- by David Morgan
in Road Tests
When I saw Yamaha’s newest digital console, the CL5, after it had been delivered to Delicate Productions’ Southern California warehouse, my initial reaction was similar to what someone might say upon receiving an unfamiliar product from an online dealer. “Wow! It sure looked bigger in the picture.” When compared to many other products on the market, the CL5 control surface is a very compact 41.5 x 26.3 x 11.8-inches and weighs 79.4 pounds.
However, as I became acquainted with the capabilities of the CL5, it became very apparent that good things often do come in small packages. Yamaha has packed a lot of processing power into the CL5’s small footprint. This system represents a serious maturation and extrapolation of the Centralogic platform introduced by Yamaha in its M7CL series.
The Power Package
The CL5 mix capacity is 72 mono + eight stereo inputs (64 channels through Dante and eight local), with 34 faders (16 on the left, eight Centralogic, and eight right plus stereo and mono masters). Also standard on the CL5 are output meters, 48/44.1 kHz sampling rates, a comprehensive selected channel section and a backlit color LED touch screen. Onboard processing includes reverbs, delays and other effects, 16 31-band GEQs, Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5043 compressor and Portico 5033 EQ and new Yamaha VCM compressors and EQs.
Input to the console is derived from rack-mounted 32 analog input, Dante networked input/output units. These Rio3224-D stageboxes also provide 16 analog outs and eight digital AES/EBU outs. Also available is the smaller Rio1608-D stagebox, with 16 remote-controlled inputs and eight line outs.
Two Rio3224-D units are necessary to utilize the CL5’s full 64 stage input capacity, yet up to eight Rio3224-D units can be connected over a Dante network, allowing the operator to choose from 256 possible input sources. Eight Omni inputs with mic preamps on the CL5 rear panel complete the console’s 72 input capacity. The rear panel also offers additional I/O capability in the form of three expansion slots for optional mini-YGDAI format A/D, D/A or digital I/O cards, as well as third-party DSP cards, such as Waves’ SoundGrid.
Like its older stablemate, the PM5D, the CL5 platform provides 24 mix outputs, eight matrix outputs, plus stereo and mono outputs for a total of 35 output buses. Yamaha has given the CL series an additional eight DCA masters for a total of 16. The designers have also provided the CL consoles with two-track playback and record capabilities to USB memory and a user assignable AES/EBU digital output on the rear panel of the console. Eight Omni outputs on the rear panel of the desk provide even greater output agility.
Yamaha’s Kevin Kimmel graciously presided over my introduction to the new mixing system with a hands-on session that took me through the CL5’s operational parameters and unique hardware and software features.
Access to the various software parameters used in programming and operating the console is available through the bright and easily readable touch screen and the groups of knobs that are located on either side of and below the screen. Users who are accustomed to the Yamaha layout and screen icons will have no trouble adapting to the new console. However, the graphics are greatly improved, colors are used more creatively and the screen brightness is vastly improved. These changes make onscreen navigation far easier and faster than the CL5’s predecessors.
By assigning remote head amp control priority to one CL console, utilizing digital gain trims and employing Yamaha’s unique gain compensation property, multiple control surfaces can share the same I/O racks. This flexibility makes the CL system very cost-effective in many installations and theater applications that require multiple I/O units in several locations. The Rio3224-D I/O racks also support the use of a redundant Dante network to guard against any possible network problems during the show.
CHECK OUT THIS YAMAHA CL5 VIDEO ON FOH-TV
Yamaha also bundles 64-channel, 48/44.1 kHz Nuendo Live recording/playback software that’s accessible through its Dante Virtual Soundcard. This enables creating multitrack recordings for virtual sound checks and/or archiving live shows. This versatile capability will surely create instant appeal for many engineers.
Yamaha has also released its CL Series compatible stand-alone CL Editor software for both Mac and PC. A further enhancement is the StageMix software for iPad, which enables remote access to console parameters via the Ethernet control port on the rear of the console for connecting to a laptop and/or a Wi-Fi router. Both software releases are available free to users.
Plug and Go
Once I was familiar with the more general aspects of the console system, I plugged a favorite vocal mic into one of the Dante inputs, assigned it to a channel and began to listen. I was immediately impressed with the transparency and accuracy of the CL5s audio that passed through the mic preamp and the AD converter. Selecting the channel while its fader bank was in the Centralogic section enabled complete access to all the available individual input parameters. One exits the default channel overview screen by pressing any of the parameter control knobs to the left of the touch screen.
The fader sections feature new self-lit key tops, sunlight-visible channel name color bars and new fader caps. The Centralogic section also includes Undo and Preview keys for Scene Memory, fader bank select and 16 user-defined keys.
Yamaha has made easily discernable improvements to the sound and responsiveness of both the equalizer section and the onboard channel dynamics. I was particularly impressed with the sound of the six Premium plug-ins. The 1176, the Pultec EQ, the dynamic equalizer, the LA-2A and the Neve compressor and equalizer are extremely faithful emulations of the hardware versions. Employing these valuable plug-ins effects, offers a rich audio enhancement that was previously available only through a third-party software interface or by using actual hardware inserts.
The next day, on my own, I got into the actual operational aspects. With no other assistance than the user guide I downloaded from the website, I set out to program a show I had just done in August using a PM5D.
This particular band was small, only 24 inputs, but I was still impressed with the ease with which I was able to patch inputs, create DCA groups, and program matrix outputs. I created an effects rack containing four reverbs, two delays and two pitch changers and dialed up all the aux sends feeding them and assigned their returns to eight stereo modules. I easily assigned the onboard gates and compressors to various inputs, programmed their response characteristics and used the copy and paste functions as a shortcut. I then created a Premium plug-in rack using four LA-2A emulations and four Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5043 compressors and assigned them to the necessary inputs. Upon completing these tasks, I felt confident that I would have been totally ready for sound check.
All operations that I could perform by finger gestures on the screen or using the available knobs on the console went quickly and easily. However, I found the touch screen’s QWERTY keyboard to be slow and cumbersome. It would have speeded things up immensely if the console provided a way to interface an external keyboard. I also felt that programming speed and accuracy would have been greatly aided if the CL5 had a way to hook up a larger external monitor that mirrored what was seen on the touch screen.
The Bottom Line
Regardless of these small inconveniences, I believe that in the CL5, Yamaha has created its best-sounding digital console to date. After just a few hours of use, the control surface definitely becomes work-friendly and does not feel uncomfortably compact. All the labeling is extremely readable and bright. Each the illuminated functions of the console are designed for easy viewing in daylight. Faders have a good feel under my fingers. Let’s do a show!
Yamaha CL5 Digital Console
Pros: Familiar layout, bright touch screen, quality onboard plug-ins, Yamaha’s best-sounding digital console to date.
Cons: Touch screen QWERTY keyboard a bit sluggish, spacing of some controls is rather tight.
MSRP Pricing: CL5, $27,499; Rio3224-D stagebox, $8,499; Rio1608-D stagebox, $4,799.
The author would like to thank Brian Bazilski and the staff at Delicate Productions (Camarillo, CA) for their assistance with this review.