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Yamaha AW4416

Recording Workstation By Hugh Robjohns
Published September 2000

Yamaha AW4416

Yamaha's AW4416 recording workstation, which debuted at the NAMM show earlier this year, has been the subject of more reader inquiries at the SOS offices than any other product in living memory. In this exclusive preview, Hugh Robjohns gets his hands on a prototype to find out what we have to look forward to...

Yamaha's AW4416 promises to take the all‑in‑one portable recording workstation to new heights, marrying a fully featured digital mixer with a 16‑track hard disk recorder and sampling facilities. The published feature list promises a breathtaking specification at a highly competitive price, offering 16 tracks of uncompressed 24‑bit audio, with a further 114 virtual tracks, along with comprehensive I/O and backup options, including an optional built‑in SCSI CD writer. The mixer section is closely derived from that of Yamaha's existing 'O‑series' digital mixers, and includes a large display with dedicated metering, two effects processors and full moving‑fader automation. The built‑in polyphonic sampler really is the icing on the cake.

The pricing of the AW4416 has now been finalised at £2599 for the basic version (with 12Gb internal hard drive), and £2799 for a machine equipped with both hard drive and CD‑RW, which makes the unit highly competitive. Obvious comparisons include Roland's VS1880 (reviewed in SOS July 2000), which retails at £2199 plus £449 for its CD writer, and Akai's DPS16 (reviewed in this issue), which costs £1500. However, neither of these machines share the AW4416's motorised faders, mixer functionality, I/O options or built‑in sampler — though both feature waveform editing, which will be lacking in at least the first version of the 4416.


This businesslike machine measures 558 x 460 x 148mm (WDH) and weighs just over 10kg. The rear panel can host up to 26 physical inputs, comprising eight analogue mic/line inputs, an S/PDIF stereo digital input and two sets of eight inputs from optional mini‑YGDAI cards. Current options for the mini‑YGDAI cards include digital I/O in AES‑EBU, ADAT or DTRS formats and various analogue I/O interfaces. There is an unbalanced stereo output (‑10dBV), a stereo S/PDIF digital output, four Omni outputs, a stereo monitoring feed, a stereo headphone outlet and the two 8‑channel mini‑YGDAI card outputs — 28 outputs, if the cards are installed.

The analogue I/O employs 24‑bit converters, and there is the option to dither digital outputs to 16 bits. The first two analogue input channels are equipped with balanced XLRs (switchable phantom) and TRS inputs, as well as unbalanced insert sockets. Channels 3‑7 have balanced TRS inputs, while channel 8 has both a standard TRS and a high‑impedance guitar input. The channel gain controls cover the range from ‑46 to +4dBu.

Other rear‑panel facilities include word clock in and out (BNCs), MIDI In and Out/Thru plus MTC Out, a 'To Host' serial computer port and a SCSI 2 buss for connecting external backup devices. There is also a footswitch socket and a serial mouse input. The 'To Host' connector negates the need for a MIDI interface to synchronise the AW4416 with PC sequencer software, and also allows software updates to be downloaded to the AW4416's internal EEPROM.

The AW4416 records to internal 2.5‑inch IDE hard drives, and virtually any drive of this physical size can be installed using a special cradle which permits insertion into a rear‑panel slot, much like the mini‑YGDAI expansion cards. This arrangement allows alternate drives to be swapped easily. Theoretically, the largest supported internal drive is 64Gb, though there are currently no 2.5‑inch drives of this capacity on the market. A 12Gb drive is supplied as standard, and provides around 1.5 hours of continuous 16‑track recording, the precise duration depending on resolution and sampling rate. The most space that can be allocated to a single song is 6.4Gb.

Recording & Editing

The HD recorder provides 16 discrete tracks on an internal IDE drive, with a further seven virtual tracks effectively layered beneath each real one. This allows overdubs to be saved and compared before 'comping' to a final track. It isn't possible to switch between virtual tracks on the fly — you have to stop the machine first. The normal record/overdub mode allows up to eight tracks of simultaneous recording with the other tracks replaying. However, there's also an 'All Record' mode that disables playback but permits simultaneous recording on all 16 tracks.

The disk filing structure can store 50,000 song titles with up to 99 marks per song. Locate points can be defined through the numeric pad or by eight dedicated 'Quick Locate' keys such as 'Song Top', 'Song End', 'Last Rec In' and so forth. The Auto‑punch in/out function uses programmed in/out points, whereas the manual mode is controlled through an optional footswitch. The chunky illuminated transport controls are nice and a Jog/Shuttle wheel is provided for audible cueing. The current time shows on a fluorescent display, along with bar‑graph metering, current snapshot scene and so on.

Recording resolution is selectable between 16‑ or 24‑bit linear PCM (no data reduction here) with either 44.1 or 48kHz sampling rates. The sample rate and bit resolution can be changed for each song, and audio files can be imported or exported in the WAV format. The SCSI port is intended for connecting backup devices and, at present, it isn't possible to record directly to external SCSI drives.

Editing facilities, controlled through the 320 x 240‑pixel LCD screen, are basic, but adequate for most purposes. Audio files can be edited at the Song, Part, Track or Region level using familiar commands like Erase, Delete, Copy, Move, Divide and so on. Facilities for time compression or expansion (from 50 to 200 percent) and pitch changing over a ±1 octave range are included. 16 levels of undo/redo allow experimentation with confidence! Unlike some of its competitors, the machine does not currently provide waveform editing facilities. Yamaha are, at present, unsure if these will be added in a future update, or if you will be able to export files to a PC editing system.

The optional front‑mounted SCSI CD‑RW drive is intended for use as a data backup/restore medium, in addition to recording stereo masters of completed songs. However, you cannot record to the drive in real time — you have to compile your stereo masters on the hard disk first, but copying to CD‑R is faster than real time. An advantage of this process is that it allows 'disc at once' recording which is necessary for creating CD pressing‑plant masters. There is no facility to rate‑convert material recorded at 48kHz.

The AW4416 also incorporates a 16‑voice polyphonic sampler derived from their SU200, which is controlled in two banks through eight 'Sample Pads' under the LCD panel. These generate trigger and release commands (but are not velocity‑sensitive) — pressing a pad starts a sample, releasing stops it again. Stereo samples are accommodated by linking pads. Sampler outputs can be assigned to any mixer input channel through an internal patchbay facility.

The sampler uses WAV files derived from material on the hard disk or the optional CD‑RW drive, which allows standard Akai S5000/6000 files to be loaded, for example. About 90 seconds of sampling time is available at 16‑bit/44.1kHz resolution.

Mixing With The Best

Although the advertising claims that the AW4416 has an "O2R inside", the mixer section is more closely related to that of the smaller O1V. The input circuitry is derived directly from this console, and the 17 motorised short (60mm) faders are improved versions of those first used on the O3D and the Promix 01 before it, but with revised software for quieter and smoother operation. Similarly, the two internal multi‑effects processors stem from the O1V, as do the four 'Omni' outputs. These can be assigned to carry any of the Group or Aux busses (there are no dedicated auxiliary outputs), the main stereo buss, the monitor outputs, 16 direct channel outputs, or any of the 16 hard disk tracks — 50 sources in all! Two of the Omni outputs can also be routed to the S/PDIF digital output.

The console accommodates 44 inputs for mixing, routed to eight group busses, a stereo master and eight auxiliary sends. The customary channel pairing is available, as are four fader groups and four mute groups. There are no dedicated external effects returns (spare inputs have to be used) but there is a comprehensive input patchbay function allowing internal and external sources to be freely allocated across the available channels. The internal effects processors are normally fed from auxiliaries 7 and 8, with their outputs being routed via the patchbay to convenient channels. However, the patchbay also allows these processors to be configured as inserts to any channel or stereo buss. Similarly, external signal processors can be patched into the master stereo buss through the I/O of the mini‑YGDAI cards.

The familiar control surface includes channel On and Sel buttons above each fader, EQ/Pan controls to the right of the LCD screen and fader paging buttons grouped to the left. Channel signal processing includes four‑band EQ, dynamics, delay, digital attenuation, polarity, and enabling of the insert point. Channel, EQ, dynamics and effect settings libraries are included and the only things obviously missing, when compared to other'O‑series" consoles, are the surround‑sound panning facilities.

The internal mixing automation system provides 96 scene memories per song, as well as full dynamic automation. This includes storing the timing of all 16 internal sample voices. The AW4416 can accept Program and Control Change messages via MIDI, but Yamaha recommend using the internal facilities for complicated automated mixes due to the amount of real‑time data required.

Although intended to function as an integral part of the hard disk recorder, the console section can be used independently by creating a dummy song and saving initial settings to disk. External sequencers or other equipment can be synchronised via MTC and MIDI Clock, but there is no provision for SMPTE/EBU timecode.

Hold Your Breath...

The AW4416's original projected shipping date of July has slipped, but the production prototype beside me is only a few software tweaks away from completion. Finished units will probably be in the shops in late September. You will, of course, see a full review in Sound On Sound as soon as the first production version becomes available and what I've seen of the prototype fully justifies the excitement with which many readers are awaiting it!