The AW4416 was heralded as Yamaha's first professional recording studio in a box, and it has lived up to its promise admirably. It offers a 16-track digital recorder, 44 input channels, flexible routing, extensive onboard dynamics and EQ, and even a rudimentary sample sequencer. The new AW2816 offers fewer features at a lower price, but in this case, less is more.
The AW2816 fits squarely between basic, stripped-down portable studios and full-featured units costing thousands more. It provides 16 physical tracks with 8 virtual tracks each, 9 motorized faders, EQ and dynamics on each channel, 2 multi-effects processors, mix automation, and built-in CD-R mastering — all the tools you should need to take a project from conception to completion. Like the AW4416, the AW2816 can also operate as a programmable MIDI control surface. And it's easier to use than its predecessor.
The AW2816 looks and feels good (see Fig. 1). Although the patch bay is in the back, inputs and outputs are clearly labeled on the top surface. Because the rear of the unit is angled slightly, it's easy to peer over the top and find what you're looking for.
Only inputs 1 and 2 have XLR microphone jacks with phantom power, but all eight analog inputs have balanced TRS jacks that function as mic preamps (see Fig. 2). In addition, input 8 has a second, unbalanced ¼-inch high-impedance jack for recording an electric guitar or bass. Plugging into it overrides the TRS in — a nice touch that makes for quick repatching. Each input has a dedicated trim pot and peak LED but alas, no status light for phantom power.
A bank of eight motorized faders manages channel input levels, track output levels, aux bus sends, and much more. A ninth motorized fader handles the main stereo output, and two small knobs control a pair of stereo returns. The returns default to the internal effects, but they'll take any pair of analog or digital inputs, boosting the number of available inputs at mixdown to a very respectable 28. Although you can choose other routings, auxes 1 through 4 are routed to the four Omni outs, and auxes 5 and 6 feed the dual internal effects by default. The AW2816 lacks dedicated channel inserts, though you can easily set up an insert-return loop using one of the four Omni outputs and an input channel.
Functions are neatly laid out among the banks of buttons flanking the large central display, clustered below the Data/Jog and Shuttle wheels, and lined up above the faders. Buttons for global operations pertaining to file maintenance, the CD recorder, MIDI, and so on are located in the upper left corner. Those dealing with the mixer are below the transport buttons, and locate functions are above. Each button has an associated display screen, and five function buttons access nested menus. You can assign common tasks to the function buttons, such as Song Save, Shutdown, toggling EQ or Dynamics on and off, and even recalling a specified Scene (a snapshot of all mixer settings) — a real time-saver.
Many button presses must be confirmed with a second press, which slows down work flow. Luckily, you can disable the warnings that appear when you save or recall Scenes. Dedicated buttons make Scene management a snap. Scene number, location, and stereo level are always displayed, regardless of the current window.
Considering that you can automate just about everything, including the eight analog inputs, the mixer alone makes the AW2816 hard to beat. Aux levels and effects parameters are not directly automated; rather, they are saved as part of a Scene. Adding an option card can increase your choices, but it does not change the number of inputs at mixdown.
EQ AND DYNAMICS
Although the AW2816 is missing some of the AW4416's hands-on control, it does retain the same EQ and dynamics architecture. Every input and recorder channel — even the two returns — features a dedicated 4-band parametric equalizer. Dynamics processing is available on all channels except the returns.
Adjusting EQ and dynamics involves several steps: select a channel, access the appropriate menu, navigate to a virtual knob, and then make adjustments using the Data wheel. To simplify the process, I used the extensive EQ and Dynamics preset libraries. As with most digital EQs, it took a lot of (virtual) knob twisting before I heard appreciable changes. The EQ is better than I expected, but I still wish it had more character.
Dynamics choices include compression, expansion, gating, and ducking. You can set key-in sources to the selected channel's pre- or post-EQ level, aux 1 and 2, or the pre- or post-EQ signal of the adjacent channel; that's a pretty interesting bunch of choices. With a little preplanning, you can accomplish some very sophisticated dynamics, such as program-dependent ducking or de-essing. Like the EQ, the dynamics sound quite digital; whether that's a problem depends on your taste (thousands of happy 02R users can't all be wrong).
For improved processing capabilities, you might want to consider Yamaha's Y56K option card ($1,049), if only for the Renaissance EQ and Renaissance Compressor. The combination of Waves' effects with the AW2816's recording and mixing would be unbeatable.
THE FULL EFFECTS
The two full-featured multi-effects processors can be configured in a variety of ways. By default, they reside on stereo auxes 5 and 6, though you can insert either or both into any input or recorder track. Various presets occupy the first 40 slots in each effect library, leaving another 88 user locations. Presets include the usual halls, rooms, chambers, and plates, as well as chorus, flange, delays, and so on. Modulation effects, an amp simulator, filters, and a handful of dual effects (such as Delay+Reverb and Distortion/Delay) round out the selections. The presets lack subtlety, but you have ample opportunity to adjust them to your heart's content.
I do wish Yamaha had included additional chamber, room, and plate reverb presets as starting points — or even better, why not just fill all the user slots and let me overwrite the ones I don't like? I didn't have time to explore every effect, but overall I give them a thumbs-up for flexibility and control. In terms of quality, they range from so-so to so sweet. I might like the effects a lot more if I had a few months to create and store my favorites.
RANK AND FILE
The AW2816 comes with a 20 GB hard drive and an ATAPI CD-R/RW drive installed. The unit can accommodate standard laptop-sized 2.5-inch IDE drives as large as 64 GB. Its SCSI-2 interface lets you connect third-party burners, magneto-optical drives, or hard disks. All recording and playback streams to and from the internal drive; external media can be used only for backup and restoring operations.
With eight virtual tracks per song and almost unlimited undo and redo, you can consume disk space pretty quickly. Large songs can be split apart and backed up to multiple CD-Rs or CD-RWs. An optimization routine saves space by erasing the undo buffer. Yamaha also included a defragmentation feature, albeit an extremely slow one.
I'm impressed with Yamaha's well-thought-out file management scheme. Although the AW2816 uses a proprietary file system, it reads and writes WAV files, which is handy for archiving or transferring projects between studios. In addition, the AW2816 will format media to the FAT16 file system. Similarly, audio data from sample CDs or even commercial music CDs is easily transferred for use in internal tracks.
All of the session information — mixer settings, routing, recorder settings, audio data, and so on — is managed as a Song. The Song menu is where you select sampling rates and bit depth; choosing 48 kHz instead of 44.1 kHz elicits a warning that you won't be able to create a CD, because the AW2816 can't convert sampling rates. You can burn a 16-bit CD from a 24-bit project, but the last 8 bits are truncated. Dithering is another option; you can selectively dither individual buses at different word lengths (including the ever-popular 17 and 23 bits), which might also be handy when sending data to digital recorders connected through the S/PDIF and outputs provided by any cards installed in the option slot.
The Quick Record screen greatly speeds up routing and patching. Quick Record has been significantly improved since the AW4416; it automatically arms tracks, zeros the mix parameters for the recorder tracks, and opens the Meter screen. You can also assign inputs to tracks using the Patch screen (and save the assignments as a Library) or go with the default bus assignments. With eight buses, six auxes, and a variety of analog and digital ins and outs, you can patch just about anything anywhere.
Punching in and out is straightforward. You might prefer to use the optional footswitch, though I found it easier to automate the process. Depending on the situation, I set in and out points on the fly or used the Marker Adjust menu to specify a location. I particularly liked the option to create a tempo map in the Song menu and edit locations relative to measures and beats. I only wish it were possible to adjust the crossfade time to smooth over the transition between the original and punched-in takes.
Options for locating are well implemented; 99 editable markers per song ought to be enough, eh? A nifty Rollback function moves as much as five seconds before the current location at the press of a button. You can directly enter a location (in bars and beats, minutes and seconds, or SMPTE), or you can scrub audio with the Shuttle wheel or the Jog function, which loops a short segment of audio before or behind the current location to help you zero in. For even greater precision, the waveform display allows pinpoint accuracy.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Although it is designed primarily as a desktop recorder, you can do a fair amount of editing on the AW2816. Don't expect quick results, however; editing requires an awful lot of button pushing. Choose from three basic types of edits: Tracks involve an entire track or stereo pair; Parts refer to portions of a track or track pair that fall between a specified start and end point; and Regions represent a portion of continuously recorded audio. Editing choices vary for Tracks, Parts, and Regions but include basics such as Copy, Erase, Delete, and Move, as well as options such as pitch-shifting and time compression and expansion.
Because an adjacent pair of tracks is the largest editable unit, making wholesale changes (such as dropping a chorus) is time-consuming. Nonetheless, the many editing options add quite a bit of value to what is already an impressive recorder. Surprisingly, you can perform edits on selected virtual tracks while leaving the active track untouched. In addition, you can export Tracks (individually or all at once), Parts, or Regions to the internal CD writer or a SCSI device as WAV files.
IN THE MIX
Mixing on the AW2816 is a ball. You can automate practically everything as an Automix, from fader moves to pans and EQ changes. With only eight faders controlling 16 recorder tracks in addition to eight inputs, you'll need to develop the habit of working in stages. Although the aux sends don't respond directly to automation, levels are saved as part of a Scene, as are dynamics and effects parameters. The ability to record as many as 16 different Automixes per Song encourages experimentation, though you can bounce only one as a stereo track.
I wish I could be as positive about burning CDs (which Yamaha calls Mastering). On the surface, it looks pretty impressive: the bundled recorder supports track-at-once (TAO) and disc-at-once (DAO) recording of CD-R and CD-RW media at what appears to be a healthy speed. However, there's no way to preview playlists, nor can you make level or EQ adjustments to the stereo tracks once they're recorded.
Before it will write a CD, the AW2816 creates a disc image file. That requires as much free space on the hard drive as the finished CD, which isn't necessarily a big problem, but the process is tedious: an 8-minute demo recorded at 24 bits took almost 30 minutes! On a more encouraging note, once the file is written, burning multiple discs is a snap.
The AW2816 redeems itself with its MIDI features. Virtually every parameter responds to MIDI messages, providing extensive remote-control options. MIDI data can be routed to the MIDI Out port, to the To Host port (for older Macs and PCs with serial interfaces), and to the option slot. The unit even has a dedicated port for sending MIDI Time Code (MTC).
It gets much, much better: engage the MIDI Remote function and the AW2816 becomes a programmable MIDI control surface. You can independently select continuous controller data to be sent by as many as four fader banks in addition to the On buttons, all of which are saved in an Automix. Not only can you automate faders and effects, but you can also send real-time controller data to any MIDI source at the same time. Use that capability to control filters on an analog synth, automate patch changes on a drum machine, trigger samplers, automate MIDI-controlled lighting for a live show, or perform other tasks. A growing number of templates for controlling popular sequencers, synthesizers, and samplers are posted online.
THE BIG PICTURE
Offering a wealth of features at an attractive price point, the AW2816 is a solid value for the serious home recordist and project studio owner. Along with the stereo master track, 16 tracks of uncompressed audio should be sufficient for most projects; if it isn't, syncing to a second unit or desktop workstation is a piece of cake. Furthermore, the mix automation is first-rate. EQ and dynamics on every channel and dual internal effects processors add quite a polish. And don't forget that you can use any of the Omni outs, option outs, and the S/PDIF in and out to connect outboard gear. The MIDI Remote feature puts the AW2816 over the top; with very little effort, you can turn it into the hub of your studio or live rig. In fact, I'm seriously considering doing just that.
I'm not thrilled with every aspect; in particular, the mastering functions are weak. Then again, it's always best to have any critical project professionally mastered anyway. Like every digital mixer and standalone desktop recorder, the AW2816 can be difficult to learn. But Yamaha has done a lot to smooth things out, with welcome changes to the Quick Record functions, as well as a quick-start video and a manual that actually makes sense. If you're looking for a solid value in a digital recorder, take a close look at the AW2816.
Mark Nelsonlives and works in Southern Oregon's Applegate Valley. He has recorded scores of people you have never heard of and a few you have.
Number of Channels28 (input 1-8, digital input 1-2, playback 1-16, effects return 1-2)Faders(8) channel, (1) stereo master (60 mm, motorized)Analog Inputs(2) XLR balanced mic (ch. 1 and 2); (8) balanced TRS ¼" mic/line (ch. 1-8); (1) unbalanced ¼" high-impedance (ch. 8)Analog Outputs(2) RCA L/R main; (4) ¼" unbalanced Omni (assignable); (2) ¼" TRS balanced L/R monitor; (1) ¼" stereo headphoneDigital I/Ocoaxial S/PDIFControl Ports(1) MIDI In, (1) MIDI Out/Thru, (1) MTC Out; (1) SCSI mini-DB50 (backup only); (1) 8-pin DIN To Host; (1) ¼" footswitchEQ(1) 4-band parametric per channel; 40 presetsDynamics Processors(1) per channel (except returns): compressor, expander, gate, and ducking; 40 presetsEffects Processors(2) multi-effects (reverb, delay, chorus, flanger, phaser, autopan, tremolo, pitch shift, rotary, distortion, ring modulation, filter modulation)Sampling Rates44.1, 48 kHzADCs/DACs24-bit, 64× oversampling/24-bit, 128× oversamplingInternal Processing32-bitLibraries (memory locations)(16) Automix per song; (20) patch; (64) channel; (128) EQ; (128) dynamics; (128) effects
Physical Tracks16 mono and 1 stereo mixdownVirtual Tracks(8) per mono physical trackRecording Resolution16-bit, 24-bit (set per song)Sampling Rate44.1, 48 kHz (set per song)Hard Drive20 GB, 2.5" IDEMax. Songs per Disk30,000 (max. 6.4 GB per song)Simultaneous Record/Playback Channels8/16Markers/Quick Locate Points(99) per songScene Memory(96) per songUndo/Redo Levels15
Option Ports(1) mini-YDGAI (24-bit)Display320 × 240-pixel, backlit LCDPower Supply120 VAC internal (IEC connector)Frequency Response20 Hz-20 kHz (+1, -3 dB, mic/line in to stereo out)THD<0.02% (@ 1 kHz, line in to stereo out); <0.2% (@ 1 kHz, mic in to stereo out)Dynamic Range104 dB (typical)Dimensions18.89" (W) × 5.55" (H) × 16.89" (D)Weight20.94 lb.
digital audio workstation
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE3.0AUDIO QUALITY3.5VALUE3.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Records on eight tracks at once. Flexible signal routing. Uncompressed 44.1 and 48 kHz recording at 16 and 24 bits. Mix automation with motorized faders. MIDI control-surface functionality.
CONS: Complex user interface. Audio muted when editing. Limited effects automation. Cannot preview CD playlist. CD burning can be time-consuming.