Test Drive: Yamaha AW4416 Workstation

SLICE AND DICE

Editing takes place on three levels: Tracks, which run the length of a project; Parts, which are sections of contiguous audio; and Regions, which are named sections between two markers. Incidentally, this wasn’t the only time I encountered a specialized meaning for a common term. Another example is “optimizing” which refers to clearing the undo/redo buffer rather than performing a hard disk management routine. This is unnecessarily confusing.

I was not impressed with the track editing features. I was particularly disappointed to find that audio is muted when you hit the Edit button, so you can’t hear what you’re doing until after you’ve done it. Regions for editing must be selected in the Tracks page, the place in which recording occurs, rather than in the Edit pages. Because the key to successful editing lies in setting accurate markers, I found myself taking handwritten notes. To add insult to injury, nowhere is there a proper waveform display. Audio is shown in blocks of black, so you can’t edit visually as many of us have become accustomed to doing. 

For example, to perform a simple tail trim you find and set In and Out points using the Jog wheel, go to the Edit page, select Delete, hit Execute, exit to the Tracks page, and listen to the results. This is awkward, silly and inefficient. I hope it is replaced by something better in the next software update.

Other editing options include Erase, Move, Insert, and Copy. You can also shift the pitch and compress and expand the time base while editing. However, I was not particularly happy with the results of these two functions.

The AW4416’s implementation of scrubbing also leaves something to be desired. While the outer shuttle ring is always active and offers 1/2X and 1/4X playback with sound, and brief blips of sound in reverse and at faster than 1X, the inner jog wheel does none of that. To scrub to a tight edit point you must press the Jog button, at which time the AW4416 plays a tight little loop of the sound at that point, like a CD player does. Turning the jog wheel moves the loop at a rate of 1 revolution = 1 second, so if you’re not close you’ll be spinning that wheel for a while to find your end point.

Many operations seem much more complex than they need to be. Because there’s no way to connect a QWERTY keyboard, for example, even something as simple as naming a track involves a multitude of button pushes, cursor moves, and a lot of wheel-spinning.

Having said all that, the automated mixing facilities of the AW4416 are first-class. Automated mixing on a board with moving fader simply rocks, no two ways about it. I particularly liked being able to customize, on a fader-by-fader basis, the time it takes faders to return to their previous levels after punching out. There is a similar option for setting fade times between mixer scenes.

When you’ve got your automated mix exactly as you like it, you can mix down to the dedicated two tracks provided for just this purpose. You can then burn your CD in either Track-at-once or Disc-at-once format.

HOW DOES IT SOUND?

In the sonics department, the AW4416 does not disappoint. The mixer section’s preamps are the same as those found on the Yamaha 01V, which puts them in the “very respectable” category for a product in this price range. The AW4416’s 24-bit converters sound great — and remember, one can easily spend more on a single mic preamp or A/D converter than on this whole recording studio in a box.

The unit’s EQ uses the same excellent algorithms as are found in the 02R and 01V mixers, which sound great. I especially appreciate the EQ’s true high- and low-pass filtering. Can you say phone emulation?

The two built-in effects units are top-notch, and offer a good variety of effects. The processors generate the standard complement of effects, including basic reverbs and enough dual effects in series and parallel to cover most chores. You get modulation effects such as chorus, flanging, phasing, rotary speaker, and ring modulation. Stereo delay times can be as long as 1,350 ms. Dynamic filter, flanger, and phaser use an envelope follower to respond to the strength of audio signals, giving an effect that’s perfect for those times when it’s just “got to be funky.”

The dynamics processors provide compression, expansion, gating, and ducking. They sound a bit  “digital” when pushed, as do most non-analog compressors, but they do a nice job of controlling levels and noise without really coloring the sound.

IN SUMMATION...

The Good: the mixer, including the routing, automation, and effects, all first-rate. The Bad: the manuals, which come in two volumes titled Operation Guide and Reference Guide, and guarantee that you’ll never be reading the right one at any given moment. The Ugly: the editor. I really wish I could be more positive about it, but given the speed and ease of competing products, both hardware and software, I cannot. Yamaha has promised a version 2 software upgrade in the fall, and I sincerely hope it addresses some of the current shortcomings in editing.

The AW4416 carries a suggested list price of $3799 USD. For more information in the US, visit www.yamaha.com, or contact Yamaha Corporation of America, 6600 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park, CA 90620, or call (714) 522-9011. For more information worldwide, visit www.yamaha.co.jp.

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