Paul White experiences the delights of this all‑digital, automated mixing environment where unwieldy cable harnesses and tiered patchbays are a thing of the past.
To simply call the Yamaha 02R a mixing console is rather like calling a Pentium PC a pocket calculator with a screen! A more accurate description of Yamaha's new baby might be along the lines of a complete, automated digital recording studio bar the tape machines and microphones! Unless you woke up yesterday and suddenly decided that setting up a home recording studio might be a nice hobby, you can hardly have failed to encounter some of the advance information about the 02R, but for the benefit of those lottery winners who've just returned from their world cruise, I'll run through the basic features before diving into finer detail.
Though there are family similarities between Yamaha's Promix 01 digital mixer and the new 02R, they are really quite different creatures aimed at different applications. Based on Yamaha's own custom digital processing chips, the 02R is a 40 input, 8‑bus digital in‑line recording console with dynamic processing (compression and/or expansion) on every channel. 4‑band parametric EQ is available on all channels as well as on the master stereo output, and there are eight aux sends. These auxiliaries are all individually switchable pre/post fader, with auxes 7 and 8 dedicated to the two built‑in digital multi‑effects processors; the remaining six auxes feed conventional analogue sends. As supplied, the console has 24 analogue inputs (16 mono and four stereo), with the first eight channels equipped with phantom powered mic amps and analogue insert points. All 16 channels can accept microphone or mic levels, though channels 9 to 16 have jack‑only inputs and no phantom powering.
Four rear panel slots allow optional plug‑in cards to be fitted. These provide access to the remaining 16 inputs and to make full use of the console for multitrack recording, at least one additional card is necessary. For digital multitrack users, cards are available to provide blocks of eight channels of digital multitrack I/O in Yamaha, ADAT or Tascam DA88 format, and for those working with other types of digital machine, AES/EBU interface cards are also on the options list. Apart from keeping everything in the digital domain, the digital multitrack interface simplifies studio wiring enormously; in the case of the Alesis ADAT XT I employed for this review, for instance, only two optical connectors were required.
Cards are available to provide additional blocks of eight analogue I/O, for analogue machine users, and a Digital Cascade card enables two 02Rs to be linked together and run as a single system. It should be noted that both the AES/EBU digital I/O card and the 8‑channel analogue I/O card take up two slots each, so it is conceivable that you might run out of slots. This being the case, you should consider your future expansion requirements carefully before committing yourself to the 02R route.
Multiples of the same type of card may be used so that you can interface up to 32 tracks of digital multitrack or 16 tracks of analogue. Other optional extras include a peak meter bridge, wooden side cheeks, and additional memory for storing mix data.
Given that this console is digital, you would expect some degree of automation, but on the 02R you can automate virtually everything (except the mic amp gain controls and the control room monitor level). Most mid‑price analogue consoles can only offer level and mute automation, but with the 02R you get moving fader level control, programmable mutes plus fully automated EQ, aux send/returns, panning, routing, switch settings (including Flip) and effects patches. What's more amazing is that you get all of this for less than you'd expect to pay for a budget analogue console with only moving fader automation.
Before moving on, I'd like to answer that niggling voice inside your head that's asking why you should want to automate all these controls when in a real life mix, you'd probably only move a handful of them from start to finish. The answer is recall — the ability to recreate your most complex mix in every detail simply by loading in your mix data. With a typical analogue console (even one with level automation), you still have to remember the original EQ settings, the effects patches you used, the settings on any external compressors or gates, the settings of the input and output knobs on the effects units, the setting of the gain trims on your tape returns, the console pan pot settings and all the aux levels. Even if you are a fastidious keeper of notes, it can be extremely difficult to recreate a mix in every detail, but with the 02R, absolutely everything is remembered when you store a mix. If you've ever worked in a commercial recording environment, you'll appreciate how valuable this feature is, because clients invariably come back and want to make minor changes to an otherwise perfectly good mix.
Though the final product of a recording these days often ends up on a 16‑bit DAT tape, it's no longer good enough to use a mixer with only 16‑bit input resolution on the analogue inputs, because this will become degraded as signals are added or changed in gain. Recognising this, Yamaha have equipped the 02R with 20‑bit, 64 times oversampling input converters and augmented these with a 32‑bit internal signal path, based around twin RISC CPUs and Yamaha's own 32‑bit DSP chip.
The sampling frequency can be set to either the 44.1kHz of CD or to the 48kHz standard, and if clocked from an external source, the sample rate can be varied from 32kHz to 48kHz, plus or minus 6%. The 02R also features a digital stereo output, allowing a recording to be kept in the digital domain all the way to DAT or hard disk mastering.
In any digital recording system comprising two or more pieces of digital equipment, one device must act as the 'master clock' and all the others must slave to it. In a fully professional system, a master word clock generator might feed all the different digital devices, keeping them all synchronised. In a more typical setup involving the 02R and a digital multitrack, the digital multitrack would be the master, the 02R would slave to the multitrack, and the DAT mastering machine would slave to the 02R. Conversely, ADAT/BRC users can take a master word clock directly from the BRC and lock to that.
As with a conventional mixer, the 02R allows the 2‑track mixes to be played back over the control room monitor system, and for the benefit of DAT users, a digital input is provided for this purpose. However, to avoid potential clock problems, the converters used in monitoring the DAT machine are not locked to the rest of the 02R's circuitry.
It's difficult to equate the power of the 02R with its modest appearance and size, which is little larger than a conventional 16:2 analogue desk. This compact format is made possible by a carefully designed user interface which owes a lot to Yamaha's DMC 1000 pro audio console, though conceptually it's the way many other digital worksurfaces seem to be heading, too.
To make everything fit, Yamaha have designed their desk to operate as an in‑line console, with the rear panel analogue inputs normally feeding the faders and with the optional multitrack interface cards feeding a row of level knobs, located half‑way up the front panel. A Flip switch can be used to reverse the roles of the faders and knobs — a common enough feature on analogue desks, which allows the faders to be used for setting the recording levels, after which they can be flipped to control the off‑tape mix. However, you can't flip channels individually as you can on some desks — the function is purely global.
During mixdown, the faders can be used to control the main off‑tape mix while the knobs may be used to control the levels of external instruments or processors being fed into the mix via the analogue inputs. All sound engineers work in slightly different ways, but having a Flip option always lets you use the faders for whatever task you consider is most important. In most other respects, the channels are identical, unlike some analogue consoles where the monitor signal path has to make do with half an EQ and only one or two aux sends.
Each 02R channel has its own fader or knob, an On button and a Select button. Apart from these, there are no more discrete channel controls. So how do you get to the EQ, aux sends and pan? That's where the Select button comes in, because over to the right of the console (directly beneath the 02R logo) is a grey panel area entitled 'Selected Channel'. In this panel is just one set of channel controls providing access to routing, aux sends, EQ and panning — and rotary knobs are used for easy data access. When any channel Select button is pressed, the Selected Channel controls are automatically assigned to that channel, so any channel control is really only a button push or two further away than it would be on a conventional mixing console.
In the centre of the console is a large LCD window which provides a detailed graphic overview of different parts of the system, depending on which function is selected for editing. Regardless of what window is selected, the very bottom of the screen shows the settings of the 16 channels and two aux returns controlled by knobs. Alongside the display are a couple of 7‑segment numeric windows plus a status display showing what functions the moving faders are currently controlling. The first numeric window shows what Scene is currently active, and also shows when it has been edited, while the second indicates which channel is currently selected. However, you don't have to use the Select Channel option to work on all the controls of one channel if you don't wish to — you can approach the task from the opposite end, and utilise the Display Access panel to the left of the console to let you get at just one control for all the channels across the console.
When using the Display Access mode to change aux send parameters, for example, the motorised faders assume the role of the control being accessed, allowing the effects send level to be changed directly with the fader. However, when functions such as Pan or EQ are accessed, virtual controls are displayed on the screen. These can be selected using the cursor controls on the left of the console, then adjusted using the data entry knob. Alternatively, they may be accessed directly via the Selected Channel controls — this is usually easier.
The Dynamics and EQ functions have several controls per channel, though it isn't possible to view more than one of these at a time. Initially, it may seem confusing that sometimes you can change the same parameter using either the faders, the big data entry knob or the smaller data entry knobs in the Selected Channel area, but in practice this flexibility makes it easier to work the way you want to.
For jobs involving stereo signals, it is possible to link two channels together by holding down both Select buttons and then confirming your action in the pop‑up dialogue box that subsequently appears on the screen. Alternatively, you can use the Pairs window to bring up the corresponding display; this shows two rows of broken ears which become mended when linked — very cute! When mixing you can also set up groups of faders, allowing any number of channels to be simultaneously adjusted via one physical control. This is in addition to four individual mute groups, which enable groups of channels to be switched on or off with a single button press.