’s pretty difficult to lug a drum set into the park for a jam session. The Elk Bridge, a new audio interface that lets you play in real time with up to five people at once within 620 miles, would have really kept my friends and I closer together during a trying time.

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The Bridge connects to your router, connecting to a musician on the other end and allowing you to play with zero latency – as long as they’re within the aforementioned 620-mile circle and have a reasonably fast internet connection. Can’t drive across town for a test drive? No problem. The global pandemic has people fearing for their lives and unwilling to leave home? Hey, at least we can still jam.

talk time

Photo: Elk Live

Have you ever tried playing music with someone over Zoom or Facebook? You have probably found a problem. Latency, or the delay between when you play something and when you play it back through headphones or speakers, has been the enemy of digital audio recording for some time.

It’s basic physics. A microphone takes time to pick up audio; for your interface to convert the waves into a digital signal; and for your computer to play it. Factor in the network speed and computer processing for instant retransmission, and there’s never been an affordable way for musicians to play together live over the internet.

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Until now. The Elk Live solves this problem by connecting 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 — instead, they act like standalone servers to transmit your music to the other side in real-time — saving you enough time so you can play with others without audio lag.

As long as you meet the distance and internet speed criteria (620 miles plus at least 10Mbps up/down speed and less than 10ms ping), you’ll hear the other musician as if they were in the same room. This is truly a game changer for everything from practice sessions to live remote performances.

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Go live

The Elk Bridge (the name for the yellow brick you plug your mics and headphones into) looks much like any other audio interface. On the front you will find two microphone/line inputs, a 3.5mm and a 6.3mm jack. The back panel features MIDI in and out, optical in and out, a USB-C power input, and an Ethernet port for connecting to your router.

Unlike most audio interfaces, no software from the Elk Live service runs on your computer. Instead, you control the software through a web app (which requires a $15-per-month subscription). While you’re fiddling around with levels and a mixer in the app, all audio processing happens in the yellow box and is streamed straight to someone else’s yellow box on the other side.

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