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Merging Technologies Pyramix

Digital Audio Workstation [Win PC]
By Hugh Robjohns

Merging Technologies Pyramix

Pyramix might be the new kid on the block, as far as audio recording and editing are concerned, but that hasn't stopped it proving a very serious rival to Pro Tools and other established DAWs.

Sophisticated multitrack audio editing using a computer-based system is part and parcel of today's post-production process, almost regardless of the end product. Whether we are talking about stereo or surround-sound music production, CD and SACD/DVD-A mastering, radio or TV post-production, film editing and dubbing, or games soundtrack production, all will use some form of Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) for the audio assembly, editing or mixing — either throughout the entire process, or to perform certain parts of it.

The range of DAWs available on the market is vast: some are rather simple but cost-effective, others are extremely complex and very expensive. Some employ bespoke DSP and interface hardware while others are far more generic, and many are optimised for specific types of application while some are flexible and configurable enough to be used in a very wide range of production environments. Probably the best known example of the latter is the ubiquitous Pro Tools, but there are plenty of other worthy systems in widespread use, such as the AMS-Neve Audiofile SC, Fairlight Dream, Sequoia, and SADiE, to name just a few. One of the latest products to enter this highly competitive market comes from Switzerland: Merging Technologies' Pyramix.

The Pyramix platform is a relative latecomer to the market, at least compared to many of its well known competitors, but that has given the manufacturer the opportunity to observe the way both the industry and the technology are developing. The result is a product engineered afresh and from a clear viewpoint, rather than being the outcome of a series of evolutionary and often convoluted developments and diversions. To that end, Pyramix does some things very differently from its peers, while in others it presents the very best of all their design attributes, working practices and ergonomics.

Overview

The first thing to explain is that, like most other high-end DAWs, there are several different versions of Pyramix. At the time of writing there are four basic options: Pyramix Native, Pyramix Native Media Bundle, Pyramix LE and Pyramix Virtual Studio Core, with prices ranging from under £500 for the simplest Native system through to about £12,000 for a top-of-the-range, fully loaded DSD-capable VS system. A typical well specified audio-for-video post-production Virtual Studio system would cost under £8,000 and a CD-mastering setup is about £5,500 — the exact prices depending on the specific software and hardware options installed.

The versatility of the Pyramix DAW can be ably demonstrated by considering a small number of high-profile Pyramix installations in and around London, all of which I have seen in action. For example, the mastering suites at the Strongroom Studios use Pyramix systems in concert with DCS converters for CD and SACD mastering. Twickenham Film Studios have established an entirely digital signal path for the production of film soundtracks, combining high-end digital consoles with a total of 12 Pyramix systems, which are used for all the track laying and dubbing of feature films that pass through the facility. The BBC is another Pyramix user, now employing several Pyramix systems configured for multitrack recording duties in its London TV studios and on outside broadcasts.

The Pyramix software is compiled to run only on PCs under Windows NT and XP operating systems — and there is no prospect of a Mac version, so Apple diehards should turn the page now to avoid further disappointment! The Pyramix LE and range-topping Virtual Studio (VS) systems run on a PC platform incorporating dedicated hardware DSP cards, and this review was carried out on a well specified VS system running the version 4.3 software with the latest SP2 update. As has been hinted at earlier, the core VS system can be expanded and customised with numerous hardware and software options to fine-tune the features of the complete system to suit various applications, such as audio mastering, audio-for-video post, and so on.Although Pyramix systems can be configured using any suitably specified PC, most buyers opt for Merging's own rackmounting design. Although Pyramix systems can be configured using any suitably specified PC, most buyers opt for Merging's own rackmounting design.

The Pyramix Native version is a software-only configuration that uses the host computer's own microprocessor to perform the audio DSP, and as such it is limited in its functionality compared to the full VS version. However, the form and functionality of the program is identical for the Native and VS systems. The two versions look and work identically, and projects created with Pyramix Native are fully compatible with the Virtual Studio system, and vice versa. Machines running Pyramix Native and Pyramix VS can even be connected on the same standard Ethernet network to enable the direct interchange of raw audio (and video) media, as well as entire projects. Indeed, many facilities houses employ the cost-effective Pyramix Native version for pre-production and track-laying work, networked with full Virtual Studio machines to handle the final mixdowns and large project compilations.

The Native software is protected and authorised with a USB dongle, whereas the VS system only runs if the bespoke hardware DSP cards are installed in the computer. The Native version has limited functionality compared to the VS system, providing only stereo audio in and out, with sample rates up to 48kHz. It is also restricted to four playback channels in the mixer, but all editing and audio manipulation is performed in real time (no rendering) with the same 32-bit floating-point maths as the full version. In addition to a small but functional range of built-in signal-processing tools such as equalisers and dynamics, Pyramix Native is fully compatible with Direct X and VST plug-ins, and the software supports PMF (Pyramix native file format), WAV, BWF, AIFF, SD2, OMF and CD Image audio file formats as standard.

The Native Media Bundle option extends this feature set with double the number of mixer playback channels (eight), more elaborate signal-processing facilities, mastering-quality metering including a phase correlator and audio vectorscope, and sophisticated tools to support CD mastering, video playback and MIDI synchronisation, the last using Merging's own very clever Virtual Transport technology.

The Pyramix Native and Media Bundle software can be used with a variety of soundcards — basically, any model will work that is fully compatible with the Windows Direct Sound and Direct Capture format, and supplied with WDM drivers. However, Merging recommend four specific interfaces: the RME Fireface 800, Echo Indigo, MOTU 828 and Yellowtec PUC.

The Pyramix LE version is supplied as standard with the Mykineros hardware (see below), and provides much the same facilities as the Native Media Bundle but with double the number of mixing channels again (16). However, the real power of the hardware is only realised by moving up to the full Virtual Studio system which brings a wealth of additional facilities and flexibility — not the least of which are up to 64 inputs and outputs with corresponding mixer functionality, plus built-in timecode generation and external clock reference capability, allowing the system to be integrated into more sophisticated digital and video-based environments.

Mykerinos Hardware

The processing heart of the Pyramix LE and Virtual Studio systems is the Mykerinos DSP hardware board, which plugs into a standard PCI card slot. This Mykerinos board uses a Philips Trimedia VLIW processor — a DSP chip originally designed for high-speed video signal processing — which is capable of handling 128 simultaneous channels (64 inputs and 64 outputs) of 24-bit digital audio. Each card provides a stereo analogue monitoring output as standard, with an internal link buss which connects to various optional daughter cards that provide the standard analogue and digital I/O interfaces.

As mentioned above, the DSP uses 32-bit floating-point maths and can accommodate all sample rates up to 192kHz. Systems equipped with multiple Mykerinos cards (which must be installed in adjacent PCI slots) can also be configured to support the SACD (Super Audio CD) data format (DSD) with an additional software option. When suitably equipped, Pyramix can also carry out multitrack DSD recording and editing, currently providing up to eight tracks, although there are plans to support 24 tracks in a future software update. Pyramix also supports the DXD format which is growing in popularity as a high-resolution stepping stone for DSD production, with linear PCM files running with 32-bit resolution and a 352.8kHz sample rate.

The Pyramix LE and VS systems are based around the Mykerinos DSP card.The Pyramix LE and VS systems are based around the Mykerinos DSP card.

Although it is hard to see why such a powerful system would ever be required, a single Pyramix system can include up to eight Mykerinos cards — assuming you can find a PC motherboard with sufficient PCI slots. The DSPs are linked together using a dedicated 128-channel internal data buss, hooked up with ribbon connectors on the top of each DSP card. As already mentioned, the signal I/O is accommodated with a range of daughter cards which plug directly to the Mykerinos boards. Currently, daughter cards are available to provide ADAT, AES, S/PDIF, TDIF, MADI and even good old-fashioned balanced analogue interfaces, and multiple cards can be connected to provide the required number of channels and types of interface.

For post-production applications, both longitudinal (LTC) and vertical interval (VITC) timecode can be read and generated by the Mykerinos board, and a Sony 9-pin machine control interface is also included. Another key feature of the Mykerinos board is a very-low-jitter internal clock system, which can also be slaved to external video or digital clock references.

Although this is perhaps less obvious, a very important element of the system is the graphics board. Most Pyramix systems are equipped with a high-quality dual-head graphics card as standard — as with most complex DAWs, spreading the various component windows over two screens makes it a lot easier to see what is going on and operate the system more efficiently. However, for working in the sound-for-picture domain a separate video capture/playback card is usually specified too, to allow the synchronised internal video playback to be routed to a third screen. Ideally, where integral video playback is required, a dual-processor motherboard would be specified as well, simply to enhance the overall system performance when shifting large amounts of video data around. On the review model, the video clips related to various demonstration dubbing projects pre-loaded on the system were replayed over a sub-window sitting on the main playlist screen — and it frequently got in the way!

Thanks to the standard PCI format of the various hardware DSP and interface cards, the Mykerinos system hardware can be fitted in any suitable PC chassis. However, Merging supply the vast majority of systems as fully warranted turnkey packages installed within a very nice custom-engineered rackmounting chassis. These rack cases contain a number of fans and are too noisy to be located in a quiet control room, but some attention has been paid to the noise level, and many systems are a lot worse!

Operation

In the early days of magnetic tape recorders, there were many variations between manufacturers concerning spool directions, tape widths, capstan speeds and even the physical arrangement of transport controls. Yet after many years, a standardised set of formats and configurations emerged, and most machines shared a common arrangement of operating controls. Consequently, studio engineers could load and operate tape machines made by Tascam, Studer, Otari, ATR and other manufacturers with complete confidence.

In the early days of the computer DAW, different manufacturers likewise often had radically different approaches, and no two machines looked remotely similar, let alone shared common tools or working practices. However, after a decade of evolution and convergence, the same kind of conformation that eventually applied to reel-to-reel recorders is finally becoming evident for computer DAWs too. While there will always be some detailed differences in the specific arrangement of tools, buttons, screens and menus, it is clear that the main facilities and features, operating practices and even the look of the displays of many different DAW products are converging into a form which makes it far easier for users to transfer their expectations, experience and craft skills from one manufacturer's machine to another. This is particularly important in the professional environment as the workforce is increasingly freelance, moving from facility to facility — and thus using different manufacturers' equipment — as the work requires.

Merging Technologies are obviously very aware of this and, like many other DAW systems, the keyboard shortcuts assigned to Pyramix 's various operational functions can be fully customised to suit personal preferences and operating techniques. To make operating Pyramix even easier and faster for users more familiar with other DAW systems, three factory presets are also included, which will instantly reconfigure the keyboard shortcuts to exactly the same arrangements used on standard Pro Tools, Sonic Solutions and SADiE DAW systems. As a long-time user of SADiE, I found this feature invaluable: it enabled me to get to work straight away on Pyramix, using all my familiar keystrokes to perform the main editing functions. Furthermore, being able to translate my editing experience and skills so quickly and easily inspired confidence in, and respect for, the system.

Having said that, most of Pyramix 's operation is pretty intuitive anyway, and anyone with a basic understanding of audio editing and production will quickly be able to find their way around the system, using the default Pyramix shortcuts and tools. The various windows are all clearly laid out and most of the function buttons are marked with obvious legends or icons — and the pop-up help can always be used to remind the user of the function of a specific button if the mouse pointer is allowed to hover over it, of course.

Another point in the system's favour is that the overall look of the Pyramix graphical interface is pleasantly understated and simple. The screen colours are generally fairly muted greys — apart from the audio clips, which can be highlighted with bright colours to help identify different kinds of clip — which makes it a lot more comfortable to stare at for hours at a time. A quick health and safety reminder might be apposite here, though: regular screen breaks are essential. Move about, relax those shoulders, refocus the eyes, and stretch those back muscles regularly!

SP2 Update

The latest service pack software update for version 4.3 software has brought a range of useful new facilities. The headline addition is support for AAF File Interchange, an internationally agreed file format which describes the EDL information (clip names, comments, source tracks, timecodes, fade curves, pans and so on) in such a universal way that it provides genuine cross-platform compatibility with any other DAW or non-linear video editor that also supports the format (including Pro Tools, SADiE, Avid Media Composer and many more). In addition, the CMX file import and export facilities now support up to 64 tracks. In fact, Pyramix is able to import projects (either natively or via AES31, OMF, AAF or Open-TL formats) from Sonic Solutions, Nuendo, Pro Tools, Tascam, SADiE, Fairlight, Akai, Soundscape and AMS-Neve Audiofile.

Another new feature is a 'virtual tape mode' in which destructive record punch-ins and punch-outs can be performed on a standard BWF file. It may sound like an odd thing to want to do, but this is actually a key requirement of many film-dubbing theatres. A new 'quick mount' feature speeds up the process of opening projects and mounting the relevant media files, and the 're-conform' functionality has been improved to provide automatic and completely seamless replacement of the 16-bit mono or stereo audio files used in non-linear video systems with the original 24-bit multitrack source files when working with EDL, OMF or AAF project information.

At an operational level, one of the most important new features is the inclusion as standard of the advanced crossfade editor window. This allows very precise real-time manipulation of edits by adjusting all the crossfade parameters, including gain, curve shape, duration, position and so on. Fades can also be linked, unlinked and mirrored as required.

For complex music editing work, a new multi-point, multi-channel source-master editing facility is now standard in Pyramix (this DAW editing technique is known variously as three- or four-point editing, or source-destination editing). An unlimited number of source and master (destination) tracks can be created, with facilities to group and collapse tracks for easier editing of multi-take and/or multitrack recordings.

Something that has been available in many 'simple' DAWs for a very long time, but which is missing from most high-end devices, is a 'pencil tool' editor. This latest Pyramix update has finally introduced a simple pencil tool that allows unwanted glitches in an audio waveform to be redrawn manually.

For CD mastering applications, the PQ coding facilities have been enhanced to support hidden tracks and customisable ISRC parameters, and the Pyramix DSD option has been extended with facilities to create fully compliant surround and stereo SACD masters.

A range of new CEDAR plug-ins has also been introduced, including the Retouch audio restoration tool, which allows a sound clip to be manipulated in the frequency domain. Selected areas can be interpolated over time or frequency (or both) to remove unwanted elements from a recording. There is also a new multi-channel time-compression and expansion plug-in developed by Prosoniq called MPEX2, and all VST plug-ins can be used.

Finally, there is a new 'cue sequencer' play-out function which can replay numerous audio cues via any available output connection — a system intended mainly for theatre applications. Cues can be triggered manually or from MIDI timecode via a dedicated operating page. Besides all these new and improved features, the update incorporates a number of important bug fixes.

Top Down

Pyramix is a comprehensively equipped, state-of-the-art professional DAW system. Consequently, it is not practical to describe here every detail and nuance of its operation — that's what the 400-odd page handbook is for! However, I will try to give a flavour of what it is like to use, and highlight any unusual or particularly well designed aspects.

As in most DAWs, there are two main window elements that I found I kept open most of the time in Pyramix. The first is obviously the 'timeline', the main playlist area comprising an unlimited number of tracks, each carrying the desired audio clips positioned in time and allowing them to be assembled and organised, and where most of the straightforward editing is accomplished. Arguably the most-used function in this window is zooming in and out, both horizontally in terms of the time duration visible on screen and vertically into the various track groupings. On some machines these zooming processes can be frustratingly awkward, but not in Pyramix — the screen can be zoomed on both axes independently using dedicated buttons, keyboard shortcuts, click-and-drag mouse functions, or via any standard external controller panel. In fact, pretty much all of Pyramix 's functions can be controlled in several different ways using the mouse, keyboard or external controllers — which means everyone can find an operating technique that suits them.

Pyramix's virtual mixer might appear simple, but it can be configured for complex routings and processing setups.Pyramix's virtual mixer might appear simple, but it can be configured for complex routings and processing setups.

The second main window which I kept up most of the time was the virtual mixer, although once a rough mix was established I found I rarely made alterations (other than to the monitoring level) until I came to the final mix stage. The mixer panel looks deceptively simple at first glance, but everything you would expect to find on a comprehensive mixing system is available at the press of a button: stereo and surround panning, group and output routing, signal-processing tools, dedicated monitoring busses, and so on.

Each mixer input strip can be configured for mono, stereo or surround, and can handle physical inputs or any number of timeline tracks. MS decoding facilities are incorporated, and for surround work, up to eight six-channel mix stems can be created. The physical input and output assignments are indicated with rather attractive XLR icons marked with the appropriate physical I/O connection identifier, and there are facilities to route effects sends and returns either to internal (plug-in) or external processors, complete with the appropriate automatic delay compensations.

The next most frequently used windows are undoubtedly the crossfade editor — vital for fine-tuning difficult edits (see below) — and the timeline overview window, which displays a 'thumbnail' of the entire timeline in a long strip to help navigate around lengthy and complex projects.

When working with external transports, then the Virtual Transport control panel would also be referred to regularly to operate remote transports and set up their relative timecode offsets and so forth. This Virtual Transport technology is interesting in its own right as it is a network-based, multi-transport synchronisation system linking a wide variety of real and virtual machines handling video and audio, including external MIDI and Sony 9-Pin devices. Virtual Transport is essentially a client-server architecture, allowing various applications to communicate together through a common interface and to be synchronised to the same timecode. Virtual machine applications can be running on the same computer or over the network on different computers, and once set up, the communication and synchronisation processes are entirely transparent for the user.

VCube

The latest addition to the Pyramix family is the VCube, a hard-disk video player/recorder system designed specifically for use in audio post-production environments. The VCube can operate as a stand-alone unit, or linked to other Pyramix systems via Gigabyte Ethernet, and can be synchronised to all the standard video, film and HDTV frame rates, with 9-pin machine control facilities.

The Vcube is available as either a player only, or as a player/recorder, both being housed in a custom 4U rackmounting chassis with a 120GB media drive as standard. The player-only option is intended for use in large-scale installations where a central player/recorder can be used to digitise video material and distribute it to the players via Ethernet. A special OEM version of the Canopus ADCVX1000 video-capture PCI card is available, as well as an SDI, composite and component card. Basic video-editing functions are supported by both player and recorder models — while the VCube is not intended as an editing system, the ability to trim or modify an existing programme often enables post-production to continue without having to wait for a new master video file. The VCube is also able to import and stream multi-layer Avid Video OMF Compositions either by logging a suitable disk drive or via an Avid Unity Network connection, helping to streamline the workflow in post-production facilities houses.

Starting A Project

When starting a new project, a simple 'project wizard' helps to configure everything in a fast and straightforward way. The first step is to choose the kind of project (standard recording, editing or mixing, batch digitising, DXD or DSD recording/editing/mixing) and, if relevant, the sample rate and word length. Next, the project is named and a suitable folder and file location on the hard drive used to store the audio and project data is nominated. This is followed by selecting or designing the required mixer configuration (another wizard can be run to help configure a new mixer, although there is a comprehensive catalogue of predefined stereo and surround assignments), and then assigning the physical I/Os so that you can get signals in and out. If you always use the same connection setups you can save mixer templates for use later.

Once these steps are completed, audio can be recorded into the machine, or existing audio files located on any connected drives can be imported. Each project has its own associated libraries in which to store related audio, but there are also global libraries in which generic material such as sound effects libraries, house stings or music beds, and so on can be stored and accessed from all projects and by all system users. Pyramix notices if you try to import audio with a different sample rate to the current project, and a built-in sample-rate conversion facility is available to convert files, either individually or in batches. To place audio clips in the timeline, files can either be copied and pasted from the media drives directory lists or the project libraries, or simply dragged across from the directory window into the timeline window. All very intuitive and simple.

Simple fades can be handled in the main timeline window, but for more complex work there's a dedicated crossfade editor.Simple fades can be handled in the main timeline window, but for more complex work there's a dedicated crossfade editor.

Something I always seem to spend a lot of time doing, especially when working with radio or TV soundtracks, is entering timecode values to place clips in specific positions in the timeline. One particularly nice Pyramix feature that I found very useful is the ability to type in a relative timecode value instead of a full timecode. For example, suppose I wanted to place a music sting 30 seconds from the timeline's present position of 10.00.05.00. Instead of having to type in 10.00.35.00, I could press the '*' key on the numeric keyboard to load the current timeline timecode, and Pyramix would then happily accept +30.00 and work out the new timecode value itself. OK, so this is a very simple example, but this feature really comes to the fore when you need to enter a relative value of -2.43.17, for example! My mental arithmetic is certainly not up to complicated timecode sums like that, so I really valued this simple but very effective facility.

Another nice aspect of Pyramix is the way it can be set up easily as a conventional multitrack recorder, with some very efficient housekeeping functions built in. Each recording is logged automatically with sequential take numbers, and after each pass the recording can be flagged as a good or bad take. Both are saved to the hard drive but they are automatically highlighted in different, user-configurable colours on the timeline to make it obvious which are which. If a take really is no good it can be deleted to save disk space, of course, and any number of individual tracks can be over-recorded using normal punch-in and punch-out techniques. Related techniques are the batch digitising and auto-conforming functions, in which audio can be recorded to the hard drives as a background process, or organised into a timeline according to a supplied edit decision list (such as from a video edit). I wasn't able to use these facilities myself, but I have seen the machine used in these ways in earnest, and it appears to work very slickly and reliably.

Editing Basics

When a 'composition' is assembled in the 'timeline', each audio clip is shown as a coloured block containing the audio waveform. The block has six control 'handles' — small squares at each corner and at the centre of the left and right ends — and dragging these blocks adjusts the length of the clip, and the length and position of the fade-in and -out. The centreline blocks move the clip start and end points, while the corner blocks adjust the fade starts and ends — and if you hold the Ctrl key, a symmetrical crossfade is generated automatically with the appropriate adjacent clip. The other modifier keys (Shift and Alt) can be used in various combinations to allow, for example, a selected clip to be slipped in time, or for the clip's audio to remain static but its in and out points to be slipped in time. If required, the unused portion of a clip can also be displayed as a greyed-out waveform, which can be helpful when trying to locate specific edit points within a longer recording.

Text labels within the coloured blocks provide the name of each clip and its relative gain, and a vertical red line (with another control handle) indicates the clip's 'sync point'. By default, the sync point is aligned with the start of the clip and is the timing reference used to position the clip in the timeline. However, it can be moved to indicate a more appropriate reference point — the start of the vocals after an instrumental intro in a music track, for example, or the crash following a skid in a sound effect. The clip can then be located by instructing the system to place the sync point at the cursor position in the timeline, making it very easy to time music and effects precisely relative to other sound elements.

Pyramix's transport panel.Pyramix's transport panel.

Along with all the standard facilities such as deleting and inserting sections of audio with the rest of the track rippling along (or not), clips can be protected against accidental modification, or grouped together for easier manipulation. A nice feature included as standard in Pyramix (but which fell out of SADiE a long time ago and has only recently been reintroduced) is the ability to remove silent sections of a clip automatically. The silence threshold and minimum lengths of sound and silent sections can be adjusted to achieve the desired effect, and this facility is great for defining rough edit points in interviews, removing unwanted background noise in vocal takes, and so on. If the tool is set up to remove even the shortest silent sections and to close up the gaps afterwards, impossibly fast 'ad-speak' messages can be created in seconds. Ideal for getting all those legal 'small print' disclaimers into the last 10 seconds of the advert!

While most editing functions can be performed perfectly well by manipulating the clip handles within the timeline window, for really serious and complicated editing, the crossfade window is the tool for the job. This separate display window looks very reminiscent of a similar facility in Sonic Solutions, although most DAWs have an equivalent function somewhere — SADiE calls it the Trim Window, for example. The idea is to allow very precise control of fades and crossfades, either by using the mouse to drag out the required curve shapes and positions, or by using on-screen sliders and numeric displays. All the usual facilities are provided to audition the selected crossfade, as well as the incoming and outgoing sides of the edit, adjusting the gain of the clip on either side of the edit, and changing the fade shapes and durations.

In days of old when editing quarter-inch tape, the choice of fade shapes was rather limited — always linear but with a couple of different fade durations courtesy of the cut angle — and shallow angles could easily result in 'flashing edits' where one channel was interrupted before the other. A big advantage of the DAW is that all channels are inherently edited and faded at the same time and rate, so no more flashing edits, and the fade shape can be varied in very sophisticated ways to allow previously 'impossible' edits to be made seamlessly every time. All the usual fade shape suspects are provided here — linear, constant-power, cosine and so on — allowing even the most awkward of edits to be performed inaudibly given a little experimentation with the fade shapes, positions and level parameters.

Conclusion

Pyramix is a very sophisticated, extremely powerful and remarkably flexible DAW, and it rightly deserves its position among the top-flight audio editing platforms. With its highly intuitive graphical interface and customisable control operations, the translation to Pyramix from other similarly specified DAWs is surprisingly quick and easy, and I found I was performing complex music edits, compilation and CD mastering efficiently and accurately literally within minutes of sitting down in front of the machine for the first time unaided. The more complicated processes of track laying to picture and building up surround stems required a little more familiarity, but I quickly felt very comfortable using the Pyramix Virtual Studio system, and was able to work quickly and with confidence.

Video handling is, as you might expect, one of Pyramix's strong points.Video handling is, as you might expect, one of Pyramix's strong points.

The remarkably comprehensive handbook is provided as an indexed PDF file, with over 350 pages of information — an indication of the flexibility and complexity of the Pyramix system — and it is written very well with clear descriptions and instructions, and plenty of diagrams and screen illustrations. There were no comedic translation errors either, despite its Swiss origins. An additional Quick Start guide was also supplied as another indexed PDF file, this time with a mere 84 pages, and between the two I quickly found the answers to any queries or uncertainties I had as I worked through various projects. When it comes to more obscure operations or problem solving, or just a need for the most up-to-date information, Merging Technologies run a couple of free-access Internet forums where users and support staff regularly exchange information, advice, hints and tips.

In my previous professional occupations I have taught the operation of Sonic Solutions, Pro Tools and SADiE systems for music editing and CD production, radio production and TV dubbing applications, and have acquired reasonable knowledge of many other DAWs including the AMS-Neve Audiofile, Akai DD1500 and, of course, Cool Edit Pro (now Adobe Audition). All are very capable systems in their own way, and all have their own ways of doing some things, but translating that experience to the Pyramix was completely painless and I enjoyed using this new system very much.

It is easy to see why it has become such a popular tool in the broadcast and post-production industries in such a relatively short period of time. It is logical and easy to use, with every function well designed, as well as being easily accessible and configurable. Furthermore, the standardised interfacing options, which allow the simple connection of other digital equipment and third-party outboard converters, for example — as well as the support for a wide range of file types and data-interchange formats — make it easy to integrate Pyramix, both in terms of physical I/O connections and within a production workflow with audio, project and EDL file transfers.

As far as audio quality goes, I couldn't fault Pyramix in any way. Its floating-point maths appeared to cope with internal buss levels greater than 0dBFS without any problems at all, and internal sample-rate conversion and word-length reduction with dithering all seemed flawless. While the mighty Pro Tools will remain one of the leading industry-standard DAWs for some time to come, Pyramix is certainly nipping at its heels in many parts of the audio industry, and after using it for a few days I can quite see why. If you are looking to install a state-of-the-art DAW — or a hard disk-based multitrack replacement for that matter — then this is a very serious contender indeed, at any level. Likewise, audio technology courses would be well advised to introduce their students to Pyramix, even at the Native level, as I can see this becoming a very widespread tool in years to come.

Pros

  • Flexible and configurable hardware and software options.
  • Intuitive operation and ease translating from other platforms.
  • Open system architecture for interfacing and file exchange.
  • Compatibility between Native and hardware-based versions.
  • Pyramix versions available for all budget levels.

Cons

  • Native versions are limited in their functionality.

Summary

Pyramix is a very serious contender to replace the ubiquitous Pro Tools as an industry standard, extremely flexible PC-based DAW. It's configurable for every aspect of professional audio — CD and high-resolution format mastering, radio production, and film and TV dubbing — and available in two functionally limited Native versions, as well as the relatively cost-effective Virtual Studio configurable system employing bespoke hardware DSP and interface cards.

information

Pyramix Native £475.86; Pyramix Native Media Bundle £797.83; Pyramix LE from £2350; Pyramix Virtual Studio Core from £5875; VCube from £5170. Prices include VAT.

Total Audio Solutions +44 (0)1527 880051.

www.totalaudio.co.uk

www.merging.com

Published June 2005