In this industry there are a few names you can rely on for consistent innovation and reliability. One of them is Symetrix. The Washington state-based company has been cranking out innovative and reliable analog signal processing for years – serving broadcast, live sound, studio and installation markets. The tradition continues with the company’s foray into the world of large-scale facility-wide digital signal processing with SymNet. The SymNet unit comes in three rackmounted configurations: an 8×8 DSP ($3,999), an eight-input DSP (8In) ($3,599) and an eight-output DSP (8Out) ($3,399), all of which can be linked via SymLink, a proprietary 64-channel audio and control communication protocol developed by Symetrix that uses shielded CAT-5 patch cables.
Product PointsApplications: Large or small-scale installations
Key Features: Modular processing; intuitive CAD-style control software; sophisticated processing algorithms; remote control, setup and monitoring features
Price: 8×8 – $3,999, 8In – $3,599, 8Out – $3,399
Contact: Symetrix at 425-778-7728, Web Site.
+ Plenty of processing power
+ Easy to use
+ Intuitive design program
+ Tons of modules to choose from
+ Good looking design
– Only one remote control available
– Unit runs hot
The Score: The SymNet is a robust, well-thought-out DSP with great audio quality.
The 8×8 DSP hardware module has eight analog audio inputs and outputs and a DSP engine comprised of four SHARC floating-point DSP chips. On the rear panel of the unit are connections for eight analog control inputs, RS232 and RS485 ports, three assignable relay outputs and six assignable open collector type outputs. The unit uses 40-bit floating point algorithms within processing objects, and with the four onboard SHARCs, delivers about 528 million floating point instructions per second. There is plenty of DSP power for complex system configurations. The 24-bit A/D and D/A converters boast a dynamic range of 110 dB. The unit has no physical controls and is programmed via a PC running the SymNet Designer software.
The SymNet Designer uses a CAD-like architecture that allows the user to construct specific processors using a drag-and-drop type selection method, allowing processor parameters to be developed easily and changes to be made in real time. The system has many modules to choose from: mixers, audio signal matrixes, EQs, delays, high and low-pass filters, crossovers, compressors, gates, duckers, expanders, a mono summing sub woofer module, a bus send and receive module, and “Super Modules.” Super Modules allow complex multiprocessor module designs to be created, labeled and represented as one module on screen.
Other modules include noise and tone generators for pink and white noise, of which the tone generators offer four different waveforms: sine, square, triangle or sawtooth. The unit can store eight different configurations. Remote control of system presets, configurations or system parameters is available through AMX or Crestron, Symetrix’s own Adaptive Remote Control (ARC), or the analog control inputs. The inputs can be configured to accept contact closures, control voltage or potentiometers.
The system provides up to 64 channels of busses that can be used as audio gateways between the SymNet units. The system also provides security features that allow end-users access to specific controls while preventing them from tampering with the architecture of the system.
The SymNet Designer Configuration files can be compressed and stored in a protected memory cache within the unit. However, you have to download and extract the files to make changes and then resave the file for future access. The SymNet Designer program maintains a list of connections between processing objects and can be viewed or printed as a list of point-to-point connections. It can also perform various design checks so that you cannot accidentally make a wrong connection.
SymLink is used to connect units in adjacent racks via shielded CAT-5 cables that can be up to 10 meters in length. According to Symetrix, the extremely high speed of the SymLink bus greatly reduces interbox latency, which should reduce or eliminate time-alignment issues commonly found in other DSP systems.
I decided to try using the Designer program without reading the instructions to test the “intuitiveness” of the software. To my surprise, it was quite intuitive. I had a basic functioning program assembled within a few minutes. If you are familiar with CAD in any way, it will be second nature. I found that the more I tried different configurations, the more I found I could do with the system. The aforementioned “Super Module” is a great feature that allows you to create your own custom processing blocks (such as a loudspeaker-specific, three-way, time-adjusted crossover processor) and save them for future use. It can clean up a complex design and also adds an extra layer of security since they can be password protected.
Which leads me to the next set of features I happened upon: the security set. Once the system is programmed and turned over to the customer, who is to say they won’t try to play with your settings? Luckily, Symetrix thought of this. Various levels of access are available for up to four users (plus an administrator). Then there are the custom control screens that can be set up so the end user does not have to dig into your design to change often-used parameters. A nice feature is that individual processing module controls can be placed on these control pages for the user – a single parametric EQ’s bandwidth setting, a compressor threshold, or any other setting(s) can be copied to any number of control pages.
The real test of SymNet came when we decided to use a 24 x 16 system (two 8 x 8 processors and one 8Out processor) in a mission-critical installation at Lehigh University’s prestigious Baker Hall in the Zoelner Performing Arts Center.
We completed the design, programmed functions for four ARC remotes, and had everything in place to fire up the system. We powered on the system, updated the firmware according to the instructions, and downloaded our program. So far, so good, even with the short-haul modems we used to extend the RS232 port about 100 feet away. The system appeared to be working fine, but we soon found that our ARCs were not functioning. After much trial and tribulation and talking with Symetrix’s tech support, we found one indeed was faulty though the wiring was the main problem. The ARCs are designed to be run off of CAT-5 cable, but they also have terminal strips on them. We terminated the ARCs using the terminal strips, which it turns out is incorrect. Once we pulled CAT-5 to each location and used the RJ45 jacks, they worked fine.
System operation was straightforward and relatively easy. Often we found we needed just one more parametric EQ, or one slight change in signal routing. SymNet made this task very easy and very satisfying – it is much easier to drag and drop than to wire in another piece of gear at the last minute! We made sure to save our changes often and re-downloaded the program to make sure nothing got lost.
There are a few things that should be noted about the hardware. After a few days of using the system, we found that it would intermittently “hang” and become unresponsive. We traced this to an AC power problem that was solved by adding a UPS in front of the SymNet hardware. We quickly remembered that it’s not just another audio box, but rather a sensitive computer controlling our system. Power variations are definitely a consideration with the system, and it should be treated no differently than your PC. They also run fairly hot, as Symetrix recommends keeping a rack space or two between multiple devices.
Though the routing and processing of our signals was fairly extensive, we ended up using only 37 percent of the available DSP horsepower among the three units. This probably should not come as a surprise since each 8×8 device has four high-powered SHARC DSPs, and the 8Out has two SHARC DSPs.
The SymNet is a robust, well-thought-out DSP with great audio quality. With the current fray of DSPs now on the market, the SymNet will easily stand out given its features/function set and the legendary reliability Symetrix is known for.
We barely scratched the surface of all the available functions, but the bottom line is that it is designed to be the only required piece of equipment between your microphones and your amplifiers. If you can dream up anything that needs to go between 64 inputs and 64 outputs, SymNet will likely have answer.
The SymNet acted as the primary processing and routing matrix between a Crest X-Eight/RT 32-channel console and a stack of 13 Crown CTS-Series amplifiers driving EAW; ASR, MK and JF-series loudspeakers. The 16 x 24 SymNet system consisted of two 8 x 8 modules, one 8-Out module, one ARC-PS remote control power supply, and four ARC remote controls.