Yamaha 01X Digital Mixer

Until I actually got to spend some time with the new Yamaha 01X mixer ($1,699), I was underwhelmed by "the theory" of mLAN, but now that I've experienced it in practice, I'm sold!
Author:
Publish date:

Until I actually got to spend some time with the new Yamaha 01X mixer ($1,699), I was underwhelmed by "the theory" of mLAN, but now that I've experienced it in practice, I'm sold! The 01X and the network I set up exactly fits the way I've always wanted to work with music and audio, and it's not even that expensive.
Product PointsApplications: Recording, live sound, DAW/MIDI integration

Key Features: Digital mixer with moving faders; computer audio interface via mLAN; control surface, mixer and effect processor for DAWs

Price: $1,699

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

Before I get to the exciting mLAN "total integration" stuff, let me first detail how the 01X is an excellent Yamaha digital mixer. Since I've owned many Yamaha digital mixers over the years -- beginning with the their pioneering DMP7 and DMP7D in the late 1980s, followed quickly by the superexpensive DMR8 in 1990 and the 03D (PAR 6/97, 3/98), I believe I've experienced quite a bit of the evolution of Yamaha's digital mixer philosophy. (On the table of contents, p. 6, check out the snapshot of the 01X perched on top of the vintage DMR8/DRU8 setup in my studio!) The 01X sounds better than any Yamaha mixer I've ever owned and certainly has many more features than my 03D, which cost almost three times as much, just a few years ago.

I won't spend time going over how many features this mixer actually has, but suffice it to say that you can mix 28 channels with 24-bit/96 kHz I/O quality, remotely control DAWs with its motorized faders, effect everything going through it (including stuff happening on your computer DAW) with its immense latest generation Yamaha DSP, monitor everything (with and without effects) with extremely low latency in both Macintosh and Windows environments and, generally, interact bidirectionally with every software DAW and sequencer application to which you hook it up.

Believe it or not, the 01X can also control track arming, transport control, plug-in editing, mixing, window selection and much more in such DAW applications as Cubase SX, Nuendo, Sonar, Logic and Digital Performer. Since I own the last two, I did my testing with DP and Logic. The 01X also controls a wide range of parameters in many plug-ins and software synthesizers and also works as a multiport MIDI interface.

I must remind my readers that, at its simplest level, the 01X also functions as a total recall, standalone digital mixer, ideally suited for live performances. It sports new high-quality microphone preamps and 48V phantom power on balanced XLR and TRS mic/line inputs, enabling one to connect guitars, microphones or any other live musical source. Full dynamics processing, including compressors, gates and limiters as well as four-band parametric equalization is present on each of the 28 digital mixing channels, and two high-quality 32-bit effects processors enable the 01X to take most of the tweak load from one's host computer for mixing or audio processing. Its fully motorized faders enable a mix to can be recalled at the touch of a button. Of course, the coolest thing is that the hardware faders track your DAW's software faders, and vice-versa!

The 01X can be expanded to add additional channels with optional mLAN channel expansion units, (from such companies as Apogee, PreSonus, and Kurzweil -- not to mention Yamaha itself). This means, among other things, that the system can grow with one's needs. Up to 16 extra analog inputs can be added to the 01X over mLAN with its internal digital processors and mixing channels handling the routing/effects/EQ and dynamics. Its input patching matrix is second to none, and its multiple output busses (record, monitor, and four auxes) provide great flexibility for many possible live or recording scenarios.

Since Yamaha's mLAN technology is based on the industry standard IEEE 1394 (FireWire) protocol, connecting up an 01X is as simple as plugging in a single cable. And since mLAN is a true network protocol -- and not just a point-to-point connection system -- it allows for up to 63 mLAN-compatible devices to be linked together, at least in theory. In practice, however, as of July, 2004, the mLAN implementation in Mac OSX does not yet support communication between multiple devices -- a disappointing fact which, of course, precluded adding my Kurzweil KSP8 and Yamaha's i88X interface to the network.

While the 01X sports the most intuitive user interface I've ever seen on a Yamaha digital mixer, if one uses the 01X in conjunction with the Studio Manager software, you can also instantly see and control every parameter directly from a computer screen. Furthermore, the 01X comes with a VST-compatible 01X channel module which mimics the hardware DSP and functions of the console, and lets one copy parameters from Studio Manager directly into your VST hosting application, offering a level of integration I never before thought possible. In other words, one can offload the 01X's built-in DSP effects temporarily to, say, one's laptop (if it can stand the load), do mixing and tweaking away from the 01X, and then transfer the effects' new settings back to the 01X when you return to your studio. Is that cool, or what?

Finally, Yamaha includes three high-quality VST plug-ins in the 01X package which offer enhanced vocal processing, final mastering and studio quality, formant-accurate pitch correction. The latter plug-in, "Pitch Fix," especially, is perhaps the best sounding intonation software I've ever used.

In Use

Just in case the above description sounds too good to be true, please consider that I wrote all that after I'd been through a short period of "mLAN hell," trying to make all that I described actually come to pass!

First of all, it goes without saying that any drivers supplied on a CD with a shipping product are already out of date by the time you open the box. Luckily, the Yamaha folks pointed me to a couple of websites which taught me everything I needed to know (since their own main www.yamaha.com one covers too much ground to be of much help with these specifics). Besides www.yamahasynth.com, there's www.mlancentral.com (which contains information about everything about every mLAN product manufactured today), and www.01xray.com, a site specifically designed to disseminate information about the 01X. Between those last three sites, I learned enough to find and download the latest Mac OSX mLAN Tools 1.02b, OS9 V. 1.04, Studio Manager for OSX 1.3.0.46, OS9 v. 1.4.1, and enough PDFs to teach me what to do with all of it.

Speaking of PDFs, I cannot praise highly enough Yamaha senior product specialist Phil Clendeninn's 12-page Studio Manager tutorial. It actually takes you systematically through the Studio Manager software as an extremely efficient pedagogical tool to teach you to use the 01X hardware! And when I finished, I was pretty hip on both hardware and software!

So what did I actually do, to make this mLAN thing happen with the 01X? Well, first I installed the appropriate mLAN CoreAudio drivers onto my 12-inch PowerBook (running OSX 10.3.3), and put Studio Manager into my Applications folder. MLAN Tools also installed the important little application called "mLAN Auto Connector," which one uses to tell the Mac OS to let its CoreAudio engine allow the mLAN stuff to take over. My Mac actually made the changeover -- from my previously "in charge" M-Audio FireWire 410 interface -- quite quickly; the moment I clicked on "OK," the yellow, orange, and blue LEDs on the FW 410 began to flash in a pattern signifying "Hey, I'm not connected."

I then booted up Studio Manager and sat fascinated as I watched mouse moves I made in the software cause appropriate things to happen on the 01X, and vice-versa. It's so cool to be able to choose where to make the adjustments; some are more suited for hardware (like yanking those faders) and some are easier with the software (like setting up groups and other functions involving multiple selections and mouse clicks.)

But this was only the beginning of my "clawing my way slowly up the mLAN learning curve." I had to get the 01X integrated with my DAW. And this is where the main frustration took place. Despite the fact that Digital Performer was the first DAW to allow external control surfaces and external effects busses, their current OSX version, DP 4.12, seems not to be completely happy in the Apple CoreAudio department, especially as regards sample rate and clocking issues. Although I could force it to play back one of my standard 10-track 24-bit 44.1 kHz files, I was simply unable to get anything to sound like it should; more like the "grungy alien from another world" effect one gets when clocks are beyond unhappy. Regardless how many times I changed the sample rate in Audio MIDI Setup and DP's "Configure hardware" window, it seemed only to like 48 kHz files and, in fact, would not switch over at all, despite the rate it actually displayed!

Luckily for me, I had a copy of Logic Platinum 6.3.1, so I decided to spend some time installing and learning to use it. Once I had it up and running, the minute I connected the 01X, it was immediately recognized as a "Logic Control" device, and showed up in a window. The Logic "demo song" played back beautifully, and I was subsequently able to record a little project of my own into it. And now I had three mixers to have fun with -- all synchronized. There was the Logic mixer, the Studio Manager software mixer, and the 01X -- all running in tandem. Any move on any of them affected the other two. And the 01X's hefty hardware transport controls worked flawlessly at controlling sequence playback and recording.

But that was only the beginning of the fun! Think plug-ins. Think superexpensive Sony Oxford plug-ins Think of controlling the many adjustments in the Oxford EQ or Oxford Dynamics plug-ins -- each iterated within Logic -- with the 01X's faders, knobs, and switches. Simply mind-boggling! And, by using the same "fader flip" switch I remember from my old DMP7 days, in the 01X, it "flips" human control points between the mixer's linear faders and its eight rotary pots! Awesome!

Software instruments were just as efficiently controlled by the 01X. I played the Native Instrument's B4 plug-in's drawbars on the 01X like they belonged there! I used both a little USB keyboard (the M-Audio Evolution MK-425C) and my Kurzweil K2600XS MIDI keyboard (the latter hooked into the 01X's serial MIDI ports), and everything integrated smoothly and efficiently, once the appropriate parameters were set properly in Audio MIDI Setup and in Logic. Since I don't own a Yamaha Motif synth or rack, I was unable to verify the extent of its integration within the system but, since everything else Yamaha claims has worked just as advertised, I have no reason to doubt the possibility of back-and-forth communication between the Motif and 01X/computer network.

Summary

The Yamaha 01x is the answer to all my needs for integrating everything I do with audio and music. It's just the right size, and its bargain price makes it a no-brainer purchase for anyone who wants a DAW control surface, high-quality audio interface and, of course, a hardware digital mixer.