Yamaha AW4416 Integrated Recorder/Mixer - ProSoundNetwork.com

Yamaha AW4416 Integrated Recorder/Mixer

Yamaha has been at the forefront of digital mixing and recording for more than a decade with its ProMix 01, 02R, 03D and 01V digital mixers. Now the company aims at the project studio/home recording market with the release of the AW4416 all-in-one digital recorder/mixer. The workstation bundles up all of Yamaha's digital recording savvy into one potent little package.
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Yamaha has been at the forefront of digital mixing and recording for more than a decade with its ProMix 01, 02R, 03D and 01V digital mixers. Now the company aims at the project studio/home recording market with the release of the AW4416 all-in-one digital recorder/mixer. The workstation bundles up all of Yamaha's digital recording savvy into one potent little package.
Product PointsApplications: Home and project studio recording; live recording

Key Features: 44-input digital mixer; four-band EQ and dynamics; 16-track 24-bit HD recorder; built-in automation engine; motorized faders; built-in effects, I/O expansion slots, sampler; optional CD-RW drive, external SCSI interface

Price: AW4416 HD: $3,599; AW4416 CDHD: $3,799 (includes CD-RW drive and Sonic Foundry ACID, Sound Forge and Siren software)

Contact: Yamaha at 714-522-9011; Web Site: www.yamaha.com/proaudio

Plus

+ Incredible recording power and flexibility

+ Top-quality sonics

+ Expandable

Minus

- Clumsy track-editing interface

- Slow CD-RW read and write

- No WAV file export (to be addressed in an upcoming software release)

The Score: If its software catches up, Yamaha's power-packed AW4416 is poised to take over the one-box studio market.
Features

At its heart, the AW4416 is a 44-channel digital mixer mated to a 16-channel hard-disk recorder. Sixteen mixer channels are devoted to playback from the hard drive, and an additional 24 channels are ready for live inputs; the last four show up as two stereo effects returns.

The AW4416 offers four-band, 56-bit EQ on all 44 inputs. Yamaha also provides a full dynamics processor (compressor, compander, noise gate, expander or ducker - all with flexible keying) on all channels but the two stereo effects returns. The stereo bus has full EQ and dynamics.

The AW4416 has two internal effects processors with a full complement of ambiance, delay, pitch and other special effects (amp simulators, rotary speaker effects, etc.). You can take these effects off the auxiliary send bus and dedicate them to individual channel inserts.

For outboard effects, the AW4416 offers six additional aux sends that can be tapped either pre- or post-fader (or EQ). Add in the Yamaha's eight main busses, stereo bus and cue bus, and there are 20 busses to keep signals headed in the right directions.

You can directly tap any channel signal and send it virtually anywhere in the recorder, or route any of 50 different signals to the mixer's four analog outputs. The Yamaha has a full-blown digital patchbay under the hood - a good thing, considering how many channels of digital audio are flowing through the AW4416 at any given moment.

The unit's routing capabilities become extra important when you add digital or analog I/O cards into the AW4416's two expansion slots. Available cards include ADAT lightpipe (eight channels of input and output), TASCAM TDIF digital (eight I/Os), AES/EBU digital (eight I/Os), XLR analog (four in or four out) and TRS analog (eight in).

You could add one card for ADAT lightpipe digital I/O, for example, and pick up an additional eight TRS analog inputs from a second card in the other slot.

Even without expansion cards, the AW4416 is pretty well equipped to interface with the outside world. Analog inputs include combo XLR/TRS on Channels 1 and 2, TRS analog inputs on Channels 3 through 8 and an additional high-impedance input on Channel 8 (for electric guitar or bass). Channels 1 and 2 offer phantom power as well as an analog insert point.

Other jacks include headphone and monitor outputs (both with level controls), RCA stereo output, S/PDIF digital I/O, four unbalanced outs and a footswitch jack. MIDI in/out/thru jacks are joined by a dedicated MTC output jack and BNC-style word clock I/O jacks. A To Host jack allows direct connection to a computer for MIDI control or AW4416 software updates. Finally, the Yamaha offers a 9-pin jack for attaching a PC-compatible mouse.

All this mixing, processing and routing power is incorporated with a 16-channel HD recorder that records 16- or 24-bit uncompressed audio at 44.1 or 48 kHz sampling rates. There's one additional stereo track per song, which you can use to record your final mix. With the AW4416's mastering mode, it is a simple matter to burn stereo mixes (44.1 kHz only) to CD.

Each of the 16 audio tracks in a song points to one of eight virtual tracks. As with other virtual track schemes, the theory here is that you'll do multiple (or alternate) takes of a given part and choose the best one for playback. With some effort, you can comp together sections of different virtual tracks into one "keeper" track.

The main audio drive is an internal 2.5-inch IDE unit, up to 64 GB in size. The drive mounts on a removable card - you can purchase and swap out multiple drives (the unit I tested had a single 12 GB drive). An external SCSI jack on the back of the recorder shows promise, but can be used only for backing up and restoring song data. Out front, the AW4416 hosts a CD-RW drive for mastering audio CDs, backing up/restoring songs or importing CD tracks and WAV files.

On the software side, the AW4416 offers an impressive list of capabilities. Most notable is the system's automation recorder - a direct descendant of the software found in the 02R mixer. It allows easy automation and editing of fader positions, pan, EQ and aux send settings. It also recalls any of the AW4416's 96 scene memories (per song), as well as effects, dynamics and other setting libraries. Automation data is saved with each song, there's virtually no chance of maxing out the AW4416's automation memory.

The AW4416 has 16 sample pad buttons that can be assigned digital audio clips (up to 90 seconds total). A simple sequencer keeps track of when pads are pressed down and released. Pad outputs show up at the AW4416's digital patchbay, and can be routed to any mixer or recorder channel.

Other features of the AW4416 include tempo and meter maps, a fully routable metronome, 99 markers per song, good locate functions, auto-punch, multilevel undo, fader and mute groups, automatic crossfade between regions, and user-controlled dither/bit-depth settings.

In use

The engineers at Yamaha have obviously done a lot of thinking about the user interface of the AW4416. The unit's control surface is logically laid out, with many features and buttons coming directly from the 01V, 03D and 02R. Folks familiar with any of these Yamaha digital mixers will have a significant head start in learning the AW4416.

Two displays - one fluorescent and one LCD - keep the user well informed as to the status of the AW4416. The smaller fluorescent display holds the main HD meters and counter, while the large LCD handles most of the user interface. Various buttons on the AW4416 switch it into different operational modes, while function buttons beneath the LCD allow you to step through sub-pages for each mode. When switching between modes (track edit and song setup, for example), the AW4416 sometimes takes several seconds to reconfigure.

The AW4416's bank of motorized faders do triple-duty, controlling either the first 16 mixer inputs, inputs 17 through 24, or the outputs of the HD recorder. Faders are smooth and quiet, apparently having been improved over those on the 01V. Overall, the AW4416's faders, buttons and controls have a high-quality feel to them.

When using the AW4416, much time is spent with your hand wrapped around the Yamaha's data/jog/shuttle wheel, as it is the main point of contact for changing parameter values or moving quickly around a song. The outer shuttle ring offers several high-speed transport modes and 1/2X and 1/4X playback speed.

At speeds faster than 1X forward (and all speeds in reverse), the Yamaha plays brief blips of audio to help you get your bearings. When going forward, the 1/2X and 1/4X speeds play back continuously but with transposed pitch. A nudge mode repeatedly plays a short clip of audio either before or after the current point, allowing you to fine-tune playback position with the inner jog wheel.

The Yamaha offers a good complement of editing tools at the track, region and part levels. It is relatively easy to move whole tracks (and corresponding virtual tracks) around, nudge parts a few milliseconds in one direction or another, or repeat a snippet of audio down the timeline.

I ran into a major roadblock when trying to edit a track I had recorded. For whatever reason, the AW4416 splits the track-editing mode from the track playback mode - the mode in which you hear audio playback is not the one used to make edits to your tracks. The edit track view doesn't show track contents or even region borders. You see nothing but a solid black line showing the presence of audio data. Since the audio waveform view is only available from playback mode, you're flying blind (and deaf) once you get into edit mode.

Dropping precisely placed markers is the key to accurate editing with the AW4416. You have to find the points you want to make cuts or edits in playback mode, drop markers at those points, switch to track-edit mode, locate the markers and perform the edits.

This multistep process is counterintuitive and inefficient. I hope it is replaced by something better in the next software update.

Another impediment to productivity is the speed at which the AW4416 shuttles some types of data to and from the internal CD-RW drive. The AW4416 took 14 minutes to import one four-minute mono WAV file from CD-RW, and almost as long to write a finished mix back to disc.

Backing up one song (280 MB) to CD-RW took nearly 20 minutes. It is also worth noting that the AW4416 will import - but not export - WAV files. This is a serious problem for many types of production, especially when collaboration is a factor. (Yamaha says software Version 1.1, available for download from its Web site, improves the performance of CD operations-Ed.)

In the sonics department, the AW4416 does not disappoint. The mixer section's preamps are the same as those found on the Yamaha 01V, which puts them in the "very respectable" category for a product in this price range.

The AW4416's 24-bit converters sound great - and remember, one can easily spend more on a single mic preamp or A/D converter than on this whole recording studio in a box.

The unit's EQ uses the same excellent algorithms as are found in the 02R and 01V mixers, which sound marvelous. I especially appreciate the EQ's true high- and low-pass filtering. The Yamaha's two built-in effects units are top-notch, and offer a good variety of effects.

The dynamics processors do a nice job of controlling levels and noise without coloring the sound.

Summary

The Yamaha AW4416 is capable of doing more than just competing in the high-end one-box-studio market - it has the potential to totally dominate it. But before Yamaha can rule the roost, there is some homework to do.

The unit's software is several paces behind its phenomenal hardware - especially in the area of track editing. This is a crucial issue, because audio editing is at the heart of the production process. So much time is spent jumping back and forth between the AW4416's two modes, that what should be a simple task becomes a potential exercise in frustration. Most aspects of the AW4416's software fare better, but there are several areas that need attention.

Any product with this much depth and power usually has to wait for its software to catch up. Yamaha says it is hard at work improving the AW4416 software as we speak. Most importantly, they have an incredible hardware platform to build on.

Is the AW4416 the ultimate solution for every backroom recordist? Probably not. With its price tag and sophistication, it will scare off many users. Folks without a decent grasp on signal routing and bussing might get lost for a long time inside the Yamaha. Those that understand the power that is there, however, will be rewarded with a recorder that imposes virtually no limits on their creativity.

If I haven't made it abundantly clear that the AW4416 is a serious power tool for professional-quality recording, consider this: Sheer track count aside, virtually every Grammy Award-winning album recorded and mixed on a Yamaha 02R console in past five years could have been made with similar results on the AW4416 - for about $3,000.

Bottom line: the AW4416 is not a toy - it is a beast!