Yamaha O2R96 review

By Scott Colburn

Itís the functionality of this console that makes it so special.

The original O2R was a ground breaking digital console that came to market at a price point that was hard to pass up. It was this workhorse of a console that made its way into the post world and became a standard console for those facilities, and many music studios embraced it, as well. Now, with the introduction of the O2R96, itís possible we will see this ox populate an even more diverse palate of recording studios.

I purchased an O2R because it was considered a professional console. Secondary were the benefits of scene memory and full automation at an affordable price. I tend to juggle several simultaneous projects, and these options have been valuable time saving features. My least favorite thing to do in the whole world is to re-mix a song: with scene memory and automation recall, this became a non-issue and probably saved a few lives. The addition of automation has allowed me to sit back and ďlistenĒ to a mix instead of being distracted with what fader to move at what time. The O2R96 achieves this all over again.

I was extremely excited to see Yamaha move into the 24 bit realm. Since reviewing the RADAR system a few years ago, I felt the next step in my perfect marriage of analog tape machine and digital mixing was to be able to do it with 24 bit resolution. The O2R96 enters the market at basically the same price as the original O2R did 8 years ago, but the improvements are immense. I believe the ad says itís 9 times more powerful than the O2R; I think they must be right.

This console is a fully operational 24 bit/ 96Khz console - no reduced channels when going 96K. The frequency response is reported to be 20 Ė 40K with 32 bit internal processing.

I recorded Cerberus Shoal from start to finish on this review console using the built in mic preís (16) and hooking up 4 DA-38ís to this bad boy. I used only a few outboard compressors for vocals and bass. Otherwise, all the processing is internal to the board.

Hereís what you get:

- 16 quality mic preís with individual phantom power. These mic preís are dark, which captured a more natural sound on tape than I had thought possible

- 24 line inputs. Improvement from the old board is that channels 17-24 are now individual inputs rather than forced stereo inputs. You could essentially hook up a 24 track tape machine to this board; the unfortunate thing is that when you use the line ins, they negate the mic in, which means that you will need additional expansion cards to use the preís and the line inís without physically re-patching all the time. This is a real negative in my book - Iíd rather that there was a switch to allow both to work in-tandem. The console is obviously geared toward pure digital operation. There are 4 expansion slots on the back of the console which you may install ADAT, TDIF, and AES/ EBU digital cards or extra analog I/O. Alas, none of the previous O2R cards are compatible.

There are 8 aux sends which can be assigned to go anywhere. Previously, aux 7 and 8 were dedicated to the 2 internal effects processors. Now, all 8 can be used. There are 4 internal effects processors which can be chained together and fed from any input. 6 aux sends used to leave the console, the O2R96 has 8 omni outs which can be assigned signal from anywhere on the board. This is handy for external effects processing, 5.1 surround outputs, headphone sub mixes, or anything you can think of.

The internal effects are 32 bit, and most are similar to what the O2R had before but sound even better. Iím a plate reverb guy myself, and I still like the plate in this new console. Additional effects include a rotary (leslie) speaker effect, amp simulation (which is ok for the right thing), and distortion. The O2R always allowed mixing in 5.1, but it took a bit of thinking to do it right; this console is full blown in that department, with surround effects, joystick, and bass management built in.

Like its predecessor, the O2R96 has compression, gates, eq and delay on every channel. The compressors sound much better than the original. You couldnít hit the old O2Rís compressors very hard or they would a fall apart and sound like crap. These new, higher resolution ones are nice.

Many of the functions that used to be hidden in sub menus are now brought forward and are easier to access on the face of the console. These include gates and compression, delay, phase reversal, and effects editing. I was not happy to see the mono switch become buried in a sub menu, however. The EQ settings were always on the face, but now they are a bit more readable and you can see the setting for all 4 bands at a glance. Itís still a kick ass 4 band parametric, but now one button switches back and forth for Q and frequency. This can be a pain when trying to automate a quick EQ change.

This console can also be used as a control surface for Pro tools and Nuendo as there are controls on the face for machine control. Via a USB port, the console can hook to a PC or MAC and run the Studio Manager software which allows a more visual look at your console operation. Most of the channel parameters can be accessed on the computer screen and controlled via that interface, much like the fat channel works on the Mackie D8B. This is a good thing for we aged engineers. The only time the Studio Manager software disappointed me was when I discovered it would not allow back up of scene memory and automix for later retrieval. Apparently, you can use any midi program to perform a sysex dump for back up, but I relied on my Yamaha MDF knowing that unit was the only way to back up the old O2R. It might be the only sure way to back up the O2R96, but I didnít have time to test another method, nor did I want to risk it.

The automation has always been intuitive and deep on the O2R, and the improvements are slight on this new console. However, the biggest improvement is that the faders are now touch-sensitive, so your edits on the automation are now like punching a tape machine (they punch out when you remove your finger). I normally have pretty cold hands (blah!) and a few times the faders would not respond, but I increased the sensitivity and everything was cool. The faders are quieter than the original, but donít snap into place as quickly. I even had the faders stick a couple of times when I was switching quickly through the layers and aux sends. Fortunately, the faders are 256 step faders rather than the old 128, which makes precise movement a whole lot easier to achieve.

Other improvements are the versatility of the monitor section to assign 2 buttons to feed your monitors with whatever signal you care to send. The previous console only allowed aux 5 and 6 to be monitored, forcing the use of that for headphone mixes. Now you can set it up however you choose. There are also encoder knobs above each channel which can be assigned to control pan, aux sends or two user assignable options. In addition, 16 user assignable switches are available which can be programmed to do any number of tasks quickly.

Again, itís the functionality of this console that makes it so special. Itís like a supreme patchbay with quality 24 bit sound and the ability to manipulate that sound. At a list price of 10K, it is within the reach of the serious project studio owner, but has the quality to stand next to the bigger boys. I thoroughly enjoyed working on this console and will cascade it to my old O2R in the near future.


www.yamaha.com

Scott Colburn is an audio wizard who is materializing all over the globe in these dark times. See www.scottcolburn.com for more details.