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Yamaha LS9 Digital Mixing Console

Sunday 10th September 2006

Yamaha LS9-16

At PLASA today I visited the Yamaha stand to see their latest console, the LS9. I took a fairly extensive look at the 16 fader version, and my thoughts are presented here. Many of these comments are based on what I could learn about the desk in my time there and much of it is from memory, so corrections are welcome!

My initial impression was that the control surface was well laid out and that controls were very intuitively placed, especially for those with experience of the 01v96 or DM1000. Despite having never used the desk before, I was able to answer many of my questions by working through the interface and finding things, which often were where I expected them. The addition of per-channel LED level metering is a definite step forward over the more limited monitoring facilities on the earlier desks, and the LCD screen interface has received a work over and is much clearer than that of the LS9's predecessors.

My focus was on the 16 channel version of the desk. As you might expect, this has 16 XLR mic-level inputs with switchable phantom on each channel, although unlike the 01v96 there are no stereo jack inputs. Usually, these would be home to my CD player or iPod - however, in what I think is a first in the digital console market, the LS9 features an on-board MP3 player and recorder. This can read/write files to a USB pen drive, which I expect will meet many engineer's pre-show music and 'rough-and-ready' recording requirements. Indeed, I believe playback of files can be assigned to the user-defined keys (of which there are 12) which might make for a rudimentary but effective SFX playback tool. It wasn't clear whether the desk could also play WAV files, although the website suggests AAC and WM9 files are supported.

The desk lacks analogue inserts or direct outs - not a major omission given how many engineers use modern digital desks but still a notable difference from the 01v96. It does, however, feature one mini-YGDAI slot for expansion - with the 32 channel version having two card slots. This gives a maximum channel count on the LS9-16 of 32 with twice that available on the 32 channel desk.

The USB pen drive can also be used for storing libraries, scene lists and other console data. Unlike the '96, the LS9 uses Ethernet to communicate with it's Studio Manager software rather than USB, making wireless operation much easier. It also means it can share it's network with other control software/devices, making it easier to use one laptop to control multiple devices.

Another advantage of the LS9 over the '96 is the built in GEQ. This is very similar to that on the MC7L having both the standard 31 band and the "Flex15GEQ" module - which allows adjustment of 15 bands of the 31 band stereo graphic.

The LS9 has 16 busses, configurable between aux sends and traditional mix groups. These mix groups can be used to feed an 8-bus matrix, which is ideal for feeding delays or fills in a multi-speaker system - a big plus over the 01v96. The matrix can feed any of the 8 omni outputs (16 on the larger LS9-32) or any of the outputs fitted in the mini-YGDAI slot. The console can be configured for stereo & mono outputs or true LCR operation.

The LS9 is the first console I've seen with comprehensive access control and user management. This can be used to "lock" certain functionality or settings on the console, and access can be provided by password or USB pen drive - the console will create unique key files to identify users.

There were a couple of disappointments - I couldn't find any DCA/'Fader Group' type configuration and the Yamaha sales person present confirmed that this functionality wasn't on the LS9. This is disappointing - I've said in the past that the 'Fader Group' functionality on the 01v96 was poor as it only allows a channel to sit in a single group, and this is something I'd like to have seen addressed on the LS9. I think this omission reduces the console's appeal, especially in the theatre market.

Interestingly, the console's maximum sampling rate is 48Khz. I've never had need to use any more than this in a live situation, but it's a curious step down from the 96kHz option on the 01v96. A lamp connector would have been useful on the 16 channel LS9 - one is however present on the 32 channel version.

Overall, I can see the LS9-16 making good headway into the conference, small band and mini-festival markets. It will make an excellent monitor console and bridges the gap between Yamaha's lower end consoles and the start of the 'professional' live range well. It seems focused on the live market and has all the functionality a typical event will require. The addition of playback and recording functions make it possible to carry all of the FOH equipment you'll ever to a gig under your arm, which can never be bad!

Sadly, the LS9 lacks a few features which would really have made it a killer desk - particularly DCAs, which I find indispensable for mixing theatre. As the sales rep confirmed, the omission was a deliberate decision by Yamaha to segment their market, which is understandable, but still a shame.

At an unconfirmed 3,800 GBP excluding VAT for the 16 channel version it's priced sensibly for it's market - I expect to begin to see many of these at small clubs and in the rental market, particularly the 32 channel version. But having given it some thought, I think I'll be sticking with my 01v96 for now.

© Ian Gregory 2006