Intended for use in small- to medium-scale live sound applications, Yamaha’s QL Series of Digital Mixing Consoles are designed to pack the functionality, features and routing capabilities of their big brothers—the CL Series—into a compact chassis that’s attractive for those with limited space and a more modest budget. Yamaha sent Mix a QL5 for a test drive. Let’s see if they have, in fact, met those goals.
The QL5 features a 32 + 2 fader surface, and 32×16 analog I/O on balanced XLRs. Eight additional stereo channels can be used for the onboard effects returns, and the console may be expanded with Yamaha R Series I/O rack units, via the onboard Dante port (no expansion card is required) or via two Yamaha MY slots for a maximum of 64 mono inputs, 16 Mix outs, 8 Matrix outs, plus Left, Right, Mono and Cue outputs (!). Other rear panel connections include AES/EBU digital out, word clock and MIDI I/O, GPI, a standard Ethernet port and two 12-volt lamp sockets.
Over the Top
The control surface of the QL5 bears a resemblance to the CL1 (reviewed in the July 2013 issue of Mix). The fader bank has 32 input and two output channels, each with a 100mm motorized fader, On, Cue and Select switches, LED meter and LCD scribble strip. Above the fader bank is an angled panel with a color touchscreen, to the right of which are a USB port, 12 user assignable keys, and a set of Selected Channel controls with dedicated knobs for Gain, Pan, Dynamics 1, Dynamics 2, HPF, Q, Frequency and Gain, plus pushbuttons for selecting Low, Low Mid, High Mid or High EQ bands. Below these controls are a “Touch and Turn” knob and four fader bank buttons. To the left of the screen are 16 buttons providing instant access to Sends On Faders. The left half of the top section provides an area for an iPad, with studs to hold it in place.
Under the Hood
Processing capabilities on the QL5 leave little to be desired. Every input has Gain, Polarity, Dynamics 1 (gate, ducker, expander or compressor) Dynamics 2 (compressor, compander or de-esser), HPF, 4-band parametric EQ (the low and high bands switch between parametric or shelf curves), two inserts, channel delay and direct output, plus access to 16 DCA and eight Mute groups. Each output has 4-band parametric EQ, dynamics, insert, delay, and polarity reverse. As is the fashion these days, the outputs can be assigned to any Mix or Matrix bus; among Yamaha users, Omni outs 15 and 16 have become default for the L/R master buses.
In addition to the channel processing, the QL5 incorporates a Virtual Rack with three sections: GEQ, Effect, and Premium. Each section provides eight slots. Any rack ‘device’ may be patched on any input, bus or physical output, but there’s a method to the arrangement. The GEQs (Graphic EQs) are intended for use on output buses such as L/R Master or a Mix out for EQ’ing mains or monitors. Effect devices are normally fed from the Mix buses and return to the stereo inputs. These eight processors feature an extensive library of effects including Yamaha’s REV-X reverbs, stereo and mono delays, modulation and pitch shift effects. Premium effects include Portico 5033 EQ and 5043 compressors, as well as emulations of 1176, LA2A, and Neve bus compressors. If you need more DSP than what lives onboard the QL5, I’d say you have a serious problem.
Out the Door
I used the QL5 on a bunch of local gigs for house and monitor mixing. Once I had the QL5 out of its shipping box, I was just able to manage moving it by myself into the trunk of my car. Getting the QL5 up and running was easy: plug in some mics, check the Output Port patch (L/R buses to Omni Outs 15 /16) and fire away. The QL5’s touchscreen provided easy access to most parameters, but I did miss the more comprehensive Selected Channel section of the QL5’s brothers. For example there’s only one physical knob dedicated to each Dynamics processor, which defaults to threshold. Adjusting the other parameters such as attack time requires tapping a parameter knob onscreen, then using the Touch and Turn to make the adjustment. I found this a little bit on the slow side. Ditto for the EQ controls, which toggle between the four bands (though dedicated knobs are provided for Q, frequency and gain).
The sound of the EQ section was clean and clear even when applying a high degree of boost. The high-mid band helped a male vocal cut through a dense mix, and I could crank it quite a bit without it sounding harsh. I also liked the fact that the High EQ band can be changed to a lowpass filter, which was eminently useful for removing cymbal bleed from vocal microphones. Channel dynamics were equally useful, though I found that—for drums—the attack time on the gate has a sweet spot between 2 and 6 ms. Set it too fast and the attack of a drum sounds weird; too slow and the attack of the drum becomes mushy (sorry that I can’t be more technically descriptive).
Gee There’s a Lot of EQ Here
The GEQ rack provides eight 31-band ‘graphs typically for assignment to output buses. I linked the first two GEQs and patched them on the L/R outputs for use as my default system tuning EQ. In some cases I used the third GEQ to sculpt a small front-fill monitor that couldn’t handle a lot of low end—still leaving me with five GEQs for monitor wedges. The GEQ rack can actually process 16 channels by “swapping” one GEQ for a pair of Yamaha’s Flex15 EQs, in which you may use any 15 of 31 bands. You can also swap a GEQ for an 8-band parametric (PEQ) that includes HPF, LPF and three notch filters. This proved useful in a situation where I had difficulty EQ’ing feedback out of a wedge mix where the offending frequency was in the cracks of the standard 31-bands. Switching to the PEQ enabled me to tune a parametric band precisely where I needed it. Feedback gone.
Using Yamaha’s StageMix app (free), the QL5 can be controlled via iPad. The obvious advantage of using StageMix is that I could walk the room during a show and adjust the mix. Not so obvious is the ability to park StageMix on the DCA screen while still mixing at the QL5—allowing me to have input channels across the console’s faders and the DCA group faders on the iPad at the same time—very cool. An exceptional feature of StageMix is that you can run RTA behind the EQ screen, making it ridiculously easy to find and correct feedback frequencies in monitor wedge mixes while standing in front of a wedge. Complex monitor mixes were easily handled by using Sends On Fader. Pressing one of the 16 Sends On Faders buttons repurposes the faders to control send level, enabling you to see and create the mix on faders instead of Touch and Turn. Sends on Fader combined with the ability to link sends in stereo made creating stereo mixes for in-ear monitors a snap.
I was a bit skeptical of the idea that QL and CL console data files are compatible but in fact, my CL files loaded perfectly into the QL5, translating all of my scene settings and the effects library. Yamaha has improved their Save/Load page whereby you may now choose to load (or not) any of the following: All, Scene, Input/Output, Effect/GEQ, Premium and Setup. This is invaluable for festival use, where a guest engineer can load a scene without screwing up the systems engineer’s output configuration.
As you’d expect, the QL5 also features creature comforts such as channel linking, a built-in oscillator, the ability to name and color-code I/O channels (no small frill in my book since it makes navigating large numbers of channels much quicker), and access to a plethora of Yamaha MY expansion cards. The real deal is that the QL5 hits the mark, providing excellent sound, a ton of processing (I’ve always enjoyed using Yamaha’s delays and modulation effects), routing options that could make your head spin, and Yamaha’s friendly operating system—at a price that is very attractive. I even used a standard Ethernet cable to connect the Dante interface to a Mac running Digital Performer, where it performed like a champ. What more could you want?
Steve La Cerra is a New York-based live sound and audio engineer.
The QL5 allows you to create custom fader banks that can simultaneously control input, output and DCA (Digitally Controlled Amplifier) channels. First press Setup in the QL5’s main screen, then User Setup, and then the Custom Fader tab. Next choose a bank of faders (1-16 or 16-32) using the Bank Select key. Onscreen in the Channel Assign field, press a Fader Select Button, then press SEL on the console surface to assign that channel to the custom fader. If necessary, you can change the channel assigned to a fader by using the Fader Assign Select button, which will open a menu displaying all input and output channels including the Stereo Inputs, Mix Outs and Matrix Outs.
PRODUCT: QL5 Digital Mixing Console
PROS: Compact footprint. Comprehensive onboard processing. Built-in Dante networking.
CONS: Limited selected channel controls.