Seasoned readers of Tape Op will recall that I purchased one of the first Sony DMX-R100 mixers four years ago and felt that it was the first digital console I'd used that didn't compromise "the sound." (See the review in Tape Op #25.) Before that, I owned a Panasonic DA7. I've also had extensive experience with a number of other small-format digital consoles, dating back to the groundbreaking but awful-sounding Yamaha DMP-7 of the late 1980's (generally regarded as the first affordable digital mixer). I recently demo'ed in my studio a Yamaha DM1000, the latest descendent of the DMP-7.
Physically, the DM1000 has 16 channel-faders and one stereo master-fader. Virtually, it has 48 channel-faders (in three layers of 16 each), 32 remote-faders (in two layers), eight master aux-faders, and eight master bus-faders. On the back, there's a host of XLR connectors. 16 are for analog inputs that can handle mic or line-level signals, four more are for "omni" line-level analog inputs, and twelve are "omni" analog outputs. Anyone who's used a late-model digital console will understand the "omni" nomenclature for software-assignable I/O. The worksurface has all of the standard features expected on a digital console: a backlit LCD display screen; buttons for accessing "pages" of tweakable parameters; pan and EQ knobs; and the usual trim, pad, and phantom power switches. The optional meter bridge has 24 LED peak meters-16 for input channels (configurable to follow the console's virtual fader layers) and eight for output busses-and a big, numeric LED field that displays timecode (SMTPE, MIDI, MIDI Beat). I find that good metering and a large timecode display are crucial when I'm mixing. The console (along with its meter bridge) is rackmountable in a standard 19'' rack. I mounted the DM1000 in a Quik Lok rollaround mixer stand.
I received my DM1000 while I was in the middle of mixing a multi-album project featuring the avant-garde instrumental trio of Geoff Farina (Karate), Dan Littleton (Ida), and Luther Gray (Tsunami, Joe Morris Trio). Minimal "effecting" was needed during tracking to hard disk (mostly light compression and some intentional distortion), and mixing on my Sony DMX-R100 console was extremely straightforward. Only a few of the songs required automation or EQ. For a simple comparison test, I set up the DM1000 with similar settings (fader, aux, pan) to the DMX-R100's settings for one of the songs I'd already mixed. I also connected the outboard reverbs I'd used with the DMX-R100 to the DM1000 and then ran a mix on the DM1000. I took both mixes home and listened on the ADAM monitors in my living room. Could I tell a difference? Yes. But just barely. (Even with numeric readouts for fader levels, matching a static mix perfectly between two different consoles is impossible.) Could I decide which mix was better? Nope. They both sounded great, with lots of depth and detail. What about ease of use? Well... to complete this "simple" test, I first had to find the digital I/O page to "patch" the digital inputs to my choice of faders. Then I had to figure out how to group the room mics for M-S decoding. For each of the close- mics on the drums, I had to enable and set the channel delay because I like to align the "phase" (more accurately the "time") of the close mics to the overheads. In addition, I decided to use the DM1000's user-definable buttons to remotely control my MX-2424 recorder via MMC and SMPTE. All this was accomplished without reading the manual! A true testament to the DM1000's usability.
My next project involved a solo album for Chris Brokaw (Come, Codeine, Consonant, The New Year). We had already tracked drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, viola, and vocals through external mic preamps into the DMX-R100's analog inputs. Rough mixes were done through the DMX-R100. I chose one song and completed an automated mix with the DM1000. While setting up the delays for the drum mics and for the direct signal from the bass, I discovered the DM1000's delay overview page, on which you can set the delay's time-scale to feet (or meters, ms, or samples). That's exactly what I needed-no more approximating the conversion between feet and ms! I then applied built-in compression to some of the tracks. The DM1000's dynamics processors don't have as much "character" as my outboard compressors, but they're very clean and usable. Chris doesn't like to hear the side-effects of compression on his voice, but I was able to set up "transparent" leveling with the DM1000's onboard compressors. You get one dynamics processor per channel, and you can key them with other channels. Also, I decided to use the built-in EQ on the acoustic guitar tracks because I felt they had too much "bite" in the upper midrange. Try as I might, I tweaked the EQ parameters but couldn't reduce this bite without negatively affecting the "resonance" of the guitar. And then I noticed a "soft" button on the LCD screen labeled "Type II." I "pushed" it, and suddenly the bite disappeared. That's when I cracked open the DM1000 manual for the first time. The manual explains that Type I is the legacy EQ from the 02R. Type II is based on a new algorithm. I always disliked the original 02R's EQ. The new Type II EQ is far more usable and sounds extremely smooth. After making this discovery, I used Type II EQ on other tracks with great success. Now that I had the manual open, I read quickly through the section on automation. Automating the mix went quickly. Absolute/relative modes, touch/manual punch, write-to-end/ramped- return-the DM1000 has everything you'd expect in a full- featured automation system. Additionally, there's an offline event editor that makes possible surgical alignment of cuts, pans, and EQ. (You can also edit and trim fader- moves with the event editor, but I find it much easier to do this by moving the physical faders in relative mode during an automation pass.) I tried to use the internal reverbs, but didn't find any patches that I liked, so I ended up going outboard to my Lexicon and TC Electronic boxes. Conclusions? Mixing on the DM1000 is easy, it's fast, it's very precise, and it's repeatable-exactly why I prefer mixing on a digital console vs. an analog desk.
But all was not perfect; I did have a few problems while mixing on the DM1000. Due to the compact system configuration, the meters on the optional meter bridge don't line up "vertically" with the channel strips-a real pain when you're trying to identify channels based on meter activity. I had to label both the meter bridge and the faders in order to keep things straight. Also, without a numeric input pad, it's time- consuming to enter new locate points on the DM1000; I ended up going to my recorder's remote to add locate points. And with the low-resolution, monochrome LCD screen (compared to the color touchscreen on my DMX-R100), I found myself jumping from page to page to push virtual buttons and turn virtual knobs. I installed Studio Manager software on a laptop and was immediately impressed with how much easier it was to control the DM1000 via a mouse and computer screen. Unfortunately, you can't use Studio Manager while running an automation pass, and I found a few (non- critical) bugs in version 1.2.0 software for Windows XP (using v2.09 USB driver), despite this being the latest download on the Yamaha website. Furthermore, I really wish Studio Manager would allow you to see more than 16 faders at a time.
Over time, I missed having the full "channel strip" worth of physical controls that the DMX-R100 offers. Again, I found myself paging through the DM1000's screens to get to everything. In defense of the DM1000, the interface pages are well thought out; I discovered almost everything I needed without needing the manual. The physical knobs and editing wheel on the DM1000 have built-in acceleration so edits are fast, and the well-designed libraries along with intuitive channel- copying facilities help reduce the amount of parameter tweaking you'll need to do. Also something to miss: the DM1000 has no analog inserts in the input path. But if you use outboard preamps like I do, you can "insert" processors between the preamps and the DM1000's analog inputs.
Speaking of preamps, how does the "front end" of the DM1000 sound? The preamps and associated ADC's are of the "clean" variety. Vocals with a Gefell UMT70S sounded up-front and bright, just like I'd expect them to sound with that mic. Overheads with a Royer SF-12 stereo ribbon sounded pristine without being harsh. A guitar amp with a Gefell M300 had the smooth midrange that I like so much. On the other hand, I like my drums to be big, boomy, and "packed tight"-drums tracked through my DMX-R100 have that "analog" quality. Wanting to prove to myself what my ears were already hearing, I measured the distortion on the preamp inputs of both the DMX-R100 and the DM1000. On the DM1000, the THD measured less than 0.02% at all input levels below 0 dBfs. In contrast, here are the THD figures for the DMX-R100's preamps with a 125 Hz input signal: 0.02% below -6 dBfs, 0.37% at -3 dBfs, and 0.74% just below 0 dBfs. With a 63 Hz input signal: 0.02% below -9 dBfs, 0.73% at - 6 dBfs, 1.5% at -3 dBfs, and 1.6% just below 0 dBfs. These measurements confirm that the preamps on the DMX-R100 overload before its converters do. That's the secret of the DMX-R100's "analog" sound. It's clean when you're careful, but it hits you back with a wallup of good ol' analog distortion when you slam it too hard. The DM1000, on the other hand, sounds and measures extremely clean at all levels below digital clipping.
In fact, the DM1000 sounds much cleaner than previous generations of affordable digital consoles, and it has enough features (most of which I haven't even discussed here!) to keep you "in the console" for the majority of your tracking and mixing needs. Five G-Notes will get you started on a console that can be configured for 48 inputs (all 24-bit, 96 kHz capable), utilizes 32-bit processing, and offers comprehensive dynamics and EQ on each channel, extensive automation, true 5.1 bussing and monitoring, four built-in multi-effects, free Mac/PC software, DAW control (including Pro Tools), and great sound. Three years ago, you couldn't buy a console at any price with all of these features, and a console with only a subset of these features would've set you back $17k. For a third of that price, you can drive home today with a DM1000 in the trunk of your subcompact. For the kind of tracking and mixing I do, I can't think of another console in the DM1000's price range that I'd even consider buying- analog or digital! ($4995 MSRP, $949 meter bridge, $500- $650 I/O cards; www.yamahaproaudio.com)