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Audio Review: Symetrix Automix Matrix 780

Jan 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By John McJunkin

The latest automixer tool in the Integrator Series proves to be a powerful combination.

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I unboxed the unit, plugged it in, and followed the quick-start guide's instructions for connecting it to my LAN. When I originally reviewed the Zone Mix 760, the software was not compatible with Windows Vista, but now all Symetrix Integrator Series and SymNet software has been updated to function in Vista. I had been made aware of the fact that version 1.0.1 of the software had superseded the 1.0.0 disc that was shipped with the unit, so I downloaded the installer and installed version 1.0.1. Having been impressed with Symetrix' original software for the 760, I had high expectations for the latest revision, and I was not disappointed. Symetrix clearly spent some time developing this software to facilitate comprehensive yet simple control of a sophisticated system, and the company really nailed it. The graphical user interface is a DAW-esque mixer topology, with tabs at the top to toggle between the Gating Automix (or Gain Sharing Automix) screen — which appears as a mixer with faders — and the Matrix/Submix screen, which displays the nodes of the matrix, allowing you to turn on any channel in any submix. By clicking on the DSP button for any channel, you get a subscreen with tabs for input, equalization, compressor, and feedback parameters. For the eight mic/line channels, there are on/off buttons for EQ, compressor, and feedback suppression. The four line-level channels feature on/off buttons for EQ and AGC. Above all the GUI's virtual channel strips are seven-segment LED meters for both inputs and outputs that can display both pre- and post-automix levels.

All 12 channels feature auto, default, and mute buttons. The auto and default buttons determine whether a channel is automixed. The default button for a single channel may be depressed, establishing it as the default microphone if no one else is speaking in a boardroom application. Priority numbers at the bottom of each channel's fader, adjustable from 1 to 10, determine the priority of that channel in the system's automixing algorithm. Both gating-type and gain-sharing-type automixing topologies are available, contingent upon the application. The hold parameter determines how long a mic remains open after the speaker finishes, the off-gain parameter sets the off level globally (similar to the range setting in a pure gate), and the sensitivity parameter essentially sets the threshold level above the adaptive noise level at which a mic will open. The system can indeed incorporate microphone input to measure room ambiance and noise and adapt to it over time, a powerful feature that I really like. The number-of-open-microphones (NOM) attenuation parameter determines the attenuation amount applied when more mics come online. The NOM-count parameter determines the maximum number of open mics at any given moment.

Having discovered the Symetrix Zone Mixer 760 to be a powerful tool at a reasonable price, I had high expectations for the Automix Matrix 780 — and I am impressed. Symetrix continues to integrate excellent DSP with powerful matrix functions here, and with the capacity to control the system via Ethernet, this is a really powerful combination. If you're in the market for a signal distribution and DSP platform and you could use the help of an automixer, you really need to look at this box.

John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Podcasting in Chandler, Ariz. He has consulted in the development of studios and installations, and he provides high-quality podcast production services.

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