How the Xynergi Keyboard Works


Photo courtesy Fairlight

­In September 2007, an Australia-based company called Fairlight introduced a new digital audio production device named Xynergi. Gadget blogs covered the story and called Xynergi a $28,000 keyboard. Such labels are misleading. In reality, identifying Xynergi as a $28,000 keyboard is like saying the audio system inside a Bentley is a $250,000 radio -- it misses the big picture.

The Xynergi keyboard is part of a desktop media production center package. Fairlight designed Xynergi to meet the needs of small, professional media editing studios. With Xynergi, engineers can capture audio, manipulate individual tracks, add effects, mix multiple tracks together and edit video files. While the device's complexity and price tag mean the average consumer isn't going to buy it, Xynergi might be a good choice for someone with a small recording studio or media companies that need an interface that will let them edit audio and video quickly.

Advertisement

The Xynergi keyboard looks like a large computer keyboard with several extra keys, a few knobs, a dial called a jog wheel and a rectangular color monitor above the main array of keys. Fairlight calls the monitor and the surrounding controls the pad. Xynergi's main key array is in the standard QWERTY layout with a number pad on the right. Engineers use the knobs, keys and jog wheel to manipulate digital audio and video files.

­If you've ever seen a professional audio mixing console or video editing control system, you know that there are many more switches, knobs and toggles than you'll find on the Xynergi keyboard. In order to replicate the functions that these large consoles have, Fairlight came up with a clever idea -- self-labeling keys. These ar­e keys that can change functions and key labels depending on what you're trying to do. Each key is a small computer monitor that can display different characters, including letters, symbols and words. Xynergi has an "animate" feature that makes keys flash on and off or change colors during specific tasks. The keys can even display video. As engineers switch from one operating mode to another (for example, moving from a word processing mode to an audio mixing mode), the key labels change and the keys themselves map to new functions.

In this article, we'll take a look at what makes Xynergi tick, examine some of Xynergi's functions and learn more about Fairlight's market strategy for Xynergi, including where you can pick one up and how much it'll set you back.

In the next section, we'll take a closer look at the technology behind Xynergi.

Xynergi Components

The Xynergi Keyboard in three different application modes.
The Xynergi Keyboard in three different application modes.
Photo courtesy Fairlight

The real source of Xynergi's amazing functionality is Fairlight's CC-1 card. "CC" stands for Crystal Core, Fairlight's processing platform for its audio production hardware. The CC-1 is both a microprocessor and a Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCI-Express) card. To use a Xynergi device, an engineer has to first connect it to a PC using the CC-1 card. He or she would need to install the card in one of the computer's expansion slots, which connects the card to the computer's motherboard.

The CC-1 is a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) device. An FPGA device can contain thousands of logic gates, which are the basic building blocks of digital circuits (to learn more about logic gates, head to our article on How Boolean Logic Works). Fairlight designed the CC-1 to act as a processor. All audio production functions run through the CC-1, not the host computer's CPU. This means that the PC's processing power is available for other programming tasks. In the past, PC-based audio editing devices required a computer almost entirely dedicated to audio production, because audio processing demands are so high. Since the CC-1 handles this load on its own, you can install it on a PC and still run other processes while you edit and mix audio and video tracks.

Advertisement

Fairlight offers four different configurations for the Xynergi system -- every version can perform the same basic tasks, but the higher-end versions have more processing capability. The top-of-the-line system is the Xynergi MPC-230F, which has 230 processing channels, 96 concurrent recording tracks and 192 concurrent playback tracks. In other words, Xynergi engineers can record, edit, mix and play back dozens of individual audio tracks to make rich, complex master recordings.

Xynergi systems also include an I/O toolbox called an SX-20. The SX-20 has two preamps, which are outputs that boost the power of a signal before sending the signal to another component (to learn more, read our article on How Amplifiers Work). The system also has two analog inputs, 12 analog outputs, four digital inputs and eight digital outputs, which allow the engineer to connect the system to other components, including microphones, instruments and speakers.

The Xynergi media production center runs on proprietary Fairlight production software. Xynergi can create and edit most media file formats, but its interactive keyboard isn't designed to work with other video and audio production software.

Xynergi's hardware and software give the system amazing capabilities. In the next section, we'll learn more about some of Xynergi's functions.

Xynergi Functions

An audio engineer uses Xynergi to manipulate tracks.
An audio engineer uses Xynergi to manipulate tracks.
Photo courtesy Fairlight

Xynergi's interactive keyboard has application awareness, which means the keys display only the symbols and commands appropriate for the application currently in use. If an engineer needs to jot some notes down in Microsoft Word, for example, he or she can push a key on the Xynergi keyboard to activate Word. The Xynergi's keyboard then switches to a QWERTY keyboard. When finished, the engineer can push the Edit key to return to Xynergi's editing software, and the keys will change again.

Because every key is actually a small color monitor, keys change colors to indicate active functions. For example, if an engineer wants to work on a specific track, he or she can push a button mapped to that track. The key will change from blue to red, indicating the track is active and ready for mixing or editing applications. If the engineer assigns a name to a specific track, the name will appear on the key mapped to that track.

Advertisement

Engineers use the jog wheel whenever they need to scan through an audio track quickly. Rotating the jog wheel clockwise or counterclockwise advances or reverses the track, respectively. This feature also allows engineers to designate specific sections of a track for editing -- the engineer uses the wheel to mark the beginning and end of a range within a track. The engineer can then add effects to the marked range without affecting the rest of the recording.

Fairlight calls the area that includes the color screen and the surrounding buttons and knobs the pad. The screen displays information about audio tracks, giving users a visual representation of the digital file. It can show the name of an audio track, bars that indicate the distribution of the track's sound across different speaker channels, an equalizer and a time code display. The buttons and knobs surrounding the screen allow an engineer to manipulate the track or set Xynergi in its automated editor mode.

Here are just a few of Xynergi's functions:

  • Recording tracks: Xynergi can record incoming audio. Audio can come from other digital devices or straight from an instrument or microphone feed.
  • Editing tracks: Engineers can edit audio tracks extensively, adding in effects like echo or reverberation, looping sections of track and adjusting frequency equalization.
  • Mixing tracks: Once an engineer has his or her audio tracks adjusted just right, he or she can mix it with other tracks, eventually creating a complex master track. Xynergi can even take over mixing duties with an automated mixing program.
  • Playback: Xynergi can play audio tracks, sending the signal to speakers connected to the media center. Engineers can isolate a specific speaker to make sure the right level of sound is reaching it, or listen to all the speakers together to create a surround sound effect.

The Xynergi system includes the same functions you'd find on a large audio or video editing console, but has a price tag that's only a fraction of what those systems cost. In the next section, we'll find out just how much the Xynergi system costs and where you can find one.

Xynergi Marketing

A Xynergi system might seem expensive, but compared
A Xynergi system might seem expensive, but compared
David Ellis, morgueFile

While Fairlight estimated Xynergi's retail price at 20,000 euros, which converts to more than $29,000, its actual retail price isn't quite so high. Guitar Center Pro is North America's only distributor of the Xynergi Media Production Center, and its price is only $22,973. For this price, you get the keyboard, a CC-1 card, an SX-20 I/O toolbox and the Xynergi software toolkit. You'll still need a PC (Xynergi is not Mac compatible), monitors, speakers and other input and output devices -- the Xynergi Media Production Center doesn't include them.

After purchasing a Xynergi system, you might find yourself overwhelmed with its functions. Fortunately, Fairlight foresaw this very problem and included an interactive help system called Xplain. To use the Xplain system, you hold down the Xplain button on the keyboard and then press any other key to find out what it does and how to use it. A corresponding help message appears on the pad's screen. You can do this with any button, and the system will helpfully tell you what the function does.

Advertisement

Some buttons map to shortcuts to other programs. For example, there's a button for Internet Explorer. Pushing that button will launch IE and the keyboard will switch to the QWERTY layout. Users can map keys to specific functions not included in Xynergi's package, though the system may not be able to use its application awareness feature for every program.

Fairlight first began to ship the Xynergi platform out to customers and retailers in September 2007. The first business in the United States to purchase the system was Buzzy's Recording, a studio based in Los Angeles. The company plans on using Xynergi for voice overs and automated dialogue replacement (ADR) [source: Fairlight]. Fairlight expects the system to gain popularity quickly within the audio and video editing industry.

To learn more about Xynergi and topics related to audio and video editing processes, follow the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • Fairlight. http://www.fairlightau.com/
  • Barr, Michael. "How Programmable Logic Works." Netrino. 1999. http://www.netrino.com/Articles/ProgrammableLogic/index.php
  • Bartlett, Bruce. "Improving Your Sound With EQ." Stage Directions. October 2002. http://www.stage-directions.com/backissues/oct02/eq.shtml