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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- Native versions are limited in their functionality.
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.
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.