Don’t mess with a good thing. Yamaha has taken this to heart with its 01 digital mixer. It’s one of the first such devices to catch on, and it remains on, thanks to an easy to use interface that was, for many, the first step into the digital mixer universe. Enter the Yamaha 01v96i 40 Channel Digital Mixer.
Digital mixing’s greatest strength is its flexibility. That’s also its greatest challenge since, unlike analog mixers which evolved a natural standard layout, there aren’t the same physical restrictions. The limits of digital audio are set by the imaginations of designers and engineers. Without the physical need for discrete components, such as faders and rotary pots, hybrid controls with multiple functions are the standard for digital boards, though no two manufacturers match up precisely. Each mixer means learning layers of menus, routing methods and how to incorporate these into general use.
Since the original Yamaha 01 appeared early in the digital mixer world, it’s familiar to a lot of people already. The Yamaha 01v96i holds no surprises. It retains the same impeccable sound, its interface and physical package remains as well. Really, the only change is the addition of the USB interface. An obvious addition, perhaps, but one that keeps the 01v96i relevant.
IS THIS WORLD CLASS DIGITAL MIXING, PROFESSOR?
It is, with a world class price. This is a serious mixer, the baby of Yamaha’s series, only fewer inputs than the big brothers. If you find the interface intuitive, there are no other limits that make this a bad choice.
Setup and Usability
The 01v96i starts out with the analog mixer paradigm, XLR and 1⁄4inch inputs, 1⁄4inch line insert, 20dB pad button and rotary gain control. Beneath these are Peak and Signal presence LEDs and there the resemblance to an analog board gets interrupted.
An LCD display and series of buttons fills the space usually occupied by the EQ and auxiliary knobs of a typical analog mixer. The 01v96i uses a common digital approach of sharing a set of controls for each virtual channel strip. A selection button labelled, astonishingly, “SEL,” permits you to choose a current channel upon which the controls will then apply. The LCD screen switches to reflect the current state of the chosen channel. Here’s where the digital concept starts to play with analog people know to be true, creating an audio disparity that is akin to the battles of concepts between Darwinists (digital) and Creationists (analog), though even to those who accept science may still find some magic in the mysteries of digital.
To start with, the 01v96i has 12 XLR/Line inputs, plus two stereo line channels for a total of 16 physical inputs. However, Yamaha bills the mixer as a 40channel, stereo mixer. Now, you will find analog manufacturers counting dubious inputs to stretch the channel count of a mixer, but that’s maybe two or four tracks on top of the conventional inputs. Perhaps they count the Tape connections or a USB stereo in/out. You won’t find an analog mixer billed at a full 24 tracks beyond its physical inputs.
Then there’s the 16 channels of digital streaming via USB. With a computer connected, the 01v96i is essentially a 16track recording setup. That the mixer can handle 40 tracks is, at first glance, seems to have the verity of a politician on the campaign trail. Promises, promises…
So where do these mysterious extra channels come from, and how can they be used? Well, it’s sort of a trick answer to a reasonable question. As near as I can tell, to get a 01v96i to fully use 40 tracks, you’d need to record 16 tracks to a computer. These are then controlled by one bank of 16 channels, of which the mixer has two. The second bank, channels 17 to 32 in our example, could be currently connected sound sources to the 16 physical inputs. These could be, for example, eight stereo synthesizers, percussion modules, hardware effects outputs, anything that could be played in sync with the pre-recorded source material. The 01v96i has MIDI in, out and thru capability, so synthesizers and DAW sequencers can play nice.
That brings us to 32 tracks available for a mixdown scenario. We still need 8 more to comprise 40 tracks, though. These arrive through standard optical ADAT support, providing the additional 8 channels. This does require an ADAT device, upon which to record the additional 8 tracks to make the count up to 40, and the 01v96i has word clock in/out to keep the ADAT playing nicely and in sync.
If you have more than 8 tracks of ADAT available, or other digital devices, such as AES/EBU or TDIF, the 01v96i has expansion slots to accommodate these sources.
The potential configurations can exhaust a poor engineer’s mind. Well, okay, my poor engineer’s mind. I’m sort of a flat earther who wants to believe in a round planet, but can’t quite grasp all the changes in thinking needed. It’s that dramatic sometimes, the switch between analog and digital, and the 01v96i is sufficiently advanced and flexible to keep an analog veteran in new routing options for a good long time.
It’s almost a relief to observe the seemingly simple output section. After the digital channel control section on the mixer, each of the 16 channels has the aforementioned SEL button, a Solo button and an on/off button just above the 100mm motorized fader. Given that the 16 channel faders are assigned to 32 channels in two banks, motorized faders become essential to set fader positions as you move between banks. If you wonder at the 01v96i’s cost, well, 100mm faders are pricey, and 100mm motorized faders are very pricey. You’re paying for hardware here. That privilege costs.
One master fader controls the stereo bus output. For live situations, there are XLR outputs, and for advanced flexibility, there are 1⁄4inch control room outs and four 1⁄4inch omni outs. In an analog machine, these would be auxiliary outputs. In the digital world these could be analog outs. Or these could be half a zillion other outputs, I presume. The 01v96i gives you the option to rewrite your mixer’s in/out schematic. It’s a powerful, and slightly frightening, capability.
The sound of the 01v96i is one reason the model is still around to receive the USB retrofit. It’s capable of 24bit, 96 kHz sampling, which still suffices as a superior digital rate. The preamps do a solid job of delivering analog signals to the digital realm. For the average home recordist who is upgrading, these may be the best sounding preamps you’ve experienced. They’re not the very best in the world, but they’re high enough on the scale that you will not be held back by them.
Yamaha’s VCM (Virtual Circuitry Modeling) brings some great sounding effects to the table. These are full, rich and very analog sounding. You can digital all you want, but the sound of analog, no matter how you obtain it, is a welcome thing.
The 01v96i is a popular live mixer, so it’s built solidly enough to handle the road. Rack ears are an available option, so setting up a mixer in a road case is possible and practical. In terms of aesthetics, it’s not the prettiest mixer out there. In fact, its looks are a bit dated. However, that shouldn’t be a concern to a user who is looking for superior sound, flexibility and midlevel track counts.
The headlines for many of the reviews tell the story. “Wow,” “And then some,” Best Decision Ever,” and “Dream Machine” are four such raves. The worst review was a 3star whose user wrote only, “nice price.” if there was a complaint with the 01v96i, they kept it to themselves. There is nothing even remotely worrisome in user comments. Sure, the software looks dated. The software does not look limited though. If looks are that important to you, you are not worthy.
For the rest of you, still here, there’s not much I can add about the 01v96i. There may be other digital mixers and devices I prefer, but it’s the difference between english muffins and crumpets. It comes down to taste in many cases, and this is certainly one. If the Yamaha 01v96i 40 Channel Digital Mixer turns your crank, go for it. It’s a mixer that has inspired many, and it has no real weak points. In the young world of digital mixing it’s already an old timer without being old fashioned. The addition of multitrack USB assures this winner from Yamaha is still a long way from retirement.