In the world of live sound there are a few desks that have cost an awful lot of money. When the first Midas full digital desk came out it cost around the £100,000 mark. Considering that most of the digital desks available at that time cost considerably less than that, it’s no wonder that not many of the XL8s were bought. One thing that made it sell, was the sound. Midas sound with digital connivence, that was worth having. Companies such as Digico, Soundcraft, Allen & Heath, SSL and Yamaha all have high end digital desks which can produce the near perfect sound we’d all like to experience, or cope with the high channel counts, and connectivity that large scale modern shows demand. One thing a lot of engineers have got used to, and use a lot, is the Waves soundgrid system. This allows you to take your Waves plugins and use them instead of the various effects and processors that come with the desk, making a lot of lower end desks punch well above their weight.
Yamaha went down a different route with their latest high end desks, the Rivage PM10 and PM7 (and to a lesser extent the more prevalent CL5). They took the modelled plugin idea that we’ve been used to in the studio, and made it the heart of the desk, and partnered with Rupert Neve, no less, to give the desk access to a wide range of plugin options, all on the desk, with out the need of an external computer to run it all. While it’s sat at the top of my rider list for a while, I’ve recently had the opportunity to get my hands dirty with this desk and see if it’s worth the cost.
As the show I’m using it on is 64 channels, with various pitch shifts and other effects needed to be added FOH at various points in the show, the offline editor gave me an invaluable option of getting everything in place before arriving at the venue. The file you create goes on a USB memory stick, copied across the desk, hit load and boom…your show is ready to go. I had the added bonus of having a show file from the Yamaha CL5 desk, and a handy converter program from Yamaha gave me a head start as I didn’t have to label every channel from scratch. The offline editor also gives you a chance to learn a bit about the desk, make decisions about where you want channels to show up, what effects pr processing to use, turn on compressors or gates, route to mix busses (Yamaha’s version of auxiliary sends) matrixes. While each channel comes with the usual Yamaha stock compressors/gates/de-essers/expanders and other such dynamic processing, you can also add upto 8 inserts per channel, which makes complex processing more possible than on Yamaha’s other desks. The PM10 has access to some incredible processing options. For a start it’s got the T.C Electronics 6000 VSS4 system emulated, along with Eventide H3000 and Yamaha’s own SPX1000 system. There’s analog delays, phasers, flangers, along the the Dan Duggan auto mix system, a great tool for mixing multi-mic panel debates. We then also have access to U76 and Opto2A compressors to name just 2 of the options gives us a lot fo play with. (see the end for the full list!) The strength of the desk is that you can load up the desk with any combination of the plugins as you like. If you want to have a U76 of every channel, you could certainly give it a go, There are 384 “slots” and the plugins take up as many slots as it needed to have the right computing power available. The VSS4 takes 16 slots for each instances, but there’s no reason why you can’t have 5 of them if you want. I’ve tried to use things sparingly, and used 165 in my initial setup. Any channel or mix buss can be routed through the plugins, which can be easily accessed quickly by a single button on the control section of the desk.
The show I’m on is fronted by a Violinist with a full band behind consisting of Drums/percussion, guitar, bass, wind, keys, with a small string orchestra and choir. Quite the setup coming in at 64 channels! With the violin needing to sit onto of the mix, I’ve got it routed through a U76, Graphic EQ, and Dynamic EQ. The Dynamic EQ gives me access to 4 bands so that seemed like enough though as I’ve only used 3 inserts, I could’ve added more in if I needed to!
The PM10 also brings in delay compensation, which is something DAW users will be familiar with, but Yamaha haven’t included this in previous desks, meaning you had to be careful if you did any parallel processing or complex grouping or matrix routing. We’re not short of channels for your big shows, and the desk is capable of 144 inputs to 72 mix busses and 36 matrixes. I already feel like I’m not using everything this desk can do!
I spent around 4 hours fiddling with the offline editor and finally had a file that would get my up and running.
Armed with my USB stick I faithfully plugged it in and headed for the load screen. Yamaha give you the option of being nice to your system techs (the people who actually put the system together) and only copy over the scene to the desk. This is important, especially in festivals, as loading the full file will wipe the desk of any previous settings. So if your system tech has set the system up ready to go you can really mess their day up by not thinking. A scene load will load up anything saved to the scene, which will include routing, effects, labels, levels, EQ, and everything that goes with the main show. What it doesn’t load is your preferences, which will include what your user defined keys, knobs, and other settings which affect the desk’s behaviour. While an engineer may have a full desk file that has it all set-up nicely, it doesn’t really take long to set these bits up, and I’d rather not give a system tech who I’ve just met the headache of wiping the desk if I can avoid it. It starts things off on the wrong foot!
Now for some strange reason the scene load function on the PM10 didn’t work. While normally I’d poke around and try and figure out why, the system tech just loaded the full scene and commented that they hadn’t set the routing up yet anyway, so I wasn’t destroying any carefully laid plans by doing so. We loaded my scene, and then set the levels for the PA using the Matrix sends on the main LR (Main hang, Subs, fills, from the brilliant L-Acoustics) As this was my first time using this desk, I hadn’t set up all the custom button options. This was the first task. I headed to the preference page, and set to work.
The PM10 gives you access to 4 banks of 12 soft keys, and 4 banks of 4 user definable knobs. These can be set to any function that the desk can control, giving you access to some things that I find awkward on a lot of earlier digital desks. If you’re doing some reggae, dub, or ska you might want to be able to spike the reverb or delay on the snare or lead vocal. While possible, it’s usually requires you to be on the channel you want to alter, giving you the choice of either editing the EQ or some other parameter, or carrying on with your spiking shenanigans. Not so here, we can set the knobs to be just one send on one channel. The buttons are great for mute groups, or pulling up screens that you need quick access to, like specific FX processors or channels. Again, I made very little use of them on this gig, due to not wanting to complicate my life on the first using, so gave myself transport control for the record to USB feature, and a quick button to the reverb and processing for the Violin, and a few tempo tap buttons to get my delays pinging at the right time with the music. With that over with I was ready to hear some channels. It’s soundcheck time!
I’ll Make You the Silky Smooth.
First thing you need to know is this desk is clean sounding, and that is a Yamaha trait that some people take issue with. It’s a pure uncoloured sound that it produces by default, crisp and clear. It’s really odd that we sound engineers tend not to like that! So in comes Rupert Neve with some clever trickery, and we have the Silk knob. In either red (air) or blue (warmth) colours this is, in my mind, the biggest selling point for the desk. You can get all the other bells and whistles for other desks, but the Silk is something special. I used it on almost every channel, and it warmed and cleared up channels like some kind of magical voodoo which gave a massive boost to the depth of the mix. The bass guitar was made especially nice, giving me a warm fuzzy feeling in my gut! Having used various desks on this show (We don’t tour with their own desk as shows tend to be one offs) this was by far the easiest to gel the sounds together with. Having the VSS4 onboard made reverb a dream with 5 different instances of them, and the H3000 emulated gave me the best pitch shift sound I’ve had on the gig! Being able to have 3 of them working independently made a huge difference. Everything this desk does, it does amazingly well. Another thing Yamaha does exceptionally well is the custom fader level, a feature that I’ve found invaluable on desks that provide it (not just Yamaha!) With 38 faders infront of you on the version I was using, they can be set to anything you like in any order meaning I could have drum DCAs, then guitar DCA, next to the Bass and wind input channels, giving me an easier time of making adjustments when needed, only popping back to the main layers if I needed to alter something on the main channels. Being able to have different channels wherever I wanted them instead of a set order speeds up the critical “arrgg where is that stupidly loud sound and how do I kill it” panic scramble that all engineers know, without having to scroll through channels, or make mix killing sweeping movements until you can find the right channel.
I’m highly impressed with this desk, and given the cost, that’s not surprising. The PM7 version does give you a cheaper way into using such high end gear, but with the loss of the VSS4 reverbs, I’d be inclined to say you’re missing out if you do! The PM10 represents absolutely everything you need in one box. I’m going to be really disappointed when I don’t get one on the next gig!
Here that list of plugins that I was talking about.
Rupert EQ 773
Rupert Comp 754
Rupert Comp 830
Rupert EQ 810
Dynamic EQ (2 band)
Buss Comp 369
Rev-X (In hall, room and plate varieties)
SPX Auto Pan
SPX Ring Mod.
SPX Amp Simulator