Long ago, in 1995, Yamaha introduced the 02R, the first full-featured compact digital mixer. The 02R provided users with a high quality, completely automated, 40-channel digital console for a thin slice of the price of the nearest alternative. With its next generation 02R96 console Yamaha has again totally recast the mould in affordable production power.
Product PointsApplications: Studio
Key Features: 96 kHz performance; internal effects; 5.1 surround sound; automation; moving faders; compatibility with many DAWs; linkable; choice of AES/EBU, TDIF, ADAT, analog I/O cards
Price: Base console – $9,999 meter bridge – $1,099; I/O cards start at $329
Contact: Yamaha at 714-522-9011, www.yamaha.com/proaudio
+ 56 channels of great sounding 24-bit/96kHz automated surround mixing
+ Compact footprint
+ Elegant look and feel
+ Comprehensive features
– Encoder response needs fine-tuning
– Sel keys required to alter group balance inadvertently links channels
– Fader group logic under automix needs sorting out
The Score: An industry-standard digital board just got a lot better.
The feature set of this big little mixer is astonishing. Bearing the same footprint as its predecessor is where the similarity begins and nearly ends. Virtually every aspect of the original 02R’s capabilities, ease of use, and sound quality have been significantly enhanced. The new design offers higher resolution digital and analog signal paths, redesigned mic preamps, double sample rates, a remarkable any source to any destination patching facility, digital insert points individually selectable as pre-EQ, pre-fade or post-fade for every input and bus on the desk, surround-monitoring with matrixing and bass management, dedicated encoders for the EQs, compressor/gates, internal effects, pans and auxiliary sends, an assignable joy stick, a new interface for the LCD display showing much more detailed local and global information, and a comprehensive Mac and PC console management application. Especially significant is that there are now 25 touch-sensitive moving faders. The faders control the board’s 56 inputs and 20 busses via four recallable banks. There are three two two-track analog and digital I/Os, as well as eight new analog “omni” outputs, each of which can be used as bus outs, direct outs, aux outs or surround monitor feeds. Eleven libraries governing every aspect of the mixer’s setup allow for complex configurations to be stored and recalled.
The internal patching scheme is a dazzling aspect of this mixer. Any source can be digitally routed to any destination with only a few logical exceptions. The available patch points include the analog inputs, multichannel expansion slots, eight main busses, eight aux busses, digital inserts, omni outs, direct outs, internal effects, and control room outs. External processors and recorders can be connected virtually anywhere in the signal chain offering an enormous amount of flexibility. The three analog and three digital two-track I/Os are patchable as well, and can serve as additional I/Os. The two-track outs can also be sourced from the control room selector making for a simple dub path.
Latency from a slot input through the EQ to the stereo out measures 0.8mS at 44.1 kHz and 0.5 mS at 96 kHz.
All A/D and D/A converters are 24-bit/96 kHz 128x oversampling. Sixteen mic/line inputs and eight line ins are available, and each mic/line in has an unbalanced pre-converter insert point. The four expansion slots can now handle eight I/O channels at 96 kHz or 16 at 48 kHz. Yamaha’s first card to address this capability is the MD16-AT.
Add total SMPTE-based automation, enhanced off-line editing, MIDI Machine Control (MMC), control for Pro Tools and Steinberg Nuendo, up to 904 ms of delay compensation on each channel (with a wet/dry mix control no less), an expanded effects library with surround reverb, surround dynamics, delay, pitch, distortion and amp modeling, M/S decoding, sample rate conversion, MIDI and USB support, eight GPI outputs and a cool metal-flake finish.
The weak link of the early 02R seemed to be its front end – the mic preamps and converters, which though serviceable, were not among the best. I was more than curious as to how that issue had been addressed in the current model.
My first test was to compare the main stereo analog output of the console to my mastering-grade reference digital-to-analog converter. The source was a digitally patched, pristine 24-bit/96 kHz transfer from the 1/2-inch master of the new Patricia Barber record. With the 02R96 clocked to this digital input, the sound through its control room DAC was good by today’s standards, and a far cry from the DAC designs of 1995, but still a little harsh and less detailed than my reference converter. However, when I set the 02R96 as the system master clock, its analog out trumped my standalone reference DAC with a smoother sound, a more solid bottom and a larger image. This was, to say the least, a bit of a surprise. Albeit, a DAC clocked internally is at a distinct advantage because jitter is then minimized and my house converter was still on external clock, but this result was both unexpected and impressive. The 02R96 DAC was far better than I would have anticipated, and I would be completely at ease using it for critical monitoring when clocked internally.
Next I auditioned the console’s onboard A/Ds. By feeding a pair of the 02R96’s line inputs with the analog outs of an audiophile Super Audio CD player, it became a simple matter to A/B against my reference A/D. The 02R96 again did not disappoint. Any differences between it and my mastering A/D were subtle. A minor detraction was that when calibrating the board’s input channels with a 1 kHz test tone, I was not able to match the left and right levels of the 02R96 to closer than within 0.6 dB using the detented channel gain trims and had to resort to moving one of the faders away from digital zero to compensate. The mic and line inputs share the same head amp so switching in the 26 dB pad was required to prevent the line level input from overloading. Sonically, however, I had no reservations about the result.
My preliminary tests concluded with a shootout of the 02R96’s mic preamps against a favorite outboard model costing around $900 per channel. After the converter showdown, the fear was palpable, and it is with relief that I can finally report that the expensive mic pre did sound better with this particular vocal with acoustic guitar on a 1970’s Neumann U 87, but the 02R96 preamp was a real contender. The differences were not so great as the price spread would predict. The console’s discrete differential transistor-based preamps sounded full, smooth and detailed. I was convinced that the 02R96 has, onboard, everything that is needed to make an uncompromised recording.
I readied the desk for surround mixing an upcoming DVD of an outdoor folk-rock concert featuring Arlo Guthrie and Judy Collins, recorded to TASCAM DA-88 recorder in San Diego earlier this summer. The first step was opening the monitor mode screen by pressing the appropriate “diamond” display button. The diamond buttons, one for each of the mixer’s ten control blocks, greatly simplify operation. The desired page of the LCD display is then selected through six push buttons located directly below the screen’s virtual tabs.
After selecting 5.1 monitor mode via the LCD, I used the onboard facilities for speaker calibration, bass management and stereo down-mixing. In order to print to stereo simultaneously I used the internal patching to send the surround masters to six free faders and then on to the two-mix. The surround monitor can be switched between the bus and the output of up to four multichannel recorders connected to board’s expansion slots. Each of the 5.1 channels can be soloed or muted.
In a pro facility, an 02R96 would likely be paired with an external surround monitor matrix and digital router rather than tie up too many valuable expansion slots with recorders, but the fact that monitor matrixing is built-in is an example of the board’s self-sufficiency, and of how Yamaha has kept the cost of entry to automated surround mixing low for small users, while still keeping the product viable and attractive for the bigger fish.
I stored my monitoring configuration in the Surround Library for future recall. The fact that I was able to accomplish this setup easily, without ever having used the board before can be attributed to the excellent user’s manual. The book is concise and thoroughly indexed, and procedural descriptions always contain specific page references to essential background information.
When arriving at a new screen for the first time, there were a remarkable number of times when I found myself thinking, “Oh, they thought of that too.” Learning the 02R96, for a gearhead, is akin to turning a kid loose in a candy shop. There are many pleasant surprises. In setting up the mix I was dreading cursor-cramp from having to assign all my inputs to surround busses but I found the “all bus” option on the routing screen. Selecting it assigned all inputs properly across the surround busses. The joystick display includes a divergence control, LFE-send, numerical coordinates and various multichannel trajectories. I discovered that you have to “catch” the current pan position with the cursor before it engages.
Yamaha provides Studio Manager, an 02R96/DM2000 control application for PCs and Macs, without extra charge. Much to my disappointment, the application and its drivers loaded on my PC without the slightest problem. I was hoping to have found something to complain about by now in order to validate my objectivity, and time was running out. At first, SM ignored the console, but after a minute with the manual I learned that I had not selected communication via USB. SM is an elegant application with crisp color graphics. Once synchronized with the 02R96, it instantly reflects changes on the board and vice versa. The main screen gives an overview of the current fader bank, including metering of inputs and masters, and the “selected channel” screen shows all individual channel settings in detail. SM also serves to archive scenes, libraries and automix data onto the host computer.
With the mix taking shape, I moved on to equalization, compression, and effects. There is now a choice of Type I or Type II equalization. Type I is identical to the EQ on the original 02R. Type II is both a new algorithm and a new architecture. In Type I, the bands run in parallel and are recombined at the output; in Type II the bands run in series. The series arrangement allows you to take advantage of a multiplying effect – adding a little bit of top end in two or three successive bands, for example, provides superior results over trying to get all the presence you need from just one. I found Type II to be a substantial improvement – it is a very good sounding EQ. Curiously, Type I is the default, and Type II must be selected on a channel-by-channel basis.
The compressors have been improved and sound quite good as well. They initialize with a useable setting and it is now possible to simultaneously gate and compress, rather than having to choose, as on the original 02R. They are also linkable for stereo operation. The gate function can be keyed from an internally patchable aux bus or another channel.
Tweaking a mix has been made much easier with the addition of an encoder knob for each channel strip and for each parameter of the EQ and compressor control blocks. The channel encoder mode is globally selectable as pan, aux, or either of two user assigned controls from a list of forty. A particularly nice feature is that pressing or turning a channel encoder knob opens a little pop-up window on the LCD display, showing the control’s value without displacing the page already there. The encoder knobs are speed sensitive. The faster they are turned the faster the values change – but I found them to change either too quickly or too slowly. It was tricky to land on an exact value. I would have preferred a speed control. Another minor criticism is that the EQ display always switches back to frequency.
There are eight available groups for channel faders, eight for mutes, four for input EQs, four for output EQs, and four each for the input and output compressors. It is also possible to alter the balance within a group without turning the group off, unlike on the original 02R. I found a minor glitch here, however. To alter a group’s balance, the manual instructs you to hold down the select keys for faders you wish to change, but doing so also creates links between adjacent faders and it becomes necessary to visit the view screen to break them.
I decided to try the internal 5.1 reverb, This effect requires the DSP resources of all four internal effects and calling it up causes effects 2, 3 and 4 to become unavailable. Reverb quality was good – the better the signal you sent into it, the better it sounded.
A few seconds after calling up the surround reverb, the main output of the board unexpectedly muted. I could see input on the individual fader meters in Studio Manager but the output bus level meters were frozen. The desk seemed to have crashed and I could not restore audio. I finally found I could restore output by muting the return faders of the surround reverb. Unmuting any one of them caused the audio on its mix bus to shut down. With this clue, I called up the view screen, and saw that Aux 1 sends for these return channels had been turned up on a previous mix. This created a runaway feedback loop into the reverb. As soon as some overload point was reached, the bus froze, in effect saving me from myself. With the source of the runaway loop corrected, the console’s operation returned to normal.
Anyway, it seemed that my mix would be better served by freeing up the 02R96’s internal effects for delays and the like. I had a TC Electronics 6000 digital processor on hand and decided to use it for its surround reverbs. At my request, Yamaha had provided the review console with three TDIF I/O cards and one AES. All these I/Os were already being utilized for digital tape returns and for the multichannel mix deck, but I like to feed the TC with digital aux sends. The 02R96’s patching flexibility allowed me to do so even with all the I/O slots taken up. There are three two-track digital outs and they can be fed from any of the console busses, including the auxes – problem solved.
Anyone already familiar with the original 02R will be up and running immediately. Accuracy is 1/4-frame and nearly all console parameters can be automated including plug-ins and internal effects. The touch-sensitive faders make for a significant enhancement here, bringing touch-to-update efficiency to the mix. Touching a fader puts it into write mode. Fader status can also be controlled with its channel strip’s auto button. The auto button indicates exactly what is happening by showing green for play, orange for ready, red for recording, blinking red for takeover, and blinking green for inactive after take over.
The automix behaved as expected. Some work is needed on the logic governing fader groups under automation. Touching any group fader during automix recording stopped the motion of the other group members. I could not find a way to ride a grouped fader separately from the others.
There are so many other features that I barely had time to explore. For example: off-line automix editing, the use of the I/O slots for dual-wire operation allowing printing of 96 kHz or 88.2 kHz mixes on legacy single sample rate machines, the control of Pro Tools or Nuendo from the desk, aux bus linkages, user selectable advanced function keys, variable crossfade times for scene changes, multichannel multiband dynamics, M/S decoding, Waves plug-ins, and user definable MIDI control to name a few. Amenities abound, even down something as simple as being able to fold Aux 7/8 into the studio output for a “mix plus aux” cue send.
Need more? Up to four 02R96s can be cascaded for 224 input channels and 128 digital I/Os. Legacy 02Rs can be cascaded as well.
In a new system as complex as the 02R96, there is a learning curve, and perhaps some little glitches will come to light as the user base expands. The company appears very responsive to user feedback and new software versions will undoubtedly appear. Updates can be flashed, making upgrading easy.
Yamaha has broken out of the gate with a formidable product that works and works well. Even the visual design is extremely well thought out. Despite its complexit and compact dimensions, the control surface is very pleasant to the eye and it’s easy to see what is going on. The soft blue and granite color scheme is elegant and the light metal flake finish adds a touch of class.
Dunlavy Aletha monitors; TC Electronics M6000 digital processor system; Bryston 5BST power amps; Soundscape R.Ed, SEK’D Sequoia DAWs; Mytek 8×96 converter.