Yamaha AW4416

The Yamaha AW4416 ($3,799 with internal 13GB and CD-RW drives) is a digital workstation that combines a very 02R-like, 8-bus mixer with moving fader automation,
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The Yamaha AW4416 ($3,799 with internal 13GB and CD-RW drives) is a digital workstation that combines a very 02R-like, 8-bus mixer with moving fader automation, an internal 16-track HD recorder, 16-button sampler and CD burner. You can choose 24- or 16-bit operation for each song, with sample rates of 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz.

If you want or need more tracks, inputs or outputs, then these can be added via two card slots similar to the four slots on the 02R. Cards for the slots include the MY8-AT (eight channels of ADAT), the MY8-TD (eight channels of TDIF) and the MY8-AE with eight AES/EBU channels. All are $319 each. Other cards include the MY8-AD (eight channels of balanced TRS inputs, $369); the MY4-AD (four channels of balanced analog XLR ins, $319); and the MY4-DA (four channels of XLR balanced analog outs with DACs, $269). Higher-grade Apogee converters are also available. A warning note indicates that some MY Series cards sold by other manufacturers may be usable only in slots 1 or 2.

SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

Before using the system, the user must install the HD and CD-RW drives. My review unit included a 2.5-inch, 12.7GB IBM Travelstar drive.

Installing the Yamaha CRW8824S CD-RW drive was fairly easy, but the drive's SCSI connector is wired with the key on the upper side of the cable. Access to the CD-RW drive is from beneath the AW4416, so you can't really see the key notch and have to feel around.

Contradictory language in the manual about SCSI ID addresses for the CD-RW drive made me wonder whether I had to change SCSI addresses. I decided to ignore the manual and not change the CD-RW drive's SCSI address or alter the jumpers. I was correct.

There are two small fans, one on the inside of the AW4416 and one on the CD-RW drive. Powering up the AW4416, I found the fans and drives were quiet enough for most rock 'n' roll, but not quiet enough for critical recording of quiet sources.

The AW4416 includes a helpful 60-minute operational videotape. The AW4416 is a very multifunctional box, so grab a cold one, watch the tape and take notes. Getting the overview from the video before you skim the 32, 128 and 256-page manuals may test your concentration, but it will also lower your frustration. [Note: Complete manuals in PDF format are also available online at
www.aw4416.comEditors] There are many similarities between the 02R and the AW4416, but as the price point suggests, there are some important differences as well. For example, the 02R has four card slots; the AW4416 has only two. The AW4416 has only eight inputs standard (two with phantom-powered mic preamps and analog inserts) and is limited to 24 inputs total, and only after adding two optional cards. The AW4416 does not support surround mixing.

Not all the comparisons favor the 02R. The AW4416 has fewer AD/DA converters — a total of eight without the optional cards — but while the 02R converters are 20-bit, the AW4416's are 24-bit. EQ and Automix are the same, yet the 02R uses 24-bit busing, while the AW4416 runs at 32-bit, with 54-bit EQ and dynamics. The 02R only has effects on aux buses 7 and 8, but effects are insertable on any channel or output on the AW4416. The AW4416 has four separate “Omni Outputs” to which any output can be routed, and even the stereo out can be assigned to different physical outputs. And the AW4416 has an internal 16-track recorder; the 16 hard drive returns show up as a third layer on the mixer.

A list of approved drives can be found at www.aw4416.com. The SCSI-2 interface should work with MO drives of 128 MB, 230 MB, 540 MB, 640 MB and 1.3 GB, hard disk drives and CD-RW drives. The CD-RW drive can be used to back up the hard drive, burn final masters in a disc or track-at-once mode, or import/export audio files and play your CDs. You can't directly record or playback audio signals in real time to/from external SCSI drives, which can only be used to store sessions or audio. To record, play or edit sessions, they must be on the main drive.

The AW4416 also includes an input/output and routing matrix with storable settings. Once you establish a favorite way of working, you can use these settings as a starting point for each project. In addition to the 16 tracks of HD, there's space on the drive for a separate stereo master. That means you can mix your project digitally right back to the drive, without the need for an outboard mastering machine. Hate setting up a recording session? The AW4416's Quick Rec button asks a few basic questions and can have you recording on all 16 tracks in seconds. Each of the 16 tracks has eight virtual tracks.

Up to 16 tracks can be recorded or played back at the same time. During overdubs, however, there are limitations as to how many tracks you can listen to and record. The 4416 will begin to mute playback tracks as processing power is consumed, although users can select individual tracks to be muted, leaving the more important ones open for playback.

CONTROL SURFACE

The AW4416 control surface has a number of dedicated buttons knobs and soft keys — too many, some might argue. The system also uses a Shift button to increase the number of layers; a small arrow to the left of the menu tabs lets you know there's another layer. For example, loading the demo song from the CD-RW drive requires a moderately convoluted series of button pushes, including Shift/F2, just to get the CD-RW drive to pop open. It took about 10 minutes to load the 569MB demo, and once restore had begun, there was no stopping it. I went to make coffee.

The first two inputs are mic/line inputs with XLR and TRS jacks. These inputs also have switchable phantom power, and each has an analog TRS insert jack. Inputs 3 through 7 are line-level, TRS balanced inputs. Input 8 is switchable TRS balanced line or hi-Z TRS. Continuing across the top line of the back are a single headphone output (with a moderately beefy output), RCA jack S/PDIF I/O, Word Clock I/O, SCSI-2 connector and serial host connector.

Along the lower part of the rear panel are MTC Out, MIDI Out/Thru and MIDI In jacks, a 9-pin D-sub mouse port, a ¼-inch footswitch jack, four unbalanced 0dB Omni outs, two +4 TRS monitor outs and two RCA-10 stereo outs. An IEC mains socket receives AC power through a standard detachable power cable. Get a mouse. It makes navigation a lot easier.

EFFECTS TO SPARE

Every input to the AW4416, as well as the stereo output, has 54-bit, 4-band, ±18dB fully parametric EQ and dynamics processing. The dynamics processing includes compressor, gate, ducker, expander and compander functions. There's a library of presets, and you can make and save your own. Key-in and stereo links are also supported. There are eight sends per channel, with sends 7 and 8 dedicated to two internal multi-effects processors that provide reverb, delay, modulation effects, distortion and amp simulation. [Note: By the time you read this, the Y56K Waves plug-in card with Ultramaximizer, Renaissance EQ, compressor, supertap delay, TruVerb and DeEsser with ADAT I/O should be available for about $999. Each card supports up to eight channels (with five functions each) of stereo or mono effects. — Editors]

The AW4416 can store up to 96 scenes, including fader locations, mix parameters and effects settings. Scenes can be recalled via top panel keys or by MIDI program change data from an external MIDI sequencer. You can slave your MIDI sequencer via MIDI clock or MTC, and use program change data to manipulate the AW4416. Dynamic onboard mix, pan and EQ automation is included for all 44 inputs.

Song data, including audio, setups and automation, scene memory, effects settings, region fade, timecode top setting, counter display and undo data, can be backed up on an optional external HD, MO disk or the internal CD-R/RW.

Songs, tracks, parts and regions can each be edited separately, and editing includes 50% to 200% time compression and pitch change. There are 15 levels of undo/redo, and the dedicated Undo/Redo buttons light to indicate pushing them will result in a change. For editing purposes, tracks refers to all of the audio on one of the 16 active tracks. Parts are pieces of audio on a track. Regions are sections of a track that may include whole parts, portions of parts and/or sections of silence between parts.

There are eight basic locate keys (Start, End, RTZ, A, B, In, Out, Rollback), and an additional 99 markers can be set for each song. Auto punch-in/-out is also supported, and a built-in click track metronome is linked to the tempo map of the song.

A built-in sampler capable of storing up to 16 sounds (eight dedicated pads in two banks) is also part of the system, and it can sample from a sound file, audio CD or from a .WAV file on an optional SCSI device. The sampler has eight-note polyphony and can record up to 90 seconds of audio at 16-bit/44.1kHz.

Once songs are mixed to the internal 2-track master recorder, they can be burned to the CD-RW drive. Earlier constraints of having to rebuild disk images for each burn have been removed, allowing additional copies to be burned more easily. The CD-RW drive can also be used to backup projects two different ways. Type 1 first erases the inserted media and can spread large projects out over more than one CD. Type 2 stores songs as individual files. The CD-RW drive is also used for software updates. I upgraded from Version 1.2 to 1.3 during the review. It's a painless process.

GLOMMERS BEWARE

Glomming — pretty much ignoring the manual and just jumping on the beast and pushing buttons until something happens — is not always the best approach. I looked at the video, skimmed the manual and glommed. Even though it had been explained to me that there was an input matrix that was used to connect the inputs to the A/D converters and to the 16 tracks of recordable hard drive, it took me a while to get the hang of the system. After some head scratching, things started to make sense, and I began to have fun.

The demo song is a good place to learn basic operational features, and a small tutorial manual takes you through the song, explaining the basics of mix automation, EQ and other effects. From the song you can backward-engineer the settings.

NOISE ANNOYS

I plugged in my Fender Thinline Telecaster and went for it. The humbucking pickups on my Thinline picked up electronic noise radiated from the 4416, unless the two were separated by at least three feet. I also found that plugging the Tele into either the AW4416's channel 8 hi-Z input, the balanced TRS inputs or through a passive direct box and into a balanced input resulted in a low-level thin buzz and/or preamp hiss. I got my best results from running the Tele through my GML preamp and coming into the AW4416 at line-level. The AW4416 preamps, by the way, are decent quality and mostly neutral.

Assembling tracks was easy after I got the first one laid down. There are Edit sections in two of the manuals, but only one really tells you how to edit. Without that info, you can see the field that needs to be changed and still be lost. Also, the recorder and editor are not particularly well integrated. You can't play audio directly after doing an edit; you have to hit a button and wait a few seconds for the system to get to the right place. The addition of some “intuitive” macros to reduce the button pushing would be very welcome.

Unlike more powerful (and more expensive) multitasking systems, the AW4416 can't do much while the transport is recording or playing. You have to stop and then hit other buttons. While there is waveform editing, it's a visual and not an audible experience. There's just not enough processing power.

My attempts at looping a music bed took too many steps, and I was never quite able to get the loop points to work smoothly. Even when I made what I thought were overly tight edit points, there was still a slight dropout.

Currently, there is no Autosave feature, so you'll want to save often, otherwise, you can lose a whole project. In the typically redundant Yamaha way, it takes five moves to save a project instead of one or two. Some unrepeatable freezes have been encountered with the AW4416. Yamaha knows about them and is trying to solve the problem. Registering your system and getting the upgrades is the best solution to avoid freezes. Did I mention you need to save often?

IN CONCLUSION

I will make no excuse for the fact that I am accustomed to more powerful workstations. As always, the lower the price, the more effort required. You can cut your lawn with a manual reel mover, or a 42-inch, 20-horsepower tractor. They'll both cut the grass. But, 10 — or even five — years ago, if you told me I could get a portable 16-track, 24-bit recorder with mixer, automation, effects, sampler and a CD burner for less than $4k, I'd have thought you were nuts. So, on a price/performance scale, the AW4416 looks very good. The Devil, however, is in the details. I think with a few more software revs, Yamaha could make the AW4416 a really strong contender for the project studio market. I hope they stick with it, because, as a company, Yamaha has brought a lot of excellent gear to the market, and I know they can do it. As always, stay tuned.

Yamaha Pro Audio, 6600 Orangethorpe, Buena Park, CA 90620; 714/522-9011; www.yamaha.com.

Reach Ty Ford at www.tyford.com.