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SYMBOLIC SOUND KYMA SYSTEM 5.11 (MAC/WIN)

May 1, 2001

Kyma Specifications
Analog I/O (4) XLR balanced standard (expandable to 8)
Digital I/0 (2) XLR stereo AES/EBU or (2) RCA stereo S/PDIF
Other Connections MIDI In/Out/Thru; (1) BNC word-clock input; (1) BNC house syncinput; (1 pr.) RCA VITC I/O; (1 pr.) RCA LTC I/O
Output Level +14.5 dBu
Input Clipping Level +14 dBu
Resolution 24-bit
Internal Processing 24/48/56 (algorithm dependent)
Sample Rates All standard rates from 32 to 100 kHz
Dynamic Range (A/D)/(D/A) 110 dBA/107 dBA
Frequency Response 20 Hz-20 kHz (+0.04/-0.26 dBu @44.1 kHz)
Input Impedance 10 k•
Crosstalk -110 dB
Noise (A/D)/(D/A) 110 dB/105 dB
Tuning Resolution 0.0026 Hz
Prototype Algorithms >300
Factory Patches >1,000
Dimensions 3U × 16.5" (D)
Weight 15 lbs.

Though you can't display video directly in the Timeline, byputting the system in Time Code mode, you can control it from aMIDI program, such as a digital-audio sequencer, or a video deck.Kyma syncs to word clock, LTC, VITC, MTC, and house sync.

NEW MILLENNIUM MODULES

Kyma has always offered numerous ways to generate and processsound, but the new release provides dozens of new Prototype Soundsand a much-improved system for organizing them (see Fig.6). The Sounds are grouped into categories by function andinclude spectral processors, numerous synthesis methods, pitch andformant shifters, and vocoders. A large number of filters,waveshapers, dynamics processors, and looping tools are just someof the list's more traditional algorithms. Keep in mind that anyprocess can be combined with any other — Kyma sets no limitson the type of signal paths you can create or the number ofprocesses you can chain together.

Some of the Prototypes have names that belie their exactfunction. For example, the Spectrum Discombobulator introducescontrollable amounts of random variation into the timing,amplitudes, and frequencies of the sound spectrum, and theFmntOscilBPMFilter KBD is a keyboard-triggered synthesis modulethat generates trancelike, analog-style backgrounds synched to thebpm. The ResynthesizeRandomFrames is handy for freeze-framing yourvocals at the bpm rate, and the SampleBitsBPM happily snips smallbits out of your loops so that you can rearrange them if you sodesire.

For dance, trance, and techno lovers, Kyma includes numeroustempo-based sample players, various sequencer types, and severaldrum machines. The BPMRandoMiniLoops, for example, jumps aroundrandomly within a sample at a rate determined by the bpm settingand picks segments of random durations, playing some forward andsome backward. You'll be the hit of the rave with theDerangedSampleBits Sound, which grabs bits of a loop atuser-defined points and then uses the AnalogSequencer module toplay through those bits in different orderings. Using the VCS (or aMotor Mix), you can toggle steps of the sequence in real time.

Remixing is yet another area that has been enhanced in the newrelease. I set up a patch with three tracks, each containing adifferent loop, then added controls to change the playback tempowithout changing the pitch, the start position within each loop,each track's volume, and the pan position. This set is ready totake on the road, and the production time was a mere 30 minutes.For gathering and preparing source material, there are all sorts ofrhythmic choppers, shufflizers, and live-audio capture tools, whichall work in real time.

OUT OF THE BOX

You'll have no trouble making new Sounds with the Prototypes,but you will certainly spend considerable time with the system's1,000-plus example Sounds. (Also check out contributions from Kymausers at the new users' forum at Symbolic Sound's Web site.) Theexamples incorporate the Prototypes in various ways and areorganized primarily by task. Looking for things that go bump in thenight? Try the Whooshes, Hits, and Bys category. Working on a liveperformance piece? Look into the Tempo, Pitch, and Amp Followingfolder for ways to start and stop a MIDI sequence or audio file,using nothing but your voice. If you really want something unique,let Kyma slow down your voice in real time using its powerful liveanalysis and resynthesis tools. (Hint: look in the Time-scalingcategory.)

There are also examples that show the extensive newspectral-morphing features and more-powerful vocoders, and Kymaeven includes a new set of additive-synthesis examples that showoff the system's power. The Backgrounds and Pads group lookedparticularly intriguing, though I managed to try out only a few ofthe several dozen Sounds in that category. The examples covernearly every Prototype the system offers and are great startingpoints for your explorations.

Kyma's developers have always managed to extract significantprocessing power from the hardware, but this release includes evenmore optimization. That means you get more power from your existingCapybara hardware just by upgrading your software. The Capybaraitself was also significantly enhanced and is available in severalversions.

The Capybara's new 24-bit, 100 kHz converters also soundfantastic, though Windows users still can't gain access to thehardware from their other audio applications. Mac users, on theother hand, can test the beta ASIO drivers available from SymbolicSound. There's currently no support for NT, but users should expectNT and Windows 2000 compatibility later this year.

Kyma's extensive documentation includes a 550-page printedmanual and nearly 100 pages of electronic text relating to the newrelease. The printed manual has some out-of-date information: forexample, it mentions some Prototype Sounds that have new names orcontain renamed parameters. But that is a minor problem that won'tstop you from understanding how the Sounds work. Numerous tutorialsguide you through the system's intricacies, though I wish more ofthem were aimed at the beginner's level.

There's flyby assistance for all the main system controls, andnearly every parameter of every Sound is documented withcontext-sensitive help. Symbolic Sound's Web site also includes afairly thorough FAQ and answers to common questions in the users'forum. Free e-mail and telephone tech support round out thepackage.

COME ON DOWN

The Kyma System is a real engineering feat, and its designersare to be commended for the ongoing and significant enhancementsthey have provided during the past ten years. The system isremarkably stable — I can't recall a single system crash inthe many years I've used it — and when its price is comparedwith that of even a moderately loaded hardware sampler, it lookslike a real bargain.

Kyma stands alone as a mature, hardware-accelerated sound-designplatform. It provides a vast number of tools for nearly any type ofaudio work and the resources for building your own tools when youneed them — no $100 third-party plug-ins required here. Forsound design, live performance, computer-music composition, dancemusic, remixing, and even scientific and engineering applications,Kyma is about as good as it gets.


EM associate editor Dennis Miller lives in the Bostonsuburbs with his wife, two daughters, cat, dog, and sixcomputers.

Minimum System Requirements

Kyma System

MAC: Power Mac; 32 MB RAM; OS 7.05; NuBus or PCIslot

PC: Pentium 120; 32 MB RAM; Windows 95/98/ME

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Symbolic Sound

Kyma System5.11 (Mac/Win) sound-design workstation $3,300 basesystem

FEATURES 5.0
EASE OF USE 4.0
SOUND QUALITY 5.0
VALUE 4.5
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Vast range of sound-processing and -generatingtools. Intuitive graphical interface. More than 1,000 includedSound examples.

CONS: Insufficient beginner's tutorials. Some Soundsnot intuitively named.

Manufacturer

Symbolic Sound
tel. (800) 972-1749 or (217) 355-6273
e-mail info-kyma@symbolicsound.com
Web www.symbolicsound.com

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