The 3U-size Yamaha SB168-ES (Stage Box) is a digital snake that provides 16 channels of analog inputs (with individual head amps) and eight analog returns, all delivered on a single Cat-5 cable (up to 100 meters of length) via EtherSound's open standard of digital audio delivery.
Audio is sent at uncompressed 24-bit and 44.1 kHz/48 kHz resolution. The Stage Box also works as a conventional EtherSound analog input-output box.
Out of the box, my first impression of the SB168-ES was surprise at the sheer number of possible hookups. The shop where I was working used all Yamaha digital consoles; to ease setup, we could take these as singles in separate racks. Taking out the LS9-16? Take one. The LS9-32? Take two. The M7CL or PM5D? Take three of them. To make them work with different setups is as easy as readdressing through dipswitches on the front of the units.
Then I realized the possibility of using the unit as a digital sub-snake. With it, I would no longer need the entire snakehead in one spot, either on stage or in amp-land. Doing a corporate show? Drop one Stage Box in video-land for all your inputs and outputs, and drop another near the stage for podium and wireless. Have a band stage? Place one behind the drummer and one on each side of the stage, or whatever your needs are. Then all the cabling needed is a Cat-5 with either a standard or Ethercon connection. Loop all the units together and send a Cat-5 to the console.
For console interfacing, there are a couple of card options for the Stage Box. Yamaha also sent along a MY16-ES64 Ethersound Interface card. This card can only handle one of the Stage Box units, thus limiting my abilities in testing. It was quite easy to use, though. Pop it in the back of the console, and then just plug the Stage Box into it via Cat-5. [According to the manufacturer, "It should be noted that this card can be expanded to handle up to four SB168-ES units by adding the MY16EX-CA card. Head amp control will be limited to three stage boxes at a time." — Ed.]
When setting this up for the first time, I found two main problems. The input and output connections for the Ethernet cable have to be in the right configuration; if not, the console will recognize the box, but it will not pass signal. The second problem deals with the head-amps for the stage box. Head amps can be controlled through the ES Monitor software, or from the console; this is how you adjust gain, phantom power, and high-pass filter. The head amps can be controlled via channel views of the M7CL and LS9 (both used in my evaluations): The M7CL uses the RS232 port, and the LS9 using the internal (slot) RS232 port.
Maybe this is not a big deal for some, but the way I look at it, I have to either bookmark one of my user-defined keys or flick through a couple of pages to adjust. Granted, head amps are not often adjusted after soundcheck, but it does slow down the process, especially if in a hurry. With the Yamaha PM5D console, the head amp remote can be patched to the MY16- ES64 card by a DB9 connector on the back of the console to the back of the card. This presents another problem: saving console settings. A touring act — if not carrying a console, snake, etc. — has to have two settings for the console (one with the head amps and one with the use of the Stage Box in the slot) to accommodate for this. ["This could be as simple as storing a scene for each configuration," explains a manufacturer representative. "I believe this is the case with any console when a different set of inputs is used." — Ed.]
Another card option that I did use was the AuviTran-Ethersound Mini-YGDAI card, AVY16-ES100. This card is not made by Yamaha and is considerably cheaper than its Yamaha counterpart. It requires some configuration via EtherSound, which sometimes can be a headache on setup. ["The Auvitran is a 16-channel-only card," explains a Yamaha representative. In direct comparison, "the Yamaha card can be expanded to up to 64-I/O by adding the inexpensive MY16-EX cards." — Ed.]
Overall, the Yamaha SB-168-ES is a great add to a rental house that primarily owns Yamaha consoles. Its simplicity, ease of use, and flexibility offer some great options for rental and touring solutions. The MY16- ES64 Ethersound card provided ease of use, and quality digital signal to and from the console. The flexibility of the system — not to mention the savings of space and weight in the truck, thus decreased physical labor — would likely save enough money to pay for the unit sooner than you might think.
Karl Bader is an audio technician that works for Bethlehem, PA-based Blue Chip Sound. firstname.lastname@example.org