Merging Technologies Pyramix Virtual Studio

As an early adopter of hard disk recording and editing since 1987, I've found it exceedingly difficult to move away from my original Dyaxis DAW setup, despite the fact that it was orphaned in 1995. Old habits die hard and, as they say, "If it works, don't fix it!" Besides, when I moved up to Studer's Dyaxis II in 1992, I shelled out $30,000 for that "state-of-the-art" 16-bit DAW!
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0

As an early adopter of hard disk recording and editing since 1987, I've found it exceedingly difficult to move away from my original Dyaxis DAW setup, despite the fact that it was orphaned in 1995. Old habits die hard and, as they say, "If it works, don't fix it!" Besides, when I moved up to Studer's Dyaxis II in 1992, I shelled out $30,000 for that "state-of-the-art" 16-bit DAW!
Product PointsApplications: Digital audio mixing, effects processing, hard disk recording and editing, and CD-R mastering

Key Features: Extensive I/O and editing flexibility, excellent mixer and plug-ins; works at all sample rates up to and including 384 kHz PCM and 2.8224 MHz DSD

Price: $3,995 and up, depending on number of PCI sound cards, I/O options, authorized plug-ins, etc.; turnkey systems include PC and software/hardware installation at competitive rates

Contact: Merging Technologies at 847-272-0500, Web Site
But times change - and so do sample rates! I've needed to edit my high-sample rate multitrack productions (without first mixing down and converting to 44.1 kHz) for several years now and, although I have continued to make good sounding recordings, I have known deep-down that they could sound better.

Features

This brings me to Pyramix. Developed and marketed by Merging Technologies, a Swiss company, the Pyramix Virtual Studio is a powerful and flexible digital audio workstation which integrates the functions of digital audio mixing, effects processing, hard disk recording and editing, and CD-R mastering.

The Pyramix software runs on the firm's Mykerinos PCI board hardware. Each board is capable of processing up to 64 channels of digital audio, including 24 channels of digital I/O at 44.1 kHz, 12 channels at 96 kHz, six channels at 192 kHz and four channels of DSD audio recording and playback; multiple cards communicate through a HDTDM protocol. Access to the channels is determined by the user's choice of inputs to and outputs from the Mykerinos board.

Pyramix Virtual Studio can be ordered from Merging Technologies in two basic configurations: Pyramix Core and Pyramix Turnkey; the former consists of only the Pyramix software and Mykerinos hardware. Turnkey systems are complete solutions set up on either an industrial server-sized rack-mount PC or a high-end laptop with a Magma-sourced expansion chassis.

The Mykerinos card is a modular board (containing second generation Philips Trimedia DSP chips running 32-bit float at 360 Mflops sustained) that can use any one of several optional digital audio I/O daughter cards. They include ADAT optical (with four lightpipe connectors supporting either sixteen channels of 44.1/48 kHz, eight of 88.2/96 kHz using the S/MUX protocol, or double stereo S/PDIF), MADI (with up to 64 channels on either BNC coaxial or glass fiber duplex SC connector), and TDIF (whose extra bracket connects to a site on either the ADAT or MADI I/O cards and must be used with one of these cards).

The AES/EBU I/O daughter card is available in two versions - with or without sample rate conversion on the first eight channels and, at the standard sample rates, offers 24 channels of I/O over 12 AES/EBU input and output pairs. With the exception of the ADAT daughter card, all the others have DB25s for the I/O. Suitable fanout snakes are provided with each daughter card.

Each Mykerinos board also has 3.5-mm stereo mini phone jack as an analog audio monitor output; D/A available at this output is up to 96 kHz, 24-bit, unbalanced, with levels programmable within the Pyramix software. This stereo mini phone connection can easily be connected either to headphones or to a line level audio monitor input. It sounds quite good and is very free from noise; I often use it as my sole monitor output.

The back plate of the Mykerinos board also contains a multipin DIN connector, which carries all the system synchronization, time code and video sync signals. If the user purchases the Pyramix synchronization option, the DAW can be configured as a master or slave, lock to external SMPTE, LTC or VITC timecode, video or word clock, and can also superimpose a visible timecode burn-in window upon its video output and/or throughput.

There is not space here to detail the entire workings of Pyramix's Virtual Studio software, so here is a brief overview of its chief components. This description pertains to DSD as well as PCM audio.

A "project" is the top level of organization, and always contains a "mixer" and a "composition," or edit decision list - a collection of audio clips (pointers to audio media files)-placed on a track or tracks in time relation to each other and to a time location on a timeline. There are also various "libraries" with masterclips, mixer settings, fade settings and references to media files.

The mixer, also called the Virtual Studio in Pyramix-speak, routes all audio in and out of a project. It also determines audio sample rates and synchronization for the project. The user configures the mixer as appropriate for the number and type of inputs strips and output busses needed for a project.

The project is the top level of organization in Pyramix Virtual Studio. One needs to start a new (or open an existing) project to do any audio capture, file import, mixing, effects or editing. When a new project is started with an empty mixer, the mixer configuration window automatically appears.

The user must configure the mixer's sample rate, synchronization and I/O mode. For example, to configure Pyramix to operate at a different PCM sample rate - or to switch to DSD mode - one needs to visit the mixer's general settings window and change the parameters on a few tabs.

Thus, the mixer is more than just a mixer. It is, in fact, an integral part of the main Pyramix window that appears upon program launch. That interface displays an extensive tool bar across the top and a status information bar at the bottom.

The project window has two separate panels: an editing panel (top) and a project management panel (bottom). The editing panel contains the composition (the sequence of waveforms arranged in a timeline) for a project. The "project management" panel contains a number of tools for managing and navigating through a project.

There are two basic methods of getting audio into Pyramix. First, one can record directly into the program (in either editing mode-where you see the waveforms, or through a "digitizing session"-a special, simplified kind of Pyramix project intended for quickly setting up audio captures. One can also import previously existing audio files of various OMF-compatible formats, including BWF, SDII and AIFF, as well as MP3.

Pyramix's ability to deal with all these file formats is, in my opinion, one of its most important features. While it cannot read an EDL from Pro Tools or MOTU Digital Performer, for instance, it is perfectly capable of editing the multitrack SDII or AIFF files created by these Mac applications! Thus, one can open up files of multitrack audio takes done on a Pro Tools or Digital Performer Mac system.

Pyramix's awesome audio editing and mixing facilities (and high-class plug-ins) can then be used to make the final mix - saving it as an AIFF or SDII file back to the same Macintosh hard drive - and then re-open it in Digital Performer or Pro Tools.

Since Pyramix can also "capture to disk" edited multitrack files without mixing down, you can also transfer these between PC and Macintosh.

If you record - as I do - directly into Pyramix using "editing mode," the visual result of, say, a three-hour multitrack classical session is a window containing a long sequence of colored sound file waveforms, each take separated by a vertical red line.

This "timeline window" makes it very easy to do a rough mix of the entire session for clients, and then burn it to CD-R-with your track indices already set up at each vertical delimiter. (At the present time, CD burning from the Pyramix timeline works only through 96 kHz. I'm promised that the possibility of doing the same thing at the highest sample rates and DSD will be implemented by the time this review is published.)

Pyramix supports several different types of mix automation, including both continuous and snapshot automation of mixer levels, pans, effects, etc. After a project is edited, the Pyramix software can be used to set (and tweak) CD track starts, stops, and various index markers for CD-R mastering. A separate application called DiscWrite is provided to actually burn the CD-R. Pyramix also allows much customization of its user interface. This takes the form of both customized keyboard shortcuts and user defined macros; if the user desires, several key sets familiar to users of other DAW software can be substituted for Merging's own set.

In all my experience with the pro audio world, I have never seen a software company make so many software emendations and updates as quickly as Merging. The Release Notes PDF file for V. 4.0, SP2, for example, runs 74 pages, includes 50 improvements made in all the previous "release candidates" before the golden master was published - and only a tiny percentage of any of it concerns actual bug fixes! The full manual is 581 pages long. All documentation can be downloaded from www.merging.com.

In Use

In addition to putting Pyramix through its paces on various projects here at Studio Dufay, I also spent the first week of June in Danville, Ky., at the Great American Brass Band Festival, recording a CD project of the mid-nineteenth century brass music of the French composer Alexander Jullien for the Dorian label. Since Dorian presently prefers 176.4 kHz PCM to DSD, that's the way I did it (using the Genex GXA8 and GXD8 converters I reviewed in PAR 9/02). I recorded the brass players' six tracks (usingManley/AKG C-24 and Royer SF-1A stereo mics and a spaced pair of 0.9 micron Stephen Paul/

Neumann M 50s) in four 2.5-hour sessions.

Each session took up about 13 GB on one of the two 36 GB Seagate Cheetahs installed in my Glyph Trip Rack. Throughout the sessions, I was able to compare the live sound with the playback from Pyramix, and the musicians were continually amazed at the smooth sound coming from my Genex/Merging combination "recorder." During that entire week of multitrack 176.4 kHz sessions, Pyramix never crashed, and I never lost a take.

Back at Studio Dufay, I did an interesting test of Pyramix's DSD sound quality, by comparing the sound of several stereo DSD recordings made - and played back on a TASCAM DS-D98 recorder (reviewed in PAR 7/02) with those same recordings after passing through the Pyramix plumbing.

This may sound like a simple test of "whether or not the Pyramix DAW changes the sound of DSD audio" but it's actually a much more complicated test than one would imagine. To keep the variables to a minimum, I used the same DAC (my Genex GX-D8) to playback both sources and, furthermore, I locked playback of both recordings to the same source clock.

The reason that this test was necessary - even on such a great sounding high-end DAW as Pyramix - is that, for DSD editing, Pyramix changes the original 2.8224 MHz DSD audio into 352.8 kHz PCM! While in its "DSD recording" mode, Pyramix is dealing with true 2.8224 MHz DSD audio (and, unfortunately, can monitor only by patching input audio to an external DSD DAC), but when it is time to edit, one must enter "DSD editing" mode - and that is when all of a sudden the user notices the 352.8 kHz PCM sampling rate listed in the status information bar at the bottom of the screen. In this "converted mode," the audio sounds about 98% as pristine as the original, and the sins are mainly sins of omission - there is just the smallest bit of veiling and a certain "tense" quality has replaced the more "relaxed" DSD original. But it is very close.

As soon as one is finished editing and mixing the DSD-turned into-352.8 kHz-PCM audio, one can simply close the file, and then re-open it into a new Pyramix DSD Project. Presto; we're back to 2.8224 MHz DSD, and it sounds exactly like the source again. Although I had to keep swapping pairs of BNC cables (as input to the Genex DSD DAC) to compare the TASCAM and Pyramix outputs, I verified my observations repeatedly on several different types of original source material.

Summary

In my opinion, Pyramix is one of the best DAWs available at any price. Its feature set is incredibly extensive with high bit-rate PCM and DSD; its I/O offers great flexibility - more than any system I have used - and it sounds great. And the capabilities of its software are growing at an unbelievable rate. With pun entirely intentional, in my opinion, Pyramix is high-end pro audio's Swiss Army knife of digital audio workstations.