Yamaha AW2816 Digital Audio Workstation

Yamaha has released a "little brother" to the AW4416, the AW2816. The AW2816 weighs in at $2,399, a full $1,400 less than the AW4416. Yet this newcomer retains much of the power and flexibility of the more expensive model.
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When Yamaha introduced the AW4416 (see review, PAR January 2001) in late 2000, it was a remarkable technical achievement. Along comes one little box with a 24-bit,16-track HD recorder, 44 DSP-laden mixer channels, built-in effects, full automation, endless routing possibilities and a CD burner right inside. Essentially pairing an HD editor/recorder with the Grammy-winning power of Yamaha's mighty 02R, the AW4416 raised the bar for what an all-in-one studio could do.
Product PointsApplications: Home, project and professional studio recording

Key Features: 28-channel digital mixer with full automation, EQ and dynamics on most every channel, 16-track HD recorder, eight virtual tracks per record track, built-in effects, extensive MIDI support, single MY-format expansion slot, built-in CD-RW drive

Price: $2,399

Contact: Yamaha at 714-522-9011 Web Site

Plus

+ Easy to use interface

+ Simplified Quick Record function

+ Vast recording/editing power

Minus

- Silent waveform editing display

- No editing of stereo mix track

- Support of measure: beat mode lacking

The Score: The AW2816 offers most of the power of Yamaha's AW4416 in a more affordable and easier to use package.
Now, Yamaha has released a "little brother" to the AW4416, the AW2816. The AW2816 weighs in at $2,399, a full $1,400 less than the AW4416. Yet this newcomer retains much of the power and flexibility of the more expensive model.

Features

As its name implies, the AW2816 is an all-in-one audio workstation with 28 mixer channels and 16 tracks of hard disk-based recording. Where the AW4416 has 16 faders and the ability to accept up to 24 inputs (analog or digital), the AW2816 has eight analog inputs and eight faders, with the ability to accept 8 more analog or digital inputs via the option I/O slot. This is one area where Yamaha was able to make some serious cost reductions, and I think they chose well. Relatively few people are going to need more than eight analog inputs for tracking or mix down.

Analog inputs 1 and 2 have both 1/4-inch and XLR connectors, with switchable phantom power for the latter. Inputs 3 through 7 are balanced 1/4-inch connectors for line-level signals or mics, while input 8 offers both balanced low-impedance and unbalanced high-impedance jacks. This high-impedance input makes for a better sound when recording guitar and bass direct into the mixer, and is a nice touch on a product like this.

The only other audio inputs on the AW2816 include the coaxial digital input and any additional inputs that can be picked up through the AW2816's single-option I/O slot. This slot allows connection of a variety of cards in Yamaha's MY format, including ADAT optical and TASCAM TDIF I/O, additional analog inputs and outputs (from both Yamaha and Apogee) and a just released DSP plug-in card from Waves.

Audio outputs include headphones, main stereo output (RCA jacks), balanced 1/4-inch monitor outputs and four of Yamaha's now-familiar omni outputs. These outputs can be set to tap virtually any signal in the mixer, aux sends, direct channel outputs, stereo outputs, recorder outputs, bus outputs and more. You can patch an external insert effect into any input or output channel, routing that signal out through one of the omni outs and back into any analog input. If you have an analog compressor or other outboard gear you cannot live without, this is a nice feature.

Folks who purchase an AW2816, however, will probably find much of their outboard gear collecting dust. The Yamaha has DSP power galore, offering excellent four-band EQ on every channel and dynamics on all but the internal effects returns. The AW2816's EQ is a direct descendant of the EQ in the 02R, and is even cleaner and more transparent. Yamaha's dynamics offer a full complement of compression, expansion, companding and more, all with side chain.

Two built-in stereo effects processors offer a good variety of reverb, delay, modulation, filtering and other effect types. There are even amp simulators and pitch shifters in the menu, and either of the internal effects processors can be configured as an insert effect for a given channel. Though effects parameters themselves cannot be automated in the AW2816, send and return levels, return mute and return pan can.

The AW2816's automation extends to all the important areas in the mixer. You can automate fader and send levels, mute and pan, as well as scene recall. Most important, automation moves are easy to edit or eliminate entirely. A nice fader edit mode lets you offset existing automation data by the current position of the fader. The ability to store 16 different automixes of each song is a real plus. The AW2816 does not just automate playback tracks from the hard drive - it also has full control over the eight analog (or expansion card) inputs. This translates to serious mixing power if your songs include virtual tracks from synthesizers or outboard samplers.

To communicate with such toys, the AW2816 offers MIDI In, Out and Thru jacks. MIDI support on the Yamaha is excellent, and includes MIDI Time Code (MTC) master/slave modes, preset recall by program change, MMC master/slave modes and extensive bulk dump capabilities. Several setup screens make MIDI configuration simple, including one with a graphical patchbay for MIDI routing. Comprehensive MIDI continuous controller support is new to the AW2816, and the automation engine can even capture CC data.

With the standard 20 GB hard drive installed, the AW2816 will give you 230 minutes of 16-track recording at 16 bits, and 150 at 24 bits. Figuring the recording "density" of a four-minute song at about 75 percent, this gives you room for roughly 50 songs (24-bit resolution). That's a lot of music. If you want more, the AW2816 has a SCSI port out back for off-loading song data to additional storage devices (the AW2816 will not record to external SCSI devices).

In Use

Learning from the feedback of AW4416 users, Yamaha made some refinements to the AW2816's user interface that definitely makes it easier to use. One of the most notable changes is the new Quick Record mode, which brings up a graphical patchbay for connecting input signals to recorder tracks. Once you place the virtual patch cables where they belong, the AW2816 automatically arms tracks and prepares to record. The resulting Quick Record screen shows record levels, record status, monitor assignments and more for all 16 tracks.

Thanks to intuitively labeled buttons, setting the AW2816 for various tasks is straightforward. The Song, File and CD buttons select the major operating modes of the AW2816. During recording, the Track and Edit buttons switch between the track select/record and track edit modes. The Track button controls the AW2816's virtual tracks, of which there are eight for each of the 16 recorder tracks. You can record to any or all of the eight virtual tracks, and select one for playback.

The Track menus also allow you to import a Wave file from a data CD, import a track from an audio CD, or export a track to a Wave file. Yamaha has come a long way in speeding these processes up, which is a welcome change. In fact, most operations on the AW2816 feel quite a bit snappier than the early AW4416 software. Mode changes - which could take several seconds - now are done in fractions of a second.

To really tweak your audio, you will enter the AW2816's Edit mode. Here you can you perform many different editing functions at the track, part (range of time) or region (discrete chunk of audio) level. The main track edit view for the AW2816 shows black bars where audio exists for each track on the timeline. In this mode, you can play back your audio, scrub back and forth to locate a specific section and drop up to 96 markers to keep your bearings. The AW2816 offers a waveform view, but you cannot hear your audio while using it. This makes it useful only after you have closed in on the region by ear. Too bad you can't listen while in wave view.

When you make a mistake during editing (or recording, for that matter), the AW2816's generous five-level Undo comes in very handy. This little lifesaver will help you squirm your way out of many a jam. If you Undo too far, which is easy to do, the Redo button makes things right again.

There are other nice touches that make the AW2816 easier to use. The function keys beneath the LCD display are great for jumping quickly to a menu sub-page. The shift key makes things even better, toggling these buttons - in context - to perform many common tasks. You can even define five of your own CTRL key functions.

I appreciated the AW2816's built-in metronome (complete with tempo and meter maps), fine meter mode with peak hold, easy playback of a finished mix from the song's stereo tracks and other user-friendly features.

I was happy to see that the AW2816 supports measures and beats in its counter, markers and many edit modes. What was disappointing was discovering that certain key functions - like performing multiple copies of a region to "loop" it - only support absolute time. Want to select a two-bar percussion loop and have the AW2816 repeatedly copy it every two bars? You can't. You have to specify the interval between copied region in seconds and milliseconds. Clumsy.

The AW2816 falls short in a few other areas. The first is in the area of its dedicated stereo mix tracks. You cannot do any manipulation of these tracks whatsoever - no trim to clean up the top of a song, no fades, no region editing, nothing. All you can do is delete them, record over them or burn them to CD-R. The stereo tracks can be exported via .wav file, edited on a computer and restored to the AW2816.

The AW2816 could use a quick-and-dirty copy command for EQ settings, dynamics settings, routings or all channel parameters. Having to save settings to the library and recall them again when you just want to make a quick copy is annoying. Finally, the Yamaha's wave display updates sluggishly, and the way it displays waveforms makes it of little use with some signals. I'd like a fast-reacting, good-looking waveform that I can actually hear. Revolutionary, I know.

So how does it sound? Like a high-quality 24-bit recorder with very good converters, splendid EQ, pristine DSP and down-right usable dynamics processors. A very pleasant surprise was the quality of the AW2816's mic preamps, which sounded better to me than those on the Yamaha AW4416, 01V and 02R mixers. Put another way, the AW2816 will not be the weak link in your signal chain.

Summary

Minor gripes aside, the AW2816 is a very impressive achievement. It boasts much of the power of the pricier AW4416, and has refinements in its user interface to boot. The major features that Yamaha left off the AW2816 (fluorescent metering, a second expansion slot, sampling capabilities) will not be missed much by the average back-room recordist.

Congratulations, Yamaha, on finding a way to bring impressive recording power to a whole new segment of the market.