The Yamaha PM1D console was awesome back in 1999. The PM5D was fantastic back in 2004. And then Yamaha hit a lull on the higher end, in my opinion. The PM5D is a solid choice, of course, and Yamaha has been busy in the mid range (and more affordable) console arena, releasing the M7CL and the LS Series. On the very top end, however, we've been waiting for something from Yamaha for years, until now. Yamaha is about to release the new, and much anticipated, CL Series.
Hmm…so, CL? After reading the literature, it seems Yamaha has borrowed and built on some great concepts that we’ve come to appreciate: the handy buttons on the PM5D, the Centralogic interface and touchscreen on the M7CL and LS series, the incredible flexibility and gain-tracking of the DiGiCo SD series, and the ever-increasing use of the Audinate Dante network. Mix that all up, and you get the new CL consoles.
There are three different models of the control surface and two models of I/O racks. All of the consoles share the same general interface and properties but differ in physical size and accessible user controls. The CL1 control surface can handle 48 mono and eight stereo inputs and has a small eight-fader input section and eight-fader Centralogic section. The CL3 bumps you up to 64 mono inputs and a 16-fader section. The impressive CL5 handles 72 mono inputs and gives you 24 faders. I think Yamaha learned from the LS series that scalability is a good thing.
While these control surfaces can handle the inputs outlined above, you’ll need a stage rack to actually use all that capacity. The consoles themselves have a small selection of local I/O on the console: eight omni inputs, eight omni outputs, talkback input, an AES output, and three mini-YGDAI card slots. For everything else, you need a stage rack, of which there are two varieties. The Rio1608-D has 16 analog inputs and eight analog outputs. The Rio3224-D ups the ante with 32 analog inputs, 16 analog outputs, and four AES outputs. You can connect up to eight stage racks to one network.
So that all sounds good, but what might set this console series apart? Dante: The interconnect between the control surface and the stage rack(s) is all built around Audinate’s Dante network, which has proven to be fast and reliable and runs on Cat5 cables. Scalability: You can connect up to four control surfaces to the same stage rack(s). With gain compensation, each console can control the input level independently of the other. Redundancy: There’s a primary and secondary Dante port on each component of the CL system. Sound quality: The stage racks have sampling frequency rates up to 96kHz. They also have a completely new processing and effects library developed in part by the legendary Rupert Neve. User experience: Newly designed faders, backlit channel names with changeable colors (a la Digico) and the Centralogic touchscreen all combine to bring a better mixing experience. It looks really quite smart and intuitive.
Finally, Yamaha has really scored in the add-on category. The new CL Editor works on both Mac and PC platforms and doesn’t even need the Studio Manager host. You can connect the console to a wireless network and then control a variety of parameters via Yamaha’s CL Stagemix app for iPad. The CL3 and CL5 even have a place to rest your iPad on the console so you can use the it locally for expanded control.
The last cool factor comes via the USB port. Plug in a USB memory stick, and you can make a stereo MP3 recording in seconds, right to your drive. Or, pop some MP3, AAC, or WMA tunes on your memory stick, plug it in, and play it directly from the memory stick. Really, it’s not the most amazing technology (I mean, new cars can do this now), but to toss that into a new console is really quite pleasing.
There are many other great features in this new series from Yamaha, and the more you dig into the details, the more enticing it really seems. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing this console in action. Doing a show on the PM5D right now, I’m overly aware of how old that technology is. The real question might just be, no matter how amazing this console is, and depending on its pricing, can Yamaha again compete in the new arena of digital consoles? With the CL series, I expect they can.