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Yamaha Commercial Audio QL Series


Craig Leerman:

I got my first look at a new Yamaha Commercial Audio QL Series digital console at this year’s NAB show here in Las Vegas, and could hardly wait to get one in the shop to have the opportunity to get my hands on this impressive-looking console.

The series is comprised of two models, the larger QL5 and its smaller, rack-mountable sibling, the QL1. With the exception of onboard faders and channel count, both models offer the same feature set. While priced less than the CL console range, the QL Series sports many of the features that have made the CL Series so popular, along with a few additional attributes.

Note that as I write this, Yamaha has just released CL version 2.0, which adds a lot of new capabilities, including the ability to control a QL console’s head amp gain, which makes it easy to incorporate a QL as a monitor board and I/O rack with a CL at front of house.

The QL1 console offers a 16+2 fader configuration, as well as 32 mono and 8 stereo mix channels with 16 local inputs and 8 outputs available on the rear of the console. Meanwhile, the QL5 (the model provided to me for this evaluation) has a 32+2 fader set-up with 64 mono and 8 stereo mix channels, along with 32 inputs and 16 outputs. Both models provide 16 mix and 8 matrix buses, 16 DCA groups, 8 mute groups and 12 user defined keys for instant hands-on access to a large number of functions, allowing operators to set up the console in the way that works for them.

The same stellar processing found in the CL Series is available on QL consoles, including up to 8 of the available 46 effects for the Virtual Rack as well as the Premium Rack which houses 8 additional VCM processors, including the Portico processors developed in cooperation with Rupert Neve designs that can be used in the Premium Rack. The GEQ rack offers up to 8 31-band graphic equalizers, and any of those can be switched for use as dual 15-band EQs.

The built-in 16 channels of Dan Dugan automatic microphone mixing can be dropped into a few slots of the EQ rack, and with Dante ports standard on the console, the two Mini-YGDAI slots are now free for use with the more than 30 expansion cards, including network interfacing, additional I/O, and even Lake loudspeaker processing.

Speaking of expansion, adding Rio stage boxes dramatically increases the number of inputs and outputs available, and even further, two QL consoles can be cascaded together for more inputs. QL Editor software for PC and Mac allows console parameters to be set up via a computer, both on- or off-line, while the QL StageMix app for iPad allows an operator to mix away from the console. And, both QL Editor and QL StageMix can be used simultaneously.

Specific Parameters
Out of the box, the first thing I noticed about the QL5 was how easy it was for one person to lift and move the console, as it weighs only 48 pounds. Even when mounted in a flight case, the QL5 will be relatively easy for a single technician to handle while offering a lot of capability in a compact footprint of only 32.6 x 10.7 x 22 inches (w x h x d).

The console has a large, high-resolution color touch screen that provides proprietary “Touch and Turn” operation. Simply touch the parameter you wish to adjust on the screen and then turn the parameter-adjust knob adjacent to the screen to change the value. The screen is easy to read and allows contrast and brightness changes to suit the ambient light conditions.

To the left of the screen are 16 sends on fader buttons that configure the faders into aux or matrix sends. To the right of the screen is the selected channel section that features dedicated gain, dynamics, pan and EQ knobs and buttons as well as the aforementioned touch and turn parameter knob. To the right of the selected channel section are 12 user defined keys that can be configured to control things like mutes, scene changes, tap tempo for effects, etc.

And below the user defined keys are the fader bank section with dedicated buttons for fader layer 1-32, fader layer 33-64, stereo inputs, and DCA layer and mix/matrix layer. Pressing the two outermost keys together switches the console from bank A to custom fader bank B. Finally, above the user defined keys is a USB port that can be used to save and import data as well as record and playback audio files.

Each channel strip and master section offers select, cue and on/off buttons, 6-segment meter, name display (scribble strip that can also depict fader values, gate and comp meters, etc), a channel color indicator, and of course, a motorized 100 mm fader. It’s all topped off by a headphone jack with level knob at the very front of the desk.

The rear panel sports 32 XLR inputs, 16 XLR omni outputs, MIDI and word clock I/O, GPI connector, AES/EBU output, Dante primary and secondary ports and status lights, a network port, and two mini-YGDAI I/O card slots. An IEC connector for power cord, power switch, console light jacks and fan exhaust port complete the rear.

Smooth Sailing
Hooking up the console is a breeze, and anyone who’s used the Yamaha software layout should feel right at home. For those with little to no experience with Yamaha or digital desks in general, a bit of poking around will get them on track and doing a basic mix in very little time. And, the manual is very good at explaining things without requiring the user to be a computer expert. (That means I understood most of it!)

Patching the console is easy, and while I didn’t have a Rio stage rack to interface with, using Rio racks can double the console’s channel count. Graphic EQs can be assigned to the EQ rack for use on outputs, or the Dugan auto-mixer can occupy a few EQ rack spaces. A wide variety of onboard effects, including reverbs, delays, chorus, flanging, filters and amp simulators, can be inserted in the effects rack.

In addition, premium effects like the Portico 5033 EQ , Portico 5043 compressor or U76 limiter can be assigned, providing very high quality processing at the push of a button (or two). By the way, this premium processing sounds fantastic, but the regular effects are no slouch either, offering up some great sounding verbs, delays, chorus and even amp modeling.

Grabbing a USB stick, I checked out the recording and playback functions of the QL5. Again, everything is well labeled and intuitive. I was recording and playing back tracks in less time than it took to type this paragraph. While I normally have a dedicated PC with me at shows to facilitate playback, I could certainly see keeping a USB stocked with a playlist for walk in/out music with the console “just in case.”

In The Field
Satisfied that the QL5 was in proper working order and comfortable with its operation, I took it out to a few gigs. The first was a basic meeting with podium and lavalier microphones for the presenters and numerous video playback sources.

It was easy to label the console, and I really liked how I could change the channel strip color indicator to identify a specific channel or group. (There are 9 colors to choose from.) This made it easy to glance over and grab the correct fader without having to read the name display. The “Touch and Turn” adjustment concept is easy to get the hang of, and parameter changes become second nature in very little time.

Next up was sound for a company luncheon that I’ve done for 6 years running. One of the in-house audio techs came over to check out the QL5, and he told me his team was trying to convince the property to buy one to replace their large-frame analog console. Within all of 10 minutes, he was up and running on the console’s main features.

While I wasn’t going to use the Dugan auto-mixing feature at that particular event, I loaded it up in the EQ rack to show the guy, and then ended up using it on the presenters and language interpreter microphones. It was nice to be able to sit back and not ride faders during the presentations.

Finally, I brought the QL5 to large awards banquet featuring speeches, videos and a live band after the awards segment. It was easy setting up a monitor mixes for the band, and it would have been even easier if I’d remembered to bring along my iPad to use the QL StageMix app. I made a safety board recording to USB, and also recorded the band to a spare USB stick that I had handy.

With Dante onboard and a computer running the Dante Virtual Soundcard and multi-track DAW software, I could have easily made a multi-track recording of the band or the event with a single Cat cable. For a virtual sound check, the recorded tracks could be streamed back into the QL5 and called up as Dante inputs. Utilizing NuendoLive software (not included with the QL Series, but included with the CL Series) allows metering, patching, adding markers, and even transport control of 64 in/64 out straight to a computer via Dante.

Without hesitation, I can recommend the QL Series for a wide range of events. I know companies like mine that do a lot of corporates will love it, but there’s just as much appeal for applications ranging from smaller music performances to festivals to larger concerts. And one of the best parts is that it does all of the above at a great price!

U.S. MSRP: QL5 – $16,499; QL1 – $8,499


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