Yamaha AW16G Professional Audio Workstation - ProSoundNetwork.com

Yamaha AW16G Professional Audio Workstation

A little over 20 years ago, TASCAM set the bar with their Portastudio. That "box" spawned an entire category of "studio-in-a-box" products providing affordable creative tools for songwriters and musicians.
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Product PointsApplications:Musician/songwriter's creative tool, remote location digital recording studio

Key Features: 16-track digital audio workstation; eight simultaneous record tracks; 144 virtual tracks; dynamics processing; four-band parametric EQ on all channels; two blocks of high-quality multieffects; 13 types of studio-quality mastering effects; Quick Loop Sampler; CD-ROM with over 250MB of samples included; Sound Clip function to quickly capture ideas while practicing; built-in 20GB hard disk; built-in CD-RW

Price: $1,299

Contact: Yamaha at 714-522-9011, Web Site.

Plus

+ Price

+ Extremely transportable

+ Minimal setup time

+ Extensive EQ, dynamics and effects libraries

+ Two independent 32-bit effects processors

+ 16-bit linear recording (no bit rate reduction or data compression)

+ Built-in CD-RW drive

Minus

- Learning curve for novice recordists

- Only two XLR jacks

The Score

What are you waiting for? Go buy one today!

Review Setup

Yamaha MX12/4 analog mixing console; Heil Sound Goldline dynamic microphones (vocals), Shure SM-57 and SM-58 dynamic microphones (instruments); Audix 3A studio reference monitors; Hafler P1500 Trans*nova power amp.A little over 20 years ago, TASCAM set the bar with their Portastudio. That "box" spawned an entire category of "studio-in-a-box" products providing affordable creative tools for songwriters and musicians. Today, Yamaha raises the bar with their AW16G, which blazes new trails in digital economics. Most certainly, the AW16G takes advantage of the drill-down technology found in Yamaha's more costly big and bigger brother digital audio workstations, the AW2416 and AW4416.

Features

The AW16G is much, much more than a songwriting tool. It houses an all-in-one complete digital facility consisting of: 36-channel mixer with onboard A/D-D/A converters, 16-track multitrack recorder, patchbay/router, editor/archiver, 24-bit sampler/looper, stereo mixdown deck, CD mastering burner, sports a 20 GB hard drive and more. Yamaha ups the ante by including two independent 32-bit effects processors. With this long list of included devices you quickly get a sense of breadth covered in the AW16G's unbelievable $1,299 price tag.

First off, I need to emphasize how physically compact the AW16G really is at only 16.25 inches wide x 12.5 inches deep x 4 inches high and weighing less than 10 lbs. This baby is slightly wider than a standard briefcase! Portability and ease of setup are clearly two major benefits that make the AW16G ideal for transporting to any live location or remote recording gig.

The digital mixer section features 32 channels of input power; including eight analog inputs, two channels digital (stereo), recorder tracks 1-16 and an effects return. The analog I/O provides 24-bit A/D-D/A with 32-bit internal processing. Guitar and bass players will be happy to see the inclusion of parallel Hi-Z input on Channel 8 of the mixer for direct recording of passive instrument outputs.

All connector jacks located on the back panel are clearly marked and easy to reach. Two Neutrik balanced XLR jacks appear on input Channels 1 and 2. These inputs feature switchable 48V phantom power (switch on the back panel) and can be assigned to any of the 16 record tracks or the stereo record track. Inputs 3 - 8 are balanced 1/4-inch TRS jacks. A pair of unbalanced 1/4-inch jacks handle stereo/aux output along with another pair for monitor output. And, a stereo 1/4-inch jack is provided for headphones. Not to be left out, MIDI in and MIDI out/through connections are included for synchronization to external devices.

All input channels are capable of having a four-band fully parametric EQ and dynamics processor assigned to them. Also included is a compliment pair of independent effects processors for spacial effects, modulation effects and guitar distortion with amp simulation. The AW16G employs a series of factory-stored "libraries" for quick recall and setup of EQ, dynamics and effects processing. Although the input library settings are read only, all settings for mix parameters of each channel can be stored into internal memory as a "scene." Scene memories can be named and saved as data along with each song.

The control surface of the AW16G is logically laid out. Starting from the upper left, gain knobs are positioned with illuminated (red/green/white) input select buttons. To the left of the LCD window are the Work Navigate and Quick Navigate buttons that allow access to most of the record and edit functions. Just below the LCD are sample trigger pads, channel select buttons and the mixer faders. Further edit/function, command/cursor keys and a jog wheel are located to the right hand side of the LCD window. And, the familiar transport control keys are located right where you'd expect them in the lower right corner. The Stop, Play and Record keys are extra large and illuminate when operating.

The recorder section of the AW16G allows for individual track recording or eight tracks at once. All 16 tracks can be played back simultaneously. Eight virtual tracks are available on all 16 tracks and the stereo track. This feature was extremely handy when making composite mixdowns on the stereo track before CD mastering. I must point out that all virtual tracks are linear digital recordings without bit-rate reduction schemes as was the case in many earlier digital audio workstations.

Editing is easily accomplished in the digital domain through keystrokes and jog wheel maneuvers on the control surface of the AW16G. A 5-inch wide by 1.5-inch high, one color backlit LCD is used to view windows of all track editing commands, bus assignments, level monitoring, EQ, FX parameters, and more. A musician-friendly "Undo" button provides a chance to go back on any undesired edits or takes - which is a big feature in my book!

You can easily set location points for start/end, relative zero, A-B and IN/OUT. Up to 99 markers can be inset at any point during a song. Also, you can preset auto punch in/out and A-B repeat playback allowing your hands to be free to do that musical magic they do best.

If this isn't enough recording features for you so far, this little wonder even includes a sampler section with four trigger pads located just below the LCD window. The AW16G comes factory loaded with a library of samples that are set up in four banks of four samples for a total of 16. Samples can be recorded from external sources through the digital mixer or from recorded audio tracks on the hard drive or from external WAV files loaded via internal CD-ROM drive.

Just when you thought the Gensu knives were enough and not to be upstaged by Ron "But wait there's more" Popeil, Yamaha includes a CD-RW drive for mastering your own CDs. Aside from mastering, the CD-RW can be used to archive tracks and song data for future mixing by simply uploading to the hard drive. Yamaha supports software exchanges with many of the popular professional editing systems, too, including file sharing with Yamaha's AW2816 and AW4416 and .wav file format. And, yes, the drive will play standard audio CDs.

In Use

Because of the extensive features and functions on the AW16G, and the limited word count of this article, this reviewer will only be able to describe one real world application. In this review, the AW16G was taken to a rehearsal room to record a four-piece rock and roll band. The band needed a CD recording of its cover songs for promotional purposes and for obtaining future gigs. Therefore, it was important to make a clean recording and make it sound live. To accomplish this, we planned on recording simultaneously while the band played live with minimal or no overdubs.

A challenge was presented for our need of additional XLR mic input channels to record live so I added an outboard Yamaha MX12/4 analog 12-channel mixer to bring in four group outputs of vocals, keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars. Channels 3 - 7 on the AW16G were used for the four group sends from the external mixer and I made use of channel 8's Hi-Z input for the bass guitar. Here's where we got creative in using channels 1 and 2 XLR inputs for the drum mix. Channel 1 got a balanced mono send from a Roland TD-8 drum sample module while Channel 2 got an overhead mic for drum ambience, hi hats and cymbals.

Next came setting levels and assigning inputs to tracks. I used a straight forward approach and assigned input Channels 1 - 8 to track Channels 1 - 8. I found this part of setup to be an extremely easy process and very fast. Once in the Quick Navigate section, I selected the first window for direct recording and was able to view an input-to-track routing map. By selecting an input select button and a corresponding channel assign button, a solid line appeared in the display window (like connecting the dots). Although the LCD window is a limited display area when compared to a computer monitor, Yamaha did an excellent job in making its GUI system very useable and intuitive.

Once we balanced each of the track levels through a couple of rehearsal takes we were ready to roll. And just like in the old days of tape I held down the record button followed by the play button and away we went. One hour, one minute and 17 seconds later we had all of our tracks in the can. The next night I mixed down to the stereo track, mastered a 15 minute CD and then duplicated 25 discs all in the comfort of my own home. Best of all, I only needed to connect a pair of monitor speakers.

Summary

All told, I highly recommend the AW16G for musicians and songwriters who have had some exposure to the multitrack recording process. I would like to fly a caution flag for those musicians and recording novices who would be expecting instant gratification within a few minutes from a product this sophisticated. There's a great feature called "Sound Clip" which I did not cover in this article that provides a quick recording sketchpad (and a great rehearsal tool). There is a hobbyist's learning curve that can be tamed by carefully reading Yamaha's detailed owner's manual and by repeatedly performing record/edit exercises. Yamaha does provide an introductory DVD video for those who don't pick up the manual at first take. And, the factory-loaded demo song will certainly satisfy anyone's immediate curiosity with a great example of the horsepower packed under the hood.

The AW16G gets my five-star rating. It is such an extraordinary machine that I insisted on purchasing his sample unit. At the $1,299 list price, I marvel and applaud Yamaha's ability to integrate vast amounts of digital technology and deliver economic value to the masses. Well done, Yamaha!