Using the same improved technology seen within the 02R96, Yamaha's DM2000 provides an upgrade path for those who need more channels, even more hands-on control, and the purest in mic preamplification.
Yamaha was one of the companies that really pioneered digital audio consoles, although not in the high-end professional market — that ground was initially dominated by Neve in the UK, as well as a few other specialist manufacturers around the world. Yamaha's contribution was really in bringing the digital technology to a more mainstream marketplace, with effective, affordable mixers such as the early DMP7 and DMP11, the later Promix 01, and finally the market-leading 0-series mixers: the 02R, 03D and 01V, plus their derivatives in products like the AW4416 and AW2816.
Of these, the 02R was the largest console, and it really redefined what was possible at that time. Consequently, it was adopted widely by the lower end of the professional audio market for use in video edit suites, small post-production areas and theatres, as well as for some location recording applications. In fact, the 02R has reigned supreme for seven years now, and it is only in the last couple of years that other manufacturers have been able to provide competitive products, offering similar facilities and cost-effectiveness.
However, Yamaha has never been a company to rest on its laurels, and while other manufacturers have been playing catch-up, the eggheads in Japan have been working on the next-generation console. The result is the DM2000, and its immediate sibling, the 02R96, which we reviewed last month. These two consoles share identical DSP technology and very similar architectures, really only differing in the precise degree of I/O and the specific arrangements of physical controls. More importantly, both these consoles redefine the role of a digital desk.
As we now know, the DAW (whether Pro Tools, Nuendo, or whatever) has become the default audio production tool, but trying to mix complex projects with on-screen faders is far from ideal. The increasing availability and use of remote hardware controllers goes some way to addressing the ergonomics issues, but doesn't solve the problems of I/O, monitoring, and the sheer amount of DSP power required for modern 24/96 and surround sound applications. Yamaha have taken the view that a sound console already has these facilities in a carefully optimised form, and if the desk's controls could be integrated, and interact creatively, with the DAW then the whole production process would benefit. This would appear to be a very smart move, and one which immediately puts Yamaha several steps ahead of its rivals, once again!
As much of the technology of the DM2000 has already been discussed in the review of the 02R96 last month, I will refrain from repeating myself as far as is possible, although you may wish to refer back to that article for more background information. Essentially, the DM2000 is bigger than the 02R96, with more channels, more processing power, and a few more physical controls.
The basic DM2000 includes 96 mixing channels (instead of the 02R96's 56 channels), twelve aux sends (instead of eight), eight internal effects processors (instead of four), six 31-band graphic EQs, a 22 x 8 matrix, six mini-YGDAI card slots (instead of four) and 24 mic inputs (instead of 16). It also has a more professional monitoring section, with two sets of control-room speaker outputs (large and small), a solo contrast mode, and track outputs/returns that are geared more towards professional AES3 interfaces instead of S/PDIF. The DM2000 is also equipped with a Sony nine-pin remote control port, two word clock outputs (instead of just one) and a PS2 keyboard port to allow easier naming of the relevant functions and facilities.
The number and type of faders is the same, but the DM2000's larger frame allows them to be grouped in three sets of eight, rather than a solid block of 24, making navigation a little easier. The channel rotary encoders also have four pre-assigned function modes instead of the 02R96's pair, and on the central assignable panel there are four dedicated knobs to access the aux send levels (the 02R96 has none, and the channel encoders have to be used instead). There are also a pair of knobs which provide access to the delay functions and switches for phase and insert; again, these functions are absent from the 02R96 panel.
A more important difference is that the Automix functions have dedicated buttons on the DM2000, whereas the assignable programmable keys had to be used for this facility on the 02R96. The transport functions have many more dedicated buttons on the DM2000, with 24 keys in four banks for track arming. There is also a SmartMedia slot for storing a variety of console data, including Automix data, although I would have thought most users would employ a computer running the included Studio Manager software for that role. Nevertheless, it could be a very handy facility for transferring data between consoles.
Other very useful facilities are the dedicated channel copy and paste keys, as well as the back/forward keys which provide faster access to frequently used display screens. These functions have to be programmed to user-defined keys on the 02R96. Again, because the DM2000 is physically larger, there is more space on the optional (but essential) meterbridge, and some of this has been allocated to a large timecode display. There is also provision for gooseneck lamps, if required — handy for live sound and theatre applications. A timecode display can be called up on the Studio Manager screen, but having a dedicated read-out on the meterbridge is a far better solution.
The DM2000 is not just bigger in terms of its own I/O, it also has a far greater provision for controlling other equipment remotely. For example, there are four remote fader layers instead of the single one on the 02R96. The machine is also shipped with a variety of plastic overlay templates to identify the user programmable keys when using one of the pre-programmed DAW remote control templates.
Clearly the DM2000 has a lot of extra digital and analogue I/O compared with the 02R96, with more functionality (or at least direct access to the hidden functions), and an extended control surface providing space for a lot more dedicated controls. However, the penalty is a significantly larger, heavier console, which costs almost twice as much in the UK. So, although the technology and ergonomics are similar, these are very different consoles and are intended to service very different operational requirements. I don't think anyone will find themselves agonising over which one to buy — the choice will be obvious from your 'must have' requirements.
One of Yamaha's main aims in designing the DM2000 was to address the 'wish lists' of the professional user base of the original 02R. Over the years, people had come to use the 02R in ways which were never envisaged when it was designed, and although a major mid-life software upgrade addressed many issues, a lot more were simply beyond the original design parameters. The industry has also developed considerably during those seven years, and many 02R users were finding that their requirements had outstripped the capabilities of the desk. A further problem was that, not only did Yamaha not have a suitable upgrade available, but there were very few (if any) practical or affordable alternatives from other manufacturers either. In other words to step up from the likes of the original 02R involved a very big jump indeed.
It was clear in designing the new flagship that it had to be larger than the 02R, with greater I/O capability, so as to fill the gap in the market above the previous 02R and below high-end consoles from the likes of AMS Neve, Lawo, SSL, Stage Tec, Innova Son, Studer, Harrison, Calrec and others. This is a territory in which few manufacturers are currently involved — Soundtracs and Sony are the only two that immediately jump to my mind, for example.
One of the weaknesses of the 02R for certain applications was the quality of the analogue mic preamps — a complaint often levied at the smaller 0-series desks, too. Indeed, the argument that Yamaha didn't place as much emphasis on sound quality as they did on functionality and value when designing the 02R and its siblings is probably a fair one. However, since this issue was one which kept coming up in the discussions Yamaha had with its 02R user base, the company worked very hard in designing the preamps for the DM2000. Consequently, the preamps of the new console are a completely new design using exotic circuitry and components to provide exceptional clarity and noise performance — the results standing comparison with some of the best outboard units.
Another key design goal was to refine the user interface. The simplistic assignable controls and menu-driven operation of the 02R proved to be too cumbersome for many applications, so a more obvious hands-on user interface was developed for the DM2000. The assignable control section of the DM2000 boasts real physical controls for the majority of channel parameters, and there is virtually no need to scroll through the LCD menu screens in normal use. The operation has been further enhanced by the provision of the Studio Manager software, which runs on both PC and Mac platforms. This provides a bidirectional interface, displaying console parameters on the computer screen and allowing facilities to be adjusted through the computer interface. Both on and off-line modes are available, the latter allowing a desk configuration to be created independently of the console.
Another important element in the design was to anticipate future operational requirements, high sample rates and surround sound production being the two most immediate and obvious. To this end, Yamaha have used the enormous increase in DSP power in recent years to create a desk which can accommodate these kinds of requirements without compromise. Whereas virtually every other digital console that can operate at 96kHz does so with only half the number of channels available at 48kHz, the DM2000 and its siblings retain the full complement of facilities regardless of sample rate. However, rather than wasting half the DSP resource when operating at base sample rates, the extra processing power is used to provide more accurate signal processing, with improved EQ algorithms, for example.
The DM2000 is very easy to find your way around. Previous experience of 0-series consoles helps, but the new ergonomic design is actually a lot more obvious — it quickly becomes instinctive to use the central assignable panel, and the lack of menu diving makes it a much faster and easier console to use. In trying to maximise the market for this console, Yamaha have had to make it extremely versatile, which means a lot of functionality is available which may well not be of any use to certain market sectors — the 31-band graphic EQs being an obvious example. However, as far as possible these kinds of functions have been arranged to effectively disappear if not required. Thus each user can configure the desk to suit their particular application reasonably well. It's not quite the same as having a console designed from the ground up for a specific purpose, but then those kinds of desks typically cost ten times more!
Given the price and the amazing capabilities of the desk it seems churlish to nitpick, but there are a few things which don't seem to work quite as nicely as perhaps they could have, or which would have been nicer if done differently. For example, at the level of the market in which this desk is intended to function, the absence of dedicated high-pass and low-pass filters in the EQ section seems shortsighted. Of course, there are workarounds (which are fine), but given the immense amount of DSP contained in this box it seems a little disappointing.
Similarly, the dynamics section includes separate compressor and expander sections, and there would be a great many occasions when both would be used together — but there is only one set of shared controls. This can make setting up and fine tuning the dynamics a little fiddly and more time-consuming than would otherwise have been the case. These are very small complaints, but in such a good product, they seem to stand out all the more!
As with other Yamaha consoles, there are a variety of shortcut functions — such as resetting the EQ bands by pressing and holding the frequency/Q knob, and resetting the entire section by pressing the knobs for top and bottom bands simultaneously. However, these functions aren't marked on the panel and finding them in the handbook is not as easy as it could have been.
Another strange aspect of operation is that, although the DM2000 has a built-in timecode generator, it cannot be configured to follow the desk's transport controls. Not a major problem for most installations, but it would have increased the capabilities of the machine in some post-production environments — particularly audio-only suites — if the desk itself could have acted as a timecode master. In fact, the generator can be controlled, but only through user-defined keys, at present.
In terms of sound quality, there is nothing to complain about at all. The new mic preamps are excellent, and in a head-to-head comparison with the 02R96, I found them to have a small, but noticeable edge. They are quiet, and sound very clean and neutral, with the kind of full, natural bottom end that seems to be the defining quality of high-end mic preamps.
The new EQ algorithms are also a great improvement on previous Yamaha offerings. They not only sound a little more like typical analogue equalisers, but they are also easier to use. You don't seem to have to wind in so much gain before something happens! The curves also seem a little broader and sound more musically complementary. The same EQ bug I found on the 02R96 also affects the DM2000, so that multiple EQ bands at the same frequency with maximum cut create an unexpected dual-notch response, but this isn't a problem in practice and I'm sure it will be corrected quickly.
This is a very impressive desk indeed and Yamaha have taken another of their huge forward steps with it, redefining the industry benchmark yet again! If your application warrants the kind of I/O and processing power the DM2000 offers, you will not find anything else on the market at present which can realistically compete with it.