Yamaha AW1600 16-track Hard Disc Recorder

[$1499, yamaha.com]
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[$1499, yamaha.com]

Do you remember getting your first four track? The joy of rushing home and holing up in the basement for weeks at a time recording, recording, recording. It was pure bliss!

That same excitement filled me when this unit arrived. What will I be able to do with it? How much like my O2R is this unit? What’s the quality like?

I was pleasantly surprised.

The AW1600 is a compact digital audio workstation that has eight inputs for mic or line level equipment. The eighth input also has a high impedance input for electric guitar or bass. Phantom power can be applied to any input in banks of four (i.e., 1–4 and/or 5–8) . This unit can record 16 tracks at 16 bit. The first eight tracks are mono. The second eight tracks are stereo pairs. In 24-bit mode you can also record eight tracks at once, but when you switch to an additional eight tracks, the audio is recorded but can not be played back! However, this whole unit can be connected to your computer via USB and all the files can be exported to the waiting computer for further editing or processing. Then the same tracks can be exported back into the AW1600. It’s sort of like a high tech ping-ponging exercise. This is the kind of feature I like in any digital recording gear, the ability to move the data out and in with no fuss! Because of this feature, I see this unit having applications for the professional audio engineer for a remote gig — maybe to record a piano in someone’s home or importing a submix from a current studio project to do an overdub in another digitally incompatible studio with a nice room or nice mic without having to haul your entire studio with you.

The back of the AW1600 also has coaxial S/PDIF ins and outs. MIDI I/O, foot switch control, stereo out and monitor out (both at –10), and headphone out.

There is one channel strip that is assignable to every channel by selecting that channel. The controls are for pan, 4-band parametric EQ, and dynamics processing, but watch out: As with the O2R you can’t hit these compressors very hard or they crap out. You also get two aux sends with internal effects. The internal effects are similar to the O2R in that they include reverb, delay, amp simulation, Leslie simulation, auto panning, and distortion. Each effect is customizable and you can store your custom patches in the library for future recall. These effects are similar to what you would find in a SPX900.

One cool feature is the ability to record, edit, and loop samples that can be played in realtime or recorded via four touch pads making this a nice unit for hip-hop beat composes or a live performance unit for experimental noise artists. The unfortunate thing is that the unit is just a bit too wide to fit in a rack. C’est la vie!

The transport controls are the same you’d find on any remote control for most machines. Stop, play, fast forward, reverse, record. You can program insert recording, loop a to b, and scrub playback. This unit can also be connected via MIDI to a computer to control a sequencer or other software. This allows you to sync MIDI land with acoustic land so you could potentially achieve higher track counts than just the ones available in the unit itself. It also works in reverse, a sequencer or editing software could send MIDI messages to control the 1600. This applies to transport control and parameter changes.

The actual audio editing functions are chaotic and difficult at best, but they can be accomplished. Your basic erase, delete, insert, copy, and move can help, as well as pitch correction and time compression and expansion. I tried a neat experiment using the vari-speed function. I turned on the internal click track and sped the machine up to its maximum, which is +6%. I recorded some drums with this setting. While recording, the click track got off time but I ignored it and was still able to record the track. Then I played it back at normal speed to get that fatter drum sound. It worked! Except for that click. Details. . . .

Actually the learning curve on the deeper functions is pretty steep. It’s hard to remember how to route inputs sometimes, record a sample, access virtual tracks and the like, but the manual is well written and organized so finding the answer is a snap. Just be prepared for a lot of button pushing

The AW1600 also sports a CD recorder drive that allows you to work entirely in the box to produce a finished CD. You can create a mix directly to the internal hard drive and compile a CD from there. It also functions as a way of backing up the contents or moving the contents to another location. It even allows you to rip samples from CD (if you agree to the copyright restriction laid out in the manual).

Even though some of the functions are difficult to navigate and computers are so cheap these days, I still find value in this type of unit given its footprint and portability. The quality of the recorded sound is top notch. Couple this with a quality mic and mic pre and you won’t be able to tell the difference. Maybe you can record demos on the road while touring. Maybe you can record your live shows on tour. Maybe you can produce your hip-hop masterpiece in a closet and bring the whole kit and caboodle to a pro studio for mixing. Maybe you can create an atmospheric drone for an avant garde dance piece and control the mix in real time on stage left. The possibilities are endless and the street price isn’t much more than I paid for my cassette 4 track with no mixer in the mid-‘80s.

Well done.