A plug-in card for the Yamaha AW-series workstations that combines Waves-quality DSP effects with eight channels of ADAT optical I/O.
The Waves Y56K processor card combines a DSP-powered effects engine with eight channels of ADAT lightpipe I/O and is designed to be compatible with Yamaha's current AW-series multitrackers as well as with some future products. This card fits into an I/O expansion slot, just like any other mini YGDAI card, and allows the user to create up to eight separate mono chains of effects (or four stereo) that can be deployed via inserts or aux sends according to the routing system of the host machine. Each of the effect/processor algorithms is based on the Waves series of plug-ins and the set comprises the L1 Ultramaximiser, the Renaissance Compressor and Equaliser, a de-esser, the company's Trueverb reverb processor and the Supertap multitap delay. All these have a well-deserved reputation both for sound quality and ease of use, with the L1 Ultramaximiser being particularly well suited to mastering. The number of algorithms that can be run at one time depends on the combinations chosen and there's an on-screen DSP power usage meter for each of the two DSP chips on the card.
I tested the card in a Yamaha AW4416, with the card fitted into slot 1, so the eight chains were referred to as SL1-1 to SL1-8. If fitted to slot 2, you get chains SL2-1 to SL2-8. To get to the new screens associated with the card, it's necessary only to press Aux 7 followed by F5, if the card is in the first slot, or Aux 8 followed by F5 if it is in the second slot. This doesn't mean that the card takes over aux busses seven or eight (it can be fed from any aux send or insert send), it just means these buttons are used to access its screens.
The main screen for the card provides a graphic representation of the eight effect chains, each of which may comprise up to five algorithms connected in series. From this page it is possible to load effect algorithms into chains, select the input source for each of the chains and group adjacent pairs of chains into stereo where needed. Settings may be saved or recalled via this page, and if a mono chain is switched to stereo or vice versa, the mono/stereo status of the effects is changed automatically where this makes sense, or where this is not possible, the chain is cleared. A library of factory presets is included (both individual effects and overall 'Main' Y56K settings) and the user may save and name custom patches. A Main preset includes the preset name, the source selection for each chain, the mono/stereo grouping for each chain, the chain bypass/enable status and the effect bypass/enable status.
Patches for individual effect blocks may be edited by choosing the Properties option from the menu that appears when you double-click an effects block. Effects may also be copied and pasted between blocks and, in true Waves tradition, each effect has an A/B comparison facility where two different settings can be loaded at any one time, enabling the user to flip quickly between them. A set of alphanumeric buttons is included at the bottom of the Save dialogue page for patch naming, and using a mouse or trackball connected to the AW machine speeds up this process considerably.
The Special button on the Y56K menu bar brings up the DSP usage meters and also shows the total delay (in both samples and milliseconds) introduced by each channel of the card. This is seldom more than two or three milliseconds, but having a precise read-out does enable you to compensate using track delays if necessary.
The ADAT interface of the card works fairly simply — when inputting ADAT signals from the outside world, these are routed to AW mixer channels 17 to 24, though you can also select ADAT as the effect chain source to apply effects directly to incoming signals. The ADAT output always follows the inputs to the Y56K card from the designated AW sources, but any processing set up on the card will be applied to the ADAT output. If you need to use the ADAT out simply to transfer eight tracks of audio data, the best option would be to create a routing preset sending the desired tracks to the Y56K card and to use an effects preset where no Y56K effects are inserted.
To use a Y56K effect in a channel insert point, the procedure is similar to that used when configuring a hardware external effect. When using a chain in an aux send loop, any of the AW's eight aux sends can be assigned to feed any of the effect chains, though it's wise to leave out aux seven and eight so that these can handle the AW's own internal effects. To use a mono-in, stereo-out reverb, the desired aux send would be nominated as the Y56K chain source (Option I/O Slot Assign page), and effect chains one and two would be set to Stereo. Then, using the Mixer Channel Input Assign page, the reverb outputs are selected as sources for whichever two channels you wish to use as returns. It also makes sense to pan the return channels hard left and right and to stereo link them. You can also use the old hardware mixer trick of feeding an effect send from a pre-fade channel aux send with the channel fader turned off to create what amounts to a stereo insert effect for a mono channel.
The L1 Ultramaximiser can be thought of as a combined limiter and normaliser. You set the maximum output level you want, then adjust the input threshold until a suitable amount of gain reduction is showing on signal peaks. Normally the limiter comes at the end of the mastering process, and the L1 includes two high-quality IDR noise-shaped dithering settings for situations where you want to reduce a 24-bit recording to a 16-bit CD master. The Waves L1 Ultramaximiser plug-in has been one of my favourite mastering tools over the past few years, as it is generally able to squeeze around 6dB of extra loudness out of a track without causing any audible side effects.
Renaissance Compressor is a simple, warm-sounding compressor with automatic time constant adjustment based on the starting values set by the user. There are sliders for ratio and threshold with a choice of compressor characters (Warm/Smooth, Opto/Electro, Automatic/Manual Release Control) and the overall sound is more analogue-like than many plug-ins, especially when Warm is selected, as this adds low-frequency harmonics during times of gain reduction much like a valve or FET compressor. The Yamaha compressors are great for dynamic control without obvious side effects, so the Renaissance Compressor provides a useful choice of compression colour.
Renaissance Equaliser again emulates the behaviour of an analogue filter circuit and is configured as a six-band 'paragraphic' equaliser that can be adjusted numerically or by moving nodes on the EQ frequency response curve. Every band has variable gain and Q, and can be adjusted over the whole frequency range, while the filter response is switchable from peaking to shelving with additional modes for the outer bands. A 48-bit internal data path avoids clipping and the user interface makes adjustment very intuitive, as you can always see the composite EQ curve caused by your adjustment. Not only is this a good-sounding digital EQ, it can be adjusted to make surgical cuts at problem frequencies, making it also a powerful problem-solving tool.
The De-esser can be set to full-band or split-band mode, the latter attenuating only frequencies above a split point set by the user when sibilance is detected. Adjustment is via a simple threshold, with a meter showing how much gain reduction is being applied while processing is taking place. A side-chain meter shows the side-chain signal energy after the necessary high-pass filtering needed to detect sibilance. Split mode produces the least audible processing artefacts, as lower-frequency sounds are not changed in level when sibilance is being suppressed.
Trueverb is an extremely well-respected reverb algorithm that Pro Tools users have had access to for some years now. It provides a sensible number of user adjustments, without getting bogged down in nonsensical minutiae (wallpaper pattern modelling, anyone?), and offers independent control over early reflections and the reverb decay tail. There's also a unique Insert mode that doesn't have a mix control, but rather processes everything to create a natural sense of space that can be adjusted using the Distance parameter, with or without the late reverb tail switched on. This avoids the familiar effect where the dry sound and reverb sounds don't seem to belong in the same world. A Link button links the Reverb, Room and Pre-delay parameters to properly balance the three parameters in a natural way and to provide a single means of adjusting them. The internal Yamaha reverbs are pretty good, but Trueverb sounds quite different, with a particularly natural and smooth decay tail.
Again based on an existing Waves plug-in, Supertap delay combines a three-tap delay line with a graphical panning interface, allowing the three delays to be positioned anywhere in the sound stage. The delays can be set in time or bpm, and may be modulated if necessary to create chorus-like effects and so on. Three different feedback modes are available to help recreate all the classic echo/delay effects, plus there's a novel Rotate mode, a sophisticated type of stereo panning that works in conjunction with feedback to produce some unusual spatial effects.
The Waves Y56K combines some seriously good effects derived from existing Waves plug-ins with a useful ADAT I/O port. When you consider that the expansion ports of the AW machines were designed primarily for I/O expansion, the Waves effects have been integrated into the AW operating system pretty smoothly and they may be used in addition to the onboard effects rather than as an alternative. The cream of the crop for me is undoubtedly Trueverb, but the other tools also manage to both function extremely well and provide an alternative character to the existing internal AW effects.
As to how many effects you can run at one time, that varies enormously, with Trueverb taking around 45 percent of one of the two available DSP chips to run. By contrast, a single Supertap delay takes only around 14 percent of one DSP with the L1 Ultramaximiser needing around 16 percent and the basic L1 without the dithering option around nine percent. Whether the card is for you or not really depends on whether you need the I/O slot for something other than ADAT I/O, but if you can afford the real-estate then it significantly expands the effect and processing capabilities of the basic AW machine for a UK price comparable with buying equivalent software-only plug-ins for a computer-based system.