It's the functionality of this console that makes it so special. The original 02R was a groundbreaking 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 02R96, it's possible we will see this ox populate an even more diverse palate of recording studios.
I purchased an 02R 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 benefits have been valuable time-saving features. My least favorite activity is remixing a song. With scene memory and automation recall, remixing became a non-issue (and probably saved a few lives). Also, having automation has allowed me to sit back and "listen" to a mix instead of concentrating on making the right fader moves at the right time. The 02R96 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 at higher resolutions. The 02R96 enters the market at basically the same price as the original 02R did eight years ago, but the improvements are immense. I believe the advertisements say it's nine times more powerful than the 02R; I believe them.
This console is a fully operational 24-bit, 96 kHz console-no reduced channels when operating at 96k. The frequency response is reported to be 20 Hz - 40 kHz, with 32-bit internal processing. There are 16 quality mic preamps with individual phantom power switches. These mic preamps are dark, capturing a more natural sound on tape than I had thought possible. There are 24 line inputs. An improvement over the old board is that channels 17-24 are now individual inputs rather than forced stereo inputs. Unfortunately, when you plug something into a line jack, its associated mic jack is disabled. A switch to choose between mic or line jacks on each input would have been nice-that way, cables to both connectors could remain patched. Four expansion slots on the back of the console allow you to install additional ADAT, TDIF, AES/EBU, and analog I/O via optional cards. Unfortunately, none of the previous 02R cards are compatible.
There are eight aux sends, each of which can be assigned to go to any available physical output. With the original 02R, Aux 7 and 8 were dedicated to the two internal effects processors. The 02R96 has four internal effects processors; these can be used separately or chained together and fed from any input. Six aux sends used to leave the 02R. The 02R96 has eight Omni outs which can be assigned signal from anywhere on the board. This is handy for external effects processing, 5.1 surround, headphone submixing, or anything you can think of. The internal effects are 32-bit, and most are similar to what the 02R had but sound even better. I'm a plate reverb guy myself, and I still like the plate in this new console. Additional effects include a rotary (Leslie) speaker emulator; amp simulation (which sounds OK in certain situations); and distortion. The 02R 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 panning, and bass management built in. Like its predecessor, the 02R96 has compression, gates, EQ, and delay on every channel. The compressors sound much better than the 02R's. You couldn't hit the old 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 controls for gate and compression, delay, phase reversal, and effects editing. I was not happy to see the mono switch buried into 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 four bands at a glance. It's 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. Transport controls are on the face of the console. Also, you can run the included Studio Manager software on a Mac or PC connected to the console via USB. Most of the channel parameters can be accessed on the computer screen and controlled via that interface, similar to how the fat channel works on the Mackie D8B. This is a good thing for us aging engineers. The only time the Studio Manager software scared me was when I mistakenly thought that it would not allow backup of scene memory and automation for later retrieval. But a quick look in the manual confirmed that performing a re- sync with the software causes all the settings, including scene memory and automation, to be saved. Also, you can use a Yamaha MDF for backup or any MIDI program to perform a SYSEX dump.
The automation was both intuitive and deep on the 02R. There are slight improvements on this new console. However, the biggest improvement is that the faders are now touch-sensitive-you punch in by touching the fader and punch out by removing your finger from the fader. I normally have pretty cold hands (blah!), and a few times, the faders would not respond; but I increased the sensitivity setting, and everything was cool. The faders are quieter than the 02R's, but they don't 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? The versatility of the monitor section-you can feed your monitor outputs with whatever signal you care to assign. The previous console only allowed Aux 5 and 6 to be monitored, forcing the use of those auxes for headphone mixes. Now you can set it up your sends however you choose. Also, encoder knobs above each channel can be assigned to control pan, aux sends, or two user-programmable options. In addition, 16 user- programmable switches are available for custom shortcuts.
Again, it's the functionality of this console that makes it so special. It's like a supreme patchbay with great sound and the ability to manipulate that sound. At a list price of $10k, it's within the reach of the serious project studio owner, but it has the quality to stand next to the bigger boys. I spent a few weeks with the 02R96, recording Cerberus Shoal from start to finish using the built-in mic preamps. I used only a few outboard compressors for vocals and bass but relied mostly on the internal processors. I thoroughly enjoyed working on the console, and I plan to cascade one to my old 02R in the near future. ($9999 MSRP for 02R96; $1099 for MB02R96 meter bridge; interface boards are priced from $269 to $699 each; www.yamaha.com)