Hands-On Review:Yamaha AW1600 Audio Workstation
Yamaha AW1600 Audio Workstation
Blowing the doors off rival DAWs from coast to coast.
By Jon Dutton
Yamaha has unlocked the door into the professional studio and the key is the AW1600. Taking design cues and components from the 02R96, DM2000, i88X, SPX2000, and many other high-end Yamaha units, the AW1600 includes audio-handling and recording capabilities of much more expensive units. It pulls important details from its ancestors and counterparts in the Yamaha Professional Audio product category to make itself the ultimate small-format, professional DAW. It moves into the Audio Workstation lineup spot previously occupied by the much-loved AW16G. The AW1600 fits a middle ground between the more professional AW4416 and the AW16G while retaining the small format and features users love about the 16G.
If you are a recording musician or are setting up a small home or project studio, there is a very good chance that the AW1600 will have everything—yes, everything—you need. Let's run down the list. It's a 16-track recorder with 8-channel simultaneous record, 8 XLR/TRS combo inputs with preamps, 2 effects processors, 24-bit/44.1kHz A/D/A conversion, USB 2.0 output, Pitch Fix, CDRW drive, 40GB hard drive, 36-channel mixer, and 4-band EQ and compression on all channels. Amazing, isn't it? Not to mention the dual processor-powered effects section and powerful pitch correction algorithm that can make a hoarse, tone-deaf frog sound like Mel Torme.
Fidelity is the order of the day for the AW1600. From input to output and all points in-between, your signal is handled at a high-resolution level that remains faithful to your audio. The 8 combo inputs are discrete, fully balanced, and connected to preamps that deliver transparent performance over the level of many respected outboard preamps. The preamp circuit is taken from the i88X's preamps, which were designed by Yamaha console preamp engineers. These high-performance head amplifiers are based on the ones found in the DM2000 and 02R96 consoles used and praised for years by world-class engineers and producers.
You have your choice of conversion rates: 16- and 24-bit rates are available, with 44.1kHz sampling frequency. The 16-bit/44.1kHz sampling rate is CD quality, and gives you the full 16 tracks of audio to work with. Plus, all your audio is produced at professional Red Book mastering levels. The benefit of a 24-bit bit depth in regard to headroom and high-frequency representation are well known and documented, so combining the higher bit depth with a still-standard 44.1kHz sampling rate makes sense with regard to the audio and technology levels. It's a best-of-both-worlds situation, and your audio is the winner.
The engine room
The AW16G's much-loved tracking and mixing power has stayed intact, but with a significant upgrade that may convince many DAW users to trade up. The AW1600 still gives you up to 144 virtual tracks in 16-bit mode, 36 channels of mixing, 8 buses, 32-bit internal processing, and dual effects processors, just like the AW16G. But the mixing engine itself has been upgraded to the ultrapro 02R96 unit for increased fidelity in signal handling and flexibility for routing tracks and virtual I/O. The upgrade also brings Yamaha's Selected Channel concept for easy track assignment to the AW1600, as well as scene memory for 99 mixing setups for each song. It makes the AW1600 mixing capabilities formidable, giving you options that similarly priced units just don't have.
The dual effects processors share the same algorithms as Yamaha units in pro studios, so there's no need to bring in a flotilla of outboard gear when you want to record someplace new. The AW1600 gives you multiple choices for standard effects like reverb, delay, and modulation, plus the previously mentioned Pitch Fix that will let you edit off-notes without adding digital artifacts. There are also a bunch of application-specific effects for vocals, guitar, acoustic instruments, and bass, including amp models, mic models, and speaker emulators. You can use two effects on each track.
Two other handy features that made it over from the AW16G are the Quick Loop Sampler and Sound Clip function. Both make working with the AW1600 easier. The Quick Loop Sampler is a simple pad-type sampler that lets you assign sounds from the sample banks, WAV files, or 250MB of drum sounds to four different pads for easy rhythm tracks. The output is recorded to a special sampler track with a grid interface that makes step recording easy. The Sound Clip function is simply the audio equivalent of a notepad, letting you jot down quick sonic notes so you don't forget them. You can save them as ideas to develop later or assign them to their own track for incorporation into the rest of your audio. It works really nicely for guitarists in conjunction with the Hi-Z guitar input on channel 8.
The AW1600 is more than just another small multitracker, and its features, power, and flexibility far outstrip its price tag. Don't tell Yamaha, but they could charge $200 more for this unit and it would still be a fair deal. Thankfully for you, though, the AW1600 costs way less than any comparable unit or computer-based setup and gives you all the functionality you need to churn out pro-sounding music. It's a smash hit.
Features & Specs: