Yamaha Studio 100 Series
The 100 Series is Yamaha's compact, cost- effective line of studio modules. Simon Trask tests a selection of units from mixer through effects to monitors.
If you're looking for a cost-effective studio system that you can expand as your budget and requirements dictate, Yamaha's 100 Series could have been designed just for you.
DURING THE PAST couple of years Yamaha have been steadily piecing together the components of a flexible yet integrated budget-priced recording system. Starting with the MT100 four-track personal multitracker and R100 reverb processor, they've now added the A100 power amp, S100 monitor speakers, MV100 mic/line mixer, DR100 reverb, Q100 stereo graphic equaliser, GSP100 guitar sound processor, BSP100 bass sound processor and DP100 stereo limiter/noise gate. All these units taken together would set you back just over £1700, but the point is that you can build up a system to your own requirements as and when you can afford it. Many of the 100 Series units cost £139, and, with the exception of the MT100, none cost more than £200. But what sort of quality and flexibility do you get for your money? I decided to try out a system comprising an MT100, MV100, DR100, Q100, A100 and S100 (total cost: £1104). Compactness is a hallmark of the 100 Series, which is a blessing if you're tight on space. The MV100, R100, DR100, Q100, GSP100, BSP100 and DP100 are all 1U-high half-rack size, while the A100 is 2U half-rack (and weighs a modest 10lbs 2oz). If you want to rack-mount them, Yamaha also sell 1U and 2U 19" rack units (RK100 and RK200, at £20 and £32 respectively) and a kit for joining two racks together (£7). The MT100 four-track personal multitracker and S100 speakers have also been kept to compact dimensions (15" x 2.5"x 8" and 6.5" x 8.25" x 7.5" respectively).
But the 100 Series components have been designed in more than one way to fit together. For instance, you can link up several MV100 4:2 mixers in such a way as to give you a larger combined mixer (8:2 or 12:2, say) with, if you want, effects mixes on all the MV100s routed through the effects loop of the master MV100. And, with the exception of the R100, the 1U rack-mount units can either be run off individual adaptors (the Yamaha KPA3 costs £7.99) or cascaded from a single adaptor (a Yamaha PW100 can power up to five such units as well as the MT100 - but then it does cost £85).
THE MT100 HAS four inputs (two mic/line and two line-only) and the ability to record from all four inputs at once. Four quarter-inch jack audio mixer inputs, a stereo headphone jack and a punch in/out footswitch jack are located on the front panel of the MT100. On the rear panel are the power switch, psu input, mono aux send and (sadly) mono aux return jacks, L/R stereo audio out jacks and four individual tape out phonos (with each tape track routed directly to its corresponding output).
The MT100 has a sleek, compact appearance, with low-profile controls which blend in with the control panel (their only distinguishing marks being the orange line on each control which helps to indicate its current position). The panel is busy but not cluttered, with four channel faders (channels one and two with associated mic/line trim sliders), above each of which is a Rec Select switch, Aux Send fader and Pan dial. To the right of these, and following a similar organisation, are the master volume fader, phones level slider, phones signal switch and Aux Return slider. What you'll have to learn to do without if you buy an MT100 is EQ per channel.
The centre of the control panel is taken up with the LED peak meter display, which can be switched to either four-track or stereo operation (the latter, of course, giving you the summed signal level at the stereo output stage). To the right of this is the cassette compartment, below which are Record, Play, Rew, FF, Stop and Pause light-touch electronic tape transport controls. Rec, Play and Pause each have associated pinpoint LEDs to indicate their on/off status.
Above the cassette compartment are a mechanical three-digit counter, together with reset button and Zero Stop on/off switch, a dbx noise reduction on/off switch, a tape pitch slider (±10%), tape speed selector switch (4.75cm/sec or 9.5cm/sec) and four Monitor dials. The MT100 delivers an impressively clear, dynamic recorded signal at its faster tape speed with dbx switched in (the claimed frequency response at this speed is 40Hz to 18kHz, as opposed to 40Hz to 12.5kHz at the slower speed, while the s/n ratio is 85dB with dbx switched in). Yamaha recommend that you use chrome tapes for optimum signal quality.
The MT100 offers three headphone monitoring options: monitor, stereo and mix. These allow you to monitor the output from the four tape tracks only (routed via the Monitor dials so that you can create a separate headphone mix), from the mixer section, from the four tape tracks and the mixer section combined.
There are two ways of recording on the MT100: direct channel-to-track or panned channel-to-track. Each mixer channel's Rec Select switch can be set to Off, to its associated track number, or to Left (in the case of channels 1 and 3) or Right (channels 2 and 4). If you set all four Rec Select switches to their associated track numbers then you can record onto all four tracks at once, with each input being routed directly to its associated track (you can record tracks individually using this method, too).
Panned channel-to-track recording offers greater flexibility, as you can route more than one input to a single track if you wish. For example, if you set Rec Select for channel one to Left, and then turn Pan dials 2-4 fully left, inputs 2-4 will be routed to track one: if you want to avoid routing an input to this track, you just rotate its Pan dial fully right. You can also 'ping-pong' recorded tracks using the panned channel-to-track method, and add a new part live each time if you want. The Pan dials also come into their own, of course, for positioning recorded tracks in the stereo mix when it comes to mixdown.
"You can run sequenced parts live in the mix and reserve the MT100 for non-sequenceable parts such as vocals and guitar."
Incidentally, the MT100 allows you to use the Rec Select switches as an alternative to the footswitch for punching in and out of record mode. With the MT100 rolling in record mode, all you have to do is flick the relevant Rec Select switch from Off to the appropriate setting (number or L/R) to punch in, and back to Off to punch out.
Finally, the manual is a definite bonus for the newcomer to recording: well laid out with concise, clearly-written step-by-step instructions and handy recording hints which do their best not to take anything for granted.
THE PURPOSE OF the MV100 Mic Line Mixer is to expand on the number of inputs provided by the MT100. It offers four inputs, organised like the MT100's as two line and two mic/line. Also like the MT100, each channel has individual level and pan controls (here implemented on dual concentric knobs) and aux send level control, with of course a common aux return level control. But the MV100 scores over the MT100 with a master aux send level control which determines the overall effect send level of the four channels (the reason for this should become clear soon), stereo aux returns as opposed to the MT100's mono return, and lo and hi EQ on the two mic/line channels (providing a ±15dB cut and boost on fixed frequencies of 100Hz and 12kHz respectively).
Additionally the MV100 has a front-panel headphone output, complete with output level knob, which provides a stereo mix of all the input signals, and separate L/R master stereo level controls above which are located associated LED indicators.
You can connect up a second MV100, for a total of eight channels, by routing the stereo L/R and Aux Send outputs of the second MV100 into the Sub-input L/R and Sub-input Aux jacks on the rear panel of the first MV100. Having the separate Aux connection allows you to set up effects mixes on both MV100s and route them both through the effects loop of the first MV100; in this way you only need a single effects processor even if you're using two (or more) MV100s. Very thoughtful on Yamaha's part.
But the company haven't stopped there. They've also provided L/R Line In phonos on the MV100's rear panel, which allow you to route the stereo output of, say, the MT100 into the MV100. The input is then mixed with the other MV100 input signals before being output from the Mic Line Mixer's stereo and record L/R outs. Unlike the MV100's Sub-input, the Line In facility doesn't allow you to take a separate Aux feed, so you'll need separate effects processors for the MV100 and MT100 if you choose the Line In option. Alternatively you could route the MT100 through the MV100's Sub-inputs, which would allow you to take advantage of the separate Aux feed; if you want to use two MV100s you could always route the MT100 via the second MV100's Sub-inputs. DJs who want to integrate their mixing setup of two decks and a disco mixer with hi-tech gear such as drum machines and samplers could route the former through the MV100's Line In sockets.
The advantage of both the Line In and the Sub-input facilities is that you can combine an MT100 and two or more MV100s without losing any of the channel inputs on each unit, so that such a combination would give you 12 or more channels. If you also ping-pong tracks on the MT100 you can effectively increase this number. Routing the MT100 through the MV100 also allows you to take advantage of the latter's combination of separate L/R stereo and L/R Rec out sockets, whereas the MT100 only has L/R Stereo outs.
Basically, you can decide between two approaches to recording. Routing the MV100(s) to channel inputs on the MT100 ensures that all parts can be recorded to four-track tape. Alternatively, if you route the MT100's stereo mix output through the MV100 then the channel inputs to the latter can't be recorded to four-track tape, but in today's world of MIDI sequencers and multitimbral instruments you can run sequenced parts live in the mix and reserve the MT100 for non-sequenceable parts such as vocals and guitar. Obviously you'll need to sync up the MT100 and your sequencer, which will entail giving up a tape track to the sync code, and if your sequencer can't read and write its own sync code then you'll need an appropriate sync box. During this review I was using a Korg KMS30 to sync Roland TR808 and R5 drum machines and a Roland W30 sampler to the MT100.
"The MT100, MV100, DR100, Q100, A100 and S100 are high-quality units where it matters most -namely sound quality."
Whether or not you'll be able to run all your sequenced parts live depends on how your MIDI instruments match up to the demands you make on them with regard to multitimbrality, polyphony and number of audio outputs. Obviously if a synth is monotimbral and eight-note polyphonic then you can't expect it to play two different parts at the same time which use two different sounds and more than eight notes. In such a situation, tape recording still has its advantages even if you're using all-electronic instrumentation.
THE DR100 DIGITAL Reverb follows in the footsteps of Yamaha's original (and still available) 100 Series reverb unit, the R100 Reverb Processor, and is somewhat scaled down in relation to that unit in terms of effects, but does provide a few features which aren't on the R100. Basically, the DR100 forgoes flexibility and programmability in favour of immediacy and simplicity. Where the R100 has 60 programmable effects patches offering a healthy variety of reverb, delay and reverb, delay plus reverb, E/R, feedback E/R 1 and 2, stereo echo and delay L/R effects, with four parameters per patch, the DR100 offers only four preset reverb effects: Room, Live House, Hall and Stadium. And while the R100 allows effect changes to be automated via MIDI patch-change commands, the DR100 forgoes MIDI altogether - but then it hardly seems worth including for four effects which can be readily switched from the front panel, even assuming you'd want to switch them during a track.
On the plus side is the DR100's inclusion of lo, mid and hi EQ (providing ±15dB on 100Hz, 2kHz and 10kHz centre frequencies), which has been implemented with an eye for immediacy on dedicated front-panel knobs. Boosting the EQ variously provides a more boomy reverb, gives the effect more 'presence', or adds a "shimmer" to the sound.
Another indicator of the difference in approach between the DR100 and the R100 is that, whereas the latter allows you to program a dry/wet Balance value for each effect but doesn't have a master dry/wet control, the DR100 has the latter (in the form of a dedicated front-panel knob) but not the former. What's more, a quarter-inch jack input on the DR100's front panel, together with a mic/line switch on the rear panel, means you can quickly plug in a synth, guitar or mic. The levels of this input and the rear-panel inputs can be balanced by adjusting the front-panel line and mic/line input knobs, while the Reverb button allows you to switch out the reverb effect for the rear-panel input signal only; pressing the front-panel Bypass button, on the other hand, switches out the reverb effect for both inputs.
The rear panel has L/R inputs and outputs on both quarter-inch jacks and RCA phonos, together with 20/-10db selector switch for each stage, making it well suited for both studio and live use with a variety of possible inputs. You can't run signals into both pairs of sockets at the same time, however; if both types are connected, the quarter-inch jacks have priority. However, both sets of outputs can be used.
With so few effects to choose from on the DR100, Yamaha have kept them straightforward and widely applicable (no reversed, gated or outer space reverbs here), ranging from tight, bright reverb 1 to a more 'baggy' 3-4 second reverb (just a small stadium, perhaps), and ensured that they are of good quality. Used in conjunction with the effects mixes which you can set up on the MT100 and/or MV100(s), the DR100's reverb effects are perfectly adequate for adding reverb to the complete mix, which is really what the DR100 is best suited to. If you want a second reverb unit for applying more versatile reverb and delay treatments to individual sounds, then you should consider the R100.
THE Q100 IS a seven-band stereo graphic equaliser which allows you to adjust, separately for each channel, frequency bands centred on 125Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz. 1kHz, 2kHz, 4kHz and 8kHz by ±12dB within an overall frequency spectrum of 20Hz-20kHz. Each frequency's slider has a red pinpoint LEO on its tip, making it easy to read the frequency "profile' and to adjust the sliders even in subdued lighting. A front-panel Bypass switch provides a quick way of switching the EQ in and out, so you can compare EQ'd and non-EQ'd signals (logically enough, the pinpoint LEDs switch off when you select Bypass, so you also get a handy visual indication of the unit's state). You can also reduce the overall volume level of the EQ'd signal from the front panel. The rear panel offers both phono and quarter-inch jack stereo inputs and outputs, with switchable input and output levels (-10/-20dB); the phono inputs take priority over the jack inputs, but the signal is sent from both types of output. Recording isn't the only possible application for the Q100, but within our recording context you could use it to fine-tune the overall sound of your stereo mix by placing it between the MT100/MV100 and A100.
"It's good to see a big corporation like Yamaha catering for the budget end of the recording market so convincingly."
The slender bilingual manual (English and Japanese, no less) doesn't say anything about the processing going on inside the unit, but what matters is that there's no apparent degradation or colouration of the input signal, and the EQ alters the sound in a 'musically' convincing and satisfying way.
FINALLY, THE A100 power amp and S100 speakers. If you've decided it's time to progress from using your hi-fi for monitoring, this combination is well worth investigating. The S100 monitor speakers have a bandwidth of 100Hz-20kHz and a flat response, and are rated at 100W peak and 50W continuous output. They each utilise a 10cm woofer and a horn-loaded ceramic tweeter together with a bass reflex enclosure design. Whatever, the combination of A100 and S100 produces a clean, bright, punchy, well-detailed, and above all well-balanced sound with plenty of vitality and minimal distortion (though, as you might expect from their compact dimensions, if you boost the bass end too much the speaker cabinets start to rattle around). It's an impressive sound from such compact speakers, and a sound you can trust.
The A100 amp provides 50w + 50w of power in stereo mode, and can also be used in a mono configuration (switchable from the rear panel) to give a 100w output signal. However, you shouldn't use mono mode with the S100 speakers - they're only rated at eight ohms, whereas mono output from the A100 requires speakers rated at 16-32 ohms.
The A100 has Left and Right channel VU meters which are lit by lamps situated below the display window. These meters are calibrated to display both the output wattage (at eight ohms impedance) and the output level in decibels (0dB shows 25W into eight ohms). Each channel has its own output level knob and associated clipping LED indicator. The front panel also contains the power on/off switch and associated LED indicator together with stereo headphones socket for monitoring of the amplifier's output (plugging headphones into this jack automatically cuts off the output to the speakers). The rear panel contains the Channel A and Channel B speaker terminals together with both phono and quarter-inch jack audio inputs for both channels. Importantly, inbuilt protection circuitry prevents the speakers from sounding immediately the amp is turned on.
IN THE 100 Series Yamaha have a set of units which are easy to use and relatively cheap, making them accessible to the recording beginner in more ways than one. At the same time there's nothing cheap (as in tacky) about their construction, and these are high-quality units where it matters most, namely sound quality. You could feel confident of producing good-quality demos with these units (as for the music, well, only you know about that). The experienced and/or ambitious home recordist might feel constrained by the straightforwardness of these units, but they've been well thought-out, particularly where the mix of tape and sequencing and the ability to 'add on' extra mixer channels are concerned.
A setup of MT100, DR100, A100 and S100 would cost you £846, but if you're sequencing everything and have no need of tape (or you already own a multitracker), you might decide to substitute two MV100s for the MT100, in which case your chosen setup would cost you £755. If you subsequently need to add more mixer channels, the MV100 represents a cheap upgrade path.
It's good to see a big corporation like Yamaha catering for the budget end of the recording market so convincingly.
Price: MT100, £369; MV100, £139; DR100, £149; Q100, £119; A100, £189; S100, £139 (pair); all prices include VAT.
Gear in this article:
Review by Simon Trask
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