MERGING ISIS PYRAMIX CONTROLLER
Hardware control of Pyramix has always been left to third parties, but Merging is now making its own knobs, buttons, and faders.
Text: Terry Nelson
Merging Technologies of Switzerland has become a force to be reckoned with in the competitive world of workstations. Pyramix has found its way into more and more studios, particularly in the post-production and mastering sector. As its popularity has grown, the lack of a dedicated control surface was proving to be a sticking point for some. True, the system can be accessed by stand-alone units such as the JL Cooper and more recently, control surfaces such as those offered by Smart-AV and Euphonix, or large consoles such as Harrison and SSL, but a dedicated controller from Merging has been conspicuous by its absence. This hole has now been filled with the elegant new Isis controller system.
EYEBALLING THE ISIS
The Isis controller is available in two parts: the remote controller itself, which has obviously been designed with sound for picture and video editing in mind; and an optional fader expansion module that addresses audio. The control surface offers machine control functions – again with particular reference to video, edit facilities, track arming for the audio tracks, monitor control and an assignable channel strip. The controls are comprised of a large jog wheel, soft keys, an LCD and a channel strip comprising a motorised touch-sensitive linear fader and rotary encoder. All of which, we’ll look at more closely.
The top part of the surface features three groups of eight buttons and these are for arming audio tracks 1–48. The right side of the panel contains a channel strip consisting of a large motorised fader, four push-buttons and a rotary encoder. The fader defaults as a stereo master, with the four buttons being Play and Write for the master automation, plus Mute and Solo. The rotary encoder defaults to monitor level and pushing on the knob resets the fader to zero (or reference level).
As you’ll have already noticed, Merging has endeavoured to provide as many fixed-function controls as possible, while guarding the possibility for the user to re-assign them to other functions as required. I’d say that Isis strikes this balance very nicely. (See box item for the various dedicated functions.)
The centre of the control surface is dominated by the large jog wheel. Given the importance of the jog wheel, it’s heartening to see that a wide range of tuning options are available – operators can adjust settings and responses to suit individual requirements – and these were put to good use during the tests I conducted. Attending the jog wheel are seven pairs of control buttons and a four-direction keypad with keys for selecting tracks and clips. At the top of this section are six machine control keys. You’ll find all the usual transport suspects here with the very useful addition of a Reverse Play button. The Reverse Play button is not available on-screen with Pyramix so is a vital addition for post-production work. All the buttons, with the exception of the red record button, are in clear plastic and illuminate when activated.
The overall look and feel of the machine control section is that of a video editor, where considerable attention has been paid to having a comfortable jog wheel with edit function keys close at hand for speed and accuracy.
The LCD of the Isis helps take care of house-keeping duties and offers an alternative means of accessing/performing certain functions. When you power-up Isis the LCD displays Track Select and Marker functions, and these are accessed by 11 function keys (F1 to F11). The current play-head cursor position is always displayed in the centre as a timecode value. The 11 function keys take care of a variety of duties depending on the screen mode, but their assignments include Record Arm, Record Mode, Monitor Mode, and Marker operations. Finally, the F12 key (‘More’) scrolls to the next menu page in each screen. Which brings us to:
The Machine Select Page provides you with selection and control over chase status for the internal machine plus up to four external machines.
The first User Page offers a useful array of default F-key settings (things like Zoom, Group/Ungroup, Zoom Fit, Undo, and Redo) and unassigned keys for user definition.
The Monitor Page controls the comprehensive monitor functions now offered by Pyramix. A set of function keys send mute, solo, and solo commands to the individual surround channels, while other buttons step forward and back through possibilities for input monitoring, speaker sets, and down-mixes.
Though Isis has been designed to offer maximum flexibility with the factory F-key settings, doubtlessly there will be operators who can’t wait to put the keys to some very different uses. This is achieved by heading to the Settings Page in Pyramix and accessing Controller Mapping, which provides a wide variety of possibilities for reconfiguration. Mapping functions is very easily accomplished. And if you get into a pickle, the default settings can be reloaded very easily.
Whereas the basic Isis controller will be more than sufficient for many projects, those requiring more control of the audio mix will be glad of the Fader Expansion unit. This is the optional extra for Isis and consists of the same chassis but contains eight channel strips (identical to that of the main Isis controller), together with 10 fader layer buttons for a maximum of 80 channels, a four-way keypad, a latching Preset button, and a Shift button. The fader unit is connected to the main chassis via DB-15 connectors. At this time, the fader expansion unit only offers level control (motorised, touch-sensitive, linear faders) and pans. Level control includes channel strips, group masters, auxiliary masters, and mono mix masters. The assignment of the faders depends on the size of the mixer configured in Pyramix, with the bank switches cycling through the available channels and then on to the bus masters. The Preset button allows different mapping configurations to be stored and recalled. The rotary encoder serves as a pan control for left/right and pressing Shift changes the configuration to front/back.
ISIS THEREFORE I…
For the purposes of this review, I did several recording and mix sessions and found the system very user-friendly. It’s clear that the fader expansion unit doesn’t aim to replace a full-blown console surface, but the fact that it’s possible to set up a mix very quickly is already a step in the right direction. Flipping between fader banks posed no problems and the feel of the faders is that of a quality console.
One of the main points I wanted to investigate was how Isis dealt with external machines. I was easily able to interface Sony PCM-800 and Betacam units to the system, while a CB Electronics machine control system didn’t pose any problems either.
The fact that the jog wheel can be tweaked to suit personal preferences was very useful and is a definite plus for the system. The surface also provides added flexibility by being able to assign the track-arming buttons, transport keys and other functions to any selected machine.
There are other smaller facets of Isis which, in themselves, are not so vital but add up to making it such a no-brainer to use. One example is that the track arm buttons will only arm to the number of record buses available on your Pyramix session. Okay, you should know, but it makes for a nice reminder in a high-pressure situation.
It’s always difficult to pick up on any negative aspects of a system like this without spending weeks with it. I’d say that the fader expansion unit obviously has room to expand its horizons, but level and pan control is as much as the majority of operators will need. Down the track I can see the fader expansion unit offering auxiliary sends from channels assignable to faders – either linear or rotary – as well as access to other parameters, such as EQ and effects. In the meantime, Isis is priced well and offers a welcome development for those currently making do with a keyboard and a mouse.