It might look like a simple analogue desk, but beneath the MGP16X's familiar exterior lies some extensive digital processing.
Yamaha have a long history of building both analogue mixers and digital processors, so when it comes to designing a mixer with integral effects and DSP processing, they're not short on expertise. Their MGP16X is a 16-input mixer which employs a novel mix of analogue and digital technology. As on so many small-format mixers, the number of mic inputs is somewhat fewer than the overall input count, with the remaining inputs being made up of line-only channels. In this instance there are 10 mic/line inputs; the first eight of these channels have TRS jack insert points, while the last two may alternatively be used as stereo line-only channels. The remaining four inputs are configured as a pair of 'Stereo Hybrid' line-only channels, albeit endowed with some extra features. There are four groups.
The MGP16X also features dual on-board digital effects drawing on Yamaha's SPX and REV technology, digitally modelled analogue EQ, and 'one-knob' compression on the first eight mic/line channels. Some less common features are also included: the dedicated stereo channels offer their own bag of digital tricks comprising ducking, levelling and stereo-width adjustment. All this is possible because the DSP is doing far more than simply running effects. In fact, the block diagram doesn't make it entirely clear which functions are implemented digitally and which are analogue, though the manual implies that all the EQ, the ducking, the levelling and the the effects are digital.
Outwardly, the mixer looks like a typical Yamaha compact analogue desk, with steel panels and moulded end cheeks. It features largely metal construction, measures just 447 x 143 x 495mm and weighs 9kg. Rackmount adaptors are recessed into the end cheeks and, as delivered, these are reversed so that nothing sticks out to give you a nasty surprise. Unbolting them and fitting them the other way around gives you the familiar rackmount format.
From a construction point of view the MGP16X seems adequately rugged, with the knobs set just above the control surface so that any pressure or impact will cause them to bottom out on the front plate rather than damage the PCB to which they are mounted. The internal layout is designed for convection cooling, so there are no noisy fans, and those rack ears make flightcase mounting a simple option. I particularly like the fact that the PSU is internal rather than being a clumsy wall-wart, and because it uses switching-mode circuity, there's no need to change any settings when moving between countries.
All the connections, other than the headphone output and the USB port, are on the rear panel. Audio can be channelled into the mixer from an iPhone (but not any other USB source) using the USB port, either to the two-track input or to channels 15/16. If the USB input isn't required, the two-track input can be switched to the usual analogue RCA phono sockets. Some mixer parameters can also be edited from iPhones using a free app, though there seems to be no way to take audio out of the mixer via USB.
At the front end of each mic/line channel is a discrete Class-A microphone preamp with individually switchable 48V phantom power, low-cut filter and a 26dB pad. Yamaha call this input circuitry D-Pre, and it is based on designs Yamaha developed for their pro consoles using an inverted Darlington-pair circuit topography. A Darlington pair is a very well established way of cascading two transistors for use in situations where high gain is required; the collectors of the two transistors are linked, while the emitter of the first feeds directly into the base of the second. Yamaha claim these deliver a "fat, rich and smooth tone” with very low distortion. Up to 60dB of gain is available at this point, with a further 10dB on offer at the channel fader and 10dB more at the output fader. All channels feature a PFL solo button.
Yamaha's 'X-pressive' EQ, based on their Virtual Circuit Modelling technology, has been designed to impart a vintage analogue flavour by emulating the response curves and phase characteristics of classic analogue circuitry. This three-band EQ has a swept mid-range (250Hz-5kHz) with up to 15dB of cut or boost. The low and high shelving filters work at 125Hz and 8kHz, respectively.
The compressors fitted to channels 1-8 include amber LED indicators showing when the compressor starts to apply gain reduction. The Comp control simply dials in more or less compression, with fully anticlockwise effectively being 'off'.
Channels 9/10 and 11/12 are the 'dual purpose' ones which can be used either as mono mic or stereo line channels. They have a simple fixed-mid EQ, and no compressors or extra fancy DSP gizmos, though they have the same sends as the other channels and are still controlled by faders. The final two stereo channels, 13/14 and 15/16, are the designated Hybrid Stereo channels. Like the first eight channels, they have a full swept-mid EQ, but without the low-cut filter on the input. They also include buttons to activate the Ducker and Leveller, which are unique to these channels.
Every channel has four aux sends, two of which feed the internal effect engines as well as physical outputs on the rear panel. Send 1 is fixed pre-fader while send 2 can be switched pre- or post-fader. An illuminated On button resides above the 60mm channel fader, with red and green LEDs showing signal present and signal peak. The two master bar-graph meters for the console, which also show solo levels, share the same Perspex panel as the effects section, with the phones and USB ports directly above.
The four group buses are controlled by two stereo faders. Both effect engines also have their own master send level knobs and return faders with on, routing and solo buttons. Further buttons allow the aux 1 and 2 buses to be soloed after the fader (AFL) if preferred. Unusually for a small mixer, the aux 1 and 2 outputs are on XLRs rather than jacks, which could be an advantage in a live situation, as power amps and active monitors tend to have XLR inputs.
There's also a button above each group fader to route the group pairs to the main mix. All four bus outputs are available on jacks and, as usual, the master outputs are on XLRs as well as jacks. There's also a pair of return inputs feeding their own level controls for routing to aux 1, 2 and the main mix. For the two-track input, present on RCA phono connectors, there's a simple routing button to select either To Monitor or To Stereo.
Despite the cunning hybrid goings-on under the hood, the MGP16X behaves much like a typical analogue console, even to the extent of springing to life almost immediately after the power button is pressed. Its control panel is clearly set out, with no superfluous controls in the master section to confuse operation, and the simple coloured-knob pointers are a positive aid to navigation. Those modelled EQs sound musical, even when pushed further than might be considered tasteful, and if I hadn't been told they were digital I would have assumed they were just a nice analogue design! There's no excess noise unless you dial in silly amounts of some of the effects, when a little hiss may become audible.
I've always been impressed by the Yamaha one-knob compressors, and in this incarnation, the activity LED is a great aid to setting up. For live work I tend to use them in moderation, as the more compression you add to a mic, the closer you get to your feedback threshold, but for evening out levels they work very well. As with many smaller consoles, you don't get an EQ bypass button, and having only two pre-fade aux sends available for monitoring purposes might not be enough for everyone, but for smaller gigs, the format is valid.
My tests showed the ducker to work very efficiently, while the leveller certainly takes the work out of getting a music compilation to sound consistent. The jewel in the crown of this console, though, has to be the dual effects section, which is both simple and very polished-sounding. I particularly like the way you can combine reverbs and delays to create contemporary vocal treatments, while the tap-tempo button is invaluable in live performance, where tempos often fluctuate. I've always loved Yamaha's Symphonic Chorus effect too, which I guess is their answer to the Roland Dimension D. I'm not sure about the OTT Karaoke Echo effect, but I've no complaints regarding the reverbs and delays.
Overall, the mixer does what it sets out to do with a lot of class and style. My own view of mono/stereo channels, at least for live use, is that you never have enough mic inputs and the line inputs are of limited use anyway, as most on-stage line sources connect via a DI box feeding a mic input. However, if the mic channel count and number of monitor sends meet your needs, it would be hard to find a nicer-sounding or easier-to-use mixer in this price range, especially as the effects boxes on which the effects section is based originally cost more than this entire mixer. .
There are desks from the likes of Mackie, Behringer and others that add digital effects, but this is the first I've used that combines analogue and digital to such a high degree.
The MGP16X has several digital processors dedicated to specific tasks, as well as more conventional general-purpose digital effects. The Ducker allows a microphone to take priority over another sound source whenever a signal is present at the mic input. This is the familiar 'radio DJ' feature that allows the DJ to talk over the music, though why it never caught on in reverse to turn down the DJ when the music is playing is beyond me! In the case of the MGP, channel 8 carries the source or voice channel, while the music to be ducked feeds through channels 13/14 or 15/16. The time the audio takes to bounce back (release time) can be adjusted from your iPhone. I found the default 1.5 seconds to be a little slow, so tweaking it might be a good idea.
The leveller is a form of compressor designed to even out longer-term level discrepancies in sound sources that vary in volume. This is useful for the playback of mixed material, and saves you having to ride the faders all the time when you want to use your break to visit the bar! The leveller is simply switched on or off, though deeper adjustment is possible using the app, which allows you to adjust the threshold. Again, it is available on channels 13/14 or 15/16. When using an analogue source, you have to play with the input level to get the leveller operating correctly, and the manual describes how do do this using the PFL metering.
The Stereo Image section has three switch positions for Mono, Blend or Stereo. Blend narrows the pan balance of the stereo sound source while Mono sums the stereo input to mono. I wouldn't have though this was too taxing on the DSP! Narrowing the stereo image, or even collapsing it to mono, is a good idea in venues where significant numbers of the audience might end up much closer to one or other of the speakers.
The mixer has two separate effects processors, with the Rev X section offering Hall, Room and Plate reverb simulations. These draw on Yamaha's REV-series outboard reverb algorithms so are rather more advanced than you'd expect to find in most mixing consoles. Engine two is based on Yamaha's SPX algorithms, and it provides 16 editable digital effects ranging from more reverb and room simulations to delay, chorus, phaser, flanger, Yamaha's classic Symphonic Chorus, a doubler and a radio voice emulation. There's also a Karaoke setting but I won't dwell on that! A turn-and-push knob selects the effects type, where the effect numbers are displayed clearly by amber numeric LEDs. The knob directly below tweaks the main parameter, which is automatically saved when you power down or switch to a new effect.
MGP Editor is a free iOS app available from the iTunes Store that provides additional control of the console's DSP settings via an iPhone or iPod Touch. The USB port connects to the iPod or iPhone using a standard Apple cable, and recharges the device while in use. Note that the connection is wired, not Wi-Fi, and Yamaha recommend setting aircraft mode on the phone to avoid interference. Where this is not possible, they also provide a clip-on ferrite block to go around the iPhone cable to reduce interference.
The app presents five pages, each having the feel of a typical plug-in GUI, and allows you to tweak the Hybrid Channel's Priority Ducker, Leveller and iPod/iPhone playback settings. The ducker range and release time can be adjusted, the leveller threshold adjusted and the effects selected remotely. The app also gives you slightly deeper effects editing than is available than from the console front panel. All you get on the mixer itself is one parameter knob for each effects section that adjusts the most important parameter for the selected effect type, plus a tap tempo button for the SPX delay effects. Using your iPhone, however, you can adjust a number of the Rev X reverb parameters either by using knobs or by dragging points on a graphical display. The exact number of editable parameters depends on the reverb type selected, but is between one and five and typically includes the likes of reverb time, pre-delay, diffusion and parameters affecting tonality. A similar system works for the 16 SPX effects. Once changed and stored by pressing and holding the FX dial for a second or so, the new settings are remembered at power-down.
It is possible to change some of the more detailed ducker settings (attenuation and range) from the mixer panel, and this involves pressing the FX1 and FX2 keys for at least two seconds to get you into a specialist edit mode, but the app is rather more intuitive. Curiously, no iPad version was available at the time of this review, but the app will run on an iPad — with the limitation that you only get a phone-sized display.